The Secret To Self-Help Success Nobody Talks About
The term self-help has become synonymous with the word hype. Farfetched promises sell, and that’s unfortunate because there’s a lot of high-quality advice out there.
But here’s an unfortunate truth about that top-notch advice. It’s damn hard work, and it requires long term commitment.
There’s always a lot of promise in the beginning. But we don’t realize the immense challenge of changing our character, undoing years of conditioning, or even just accepting our true selves. And so most attempts at self-help fail.
The typical failure follows a familiar arc.
- It starts with hype, a dubious promise of some sort.
- The expectation of instantaneous transformation creates a sense of euphoric hope.
- Discouragement follows when the expectation fails to manifest.
- Relief comes when the next shiny object appears; the cycle repeats.
Real improvement happens as a result of continued experimentation, dispassionate analysis of the results, and refinement of your techniques.
Sustained results materialize only by applying and practicing proven principles every day.
It took me decades to accept the reality of personal development, but once I prepared myself for the hard work ahead of me, my life changed.
Tame your expectations
I bought my first personal growth program in my mid-20s. I don’t remember how much it cost, but it was a lot of money for me back then. I believed the hype. I fully expected to end my relationship drought and become a millionaire by year’s end.
When I completed the program, I felt like I was on the cusp of greatness. But when it came time to test my newfound skills in the real world, I retreated in fear. I thought I had transformed my life in a weekend, but nothing had changed.
Growth rarely comes from a quick infusion of inspirational soundbites. It results from a sustained commitment to daily improvement. You will achieve growth, but you need patience, and you must work hard.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s the worst self-help sales pitch ever. No doubt, but it’s the only path to personal growth that has worked for me.
These four principles, if applied diligently and consistently, will result in a measurable improvement to your happiness and will help you find meaning in your life.
Before you begin or resume your self-help journey, you need to figure out precisely what you want out of it. Sure, you want a sampling of what everyone else wants: healthier relationships, more professional success, higher status, popularity, a healthy self-image.
Here’s the problem with that approach.
You don’t know why you want it. It’s an emotional need, an impulse. And once you satisfy an impulse, another one appears, and then another one. You can never win. So, before you try to improve yourself, figure out what part of you needs sharpening and why.
This is where philosophy helps you.
Studying the works of philosophers will force you to question the meaning of your life and what a well-lived life means to you.
My mission is to act in a way that allows my life to flourish (Aristotle). To find the one thing that would make me happy, not as a means to something greater, but as an end unto itself, my categorical imperative (Kant).
Act in a way to satisfy the needs and desires of myself and my family as long as those actions don’t impinge on the rights of others (Mills).
And, finally, to examine my life every day and ensure I’m living by my ideals (Socrates).
Buy yourself introductory philosophy books, both eastern and western schools. Study the philosophers and teachings that resonate with you, and write your mission statement.
There’s a common trope in the personal development niche. You set out on a journey to become someone new or achieve something. After a hard-fought battle, you claim victory. But the triumph feels empty. You discover you don’t want it, and worse, you realize you never did.
When we embark on a self-help journey, we seek to address our symptoms or unmet desires. You want fulfillment, but you have no idea what brings you that feeling of completeness, so you latch onto whatever sounds compelling at the moment.
Perhaps you wish you were more of a social butterfly to attract more people into your life. That was something I always hoped for until I realized I could be happy by embracing my true self.
It’s the critical pitfall of the self-help movement — you try to fix things that aren’t really problems.
How do you learn about yourself?
I’ve done it exclusively through journaling. It’s been a staple of my bedtime routine for over three years. Are there other ways? Sure, you can talk to a therapist. I know plenty of people who do. But if you lack the funds, start journaling. It costs you nothing. And if you see a therapist regularly, there’s no reason why you can’t journal too.
I’ve tried courses and books designed to help you learn about yourself. I don’t recommend them. It takes a continuous and sustained effort to dig beneath the surface clutter and uncover the source of what drives you. You won’t get that from a weekend seminar or even a book.
If you approach every new strategy, tool, or technique with unrealistic expectations, you’ll develop a jaded attitude towards personal growth.
Approach each piece of advice with curiosity. Use it as recommended. Analyze the results dispassionately.
There’s a tendency to be dishonest with yourself, especially if you feel an affinity to the advice giver. You want something to work because you like the person who made the recommendation. Fight that impulse. It’s your life; you don’t owe anyone the satisfaction of validating their self-help advice.
It’s unlikely anything you try will work the first time you use it. From my experience, you must personalize all of your growth tools and techniques. Tinker with the advice and customize it. Analyze the results again and determine if it yields a better outcome.
When something has run its course, discard it and don’t look back.
Invent your own tools
For over twenty years, I struggled with irrational fear. It kept me from pursuing my goals, risking rejection, and standing up for myself. Irrational fear is by no means unique to me. It hinders the progress of many of us, even if we don’t like to admit it.
I tried countless hacks, exercises, and tricks to overcome this mental impairment. Nothing worked. During my study of eastern philosophies, I became intrigued by the idea of detachment.
That intrigue yielded nothing practical until a Copywriting mentor drilled me on the importance of curiosity. Something clicked in me, and the Experimenter’s Mindset was born.
Another tool came about from a recurring memory about my 10th-grade French teacher. Whenever we complained about a test score or teenage struggle, he would say, “In 50 years, will it matter?”
His point was that whatever is bothering you today won’t even be a flicker of a memory in 50 years, so why stress over it? I had been recording that distant memory in my journal for several days. It motivated me to experiment with reframing techniques until I found one that worked for me.
What this means for you
Self-improvement works, but it requires a sustained effort over a long period. It won’t come from a magic hack or from reading a book. It takes trial and error to find your magic.
You must incorporate your new strategies and beliefs into your daily life until they become second nature. That’s how you create a lasting change.