Five Things You Might Not (Want To) Know About Self Improvement

by Henrik Edberg

Self improvement is often described in a rosy manner.

It’s all upsides and money in droves, speedboats, a 500% increase in productivity, great relationships and instant weight loss. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.

But there are, of course, potential downsides and challenges to be aware of.

Below I’ve listed a few of them. They aren’t that serious really, most of them are just things that easily slip your mind. Getting stuck in the self-help junkie mode of spending thousands of dollars on books/cds/dvds and seminars or getting lost in some kind of destructive cult is a lot worse.

But since these five things are easy to forget about – or miss, especially when you first start learning about self improvement – I thought I’d write them down. That’s always a good way to, well, remind you of the important things and not let them get lost in everyday worries and life.

1. Things will take time. Maybe a longer time than you at first hope.

Why? Well for one, we are often pretty bad at estimating how long time something will take. Things often take a whole lot longer than we at first thought.

Partially, this is probably because we often have at least some addiction to instant satisfaction. Something that advertising reinforces by promising us “you´ll lose 20 pounds in a month!” or “you´ll become a millionaire online in 30 days!”.

It gets easier to improve yourself when you get your mind used to this thought. When you know it will take time to improve a part of your life and have realistic expectations everything runs smoother and you don´t get so impatient and give up before all your hard work really starts to pay off.

One good way to figure out how long time something will actually take is to ask/read something from someone who seems honest and realistic and has already arrived at the place where you want to go.

2. It will take effort.

There are very few quick ways to achieve anything worth really doing. But there are some short-cuts in the field of the self improvement, I believe. On the other hand, personal development doesn’t have to be an enormous effort filled with tons of blood, sweat and tears. You don’t have to work 20 hours a day to get somewhere.

But even if you work smart – like, for instance, Tim Ferriss recommends in The 4 Hour Workweek – you still have to put in effort. You have to fail and get up, dust yourself off and try again. You have to do things over and over again.

Things are seldom really easy outside of an advertisement.

3. Many things work, but maybe not all of them for you.

It’s easy to fall into the beginner’s trap of thinking that getting one book will solve all your problems. And then a week later angrily curse the book and author for disappointing you and fixing nothing much at all.

A book will not change you. You change yourself (although sometimes a book can be so powerful that it seemingly changes you). But an answer to this problem – besides having patience – may be that it’s not the right book for you.

I think you have to find your own style and information, methods, ideas and people that resonate with who you are right now. I don’t think all books or ideas are equally suited for all people.

So explore different resources and be prepared to try more than one tip, method or author before you start getting some really good results. Stay curious. Keep building your own personal development library. And if you don´t have the money for that right now, use your local library instead.

4. If you keep at it you will change.

The thing is, if you are patient, if you keep at, you will change.

This can be scary. As your identity changes it can become confusing. You might experience discomfort as things are not as familiar and comfortable as they used to be. People may become jealous or negative in some way because you are changing your life. Change can be scary both for the one changing and for the people watching it.

And – as you change – you may not be able to go back to your old life even if you wanted to. Because as Oliver Wendell Holmes said:

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

So be prepared for both the upsides and more uncertain or negative aspects of change.

5. A lot of it is counter-intuitive – so just give it a try.

As you expose yourself to much of the self improvement material you realise that this is perhaps not what you have heard for most of your life.

It´s often almost the opposite of what media, movies, TV and people have advised you. So you become wary. You think “This can´t be right. This isn´t what I´ve heard for years and years. If it was true then someone would have told me before”.

Maybe someone did. But maybe it got lost in the noise of all that other advice. Or maybe you just heard that kind of advice more often so it stuck, while some great thing your uncle once said got lost in your memory.

My advice is to just jump in and try something. Of course, you should think before you act. And be careful with advice from someone who seems overly eager to sell you something or appeals to your sense of instant satisfaction.

But a lot of advice may not make much sense in relation to what you have previously learned about the how the world works. You just have to try it and make up your own mind if it works or not.

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{ 13 comments }

Maria August 28, 2007 at 4:23 pm

“As you expose yourself to much of the self improvement material you realise that this is perhaps not what you have heard for most of your life.”

This is a really important point, Henrik. So much of what we hear in our day to day lives emphasize how difficult and painful life is that it’s sometimes hard to believe that we can change things for the better. I work every day to “de-program” myself from these limiting beliefs. Thanks for the reminder.

Henrik Edberg August 28, 2007 at 5:01 pm

That´s very true, Maria. There is an overflow of information that emphasizes how difficult everything is. I think, as you say, it´s really important to “de-program” yourself from beliefs created from such information.

One way way to get a handle on this has for me been to keep an eye on what information and thoughts you let into your life and mind. And to think about that and consciously choose what information and thoughts you actually want in your life.

quotes August 28, 2007 at 7:11 pm

Like Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”

Henrik Edberg August 28, 2007 at 7:17 pm

That´s a great quote, thanks for sharing.

Mike Scott August 28, 2007 at 7:26 pm

Great article, it’s really easy to forget these things. Especially the points that it isn’t going to happen instantly, and it’s going to require that you expend some effort to improve yourself.

I know many people, including myself, are big fans of using a planner or planning system to keep themselves organized. One of my favorite sayings about my planner is that the less I use it, the more out of date it becomes. The more out of date it becomes, the less I use it.

If you don’t put the effort into maintaining whatever it is that you are implementing, then you might as well not have implemented it in the first place.

Tuan Nguyen August 28, 2007 at 11:41 pm

We evolved as the world evolve around us.

John Allison August 29, 2007 at 12:40 am

Thanks for the article. I wanted to especially applaud the third point: Not everything works for everybody, and not what works for you now may not work for you in the future and vice-versa. By continuing to explore and take in quality information, you can keep yourself moving in the right direction.

David B. Bohl at Slow Down FAST August 29, 2007 at 3:54 am

#1 is huge! We all want instant gratification in today’s world, but self-improvement and personal development don’t happen overnight.

We must be willing to do some heavy lifting up front. If we take the time now, it will all be worthwhile.

Geoff R August 29, 2007 at 4:37 am

Hey, I really like that little stumbleupon signature at the end of your post. Do you mind if I do something similar on my blog?

Al August 29, 2007 at 6:11 am

Excellent post. It’s important though to keep in mind that the self-improvement goals should benefit the person – for example, getting the money in droves, the speedboat, and 500% productivity can actually ruin a person. The person should have ownership of the goal, not the other way around.

Henrik Edberg August 29, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Thank you all for your comments. I´m glad you enjoyed the article.

Geoff: I don´t mind. It seems like more and more bloggers seem to do something similar.

Al: That´s a good point to keep in mind so your stuff or goals don´t end up controlling you.

Tony September 8, 2007 at 1:45 am

Hi Henrik,

I felt like I had to leave a comment for you because it’s a very neat post, especially for me at this time. I found your site from DIGG > 7 Habits. . . > Five Things… Your entire blog is really cool!

About 5 weeks ago, our first daughter was born. During the first two weeks I spent a great deal of time thinking about my work/occupation. I am 34, and have my own business as a freelance web designer. I’ve been having a lot of doubts as to my work, whether it is good or not, and if I shouldn’t be just getting a “real job”. Etc. Etc. I guess having a child of my own caused me to really examine myself.

Anyways, all this thinking lead me to spend time journaling and asking myself some really tough questions about my work. This was about 3 weeks ago, and as a result of it, I wrote down about 7 or so “Truths”, as I called them, which were really encouraging to me.

Well. . . 2 of them were EXACTLY what you pointed out! #1 and #4.

My personal reality of #1 was that “it takes time commitment to make something really great”. For #4, it was that “my work is improving, and with a change in attitude, thinking, and heart, it will change entirely.” Sometimes people need to be reminded that they in fact ARE changing, though it’s difficult to see.

Truths and insights are very empowering!

Sane September 16, 2007 at 10:41 pm

The article appears to be quite benign but its using a lot of est terminology and concepts. Are you an est / Landmark / Lifespring / PSI / Context / etc “graduate”?

A lot of what you’re saying sounds like reasons I was given for going on one of these seminars, which turned out to be a money-cult, brainwashing people with pop-psychology highs to make money and get free labour. A lot of people lose more than money through these things – relationships, sanity and sometimes even their lives.

So if you are a graduate of one of these things it would be responsible to say so. If not, it is tragic how this pithy pseudo-philosophical bullshit (works for some, not for all, take a risk, make a difference…) has infiltrated general culture.

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