The world of self-development is certainly a strange one. While it is without a doubt one of the best journeys that I and many other people could imagine embarking on, it is, like most things, full of unexpected problems. Much of the plushy world of self-growth, wellness, good vibes or any of the other thousands of synonyms that the concept uses will lead you to believe that growth is linear, happiness is guaranteed and you on the path to becoming a saint – all relatively stress-free. What isn’t talked about often, if ever, is some of the serious struggles, isolation and plain old weirdness that arises along this path. This is why I thought it was important to highlight some of the things they don’t tell you about self-development. The darker side, if you will.
If you are passionate about this sort of stuff and/or have been trying to consciously improve yourself for some time, many of these problems will likely resonate with you. The self-development world isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, it can actually be a bit of a bumpy ride…
Over-reading (and under-acting)
This is a major sticking point that I have experienced in the past year or so. If you look back at my book reviews of 2018, you will see that I consumed my fair share and this year hasn’t been a whole lot different.
The conscious change that I am trying to make now though is to let my actions dictate the majority of my learning curve, rather than the reading. Obviously, it is often the reading that gives me some sense of direction for my actions but too often I have found myself over-reading and under-acting.
It is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you understand something because you have read it. I have found that is very rarely true. It is repeated actions of said thing that show you truly understand it.
Picking your nose up from a book and acting on what you have learnt is one of the best things that you can do on your self-development journey.
Looking for a hack when there is no hack
While hacks are undoubtedly useful in many situations, there are times and situations when hacks either don’t work, don’t exist or what is even less talked about: when they shouldn’t even be taken.
For example, there is no real hack to getting in shape. You have to churn out exercise and good dieting regularly in order to see results. Sure, there might be a good ‘gym hack’ that make your biceps look a little bigger over the long term or a ‘diet hack’ which actually involves depriving yourself of everything worth living for (ah-hem…pizza).
In reality, there are no effective hacks for being in shape long term other than to nail your workout, diet, sleep etc most of the time, again and again.
Even if you are looking to hack your own life’s journey of growth and improvement, the clue is in the ‘life’. It is life-long, in case that wasn’t already obvious (which sometimes it isn’t). There is no quick-fix or shortcut around this thing. It’s a life-long commitment.
Not all hacks are beneficial or even necessary, just ask this guy:
Spending every waking hour trying to be productive
This is a trap that I fall into again and again and I know that it is a very common problem among fellow self-improvers as well.
So you’ve read up on all of the latest productivity tips, you have all of the gadgets and apps and you are ready to become as productive as Santa’s assembly line. You have a good couple of days or two then…
You have no motivation to do the stuff that you want to do and need to get done. Worry starts to set in because you now know more than the average person about how to be productive and yet, you just aren’t doing it.
So you go one of either two ways: 1) you curl up in a ball of self-loathing or 2) you completely rebound the other way.
You spend your spare 2 minutes in the queue at Starbucks looking up the latest financial trends, you listen to a podcast while reading your book because you just can these days, you schedule all of the times and durations of your arguments with your spouse so then you can get cracking with your work.
Hold your horses there a second.
If any of this sounds remotely familiar, I hate to tell you this but you should probably join me in A2PA (Addicted to Productivity Anonymous).
Not only is it easy to get swallowed into the productivity hole, but it is also really easy to forget that most of life’s best moments occur when you are taking things a bit slower. When you are in living in the present moment, with family, with nature, with your dog.
On top of this, if your whole life revolves around being productive, you are going to have a bit of a meltdown when life shits on you with sickness, emergencies and the like, just like I have done before.
Paradoxically, allowing your productive self to be unproductive every now and then might be one of the most productive things that you do.
This is definitely something that I don’t hear about too often in the self-improvement world and I know is something that I and many others do often feel. Heck, the whole world feels it to an extent but I feel it is magnified in the pursuit of something better.
The whole concept of improvement requires that the subject, which is usually you or me, be imperfect.
Maybe that isn’t news to you. Nobody is perfect and therefore striving for improvement is fairly normal. That’s why you are on this journey in the first place.
Yet the constant search for something better in yourself isn’t too dissimilar from the constant search for happiness and fulfilment from new cars and new shoes. If taken too far, I believe that the constant need to self-improve can produce permanent feelings of being incomplete, feeling inadequate and chasing a different manifestation of perfection. A hedonic treadmill of sorts, except the carrot that you are chasing isn’t flashy goods but a piece of you that is supposedly missing.
The whole self-improvement journey is about becoming a better version of yourself for yourself and for the people and things that give your life meaning. If you are ruthlessly dismissing the current version of yourself in favour of a hypothetical ‘better version’ of yourself somewhere off into the future, then you are missing the whole point.
Accepting your weaknesses and incompleteness doesn’t mean leaving them as they are, it means realising that they are a key part of this stage of your journey. Will they still be part of tomorrow’s version of you? Who knows. But with or without these flaws, you are still a complete human being.
Fighting the ego
Reading = Knowledge.
Knowledge = Power.
Therefore, Reading = Power?
This has become an all-too-familiar equation that I see in the personal development world and it all stems from that buzzword that everyone seems to know about these days: ego.
I will be the first to admit that when I am trying to learn and grow and even see a little smidge of success, I am instantly drawn into a battle with my ego. The ego has a superiority complex, it wants to be known, and it does this mainly in the self-improvement arena by mode of comparison.
Wow, look at you meditating. I bet no-one else in this room meditates for the massive 10 minutes a day that you do.
Woah, look at you swinging kettlebells like a beast. I bet half of the people in this gym don’t even know what a kettlebell is. You are so advanced fitness.
It’s embarrassing to admit that these are some of the thoughts that I have had when trying to become a better version of myself. The ego always wants a slice of the action and needs the recognition through the validation which we often get from comparing ourselves to other people.
Don’t do it.
It’s an awful value. When you feel yourself talking yourself up at the expense of others, cut it off. Instead, realise that comparison comes from a place of insecurity. Realise that what you are doing is for you, and that should be all the validation that you need.
Some of the biggest egos that I have seen reside in the self-improvement world, owned by those who claim to be more ‘improved’ than the rest of the population.
If your ego is still pulling the strings, then it doesn’t matter how many self-help books and quotes you have seen, you are behind rather than ahead.
Expecting everyone to be as keen as you are
This is much less a problem and more of a ‘ahhhh that is actually really obvious but I didn’t even realise it’ sort of point.
Here’s the deal: self-development, personal growth, evolving, whatever term you want to throw around, is, at the end of the day, just a hobby.
Will I make the case that it is one of the best hobbies that you can take up? Yes.
However, it is easy to forget that it is just that, a hobby. Just like stamp-collecting, football and extreme ironing, there are some people who are mad for it and there are people who just don’t care.
As many benefits as consciously changing your life for the better might have, it is important to remember that change often isn’t an information problem, it’s an emotional problem.
You can blast your friend with all 3000 listed benefits of meditation or personal finance podcasts or why they might have a magnesium deficiency, but if there is an emotional blockage or they just don’t care, then you are going to have a tough time.
You can try enlisting them on the self-development journey. It’s fun to have a friend come along with you and you are both very likely to come out of the other side much better people than if you don’t ever start.
But it might not be for them. At least not yet, anyway. For those sorts of people, the best thing that you can do is lead the way.