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So here we go with another “personal development” article critique. Maybe I should start an entire publication of these, since they seem to be so common on medium, honestly.

Anyways, I read this through and I want to warn future readers about a couple of pitfalls here. The first is incorrect science. The author likes to use the term “evolution”, and toss around assertions about how humans and animals evolve in an authoritative manner presumably without having done any research at all, or citing any sources if so. As soon as someone starts slinging scientific assertions without references, this is a huge red flag. And unsurprisingly, in this case, the assertions made by the author about the nature of evolution are flatly incorrect.

Humans evolve in precisely the same manner as animals do. There is no “direct” or “indirect” products of environment, etc. The term evolution is defined as “the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth”. Not some vague personal development term. And certainly if the author has chosen their own definition for evolution, it should not be mixed with the technically correct one, as it is in this article. There are plenty of great insights about human behavior we can take away from evolution (I attempt to get into some of them here), and research that can be done on real human evolution (for example, did you know that we evolved less strong teeth since humans started cooking food?), but this article contains none of it.

Another that I see frequently in this article is flawed logic. This is when a logical assertion is made, but it’s underpinnings are inherently flawed, making the logic, in common terms, bullshit.

For example, the author asserts that before writing Harry Potter, JK Rowling planned the whole seven years at Hogwarts, therefore it is one of the most successful books ever. Think about this, for just a moment. Is this in any way reasonable? Nope. It would be quite interesting to see a piece diving into why Harry Potter was as successful as it was, and I’m sure there are a variety of reasons. But saying “harry potter was planned, therefore it was successful” without a shred of evidence is absurd. It’s basically the same as me saying “obama has short hair, therefore he won the presidential election.” It’s just picking some random attribute and attributing success to it with no evidence whatsoever. The author does this with several other examples as well, unfortunately.

Finally, and this one is a bit more abstract, but this article is a perfect specimen of generic fluff personal development advice. You will find hundreds, perhaps thousands of articles like this on Medium and around the internet. They are long, detailed, packed full of arbitrary quotes from presumably famous people, and seem on the surface to contain lots of useful information. But they contain absolutely nothing that you don’t already know and cannot distill down to a piece that’s 1/10th of the length, and also contain absolutely no research or backing for any of their statements. Let’s break down what this piece has to say:

  • Be around people that inspire you
  • Don’t avoid challenges, go after them
  • Be more ambitious with your goals
  • Commit hard and make your goals public to increase accountability
  • Don’t overcommit, spend time every day on your goals
  • Form good habits: exercise, writing, learning, reflection

Each of these briefly touches an important concept that could and should easily have an entire article written about it (one that contains actual research), but were crammed haphazardly into one, with no transitions or relations between them. And none of them are explained, they are simply declared. For example, accountability is a deeply interesting motivator and there is a lot of fascinating science and evidence behind how and why it motivates people to do things. But the author spends the entire paragraph where he could have been discussing this on a “motivational speech” about “going all in” that reminded me of a high school coach in a locker room before the big game, only to briefly gloss over the idea of making goals public this in his summary of the section at the bottom. If you are the kind of person that just needs to read abstract motivational speeches to get going, this might be useful for you. But if you are more looking for insights on human behavior and concrete steps that have been scientifically proven to get your closer to things you want, this is not doing you any favors.

On top of that, many of these points are common knowledge, or things you have already seen in 100 different places. So if you are reading this stuff already, is reading it again going to be what pushes you over the edge to do it? Probably not. Maybe you need to be reading more about willpower and motivation if this is the case. And if this is the first piece you’ve read about personal development, now you have a haphazard overview of some important points and some motivational quotes and fluff. Very good. Time to go seek out better and more thorough material on the parts that interest you.

Let me also add that at the end the author tells you that he writes a blog that contains the term “time hacking” and uses astrophysics to teach you how to get your life in order. If your bullshit detector was still not going off after this point and you ended this piece with a smile on your face and your mouse on the recommend button, you should be ashamed of yourself.

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