Self-improvement is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, reading self-improvement and personal development is super valuable. After all, if you never tried to gain more wisdom, your potential would be extremely limited.
“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.”
― General Jim Mattis
Over the last decade, I've read countless self-help, entrepreneurial, philosophical, and lifestyle-design books. And they've helped change my mindsets, reshape what I thought was possible, and give me the steps to make it happen—whether in fitness, finances, relationships, or mental and emotional health.
Without those teachings, I probably would've sleepwalked through life and been a carbon copy of my parents and friends.
But there’s a downside when it comes to consuming more and more self-improvement information: It becomes a powerful trap.
You see, many people keep reading more books, watching more videos, and buying more courses, hoping that in the next thing, they find the answer that will lead them to success without having to actually put in the work.
They’re trying to find the book that can finally make them confident in every social setting. They’re trying to find the one hack that can help them finally follow through on all the projects they started but never finished.
Meanwhile, they rarely—if ever—apply the ideas they’ve already learned.
There’s a saying that, “When the sage points at the moon, all the idiot sees is the finger.”
In a way, you can think of a self-improvement book like a finger pointing at the moon. The truth isn’t in the book; the book only points you to the truth. But you have to look for yourself.
Falling into the trap of consuming more and more self-help (which is like getting more and more fingers pointing at the moon) is difficult because it seems so innocuous: It’s kind of an “honorable” problem because it shows you’re trying to “better yourself” and improve your abilities.
But the problem is it’s very comfortable to stay in this phase and keep consuming more information because it feels like you’re doing something when you really aren’t.
“There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.”
— Albert Einstein
The reality is if you’re not getting the results you want or you know you can get — despite consuming tons of books, videos, podcasts, courses, articles, etc. — the answer will not be found in another resource.
So what’s the solution?
Stop reading and start acting.
“One learns from books and example only that certain things can be done. Actual learning requires that you do those things.”
— Frank Herbert
There is no other way.
If you’ve already read dozens and dozens of personal development books, here’s the truth:
You already have enough knowledge.
You just need to use it.
I’ve been guilty of this too. For example, years ago, I read many books on social skills and I thought I was getting better—but I wasn't doing shit. And while the books may have given me the steps for success, I still had to walk them on my own and experience that journey for myself.
It wasn’t until I challenged myself to talk to a new person every day — for several months straight — that I actually learned and got the results I wanted.
“In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply.”
— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
True learning is, as Dan Sullivan would say, “the ability to produce an outcome.”
Simply put, if you can't create the result you want, you didn't learn how to do it. For example, you might think you know how to create a million-dollar business, but if you’ve never created a million-dollar business yourself, you don't know how to do it.
That’s wh, gaining more knowledge often isn’t the answer. For example, reading diet book after diet book, yet still struggling to lose weight. The harsh truth is reading another book would just hold you back.
You already have enough knowledge—you need to start applying it.
You need to simply act on what you already know.
My Challenge to You
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”
― Bruce Lee
I’ve seen well-read people challenge themselves to read 100 books in a year. Again, it’s kind of an honorable goal, but is it really going to change their life?
Books are a means to an end, not the end itself.
If I were to finish “100” of anything in a year, I’d much rather test 100 business ideas in a year, write 100 articles in a year, or do 100 workouts in a year.
Because now, my intention is to create, not consume.
And only then will I see real progress and results.
While I do love to read, counting how many new books I’ve read isn’t a metric I care about. I care about results. (Hell, 95% of the time I just read the same books over and over again and try to apply the information I already studied.)
“A multitude of books only gets in one’s way. So if you are unable to read all the books in your possession, you have enough when you have all the books you are able to read… if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to ones you have read before.”
Chances are you already have everything you need to guide you through the next few steps in your life (at the very least). So while you don't have to stop reading for the rest of your life, here's my challenge to you:
For the next 3 months, stop consuming more information. If you want to read fiction, go ahead, but stop reading “nonfiction self-help” and use your free time to focus on creating. Focus on experimenting. Focus on doing.
“If you want to succeed, stop reading inspirational quotes and get to work.”
— Guy Kawasaki
For example, if you've read a lot of health books, stop reading and go to the gym. If you've read a lot of books on relationships, stop reading and spend more time with your partner (or go out and start finding dates). If you've read a lot of books on starting a business, stop reading and make your first $100.
Apply the knowledge you already know.
And you’ll finally get the results you want.
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