Whether you call it “Self Help,” or “Personal Development,” there is no denying that it is a booming industry. Every day hundreds of millions of us are consuming this type of content in one form or another. From books and podcasts to webinars and work shops, we don’t seem to be able get enough.
A quick glance at the New York Times Best Sellers List will tell you this is true. Current number 1, Atomic Habits by James Clear has been on there for over 130 weeks. To put that in context, it has been on there since BEFORE Covid. And it’s not alone, there are countless other titles racking up weeks, months and even years on the list.
This very week, I found myself using up a precious Audible credit on just such a title. (Manifest by Roxie Nafousi for those interested) and I began to wonder why. What drives us to spend our money, time and attention seeking out and consuming this type of content? What are we searching for?
It started to dawn on me that we are all probably looking for the same thing. Some sort of silver bullet to come along and “fix” us. Someone to tell us what to do, Someone to give us a list, even better. A blueprint to follow which will get us living our best lives.
As diverse as the topics self help books address seem to be, (depression, anxiety, addiction, productivity, etc.,) the vast majority of them promise the same thing. This book will “CHANGE YOUR LIFE.” I have spent some time lately wrapping my mind around what this actually means. What would it take to truly transform my life? More to the point, would I really want that?
The truth of it is, most of us live fairly privileged lives. Our basic needs are met. Just ask Maslow. We have a roof over our heads, food in fridge and are not in imminent physical danger. When we think about what we would wish for the future, it’s usually more of the same.
More money, more friends, more fun, more sex. Increased confidence, greater autonomy, deeper sense of self worth, and my personal favourite among the self helpers “abundance.” Yes, you’ve guessed it, that’s just a fancy way of saying more.
When I started to unpack this, I could see that far from transformational, all these aspirations would at best, make life a little bit better. I will give you an example. Since I found my love of fitness about a decade ago, I have wished for a little space at home to set up a small gym. Nothing elaborate, just a discrete area to store fitness equipment and be able to work out when the mood grabs me.
It was one of those dreams that was always in the back of my mind. When life got hectic, and I couldn’t make my gym classes, I would find myself saying “if only I had a little home gym.” If I had ever done a vision board, you can be damn sure it wold have been front and centre.
A few weeks ago, the dream became a reality. We had been saving for a holiday that we ultimately weren’t able to go on, and decided to repurpose the money. We had a shed built out the back, big enough to house the usual shed stuff and with enough space left over to use as a small gym.
I am absolutely delighted with it. It is everything I could have hoped for and more. It makes it so much easier for me to work towards my fitness goals, and I don’t have to share my living space with half of Rogue’s product offering. Amazing. Has it changed my life? Absolutely not!
In fact, there have been studies conducted which show that should you suffer a life changing injury, such as paralysis, or win the lottery, you would return to your base level of happiness within one year. That’s right, less than 12 months later, you would have adapted to your new circumstances completely.
It is difficult then to imagine that making your bed, not snoozing your alarm, journaling, practicing gratitude or any of the other virtues being extolled with really turn your world upside down in any meaningful way.
To be clear, I am not telling you not to invest in personal development. I am certainly going to continue to dip into what I find is a fascinating subject. You will get loads of advice and tips and some of it will likely resonate with you. You may even go so far as to implement some of the changes. I have done so myself.
Most recently I had a go at Mel Robbin’s 5 Second Rule. It’s a really simple principle. As soon as you get the urge to do something which will move you towards your goal, act on it within 5 seconds, before your brain has a chance to kill it. The beauty of this is in its simplicity, and it really does work. It helped me to reduce procrastination and align my actions with my goals.
This will undoubtedly make life a little easier and perhaps a little better. Will it change it? I don’t think so. But that’s okay. If you can make small improvements in your life which make you feel better, fantastic. If all of those small changes eventually add up to big, fat results, even better.
Here’s the thing though. Even if you follow the book’s guidance to a tee, implement every hack and dutifully execute every idea, and in a year, or ten years your life is noticeably different, the book still did not change your life. You changed your life, because only you can. Stop giving other people credit for your hard work. They may give you the tools, but at the end of the day it’s on you. They are not your f**king Gurus!
Be well xxx