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How to Be Smart About How You Use Personal Development Information

Image by Davide Restivo (license).

[hana-code-insert name='social w twitt face' /]“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Chinese proverb

“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”
Bruce Lee

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

Personal development books, blogs, videos and audio programs can be truly wonderful. Some of them have helped me to change my in life in small and bigger ways.

Over the years I have also a picked up on a few insights that help me to use personal development information in a smarter and more helpful way.

I’d like to share a few of those insights and tips below. I hope you’ll get something good out of them.

Use your own common sense.

It’s easy to be drawn into thinking that gurus or teachers know everything. But a book or blog can’t know or understand exactly what you dream about and all the positive and negative experiences you have been through. No one can know you better than you know yourself.

So it is important to use your own common sense with any advice you are given. Sometimes it may mean that you rely on what someone knows and so you take a leap of faith. Sometimes it may mean that you recognize after you have tried it that something does not live up to the grandiose hype but still has useful things to offer. Sometimes it may mean to dismiss something because it just doesn’t sound right or simply doesn’t work for you even though you have tried it five or ten times.

Friends and family that aren’t that into personal development can be a voice of common sense. They can ground you if you become a little too lost in theories. So listen to them. But of course, use your common sense here too. Don’t listen to voices close to you that are always negative about just about everything.

Be the highest authority in your own life. Be your own guru.

Stay with it longer than you may have hoped for.

I think it took me four tries to establish a workout routine that stuck. It is common to have to start things over a few times before they really stick.

So things may take longer than you hoped for. Life is most often messier than the plan you had. Don’t let that stop you. Be patient, learn from your mistakes and keep moving.

If something doesn’t work dust yourself off and try something else.

Some things may work well for me to keep in shape or to keep procrastination at bay. But it may not work as well or very well at all for you. We are all different and there is seldom one solution that fits all.

I recommend using the advice from Bruce Lee at the start of this article and finding what works and fits you the best. Find just one, two or three tips that really work for you to avoid procrastination or to stay motivated. And then you can let go of the other stuff that you have tried.

Do to understand. Spend more time on using what you have learned by taking small steps forward.

Don’t hang around on blogs or online forums all day. Don’t get stuck in just reading more and more books about a topic.

Use most of the free time you have for experiences, no matter how small they are. Because you gain experience, confidence in yourself and real results by doing things. Not by overreading, overthinking things or having endless theoretical discussions.

Focus on spending 20% of the time you have for personal development on learning through books and blogs.

And then use 80% of your personal development time on taking small steps forward, on changing small and bigger habits step by step over days, weeks and months.

Reinforce what you want to be doing.

Maybe it’s just me but I sometimes have a tendency to forget what I want to do. It easily gets lost between old habits and the tasks of everyday life. This has been most common when I have changed thoughts habits such as a more optimistic mindset for example.

So I use written reminders – notes on the fridge, in my smart phone or on my bedside table – to reinforce what I am striving for and what change I am working on right now. If I don’t use such reminders then I tend to slip back into old thought patterns more often.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dawn

    I am very guilty of trying to get more and more information and not doing enough. Like I think that I’m looking for that magic word to kick my life into gear…when I know damn good and well it will not change until I take action.
    I’m also guilty of giving up too soon. There is not much of a personal support group so I tend to not have anyone to boost me up when I’m feeling down, or to give me encouragement, so I just fall back into old habits, searching again for something new.
    I have to rely on myself, I know this. For me, I think this article comes at a perfect time. These are some things I’ve been mulling over in my head and it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
    Time to start doing. Got it! Thank you

    • Inês

      It seemed like you were talking about myself… :)

  • Great advice!
    Even the most learned, experienced guru can only live one life and thus can only give advice accumulated through their own experiences and sensibilities. Most rules require at least some personalization before they can take proper effect for a person.
    As for writing things down, it IS so easy to slip back into the regular routine of things. I’m still trying to find a strategy for remembering all the mental changes I’m trying to make; without completely wallpapering my house! Maybe there’s an app for that!

  • Well said, Henrik.

    I certainly agree with the points you’ve made above.

    Many people blindly follow personal development advice without thinking about how to tailor such information to their lives, specifically.

    I make it a point to read & learn from as many sources as possible. One can never have too much knowledge. But, it’s important to take the “golden nuggets” from each, that will have a positive impact on your life, and mold them into your own personal development life philosophy – one that fits your specific life goals and aspirations.

    Good topic for an article.

  • Hi Henrik, your post reminded of another quote, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” ~ Buddha
    People do just believe things without ever actually thinking if what they’ve read or heard agrees with who they are and what they already believe. Small steps forward is a great point to make. I’d rather make alot of small steps one at a time. It’s so much easier to reach your goal when your not pushing yourself to an impossible standard. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Having the wisdom to work on yourself is only the first step, and you can easily get lost on your own path.

    The art of discernment, of discarding what is not useful, is nearly as important.

    When we are eager to learn, it’s easy to take everything in, without filtering it first. The self-test is the only real way to know what works, and what doesn’t.

  • DB

    Great Article!!!

    I think this is one article that everyone who is interested in personal development stuff must read! It really might save them from a lot of mistakes that at least I have made with such information all these years like over-reading and over-thinking, not using my common sense and not reinforcing any change made. The most dreadful mistake that anyone can make is ‘over-reading’ and ‘over-thinking’.

    It can be really tempting to think that just reading personal development articles in various blogs in the internet including this one will make a huge change in your life. Or maybe any self-help material for that matter.

    But the main thing is that you must “ACT”.Taking Action and Doing is THE most important thing in life! I had to learn it the hard way though!

    Anyways cheers to Henrick! You make my day!

  • I used to be really rigid when it came to reading a particular book or listening to a certain “guru.” Then, over a period of time I started to realize that there is nothing wrong with catering my plan to suit my own needs.

    I have also learned that it’s okay to change or modify your plan as time goes on too. Sometimes our goals or our perspectives change as time passes.

    Great insights Henrik

  • Geraldine

    Oh very good advice Henrik and long overdue. We are bombarded with information everywhere now. Sifting through it all, far beyond just the worthwhile and the junk, is so important. We can’t use all of it…that’s for sure. Although I must admit, most of what I read here at your blog, I do use. Maybe not right away but it’s stored in my memory for when I need it.

    thanks again for your fine blog!

    My word of the week this week is: Greatness over at:


    hope you and your readers will stop by for some great inspiration. :<)

  • Absolutely love that Bruce Lee quote. Love your blog, too!

  • I agree – great article. I spent a great deal of time trying to fit my life to the one the gurus told me I should have and was frustrated it did not work. I wasn’t using my common sense and fitting the advice to my life and personality.

  • Well Hello Henrik, as an engineer who has for most of my life refused to accept any advice from the inner hugging brigade and sought solutions through technology, I have now accepted that working on yourself is the best way to move forwards.

    As you say whilst we are learning this desire to take it all in may lead us down paths that are a bad fit for our desires and personality. By having a community around you that knows where you want to be, they can raise the alarm if you start to veer off course too far.

    igor Griffiths

  • Hi Henrik

    I think it’s important to remember personal development is like life itself. Some days we will have great days, some days we will have good days, and some days we will have opportunities to really dig deep. Personal development comes in all shapes and sizes just like people. Like you point out, it’s not one size fits all, even though some of us try to jam concepts inside ourselves that are not a right fit. It’s all a learning experience, and I like to think of personal development like a smorgasboard. It’s all delicious, it all looks good, but there’s no possible way you can eat it all!! Take what you can eat, and SAVOR IT … DIGEST IT and come back for some more. It will be there.

  • It is timely that I came across this blog post. Today’s post on my blog is about embracing your unique style. After realizing we hear others’ opinions and suggestions subjective to their experiences and preferences, I believe it’s important to not lose sight of our unique style and what’s authentic to who we are. I think too often (and I’m guilty of it) we lean towards adopting others’ “expert” advice or approach undermining our own ability to solve our own questions and dilemmas. Thanks for the practical suggestions. They were encouraging.

  • Thank you everyone for sharing your own good insights about how to use personal development information in a smart way and for all your kind words! :)