Guy walks into a library. He asks the librarian, “Where’s the self-help section?” The librarian shrugs, “If I told you, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?”
Dad jokes aside, people have a ton of personal questions about self-improvement. Nearly 38,000 people follow the topic on Quora. Here are some of the top questions and my answers, which include tips and resources improve your life:
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1. Does Self-Improvement Work?
The most popular question, right after, “Why are you asking me self-development questions, weirdo?”
Despite being a $10+ Billion industry, there isn’t much scientific research on self-help. A 2015 study by the University of Montreal did find that books in this genre increased cortisol levels. The researchers saw that as a bad thing, but I disagree. If you read a self-help book and realize that your life is a shit sandwich, maybe you should stress a bit.
Without a significant study, all we have is anecdotal evidence, pseudoscience, and fairy dust. Let me answer the question with a resounding *drumroll please* …
It depends. Depends on what? Thanks for asking:
1) Your Goals
Self-help is a broad category, covering everything from decision making to How to Be Pope* #bucketlist. Everything that could make your life better. Let’s say the topic was public speaking. Success could mean giving a speech in front of a crowd. Or it could mean being articulate AF on your next TikTok. The point is that the reader’s expectations determine what success is.
2) How You Put It to Use
If someone says a book or course didn’t work, I’ll ask them what actions they took based on the new knowledge. 9 times out of 10; they did jack-shit and f*ck-all with it. There’s a false sense of accomplishment we get when reading a self-help book. Some will nod their heads, highlight everything, but do nothing. They’re addicted to the emotional high, the intellectual stimulation, the superiority of finding ‘the secret’. Don’t let self-help becomes a hobby, it should be a call-to-action.
How do you avoid wasting your time with these books? Have a specific goal from the outset. If the goal is important enough to you, don’t move on until you’ve done the homework. Set a plan for how you will execute on the system. R-read the book several times until it sticks. Highlight key concepts, but don’t highlight everything – ink ain’t free.
Don’t disregard the system until you’ve proven it through trial and error. If experimentation has shown the advice doesn’t work for you, only then should you write a snarky Kindle review and move on.
The first book I read in the genre was Awaken the Giant Within* by Tony Robbins back in the early 2000s. The audio version on cassette was straight fire. Since then, I’ve read them all: Think and Grow Rich*, 7 Habits of High Effective People*, 50 Shades of Grey. I’m sure that some were a repetitive waste of time, but a few of them helped me A LOT. It’s like college; you’ll forget most of it, but some lessons you’ll keep forever.
2. What Is The Best Tip You’ve Got From Reading A Self-Help Book?
Speaking of college, I’m going to cheat here and give two key lessons:
1) Mindset Matters
Everyone has heard about the power of positivity, to the point that it has become cliché. It’s not that we can or should be positive all the time. What matters is knowing the power of your mindset and becoming consciously aware of it. The unhappy and unfulfilled often aren’t aware of their negative, destructive thoughts. Thus, they don’t do anything to change it. Instead, they usually chalk up poor results to luck or circumstances, so nothing changes.
2) Habits Change your Life
I can’t credit this to one author or book, but understanding habit formation has changed my life. The reason why big goals are hard to achieve is that they often take a long time. It takes consistent, sometimes painful effort, but our motivation is inconsistent. Take the new year’s resolutioner that aspires to lose a bunch of weight. He might watch a documentary or read a magazine and get super inspired. But it doesn’t last. After a few weeks, he isn’t making progress.
The physical changes aren’t visible. All motivation is gone, and he gives up. A habit-based approach instead focuses on small changes, incremental goals, and total consistency. It’s not about losing 20 pounds. It’s about working out for 20 minutes, every damn day. Then do 21 minutes, 22, one more set, etc. Success is sustainability.
3. What Is The Most Significant Danger With The Self-Help Industry?
My biggest concern is the ‘hustle culture’ – the romanticizing of working nonstop. A lot of blogs and videos shame the viewer, accusing them of being lazy and complacent. They mention that if you’re not like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, you’re a loser. Is that meant to motivate people? Of course, everyone should work hard, and most do. But 100-hour weeks of ‘grinding’ is a surefire way to hit burnout. Everyone needs balance. Do you want to be the person with millions in the bank, but no friends or family to enjoy it? Or suffer an illness because you neglected your health?
To be clear: this isn’t as an excuse for people who are slacking on their goals. There’s no substitute for a strong work ethic. But the blind devotion to work at the expense of everything else is just wrong. There’s an alarming number of suicides among overachievers, especially young people and students. Overcoming this crisis requires us to recalibrate our view of what success means.
Focus on becoming the person that would make you proud. You don’t owe the universe anything, and you don’t need to prove yourself. No matter what heights of success you achieve, put your happiness and mental health first.
4. What Is The Best Way To Improve Yourself?
Start by examining what matters to you. Is it professional success? Relationship success? Financial wealth? Be very specific; life ignores the vague wish and rewards the exact request. If you’re like most people, you might have ten or more goals. Go through a process of ruthless prioritization. Think about which goals inspire you the most, and which ones will have a broader impact. Favor goals that can provide immediate benefits, as that will motivate you further.
Find leaders that have achieved your goals. Interview them, learn for them, and ask them to be your mentor if appropriate. Clarify your knowledge and skill gaps, and make a plan to fill those in. But here’s the key – don’t use a knowledge gap as an excuse for inaction. The truth is that you’re never going to know everything. Thus, you’re going to f*ck up. And those failures will be your best teacher, so don’t shy away – embrace it!
Whenever possible, break a goal into sub-goals and then daily habits. Develop a piece of software by writing x lines of code written per day. Write a book by typing y words per day. When I was training for a triathlon, I would increase each swim workout by one lap. Within a couple of months, I could swim a mile. The point is to see success as the daily process of completing the habit.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t track your progress towards your ultimate goal. Set a timeline for your objectives. If you’re not improving on pace, reassess your purpose, your deadline, and your approach. Tweak these things until you find what works.
5. What Are The Best Personal Development Resources?
The good news is that there’s an avalanche of self-improvement content on the Internet. The bad news? There’s way too much f*cking content. Instead of trying to consume it all, pick a form (books, audio, classes) that suits your learning style. Then choose a couple of resources from the list below:
- Best Books on Self Improvement
- TED: Ideas about Personal growth
- YouTube: Great for quick motivational videos, guided meditations, and affirmations.
- Udemy: online learning and teaching marketplace with over 100000 courses.
- Podcasts: There are hundreds of great self-improvement podcasts. Tony Robbins has one. I also like Tim Ferriss’ podcast and the School of Greatness.
- Reddit: a feed of breaking news, stories, pics, memes, and videos. There are a ton of subreddits in the personal development space.
- Facebook Groups and Meetups: Great for finding communities of success-minded individuals.
6. Has Technology Made It Easier Or Harder To Improve Yourself?
Technology is a double edge sword. On the one hand, it’s made knowledge and tools more accessible to everyone. You no longer have to go to your bookstore or library or wait for a motivational tape in the mail. It’s easier to find like-minded communities and mentors. The downside is that the amount of content can be overwhelming. It feeds the impulse to read every book, watch every video, take every course. It’s easy to become a consumer of self-help content instead of putting any of it to work. Technology also poses so many distractions; the constant notifications and the time-sucking websites. To be successful, we need lots of uninterrupted focus time.
In other words, technology can be an incredible tool to improve your life when used the right way. If you want to use your phone to improve yourself, check out my post, 12 Apps to Improve Your Life (2020).
7. What Are Some Of The Best Motivators And Thought Leaders On Personal Growth?
It depends on the topic. Tony Robbins is the classic motivational speaker, and he has a podcast and blog. I like how he’s partnered with Ray Dalio to specialize in personal finance. Dave Ramsay is another good one to follow if you want to achieve financial freedom. David Goggins and Jocko Willink are both ex-Navy SEALS and have a very raw, real approach. They’re great if your focus is becoming more disciplined and achieving physical goals. Tim Ferris interviews guests from many different disciplines on his popular podcast. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for exciting interviews and diverse insights.