Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: Why do many people who read self-help books fail to get results? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.
We are out of balance and it’s killing us.
Each day that I travel to and from work, I glance around crowded busses and trains, scanning the faces of my fellow public transit commuters. As I move my gaze from person to person, a pattern emerges. This same pattern is present day in and day out and exemplifies the lack of balance present in our toxic and paradoxical culture of consumerism, entitlement, and instant gratification.
People are exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally, & spiritually, people are saturated in their problems, consumed by their limitations, and sulking in their suffering.
No matter how much caffeine reaches the bloodstream, blue bags remain under the eyes of my peers, friends, and family. The energy is thick with self-absorption, a basic narcissism enhanced by the voyeuristic tendencies of social media, in which people live out other people’s fantasies in one reality, while their own physical body lays neglected in the absurdity of life and its treacherous conditions. I wish we could make use of self-help books to escape our self-constructed shackles.
Self-help books are excellent sources of knowledge. They disseminate information from scientific journals and elitist institutions to the general public, which makes them powerful tools of self-empowerment.
When people read these books they connect to their sense of agency—their ability to make a real difference in their lives—but once they have to take what they learned and apply it to their life, most people fall short.
Self-help books don’t work. They can’t work because they exist in a vacuum. You must be the one who takes responsibility for your current state and implement changes in your life. You need to decide how the concepts you read about will work given your circumstances and surroundings. The book can change your perspective, but you must change your life.
Here’s five ways to get results from self-help books:
1. Take notes. Rather than reading a whole book and then having nothing to show for it, underline and highlight things that jump out while you’re reading the book, then go back and write bullet points of the most important lessons in each chapter. These notes will provide you with a cheat sheet to view later when you want to remember poignant lessons from the book.
2. Make a plan. Take your notes and then formulate a plan of how to implement small changes into your life. Write the ways in which the knowledge you gained impacts your life on a day-to-day basis and look for ways to make changes. Try to be realistic in your approach—don’t bite off more than you can chew.
3. Take action. Most people fail to benefit from self-help books because they don’t make any changes after being exposed to new information. Old patterns, no matter how destructive, are easier to maintain than creating new behaviors, which requires far more effort and vulnerability. Don’t be like most people—make the conscious decision to take action and use what you learn to improve your life.
4. Hold yourself accountable. Part of improving yourself and achieving your goals is holding yourself accountable for your actions. If you fail to implement a change don’t beat yourself up, just adjust your plan and make it more realistic. Reward yourself each time you rise to the occasion and celebrate each successful attempt at creating new patterns.
5. Share with others. A great way to crystalize your knowledge is to share it with others. Rephrasing what you know and then publicizing it gives you a public record of your thoughts and can highlight areas where you still need growth. Talking over these changes with a counselor or therapist is a great way to jump-start your journey towards success. And, as a bonus, speaking to others about your journey of self-development gives them permission to start theirs. Be the spark that sets the world ablaze with the passion needed to create positive change.
Don’t just read self-help books—make your life a self-help book. When you embody that which you wish to become, you align your attention with your intention and achieve your dreams. The key to life isn’t being a passive consumer of knowledge, it’s implementing what you learn and creating something new. The more that you learn, implement, and create, the better your world becomes.