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

by Henrik Edberg

Image by gutter (license).

”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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Daniel Richard September 1, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Oh noes… that explains the additional 2 (okay more than that) hours on the web each day! Haha.

But. Gotta say that while there’s an avalanche of information over on the web on self-improvement topics, there’s a whole lot worth of gems that we can find that *actually* works — only ya gotta put in the effort to try.

Cheers Henrik!

Srinivas Rao September 1, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Nice post Henrkik. It’s funny because I just released my first ebook, The Syllabus: A guide to starting personal development and many of these ideas are what drove the production of it. People can definitely become self improvement junkies, yet never taking action or doing anything wit what you learn is really defeating the purpose of all these concepts.

lobo_tuerto September 1, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Thank you for sharing this, it was exactly what I needed. :)

Vincent September 1, 2009 at 7:30 pm

Hi Henrik,

“Take some action immediately after having learned something”

This is important. If we are focusing too much on reading and take no action, we will be running in circles all day long. Knowledge to solve problems does not solve the actual problem itself. Knowledge with action does.


Positively Present September 1, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Great post! I love working on personal development, but I definitely agree that it can cause confusion and complications. Thanks for sharing you advice on how to deal with these things!

New Age Bitch September 1, 2009 at 9:24 pm

And what, if I may ask, is wrong with messing with your head. *Your* head, I mean. Not mine. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

One of the unspoken dynamics of this personal development ponzi schemes is the power game. You know, someone has got a great book, nice workshop, or (gasp) popular blog. They MUST know more than you. They MUST be telling the truth. It MUST be that by putting away your own discernment you will get better! So hey, give them your power. Trust in them, not in yourselves.

Personally, when someone gives me their power, I try to get them to quake like a duck while doing ballet. It really improves them. Trust me.

Business Communication September 1, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Its great to find new perspective. Only some get too caught up in new approaches but I think that change is what keeps us motivated for improvement. Sometimes, you do have to give the new paradigms in these new books a break so that you are not overcompensating a behavior that you are merely trying to manage. Hunger, Greed, Envy… these things will happen, its just about how we let a bad thought control us. Or take a worldview to such an extent, we are just as badly controlled!

Ron September 1, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Great article.

I’ve been through this myself and came to the same conclusion. It was only when I realized that personal development should stem from empowerment (knowledge of one’s own ability to be, do, and have) more than anything. Growth requires action. A sort of “ready, fire, aim” approach.

Gary September 1, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Well said Henrik.

All of us self-developers run the risk of learning our lives away.

It’s very easy (and tempting) to constantly learn new strategies, tips, and theories, but we must also crawl out of our heads and in to our hearts and bodies.

Once all that good stuff is internalised, beyond an intellectual level, the real rolleroaster of life can begin, and the soul journey continues.

Keep up the good work.


Hil September 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

OMG Henrik!!!!! You totally just wrote what I’ve suspected for a lo-o-o-ong time….THANK YOU!!! – Hil

Trish (GirlatGym) September 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm

You’re so right. We sometimes need more action, less sitting around reading about what we should be doing. It’s an easy trap to fall into!

jonathan figaro September 2, 2009 at 1:58 am

Immediate action is the creation of positive momentum. Allow yourself to soak up the information and try it out. It may be something as minutiae as rewriting your goals or as large as finding out your purpose in life. Whatever the challenge is , Don’t procrastinate on the issue but take action now. Do something right at this very moment to make your dreams happen.

Procrastination is thief of time and the opportunity stealer that get stronger and stronger each time it grabs a bite. Don’t fall victim to negativity, but rise above and learn how to think positive.

Greg September 2, 2009 at 3:53 am

It’s easy to get caught up in the process of over-analyzing the pursuit of self improvement. It usually happens when we get in a hurry.

Just like in so many things in life, the process of self improvement is best approached like the tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race.

Olga September 2, 2009 at 4:20 am

I can relate with the five bumbles–one idea that moderates me is to live in the gray. That is to say, it is not that I spend all day reading these articles or not at all; it is not that I am perfect or totally messed up; it is not that I meditate/work out/do xyz every day or not at all, but I fall somewhere in the middle.

Thanks for the post! Very brave for a self-improvement blog, I love the honesty. ;)

CueZee September 2, 2009 at 11:09 am

YES, totally agree with the last point: Take some action immediately after having learned something. Don’t hesitate.

I myself have done quite a lot of thinking on that. Very often, it is due to our psychological inertia that puts out our burning desire to do something we really want to. And that psychological inertia is inherently the phobia of failure.

Many people, including myself are afraid of failing. We always have this typical mindset or should I say a wrong attitude, that failure equals doomsday. However, I am not saying that failure is positive and that we should all treat it like a pinch of salt. We should take failure seriously but see it not as a destination, but as an essential process for personal development. It is through failure that we learn from mistakes and grow physically, mentally and emotionally stronger.

For more on personal development, do visit me and my partner’s website at http://www.diaslu.com/

We look forward to share with you our views and thoughts on aspects of life, destiny and abundance.

Jake September 2, 2009 at 11:31 am

I do enjoy reading personal development material but I think there can be too much of a good thing.

Many people believe that the “answer” is out there and if they just buy one more book etc., their life will be wonderful. I’ve know a couple of “personal development junkies” who are in a perpetual cycle of buying the next self-help book, attending the next seminar, seeking out new techniques etc. They seem no happier to me than when they started.

There comes a point when you have to accept that you know enough and all that’s left is to go out there and live your life as best you can. There is no “secret”. Besides, there aren’t enough hours in the day to apply all the personal development information (much of it of dubious value) you come across.

Many people are unhappy because they concentrate on the “gap” between where their life is to where they want it to be. Personal development – when unchecked – increases this gap and therefore an individual’s unhappiness.

Stephen September 2, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Thank you. This is exactly what I was looking for to the point of believing I was the only one in the world who was consumed in self-help material.

Jarrod - Warrior Development September 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Suffering from paralysis from reading so much material and discovering conflicting ideas is certainly one problem you can get yourself into with self development.

Another aspect to consider is what you open your mind/emotions up to when you start exploring. I know when I started opening up my mind I became a lot more susceptible to many things. If I didn’t already have a good idea of what I was grounded in it would be very easy to spin off someone random.

Interestingly I just wrote a post on the topic the other day: Be careful with self development

John Duffield September 2, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Hi Henrik from an astonishinly wild place kissing the North Pole. We call it “Canada”. I loved this post, because it’s pointed to a curious fact about the “self-improvement” world. Namely, confusion reigns supreme. Why? There’s so many contradictory ideas promising happy success, making sense of it is like trying to unravel a spider’s web. If you’re not sure how tough that is…..try it. No wonder most of our heads are….as you put it….”screwed with”. But something seems to be wrong with this picture…..doesn’t it? I mean, why the heck should getting real, authentic happiness in our lives be so darn complicated? You’d think anyone should easily find Joy and love and peace of mind. Wouldn’t you? Even folks like me, with brains resembling an underdone meat loaf… but less powerful. So what’s wrong here anyway? Nothing complicated. We’ve just been taught to fear being ourselves….that’s all. And like I say in A Cry For Help (the book), the solution to all this confusion is simple. All we have to do is unlearn that single fear. It takes work and knowing how of course, but every step is simple. And here’s the thing. Doing that lets you or I meet Miguel’s (de Cervantes) inspirational message up front and personal. We begin to “know thyself”. Knowing thyself is where the awesomeness of personal development begins. Please keep on pushing your insights into the void Henrik….we all need them. Cheers. John Duffield

Wakas Mir September 3, 2009 at 1:53 am

Number five is good “It makes you think that things will be perfect and you will be too.” :D

But the thing is that first people who read such books should get the basics right and that is to realize that life isn’t a bed of roses. But when that’s said it isn’t just thorns either ..

CueZee September 3, 2009 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 2:20 pm

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

steve September 5, 2009 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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 at 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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