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Our advertisement and consumption-based culture is quick to point out our flaws. There’s a very good and simple reason for this: once we feel like we’re less than perfect or missing out on something, advertisers have us right where they want us.
They have us in an emotionally vulnerable spot — a place where they can more effectively promote (and sell) their content, products, and services. You know, the ones that promise to “fix” all our flaws and rid us of all our troubles.
You see it almost every minute of the day. Just turn on the TV, navigate to a popular website on your computer, or drive down the highway for a mile and you’ll undoubtedly see these messages too. They whisper, “You’re not good enough as you are, but, if you buy our product, maybe you will be.”
This isn’t to say that such advertising is evil, just that it appeals to the fear-based regions of our brains. Since we, as humans, are naturally afraid of loss and of not being enough, these messages often resonate with us, deeply. As we’ll see in this post, when we listen to these messages too often, we can find ourselves in some precarious places.
These messages — that we’re not enough, but that one person, product, or company can save us — often lead us to chase what I would call the self-help pot of gold, or, the end of the self-improvement rainbow. That is, we race from blog post to blog post, product to product, never really finding that “magic formula” we’re missing, but also never stopping to think that maybe said formula isn’t actually out there.
We ravenously consume the latest best-sellers and chart-topping podcasts, hoping that someone will finally give us that critical piece of information we’ve been missing — you know, the one preventing us from moving forward in life. We buy products by the truckload from Amazon, thinking that with just one more stylish shirt or time-saving gadget, we’ll have everything we need to finally jump into life and kick ass.
The problem with this mindset is that, more often than not, those books, products, and services don’t (and can’t) actually provide us with the magic solution we think they will. And yet, we continue to believe they will — at least eventually.
This type of thinking leads us to that cyclical, potentially even obsessive, process of running from one blog post, self-help seminar, or beauty cream to the next. “If I could only find that perfect solution,” we tell ourselves, “then I’d finally be ready to live.”
The reason why such an outlook on life is so hazardous is that this self-help pot of gold, this end of rainbow, so to speak, is just like a rainbow in real-life — it’s just about impossible to discover, and if you actually do find it, you’ll realize it’s not all it was cracked up to be.
I know that sounds a bit grim, but just stick with me for a second. I think you’ll soon see where I’m going with this.
Sure, it’s often fun to buy and consume things. It can be entertaining, even exhilarating, to read your favorite author’s latest blog post or dive into that book everyone’s been talking about. But just because these things are sometimes fun doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the life-changing offerings our traditional advertising channels market them to be.
Yes, watching that talk on how to increase your business’ sales numbers can provide you a nice insight or two, but it’s rare for such a talk to ever be life-changing. Moreover, no talk can replace getting out there and doing the work required for actually increasing said sales numbers.
That’s not to say we should never watch such speeches, just that we shouldn’t let the fact that we haven’t yet watched them determine whether or not we actually pick up the phone and start calling prospects.
Turning the Chase Inward
Many times in life, I’ve found myself trapped in such an obsessive cycle. For example, instead of going to the local bar and talking to women I might be interested in dating, I’ve sometimes spent nights reading books about how to do such a thing.
Or, other times, I’ve ripped through blog posts on getting side businesses off the ground instead of just launching said ventures, pounding the pavement, and learning from my mistakes along the way. In each of these scenarios, it’s been very rare that I come across some piece of information that miraculously sparks me into action and helps me change my standing in life. Here’s why:
When you’re endlessly consuming information on a subject without taking action on it, you’re not actually after what it is you say you are. You’re after an excuse — something that will give you permission to avoid pursuing the very thing you want. You know, the thing that both invigorates and scares the total shit out of you.
For as long as we have yet another book to read or product to buy, as long as we haven’t found that “perfect” solution yet, we have yet another reason why we’re not ready to face our fears and take action. Moreover, we have yet another person or company who’s “responsible” for our own failures — not ourselves.
As crazy as it sounds, such avoidance and excuse-making helps us feel kind of good. Sure, not as good as actually getting into a loving relationship or building a successful business would, but at least better than owning up to our shortcomings.
This is actually a scary concept for many of us to grasp; it’s easier and less threatening to our egos to blame someone else for our imperfections. It’s very difficult to look yourself in the mirror and say, “This incessant need for new content and products is just a well-crafted excuse. It’s just an easy-to-stomach way of avoiding going after the things I want in life. No seminar, product, or piece of content is responsible for my life and my progress in it — only I am.”
Of course, that’s not to say no one else can help us in our quest — far from it. It’s just to say that at the end of the day, we, and no one else, are responsible for our own lives. Some of us may have been dealt hands, situations, or circumstances that are objectively more difficult or worse than those that others face. Yet, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we are the ones responsible for determining what such situations mean and what we’re going to do about them.
Once we make that determination, we can finally start to walk on the path toward change. For, as much as we don’t want to admit it, that change doesn’t start within yet another book or product — it starts within ourselves. Though the companies that constantly vie for our eyeballs and attention would hate to hear it, the truth is that very few products and pieces of information can truly change our lives or replace actually pursuing what we want.
Thus, the pot of gold you seek is not “out there.” It is not on the internet, and it cannot be found in an Amazon package. It can only be found in the lessons and outcomes of your real-world experiences. That’s right — both the good ones and the awful ones.
The next time you find yourself saying, “One more book, podcast, or blog post and I’ll finally be ready to take action,” ask yourself if that’s actually the truth or just an excuse to avoid facing fear. Then, give yourself permission to put that book, podcast, or blog down and relentlessly pursue that which you want in life, fear in hand. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only way.
Thanks for reading! Interested in more psychology and life hacks?
Then you might enjoy my first book, “Get Out of Your Head: A Toolkit for Living with and Overcoming Anxiety.” You can find that book here. It covers both strategies for dealing with anxiety as well as other ways to improve your overall life and psychology.