A search on Amazon.com for books titled “How to Succeed” offers 33,413 results; a search for books on self-help – 1,042,657 results and self-improvement – 158,425.
There is a lot of information out there. The earliest self help book in my library would be Self Help by Samuel Smiles published in 1859. Self-Help sold 20,000 copies within one year of its publication. By the time of Smiles’ death in 1904 it had sold over a quarter of a million. Self-Help “elevated [Smiles] to celebrity status: almost overnight, he became a leading pundit and much-consulted guru.”
The numbers would be different nowadays for a best-selling book but the results are pretty much the same for authors whose books do well. We consider them gurus. We admire their lives. We strive to be like them – adopt their habits, follow their system, emulate them in every way.
According to Startup Brother Kyle Eschenroeder “Self help creates ideals. Ideals help give us something to aim at. However, we need to be sure that our ideals are our own. For a long time I was a hardcore Objectivist (Ayn Rand worshipper) and so I assumed ideals. I took somebody else’s ideas of the perfect human as my own. When you do this you’ve already lost. You can only do yourself perfectly – and even that’s impossible. If you chase somebody else’s idea of what you should be you will hit a point that you realize you’ve been robbed of your own life. When I was finding myself an “unhappy Objectivist” I had a crisis of meaning until I realized that my ideals must be my own. The self-help industry will tell you what kind of person is the most happy and “successful” and then tell you exactly how to be that person. They teach you that you can be the best person in the world! That’s awesome! WOO! Except for the insinuation that you are pretty much a zero right now – you aren’t a “successful people” whatever one of those is.”
I am not suggesting that you NEVER buy another self-help/improvement/how-to book again. In the last two weeks I bought – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Destiny by T.D.Jakes, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin and The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success by Dr. Kevin Dutton and Andy McNab. If you’ve been reading this column regularly you know that I love books and love to read.
Books are helpful for providing a different point of view, ideas on things that have worked for the authors and people they have studied. There are new words and writing styles and insight to glean.
But your life is still YOUR life. There is only one you, and you need to understand yourself inside-out. You can try things on for size but sometimes they don’t or won’t fit. This does not mean that something is wrong with you because you can’t copy and perform as per a book’s suggestions. This just means that that particular suggestion is not ideal for you.
For a long time I read many self-help books and did nothing yet felt as if I was doing something. Instead of implementing ideas and experimenting I just read more. It was great for my ego but really did nothing for my actual growth. Transformation started only when I started taking action consistently, studying those actions, throwing out what wasn’t working and trying again and again until I started getting the results I wanted.
When you use someone else’s map here’s what happens:
- You have a tendency to want to memorize
- You shut yourself off from the possibility of other interesting conclusions
- You rule out the potential of undiscovered destinations
Kyle suggests this:
-List your goals. For each one answer these questions: Why do I want this? Is this making me more happy? Am I making any progress towards it?
-List your “shoulds”. Make a list of everything you think you should be. Happier? More fit? Cleaner? More successful (make sure it’s defined)? Wealthier? Where did these “should” come from? “Should” they even be there to torment you? If no, then kill them. If yes, then make a commitment to them – ACT ON THEM.
If you become the subject and the scientist in your own life, you will begin to make real progress. You will figure out for yourself what leads you to success. Once you monitor your own performance over time, you will be able to learn what you should continue, where you could adjust, what you need to start doing and what you definitely need to stop. You have the answers you need. Don’t stop reading but read and apply. Keep what works – throw out what doesn’t!