I’m going to delve into a potentially dangerous territory here and tell you why you are wasting your time on personal development and self-help books, but also let you know what you can do about it. It’s a shallow dive into this world, because otherwise I’m in danger of writing a book rather than a single post.
A bit of background first though. Flicking through various websites this week, I stumbled across a small article that suggested that the self-help or personal development genre was growing significantly in terms of book sales. The suggestion is that self-help books sales rose by 20% last year in the UK alone, with this link in the Business Telegraph suggesting that many men are the customers in a #MeToo society. This is in a backdrop of an industry that is already worth over $1billion in the U.S. alone. But does the self-help / personal development industry really help us, and does it help us as leaders?
- We don’t know the problem we are trying to solve
It’s a fact, like it or not, there are very few truly enlightened individuals. For many of us mere mortals, we have blind spots when it comes to assessing our own personalities. It is human nature to tell ourselves little lies to justify our actions or flaws. So for example, when we look for a solution to poor time management, the reason behind this is really because we procrastinate. So the real problem to solve is identifying the biggest reason we procrastinate (perhaps fear or perfectionism), rather than managing time. Or when we look for a book on dealing with stress, we perhaps don’t consider too deeply into why we suffer with stress in the first place, that often being what we control and what we don’t, and how to accept what we don’t control.
2. We are lazy
Well, maybe not lazy exactly, but we do try and find the quickest way to a remedy involving the least amount of work. This leads us to try and find the “Holy Grail”, the one book that is going to give us all the answers, in a way that isn’t going to cause us pain or discomfort. Most of us have a damn good idea of what we need to do, but spectacularly fail to do it. I bet you could name three things straight away that you know you should do more of, or do less of, but for some reason don’t do it. If self-help books really helped, your list would be far harder to write.
3. We don’t commit
Because of reason number two, we don’t fully commit to what we read. We skim read in search for the answer, rather than dissecting what we could be learning and then applying it to our own circumstances. A former colleague of mine embedded Covey’s Seven Habits into his career, and there is no doubt it helped him incredibly. It wasn’t Covey per se that helped, it was having a clear structure that he could work to.
“You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.” Seneca
Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair, personal development or self-help books can absolutely help us. As with anything else is life, there are some fantastic books containing superb advice, yet there are others which are only fit for putting under wonky table legs. The real problem as to why they don’t help lies within us as individuals. We don’t use the books as we should, we don’t dive deeply, and don’t take on board and commit to the learning.
So pick a book, it doesn’t need to provide all the answers you are looking for, but dive deeply. Pull all the learning you can and apply it, use it. It will develop the learning and implementing habits we need, and you will soon find that you can begin to apply your learning on a far wider spectrum.
“All the information in the world is a waste of time unless we apply the learning.” Me!