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5 Sneaky Ways That Personal Development Information Can Screw with Your Head

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”Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world.”
Miguel de Cervantes

In many ways personal development material can help to change a life for the better in a big way.

But like pretty much anything, if used the wrong way to it can stop you from growing and instead create more problems for you.

So here is, from my personal experience, five ways that personal development information can screw with you head if you let it. I believe these are very common problems for people who get into this stuff and some stage or another. I hope you can learn something from some of the mistakes I have made.

1. It helps you to overcomplicate stuff.

You and your friend have the same problem. While you look for answers in personal development books and on blogs your friend don’t really knows what to do. So he tries something. He fails. But he learns something and does some other things. And so he starts to solve the problem while stumbling around a bit and realizes that it isn’t such a big deal and that he can probably figure it out.

Meanwhile, you have looked in books and on blogs. You haven’t found perfect answers so you look a little more, just to be on the safe side and to avoid failure and the pain that comes with that. And so the problem becomes bigger and more complicated in your mind for every book or article you read. Taking action becomes something you start to fear more and more because it all seems so huge and complicated now.

2. It gets you emotionally hooked on reading more and more.

And so little action is taken because that is uncomfortable and scary. While getting another hit from some personal development source feels pleasurable and safe.

It kinda feels like you are making progress and going somewhere as you read that awesome book. But shortly after you have read it that feeling diminishes. And so you read another one to get a rush of those positive feelings again.

Just like you can hide from life, reality and the inevitable pain, embarrassment etc through shopping too much, playing too much video games or through drugs these personal development books can become just another addiction. You feel good in short bursts. But over the months or even years of time you don’t really move forward that much at all.

3. It leaves you confused.

One problem with the information overload age we live in is that you can get more than you can handle. For free.

And it’s not always easy to move forward if you take in too many perspectives at once. Tony Robbins may say one thing. Eckhart Tolle might say another thing.

Taking in various perspectives over time can help you to increase your understanding of your world. Taking in advice from 10 people at once can confuse you and lead to paralysis analysis.

4. It makes you feel like you aren’t ever ready or good enough.

This can become a big problem. When you get hooked on reading this stuff you may start to feel that aren’t quite good enough yet to start taking action. That you aren’t good enough to succeed with something you’d like to do. In part it can be a form of protection from the pain and effort that comes with action. In part it can be because knowing more and more but not using it keeps a low self esteem in its place (or makes it sink even lower).

And so you study, study and study. And it is never enough. Until one day you just make a decision to tell yourself that you are good enough. Because reading more will not take you to that point when you feel that you are enough.

When you make that decision for yourself it’s doesn’t mean that you have to stop studying. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop growing. You can feel good enough and still feel that it is fun to explore and grow in various ways.

So you become more relaxed and not so desperate anymore to solve your problems. And when you feel like you are good enough then taking action and succeeding becomes less “heavy” and complicated. When you are good enough instead of desperate then, in my experience, life becomes lighter and doing becomes easier.

5. It makes you think that things will be perfect and you will be too.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of looking for magic pills. That basically mean you look at something – a book or a just a tip – as a complete and quick solution for your problem. You think that this thing will “fix you”, just like a pill from the doctor could.

But this is self improvement. Sure, someone may make a lot of money or lose a lot of fat really quickly. But for many any improvement will be gradual. It will be slow sometimes and quicker at some points. It’s a process that takes months or years.

But little by little you improve yourself. Never to perfection. Life and progress will still be messy. But over time all those small steps forward really start to add up.

So what do you do?

How can you avoid these problems? A few tips I use:

  • Keep these things in mind. Just keeping these pitfalls in mind and being aware of them helps me to be a bit careful about how I think and behave.
  • Set limits. It is useful to set limits for yourself so you don’t overconsume personal development material. For example, make sure that you are consistently taking action towards your goals 80 percent of the time. And then you read and study 20 percent of the time. And not the other way around.
  • Take some action immediately after having learned something. Don’t wait, then you just want to read and prepare even more. Jump in instead and do one little thing to get started.

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  • CueZee September 3, 2009, 5:44 am

    Well Henrik, I certainly share the same sentiments as you. In the past, I often face confusion and contradiction over various perspectives in life until I attended a workshop last week talking about wealth dynamics. Like what you said, “Taking in advice from 10 people at once can confuse you and lead to paralysis analysis”. Totally agree with that, no doubt about it. Just like Steve Jobs constantly seeking for innovation that comes with risk and Warren Buffett abiding by his principle of being risk-averse. Both figures are outstanding and successful in their respective fields, but both share contrasting beliefs. And there the problem comes. Who should we believe? Who should we emulate? Can anyone give me a definite answer to that?

    Well, before any of you do, the only answer that has dawned upon me will be “no size fits all”. Believe it or not, every one of us has our own inherent formula for success. It’s just a matter of whether we have discovered it early, late, or never.

  • Josten September 3, 2009, 2:08 pm

    I’m glad that i lost those ways a awhile ago when i started to talk with my mentor about personal development. I remember reading some material then another and have a feeling of doubt come into my head. But i’m thankful i do not have to worry about that anymore.

  • Richard X. Thripp September 3, 2009, 3:33 pm

    Point 2 is the most important idea on this list. When people get involved in personal development, they get far fewer things done! For the first few months, they do lots of reading. Or in my case, lots of reading AND writing. When you print all the personal development articles I’ve written, it totals over 300 pages.

    Reading and writing are just tools to help you clear mental blocks and refine your code and processes. They can’t help you unless you use them. The way to use them is to get things done. Start a project, or better yet, finish that old project. Build an addition onto your house and don’t tell the government. Go to college or do your homework. Don’t just sit there reading personal development books.

    • CueZee September 4, 2009, 6:03 am

      Yeah, can’t agree more with you, Richard. Apart from just indulging in heavy reading, we need to assimilate the insights from the personal development materials we read and apply them in terms of actions. Nothing will ever change or happen if we were just to read and read and take no actions. So just do something be it something you think is small or significant. For all you know, that small action may be the biggest turning point in your life.

      So I repeat again, do something. Start writing down what you should do and stick it on your door where you’ll see and remind yourself everyday. Be sure to follow it strictly and it won’t be long before you’ll find yourself on the right track that you wanna be.

      Well, seems like we have a pretty much the same niche in our blogs, hope you guys can also visit me and my partner’s.

  • Wayne Key September 3, 2009, 5:46 pm

    Man is this post ever dead on!! It is so easy to use personal development/self-help reading and studying to keep us from taking the necessary action to actually change something. I must say that the most important information that I have read along these lines settle down into two issues 1. (from Jack Canfield) Find your Mission (what you love to do) and arrange your life around making a living at it. 2. (from Tony Robbins) Take action NOW! Never make a decision without taking some action to get it started.

    (jumping of my soapbox…sorry…)

    but this is a case of been there and done a bunch of it! Thanks for a great post and some thoughtful thoughts.

  • Kaizan September 4, 2009, 10:37 am

    This post reminds me of a friend who buys 2-3 self-development books every week. Each time he buys a new book, he tells me he’s found the magic answer to everything. And then a week later it’s replaced by a new book.

    We now call his book purchases: “buying hope”

  • Nacie Carson September 4, 2009, 11:47 am

    Love your blog, and posts like this really illustrate why. Thanks for sharing, and keep up the good work!

  • Henrik Edberg September 4, 2009, 2:20 pm

    Thank you for all the great comments and insights! :)

  • steve September 5, 2009, 6:27 pm

    thank you for this. i had an experience with some of these problems over the summer. i got pumped about changing my life (! yeah !), but it took me away from just enjoying the present moment. i set up expectations & made TODAY into a tool to just get me to a better tomorrow. but really, TODAY is awesome!

    also, i definitely have felt #2. at a certain point, i questioned myself: “why am i reading yet another self-improvement book? have i really even applied the last one to my life?”

  • Mike McCabe September 6, 2009, 5:43 am

    I find most of the self development books to be too theoretical. I find better quality information from books about people who have actually reached the top, whether it be in sports, business, or military.

  • Fr. Ted Crilly September 7, 2009, 6:51 am

    There are no limits. Do you think we would have evolved to this point with limits, or that the entire universe could have expanded to its current point with limits? Never limit yourself our your imagination, ever. Limitless imagination is what got all of us to this point in time. Never stop dreaming and stop listening to any one who tells you you should. It’s insane! Be realistic sure, but don’t set limits on yourself.

  • Jason Shick September 15, 2009, 5:46 am

    I stumbled upon your site today for the first time and you make a lot of key points. I have thought about how personal development is great but can limit action but have never heard it written down. The #2 reason you had about being hooked on reading was me for sure. I have always been a voracious reader. I had heard that “leaders are readers”, though I was always reading fiction and wondered how that made me a better leader. Then it happened, in search for an answer, I read a book about personal development and it shifted almost 100% of my reading to self-improvement topics. Before I knew it I had numerous books and had so much knowledge in my head, but it dawned on me that I wasn’t doing much with it. From that point on I decided to take action on whatever went into my mind. I just wanted to compliment you on your perception. You really nailed it with this article.

  • Paulineh James September 1, 2010, 4:01 am

    “self improvement is a process that takes months or years”, i agreed with that. people can’t change over time, they need time and support from people around them.

    great information. thanks for sharing this one… keep it up :)

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