Four Healthy Reasons to Stay Away from Magic Pills, and How to Do It

by Henrik Edberg

Image by pasotraspaso (license).

“Everybody’s looking for the magic pill. But commitment is an ongoing process. It’s not something you do once. You revisit it.”
Patricia Kyle

“He that can have patience, can have what he will.”
Benjamin Franklin

One huge obstacle that stands in the way of real positive change and growth in someone’s life is the idea of the magic pill.

What is a magic pill?

Well, basically looking at something – a book or a just a tip – as a complete and quick solution for your problem. Thinking that that thing will “fix you”, just like a pill from the doctor could.

Now, magic pills can be quite harmful to you. Here’s a few reasons why you should avoid chasing after them.

They don’t exist.

So far as I have found, there are no magic pills. Magic pills are just an unrealistic way to look at things if you have a problem in your life. It’s a way of looking for a quick and easy way out.

Now, a book/tape/DVD/person at the right time can have a big effect. You may have heard that when the student is ready, the teacher will come. So some product/person can be bit like a magic pill to an individual at the right point in his/her life. But that individual will still have to put in work (and usually a lot of it over a relatively long period of time).

You’ll certainly waste a lot of time and energy.

Desperately looking for the “next big thing” and when disappointed with that one going looking for the next one will take up a lot of energy. And a lot of time. Perhaps even years.

How much could you get done in all that time if you took action on what you knew instead of spending your time chasing the next magic pill?

You may waste quite a bit of money.

A desire to find the magic pill could turn you into a personal development junkie with an empty wallet. Looking for salvation at the next big seminar or the one after that could be burden for your personal finances.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend money if you think a book or seminar could be helpful. But don’t go overboard or think that you will find the magic solution

It may lead you to giving up altogether.

Looking for the magic pill for too long will lead to you to feel a lot of frustration and disappointment. You may give up your effort to change or grow all together. And dismiss all personal development people as snake oil salesmen that are trying to steal your money.

There is a lot of value in a lot of products and in what a lot of people say. But if you expect them to be able to just fix your problem in some magic way then of course you’ll always be disappointed. Totally unrealistic expectations will bring you down and can transform a great, helpful product (or relationships or job etc.) into a disappointment in your eyes.

Why do we chase the magic pills?

A few answers that I’ve come up with from my own experience are:

  • Persistent advertising. The idea of a magic pill is to a large extent sold to us over and over again through advertising. These fantasies are of course useful to sell stuff. To sell an appealing dream of instant gratification to people. Since advertising is persistent these ideas can become pretty ingrained in the minds of consumers.
  • With the pill you don’t have to really change. People like magic pills because then they don’t have to change very much at all. The pill can just “fix them” and so they can go on just as they have for the last few years or decades. But if someone wants to, for example, lose 30 pounds then what that person may need to lose the weight – and keep it off – is a whole lifestyle change. To replace the old lifestyle with a new one. One with regular exercise and a new and healthier diet. And that can be difficult and frustrating at times, especially in the beginning.
  • Laziness and pain avoidance. A similar answer to the one above. Frankly, it’s easier to be lazy, lie back on the sofa and read another book and look for an instant gratification solution than it is to get up and take action/a risk and put in sustained effort. It is a way to creatively procrastinate by looking for the perfect solution. A way to avoid taking action to avoid possible pain, temporary failure, change and the unknown.

How can you overcome this problem?

Well, I did it like I guess many others have done. I failed to find a magic pill quite a few times. :)

So over a bit of time I realized that I should probably give up that search and start viewing personal growth and the material I explored in a more realistic way. And so I got more out of the material because now I saw it as a help along my way rather than something (or someone) that would save me.

How have I learned to use the material in a more helpful way?

By sticking to one book or way of thinking for a longer time and actually doing what that person is telling me. And then perhaps adjust my course as I find appropriate.

And by over a long time span – like several months – taking action, failing, learning and taking a whole of more action. Because the big thing here is not some magic pill. It’s you and your continual effort. What will make the biggest difference is that you keep going, doing, learning and gaining a deeper understanding of what you want to accomplish but also of yourself. Without that nothing will work.

When you snap out of the magic pill mentality things tend to get a bit rougher and patience is required. Such is life. But after a while you also tend get some real results and a higher and more stable sense of self esteem instead of just temporary sparks of inspiration and sporadic results. You aren’t lost in some fantasy world anymore. You’re in a position that has a few downsides – like a bit of pain, plateaus and less instant gratification – but definitely more upsides. You are maturing and accepting how things really are.

And a funny thing is that when you finally take action you might discover that things are often easier and simpler to get done than you may think. Maybe you are overcomplicating things by reading 25 books about your problem and thereby – in your mind – making your challenge into a bigger and more complicated deal than it actually is?

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Kendra July 27, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Love this line: “But after a while you also tend get some real results and a higher and more stable sense of self esteem instead of just temporary sparks of inspiration and sporadic results.” I am taking your words to heart, and will keep working — really working this time! — and learning and being patient, because there is no magic solution, just a journey. Great post. Thank you!

what are you grateful for today?

Bernard-Charles July 31, 2010 at 5:56 am

This line is equally transformational in my life too! I am so happy I found this blog. I am also happy there was a free e-book with subscribing. I am beginning to understand that there is no magical solutions to life, and that it is in fact a journey! Every journey is hard-working and it takes time.

Golly. This post hit me to the high heavens!

Aja @ Taking a Look at Life July 27, 2010 at 8:46 pm

What I’ve found to be dangerous is that there are people out there that need serious, professional help, yet instead of seeking it, they’re sold by things that promise to “MAKE THEM HAPPIER BY NEXT WEEK!!!” It used to really bother me to see that, but I’ve learned to just let it go. You help those that you can, and those that you can’t, bless ‘em.

Stephanie Vincent July 27, 2010 at 8:53 pm

so true. People are always looking outside themselves for answers, when the answers only lie with it. All the outside stuff is either a tool or a resource that can point us inward towards ourselves!

Feeling Good July 27, 2010 at 10:24 pm

This is very true- there is no magic pill or panacea- though there are many ways to overcome problems, some more appropriate to some people than others.

I find that taking what feels right and then experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t- over time, is a good way to go. Often I see similar ideas expressed slightly differently in different therapies.

I love the common sense and clear approach of cognitive behavioral therapy but there are other ideas that fit well with that approach.

But, above all, persistance pays off.

TW July 27, 2010 at 10:33 pm

You’re absolutely right here. I find that when I take action and fail, I resort back to searching for that pill instead of analyzing why I failed and how I can overcome this setback in the future. Persistance is key. One thing worth remembering when you stumble is that if this process of self improvement was easy – everyone would be their ‘prime’ self. It takes work. Great success is often built upon many failures.

Jarrod - Cultivating Heroes July 28, 2010 at 12:31 am

Really it is all about focusing more on ourselves. Taking we what read and seeing just how we can apply it to ourselves.

We can then focus a bit more on exactly who we are being, how honest we are being with ourselves. Persistent self-observation can be a powerful catalyst for the changes we can always make.

Kat July 28, 2010 at 4:30 am

Hi Henrik =
I really related to this post, coming after years of self development and the surety that the real ‘me’ was just around the corner. Of course, the real me was always just around the corner, and as I continued to throw that opinion out there, life continued to verify it for me. My personal take on it is that there is no answer; only options – and like you said; if a person is ready, the teacher will present itself.

John Muller July 28, 2010 at 4:34 am

I think you’re right on target with your assessment when you mention advertising and laziness! I think most of us would be amazed if we stopped to look at what’s driving many of our buying decisions, and a lot of times it has to do with non-stop advertising telling us all the reasons we need the next greatest thing. And of course… many of us would rather take the easy way out rather than doing the hard work. Unfortunately that doesn’t usually work…

Daniel M. Wood July 28, 2010 at 11:55 am

Great article,

What most people are looking for is a way to change their lives and themselves without having to change.
Just look at all the diets promising to make you thin without having to change your habits, how is that going to work?!

In a way there are magic pills, but they don’t work like the ones the doctor gives you. Just like you said, a book can work to change your life and make give you all the rewards you were hoping for, if you put in the work and do what is recommended.

Making change is hard and it takes a lot of work, but in my experience it is worth it the rewards by far out way the costs and effort.

Susan @ Innerpositive July 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Hi Henrik ,

I can really relate to the magic pill mentality. Many of us have this constant fantasy on finding a quick fix that will right all our problems and after that, with a snap of our fingers, we’ll live the lives we’ve always dreamed of. Your advice on following one course of action/one way of thinking is spot on! Thanks!

Petey Silveira July 28, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Another good topic to reflect on Henrik! A magic pill! Well as a therapist first I’ve found that every client does have a magic pill! It’s right inside of them….easily accessed when given the right environment. Some moments of silence, unconditional love for themselves, an ability to reframe thoughts to the positive and voila! The magic pill inside of them then allows them to access that path to peace and contentment!
Now as an author..the magic pill might look different…but that’s probably for another post of yours!

Miriam July 28, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I think you’re mostly right; however, in some cases, drugs can be really useful. Anti-depressants have saved countless people from living lives full of misery (and, in some cases, from suicide). Anti-depressants can correct chemical imbalances in the brain and allow someone to really pursue self-improvement. They don’t “fix” people; they just give them back their ability to see their lives realistically. I think it’s a bit insulting to say that everyone who takes a pill for self-improvement purposes is doing so out of laziness.

Brian July 29, 2010 at 4:42 am

Love this quote- “He that can have patience, can have what he will.”
Benjamin Franklin

Patience really is a virtue… plant the correct seeds, water them, feed them.. then watch it grow.. then do it over and over again….

Veritas July 29, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Hello Henrik!

I love your blog and appreciate the work you lay down in order to help other people. Keep up the good work!

Hälsningar från GBG =)

Nea | Self Improvement Saga July 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm

You have some great points here. I think the most important thing is to have realistic expectations and to follow your intuition instead of all the advertisements.

Katie Brandt July 29, 2010 at 8:32 pm

The only “magic pill” I pill I have ever found to work is hard work, learning, persistence and purpose. It is not a quick fix, but it works every time :-) Learning from the mistakes of others is another good way to learn what not to do

A great guidline is – if it sounds to good to be true…it is!!

Roman Soluk July 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Very helpful & true words. Thanks a lot Henrik, for sharing this article!

Mike P Weaver July 30, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Definitely some great points here! I think people fail to recognize that if you want an amazing output your inputs have to be of equal or greater energy. Being consistent and learning from your experiences and efforts is a great way to stay on your own path.

Jennie July 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I liked this article a lot. I am always digging myself a nice cozy hole to sit in when things are tough instead of just getting up and on with life when I have a failure. It is one of the reasons that I took up writing so that I can have an outlet and maybe move beyond some of the fears that I am carrying around from the past. It is hard to move on some times and I tend to analyze everything I do until I am more confused then when I started. Thanks for reminding me that I need to keep on moving forward instead of always looking behind me.

Fitri NL August 1, 2010 at 2:05 am

Agree. Sometimes it’s easier to always look for another magic pills than persistently take action. Thank you, great post as always :)

John D August 2, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Katie makes a perfect point. There would not be so many get rich quick schemes if there was not enough suckers out there trying to find the easy way to riches.

Tasneem R August 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I sometimes try and chase the magic pill but like what you said I get frustrated when I’m unable to get hold of the pill ! Yes I have learned a bright lesson from your post today ! And yes thanks a ton for the reminder of having patience , patience is truly a virtue .
How Well Do You Know Yourself? – This test aims at discovering how well you know yourself.

teamcurtisfamily August 4, 2010 at 6:43 am

It is easy to try and chase after the “get rich quick” and magic pill solutions that you are bombarded with online. Most of us have spent years trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with us, why can’t we get the same success others are having. The truth is, we had to grow, learn, and apply.

I believe you said it best, “What will make the biggest difference is that you keep going, doing, learning and gaining a deeper understanding of what you want to accomplish but also of yourself.”

It has taken some time to finally figure it out, but the results were worth the investment!

Tim D August 4, 2010 at 9:15 pm

I’m reading The War of Art right now…Steven Pressfield talks about the need to fight Resistance *every* day of your life. It’s not a battle that ends…You never get to declare victory.

Tim D – free mobile gratitude journal
win a free copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin!

pdw August 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

This is a great blog and what you are saying all rings true in this post. I have found that in my own growth, it has taken years. I have read lots of books and tapes and it is only slowly it sank in.

I too was susceptible to the magic pill panacea many years ago. However, I learnt that for my own path, things happen slowly. That not only goes for changing behaviors but also for actually finding myself and determining what my purpose in life was. I know some such as Steve Pavlina have written posts saying you can determine what your life’s purpose is in 20 minutes. However, I am yet to come across anyone who has done just that. For me it took quite a while before I figured out the most meaningful path I should follow.

Jan Sandusky August 11, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Great blog, I found this link you might like as well, It goes with your phillosophy.

JohnC August 13, 2010 at 2:48 am

What a great article! I enjoyed how the author of this blog pointed out that clearly there are no magic pills and that seeking one can be devastating to a person’s life.

In my time as a new age teacher one of the things I noticed about a lot of students was that they were seeking out some sort of magic answer that would just make everything all better or perfect for them. Many, unfortunately, left my classes very dissapointed when they realized that I, of course, didn’t have all the answers for them.

Sometimes, as this blog post suggests, we need to just pick one course of study (book, program, etc) and stick with it so that we can learn how to most effectively use it in our lives. When you jump from product to product, instructor to instructor, class to class I think many times a person ends up missing out on using the information they are gathering to its best potential.

Many thanks again for sharing this blog post!

Loïc August 19, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Hi Henrik,
You definitely wrote inspiring posts, thanks for them.

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