BBH As I wrote in my last post the other day, this time of year is the usually a time for self-reflection and you get a sense of a fresh start just because the calendar is reset to January 1st. Armed with a New Year’s resolution, we go out in the world ready to become the ”New Me’s” we failed to be last year. And thankfully, there’s a multi-billion industry waiting for us with open arms. The self-help books.
Now, I’ve never been much of a self-help reader. Mainly because I’ve always been fortunate (or foolish!) enough to trust myself and my ideas for how to grow and how I define success, and because: A) Most of the advice given is generic, unspecific and generally unhelpful (you don’t become rich just by getting up att 5 AM in the morning), and B) It’s always pretty much the same advice just phrased differently. But sometimes they serve as inspiration and I guess that can be good enough.
I came across an article on Mashable the other day. It condensed every self-help book ever written into 11 simple rules. We do have a bunch of these books here at home and occasionally, I click on one of those articles stating things like ”8 Things successful people do”, or ”Everyone can become rich – 5 easy steps ”when they pass by in one of my feeds. Obviously, I also clicked on the Mashable link since I’m blogging about it. So I was curious, did Mashable agree with me? Did we just keep getting the same advice over and and over?
Short answer: yeah.
But what of the advice you’re left with when condensing these books? Here are the ”11 simple rules” and what I think of them.
- Take one small step.
As in: we are our habits and what we do every day is what accumulates into greatness so by continuously improving any metric by 1%, you’ll see exponential growth.
It makes sense. You can never fix a big problem in one go. But it’s not about taking that one, small step, is it. It’s not even about taking the first step. The first step is always the easiest because you’re just filled with the joy of having started. The 23rd, on the other hand? Sticking to it – not so easy. Also, small steps are useless if they’re not focused. What this piece of advice actually require from you is to really sit down and make a plan for your goal and then break it down into digestible chunks. If not, it’s just going to set you up to fail and make you feel even worse about because ”you couldn’t even exercise five minutes a day”. Not so helpful.
- Change your mental maps.
The law of attraction, you become what you think, etc. In short: visualising the end-result and work your way backwards from there.
This is a tricky one. Yes, what you think about yourself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Especially in a negative context. If you think you’re going to fail, then most likely, you will. But just thinking about what you want your end-goal to be will get you absolutely nowhere. Same as with the small steps-rule, without a serious plan, actual strategic and tactical thinking and good ol’ fashioned grinding, this advice is not helpful. There’s no such thing as ”If I think it, it will come to me”. You will not make any unconscious decisions towards your goals whatsoever. I call BS!
- Struggle is good. Scary is good.
Do the thing you’re afraid of and don’t back away if it’s harder than you thought.
I actually think this is helpful advice but it requires you to have a think about why you’re scared of something in the first place. In my experience, nervousness and butterflies are ways for you to recognise that the given situation is important to you. How you respond to these things then determines your success. It takes time to sort out these feelings, though.
- Instant judgement is bad.
Keep an open mind, don’t judge too quickly, etc.
Yes and yes. We’re conditioned to have answers, solutions and a response ready at hand for any given situation. And we’re confusing being quick to answer with being smart and successful. I’ve done this way too many times to count. If there’s anything I have to work in myself, it’s this.
- Remember the end of your life.
Basically, carpe diem and don’t postpone stuff.
I’m not sure if constantly reminding yourself of how short your life is, is the key to success, really. Maybe it works for some, but I think the lyrics of Swedish artist Miss Li is a better way to phrase it: Live now, die later.
- Be playful.
Dance like nobody’s watching.
This is actually a piece of advice I’ve carried with me since I was 15 and competing in karate. We used to talk a lot about sports psychology and this was one of the big things we talked about. Having fun while practicing and while away together on competitions made us better fighters and stronger as a team. Being serious all the time actually takes a lot more energy than you think and this energy is much better spent on perfecting your craft. Also, who doesn’t like to have fun? One of my mottos (I have a few) is that ”I’m all fun and games until I’m not” meaning, I’m serious when I have to be and the situation requires it, but until that point, I prefer to have fun. Happiness is contagious, you know!
- Be useful to others.
If you help others, others will help you.
Fairly simple concept and I think this is something we should cultivate in corporate cultures. Many do, they call it ”collaboration” but don’t really define what it is and what it looks like when done well. If we look at life as a team effort, which it really is when you think about it, we would generally be happier and have more successful companies, I think. But we’re conditioned to believe in individual success because that’s what we’ve practiced since early days of school. And we also tend to ”saintify”, label people as ”doormats” or look down at people that helps others, both professionally and in their private lives. If being happy is a goal for you, I’d take this advice to heart.
- Perfectionism = Procrastination.
If you’re trying for perfect, you’ll never launch anything. Or get anywhere.
Haven’t actually thought about this but it’s true. Things can always be a little bit better but at some point, letting go of the details and your own ambition is the only way to move forward. Waiting for the perfect moment is going to hold you back. Also, I think there’s a portion of fear seeping in here. What if you launch and it’s not perfect? Will people judge you? As already established, fear shouldn’t hold you back. Just recognise that it’s important to you and move on. In life, very few things and jobs are life and death, and requires you to get absolutely everything right from the beginning. That is why God invented versioning.
- Sleep, exercise, eat, chill out. Repeat.
Take care of your body and mind.
This is the real tough one, isn’t it. How much – or little, should we eat? And what? We need to exercise but what, how often and how long? We need to sleep but there’s so much to think about and to do. And if you have time to do nothing, you know you really should be doing something because then you’re wasting time and opportunity to become successful. I’m not going into any diets, work-out regimes or whatever, it all depends on what you want to achieve and who you are. Do you, but please shut up about it to others unless they ask you for your opinion on life-choices. Thank you.
- Write it all down.
Put your plan down on paper. Make lists. Of everything. Get things done.
Yes, but to a limited extent. Otherwise you’ll get stuck on rule 8. Make high-level plans and then map out the individual steps as you go when you get to that stage. Otherwise, you’ll spend your life planning without getting anything done. Also, in today’s world, you don’t know all parameters – or they change with a moments notice. Then your time spent on carefully laid plans is wasted. So, semi-helpful advice, this.
- You can’t get it all from reading.
Meaning, a lot of these rules requires some serious introspection and self-reflection if they are to actually be useful. Don’t rely on friends, see a therapist.
A piece of advice that works in the American context where everyone has a therapist, even the therapist. It’s not wrong, though, to see a professional to talk about things. Sorting out your thinking patterns helps you understand why you react to things in certain ways which in turn helps you (better) understand why others reacts the way they do. Mostly though, what I get from this is that you probably already know what your goals are and what success looks like to you. Buying a self-help book is probably just procrastination. You know what you have to do, and the answers and details to what you don’t, you won’t find in self-help books anyway.
Well, those were my thoughts. Do read the original post on Mashable, the writer lists a ton of books should you want to deep-dive into one of the categories!