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 realize 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.