Forget Personal Development – Stop Filling Your Head with Shit

I spend a huge chunk of my spare time searching for information that is going to improve my life. I’m the dream customer for any self-development guru because I want to believe – the strange things is I’m not sure if any of this material has ever led to a substantial improvement in my life.

Think and Grow Rich (Napoleon Hill) - Blogging Bookshelf

Does Richard Branson Read Himself to Sleep with Personal Development Books?

I’ve a sneaky suspicion that successful people don’t bother much with personal development books unless they are writing them. It seems to be mostly those of us who are struggling to be succesful that consume this material. I sometimes worry that all this content can ever do is teach me how to struggle.

I’m not saying personal development books contain bad information – I’ve read some amazing stuff, and I’m sure at least fifty per cent of it it reasonably true. The real problem is there is so much shit already in my head that adding new compost to the heap isn’t such a great solution.

Reach Your Potential by Dumping Beliefs

Reaching my potential means becoming the person I’m meant to be. I know the term ‘person I’m meant to be’ sounds a bit airy-fairy, but it simply means the ‘me’ that exists when I remove all of the shit that has been holding me back in life.

Reaching my potential is not about becoming somebody else – it is about becoming me. Steve Jobs didn’t become successful by learning to become somebody else – he succeeded by being himself, warts and all.

All of the real personal development in my life has involved jettisoning existing beliefs. I can’t think of even one occasion when things improved for me by taking on new beliefs.

I’ve benefited far more from failure in my life than any advice from a self-help guru. The impact of hitting one of these rock bottoms is always to shatter some of my beliefs. My journey is easier after one of these dark episodes because my load has been lightened.

Knowing is Not Enough

If having good information was enough, we would almost all be in peak fitness and living in castles. The problem isn’t usually a deficiency of knowledge but an inability of this wisdom to penetrate our belief system.

I wasted many years of my life to alcohol addiction. I entered my first rehab at nineteen and read tons of self-help books but none of this information helped me. This is because the real problem wasn’t lack of information – it was my beliefs about life that were keeping me trapped.

My Continued Obsession with Personal Development

Perhaps my cynicism towards the personal development industry is a bit unfair. I do benefit from a boost to my motivation after reading some of this stuff. It might also be the case that reading this material plants a seed in my mind that can later blossom when the conditions are right.

How to Use Personal Development Material Safely

• Understand that you become successful by being yourself and not by becoming somebody else.
• Remember that it is more likely to be your beliefs that are holding you back and not lack of information.
• Try to figure out if there are any self-limiting beliefs holding you back from success.
• Don’t become too dependent on personal development books to sort out your problems – as John Lennon could have said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy reading self-help books.


  1. Hi Paul. Another good ‘un with plenty of thoughts and opinions to ponder.

    As you know, I’m a bit of a ‘self-help book nut’ myself. It was actually an ex-girlfriend back in the UK who got me into this stuff when I flicked through a copy of ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ that happened to be lying around on her coffee table.

    I think there could well be a ‘danger’ in reading too many self-help books, and many of them say the same thing – they just come at the objective from different angles. However, a lot of the information in these books is worth digesting and acting upon because it really does work!

    There are an awful lot of ‘average’ people out there and there’s nothing wrong or arrogant in trying to lift yourself up and becoming ‘better than average’. Self help books really do help you achieve getting to that level.

    I think self-help books give you a boost after reading them. You suddenly feel better equipped to take on the world. It’s a bit like when you do a teaching workshop or training course. You’re brimming with new ideas and can’t wait to get back into a classroom, whereas before, you might have found yourself lagging a little.

    • Thanks Philip, I agree with you that a lot of this information is good, and these books can definitely give me a motivational boost. I suppose my main doubt is the ability of this material to lead to lasting change. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it takes life kicking me in the nuts to really change my behavior long-term 🙂

  2. Great minds think alike! I was going to write a similar post, but now I don’t have to! 😛 I think you, Amy (?) and I are a lot alike in that we are striving to be our personal best and we read and listen to those “self-improvement” books – and I only know this because we openly blog and talk about it.

    But it’s too much, isn’t it? I was thinking about this b/c we are inundated with positive quotes over thoughtful pictures on our news feeds, and it might as well be negative, b/c it’s just being blocked out. I find myself resenting them just as much.

    I guess it’s all losing its meaning. But you said it best, under “knowing is not enough” – we have to change our beliefs. It seems we have to learn through personal experience no matter how much we hear otherwise. Cheers for a great post.

    • Thanks Lani – I think at the end of the day we are all on our own journey. I started this blog with the intention of sharing the things that are working for me as I attempt to reach my potential but maybe the only thing worth sharing is my journey. I don’t think anyone else can teach us to be ourselves and that’s all we can ever be.

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