“Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development.”
– Jim Rohn
Self-help is everywhere. From the books with the F-word on their dust jacket to the private diaries of Roman emperors, if you want self-help, you got it.
But how do you read and absorb this advice to make a real difference in your life? And how do you do this without spending years reading?
Self-help is the cheat code to life but you don't want it to become your life.
Here are 5 easy but powerful ways to accelerate your personal growth without wasting years of your life.
1. Find the right type of self-help for you
Like a jigsaw, you’re looking for self-help that fits with the shape you are right now. You will have to try many shapes (authors, books, speakers and so forth) before finding the ones that resonate.
Don't worry if everyone else says something is great, if it doesn't strike a chord, keep looking.
I never understood Echart Tolle’s The Power of Now. After trying to read it twice I quit. There's no point wasting time when something isn't clicking. You can always come back to it.
Don’t be disillusioned just because one shape doesn’t fit. Your life can change on a penny if you come across the right shape at the right time.
The shape you need will change over time as you grow and develop. Keep searching. We’re all seekers in this game.
2. Acknowledge the diminishing law of returns
If you buy a £20 microphone from Amazon it will do the job but if you buy a £200 microphone it will sound wonderful. Then if you then buy a £2000 microphone, the chances are it won’t sound much different from your £200 purchase.
The point is the higher up you go, the fewer returns you reap.
This is the same for self-help. The wiser and more self-aware you become, the smaller your leaps in progress will be.
This doesn’t mean self-help stops working, it means you're a more well-rounded person and therefore it's harder to get to the next level.
Newbie gains are real. In the gym, in investing, in self-help. Don't expect growth to be exponential. This isn’t self-help failing, it’s a sign you’re growing.
Stick with it.
3. Understand progress comes in fits and starts
Self-help isn’t linear but full of plateaus. When I began my self-help journey, the simple words of Les Brown resonated deeply.
“If you can look up, you can get up” was a message of personal defiance. Another quote that resonated was Albert Camus’ famous invincible summer passage:
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back.”
– Albert Camus
Today, these ideas are the foundations of my beliefs, but now I seek more nuanced philosophies as I am wiser and require greater intellectual nourishment.
Our mind needs to hear the same message over and over before it adds it to a working model of life.
Keep going, you won’t be progressing all the time, but when you do, it will usually be in quantum leaps.
4. You only notice progress when looking back
Once you know something it’s impossible to imagine not knowing it.
Things we learn become an innate part of us. It isn’t until we read an old diary, look at an old goals list or meet old friends we’re reminded how far we’ve come.
This isn’t arrogance, it’s humility. It’s humbling to know you needed to do the work and therefore, it’s likely you still need to do more. It’s accepting you don’t know everything.
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished”.
– Daniel Gilbert
Personal development is never-ending so you need to remind yourself how far you’ve come.
When I first read Conversations with God, I didn’t understand some of it; some of the answers in the book made no sense. When I finished reading the trilogy of books, I went back to the first one and re-read it and understood all of it perfectly. It’s only then I realised how much I’d grown.
5. Ignore other people’s criticism
Those who need self-help most are the ones who reject it the most.
They are full of fear and anger and will mock any form of self-reflection. This is why they say the moment someone walks into a therapist’s office, the healing has already begun.
The three stages of healing are awareness, acceptance and action. If you’re not aware there is inner work to be done, you will wholly reject any suggestion there might be.
Trying to explain the law of attraction to someone who isn’t into self-help sounds like you’re talking about wizards and fantasies, but the law of attraction is simply based on the principle of “you don’t get in life what you want, you get in life what you are”. Yet, to the closed-minded, it sounds crazy.
Let people worry about their own problems. Or, as the case may be, ignore them. No one can grow unless they want to. It takes people different lengths of time to face their demons, it’s not your battle, it’s theirs.
Some final thoughts
Self-help isn’t a panacea for life's problems, it’s a way to make the most of your gifts and talents. Often, though, you won’t feel this. You will only feel frustrated.
Inner work — real inner work, not Instagram motivational posts — is both hard and painful.
Therefore self-help is ultimately a journey of faith.
It is faith in the process, faith in yourself and faith there is another level to your life you can’t see yet, but your trust is there.
On a recent podcast (79 minutes in), spiritual writer Geoff Thompson said about inner work:
“We have to live in a place where we know we don’t understand, we have to be comfortable with not understanding. You understand what you do will have an effect and you will expand, but we have to always acknowledge we’ll never be able to understand it.”
– Geoff Thompson
There is great faith involved in self-help. Throughout the process you will be consumed by doubt, tempted and tricked by snake oil, you will be isolated by mockery and progress will not seem forthcoming.
That is until, as the Buddhists say, you experience a “clear view” and level up. Then you will go back into the woodlands renewed to fight with your demons once more.
Hopefully, these 5 easy but powerful ways to accelerate your personal growth will help you become who you know you can be.
After all, your life is a work of art expressing who you are, why not make it beautiful?