Most people suck at improving themselves. Even when they’re trying their hardest to become a better person, they wind up running on the dreaded personal development hamster wheel – hours of effort, zero results.
It’s not because they’re stupid. It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s definitely not because it’s not possible. It’s because they’re making the mistakes that most people make when they’re trying to change their life for the better. That’s why there’s so many people reading self-help blogs, self-help books, and taking self-help classes and yet so few people making a meaningful and lasting difference.
So here’s a list of the eight most common (and most damaging) mistakes that people make in personal development.
Are you guilty of any of these?
- Are You Fixing Your Weaknesses?Don’t you just hate being bad at things? It makes you feel dumb playing tennis when you’ve only ever played against Wii characters. You feel small when someone mentions James K. Polk and expects you to know he was the 11th American president (not that anyone would ever expect that).
So it’s natural to focus the majority of your personal development time on fixing your weaknesses. That’s all well and good, but you get a much better return on that time if you focus on improving your strengths.
Think of it like this. The vast majority of any successes you have in life will be because of your strengths. Your career security will be based on the strengths you bring to the table. You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule (80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts). That’s what I recommend here:
Focus the majority of your personal development efforts on your top 20% of skills, strengths, and talents. For the rest of the 80% do what you can to avoid them, delegate them to someone else, or create a system to avoid doing them. If a weakness is preventing you from hitting your goals, then get just good enough so that you can continue to focus on becoming an expert at what you’re good at.
- Do You Want to Become “Better”?Why do you focus on personal development? Well, to be a “better” person. To have a “better” life. To have “better” skills.
…What does “better” mean?
Every sane person on earth wants to be “better” in a bunch of ways. That’s a good thing – we’re ambitious. But “better” is a vague goal. We all know the thing about vague goals – vague goals produce vague results. Or in other words, vague goals don’t produce real results.
Your personal development path must have a purpose. There has to be a reason you’re working on whatever it is you want to improve. That’s the only way anything will actually ever happen. Change “better” to something like “know how to build a website so I can share my advice.” That’s how personal development actually happens in the real world.
- Are You Learning Awesome Theories?Theories are awesome and a lot of them are amazing. Seriously.
An investment strategy can sky rocket your wealth. A lifestyle design philosophy can get you out of the cubicle. A productivity system can help you get a whole heck of a lot more done.
But theories are also like crack or girl scout cookies – they’re addictive.
Once you’re exposed to a compelling theory or philosophy about something, it’s hard not to try to learn everything about it. Then it’s hard not to look for all the other competing theories or philosophies and learn everything about them. Then it’s hard to not look for comparisons to figure out which one’s best.
Worst of all it’s hard to bring any of the theories into real action.
It’s helpful to remember this simple concept – “everything that’s not stupid works.”
For example, there is an infinite number of ways to lose weight – choose from a million diets, exercise programs, supplements, gyms, programs, etc. – but nothing works if you’re doing nothing but researching.
It doesn’t matter if you have the #1 possible theory. It’s better to just find a path that’s not stupid and stick to it. (You can always improve it later). Learning theories isn’t personal development. Implementing them is.
- Have You Never Had a Major Failure?Avoiding failure makes you feel successful. After all, failure is bad. Right?
Well, kind of. No one should try to fail. That would make you weird. But if you’ve never had a major failure, then you’ve never really tried to succeed. If you’ve got your skin in the game for long enough something will go wrong. Period.
Don’t believe me? Name one successful person who’s never failed.
The strange paradox of it is that you cannot learn much from successes, but the bigger the failure the more you learn. In most aspects of life, people tend to look at the successes and copy them so that they can avoid the failure. The first part is good – copying previous successes is just smart. But you should expect to fail eventually. The only possible way to avoid failing is to not try in the first place.
Work hard for those failures, because that’s the best way possible for you to grow.
- Are You Crazy Busy?Everyone intends to improve themselves, but it’s just damn hard to find the time (see New Years resolutions).
You got work, family, obligations, travel, chores, and sleep. Who has time to work on themselves?
Yep, it’s tough.
It’s really got to be a matter of priority. How much of a priority is it that you improve yourself, your skills, and your life? It may be obvious that that’s a top priority for you, but real world implementation may be a bit tricky. Time may only allow you to settle for reading advice, not implementing it.
There’s two solutions:
First, you can schedule time for whatever kind of personal development you want to focus on. Then you guard that time with your life.
Second, if you can’t do that for whatever reason, you need to find ways to incorporate your improvement in other activities you have to do anyway.
Truth be told, you should probably find a way to do both.
- Did You Choose The Newest and Shiniest Version?It’s easier to think that the newest thing out there is the best. The newest strategy, technique, tactic, idea, book, etc.
It’s true with a lot of things – technology and medicine being two obvious examples. It’s not true with a lot of others.
Want to get an amazing memory? The best current memory courses are variations on methods from ancient Greece. Want to calculate crazy math problems in your head? India had that figured out about 2,500 years ago.
We like bells, whistles, and that new car smell, but sometimes we’re missing the old and tested approaches to things. Most personal development is about subjects that are timeless – the mind, the body, the spirit, selling, finances, communication, friendship, love, etc.
I guess the point here is no matter what you want to improve about yourself many people have gone through the same thing. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
- Is Your Personal Development for Personal Development’s Sake?If “personal development” doesn’t have a result, then it doesn’t count.
By “result” I mean a tangible, objective, other-people-can-see-change kind of result. That means you have to get something from your improvement efforts.
What’s that something.
Well, if you truly improve yourself then you should see some of the following things come into your life:
- More money (gasp!) – Yep, if you’re more skilled then you should command a higher income whether your self employed or work for someone else
- More confidence – You’re more confident when you’re good at something. The more you improve, the more that should happen.
- More influence – The more you improve in a noticeable way, the more others will value your opinion on things
If you’re not seeing those things, maybe your personal development path isn’t quite on track. Instead, focus your personal development efforts on things that will cause real world effects.
- Do You Love to Read?Loving to read is great, but dangerous.
It’s dangerous because it takes you to another world. When you’re reading your imagination sparks and you are inspired by great possibilities. The world in your head is fantastic!
…then you go back to the real world.
With your personal development, spend maximum 25% of your time reading, learning, and researching. The other 75% (or more) should be spent taking action.
Let’s be honest, with most things we already know what we need to do, or at least where to start. Wanna be fit? Start with jogging before work and stop eating fast food. Wanna make friends? Start by joining a club or organization. Wanna be productive? Close your email.
For something we just don’t know how to do, finding that information is simple – Google it.
New information can inspire and motivate, but more often it can derail. So, maximum 25% reading and minimum 75% doing.
So Put Yourself Out There
Testing the quality of your personal development efforts can be one of the most powerful things that you can do today.
Making mistakes can be frustrating (especially when it comes to something personal), but identifying those mistakes allows us to improve. Most progress starts by noticing a mistake and deciding to do something differently in the future.
The worst personal development mistake didn’t make the list. The worst mistake is ignoring or refusing to do anything about failures. It’s turning a blind eye to potential learning opportunities. When that happens, people are doomed to continue running on that personal development hamster wheel.
I didn’t include it, because folks in that situation will always be stuck. On the other hand, if you’re passionately pursuing improvement and have an open mind to change, you’re almost guaranteed to succeed.
So go out there and become great.