Self-Help Junkies

April 2nd, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

Have you ever met a self-help junkie?  A self-help junkie is someone who reads self-help books voraciously, attends seminars as much as his/her budget will allow, and is fluent in self-help lingo; however, when you look at this person’s life objectively, s/he has very little to show for this investment beyond a well-stocked bookshelf and a collection of motivational posters.

Perhaps you know such a person all too well.  :)

For a self-help junkie, the pursuit of personal development becomes a means of escape, at best a form of procrastination and at worst a serious addiction.  The junkie avoids dealing with the real problems of his/her life in order to embrace the delusional fantasy that reading books and going to seminars is some form of progress or therapy, an end unto itself.  But despite the emotional rollercoaster this approach can create, for the most part those positive changes never materialize.  Year after year the self-help junkie devours volumes of material while the practical application of such knowledge remains just beyond the horizon.  Their health, finances, relationship status, and level of awareness are largely unchanged, even after years of presumed life-altering breakthroughs.  This enormous time investment in self-help is nothing but mental masturbation.

Much like drug addicts, self-help junkies feed their addiction by digesting more and more feel-good material.  They get sucked into the emotional high that comes from reading enthusiastic drivel, but those unresolved feelings of emptiness and self-doubt always return in the end.  For a brief time these devotees may maintain the illusion of action, such as by doing introspective exercises, taking quizzes, making journal entries, and reciting daily affirmations.  But when they’re just about to begin the real action phase — the kind that produces measurable results — somehow they always get sidetracked, and the end result is nothing but a rah-rah fizzle.  Reality begins to intervene, the desire to escape into the warm embrace of those positive feelings arises once again, and the cycle continues… often for years.

Unfortunately, there are many self-help books that readily feed this addiction, books that replace actionable, workable ideas with meaningless happy talk, vapid platitudes, and inflated stories of personal triumph.  Such books invariably promise “fast and easy” results.  But the most substantial prose in such books is frequently devoted to upselling you on an expensive seminar, where the committed junkies can get an ever bigger fix, eagerly emptying their wallets in exchange for an ephemeral smile.

Real growth or delusional addiction?

Suggesting that the pursuit of personal growth is bad because of the existence of self-help junkies is like saying that food is bad because of the existence of junk food addicts.  So-called “foodies” value the taste and satiety of food more than its nutritional value; whether the food is healthy and nutritious is of little concern as long as it tastes good and feels good in the tummy.  Similarly, self-help junkies become fixated on the emotional high associated with personal growth; whether or not any real growth actually occurs is less important as long as the experience feels good for a while.

As human beings we have little choice but to experience growth during our lives.  Our own bodies will force that upon us, as will our experiences and relationships.  Growth is unavoidable, and the intelligent pursuit of new growth experiences can do a lot of good for us, producing measurable results.  But we need to be sure those positive, measurable results are indeed materializing.  If we are truly growing, we’d better have something to show for it.

What about intangible results?  Surely there are intangible forms of growth like improved knowledge of self, a higher level of consciousness, inner peace, greater emotional awareness, and so on.  Self-help junkies, however, frequently mislabel their lack of real progress as intangible, internal, or psychological growth.  If that inner growth is really present, one’s external reality will surely reflect it.  For example, if you’ve truly adopted an “abundance mindset,” you’re going to experience some very measurable financial abundance.  Perhaps you’ll see your income and/or your net worth increasing year after year.  Or the numbers in your bank account will include more digits than they used to.  Maybe you opt for the simple life and live off the land without needing to worry about money at all.  How this mindset actually manifests depends on your values and beliefs, but it must manifest in some external form if the inner changes have actually occurred.  If your external reality is that you’re sinking deeper into debt, your “mindset of abundance” is nothing but a fantasy.

If you’re really growing internally, your life will reveal clear evidence of positive change.  It may not be across-the-board change in every single area of your life, and it may not qualify as a massive breakthrough, but it will be present in some form, and it will be observable.  I’d go so far as to suggest that if you can’t measure your growth in a tangible, objective manner, it’s a virtual certainty you’re wallowing in self-delusion.  Even subjective growth will manifest objectively, and those manifestations can be measured.  If there is no perceivable outer change, then no inner change has occurred.

Let me give you some examples of measurable personal growth across different areas of life.  This list is far from comprehensive, and it’s unavoidably biased in its values, but it should serve to demonstrate some of the various ways that genuine personal growth can produce observable external output.  So please consider it in that respect rather than nitpicking the finer details.

Physical growth

  • running/biking/swimming at faster speeds
  • running/biking/swimming for longer distances
  • earning new belt ranks in martial arts (white belt, yellow belt, …, black belt)
  • improving your stats in a sport (scoring, assists, batting average, completed passes, etc)
  • losing weight or reducing your body fat %
  • gaining muscle mass
  • losing inches from your waist
  • dropping clothing sizes
  • being able to lift heavier weights and/or do more sets or reps
  • before and after photographs that show clear physical improvement
  • increased flexibility
  • lower resting pulse
  • lower blood pressure and better results from other medical metrics
  • clearer skin and less frequent acne
  • pain reduction or elimination
  • improved structural alignment (shoulders over hips over knees over ankles)
  • achieving new personal bests for physical challenges or fitness tests
  • hearing more people say, “You look great”
  • going illness-free for longer periods of time
  • taking fewer annual sick days
  • making significant dietary alterations (organic, sugar-free, vegetarian, vegan, raw, etc)
  • sleeping fewer hours while still feeling rested
  • increasing your typing speed
  • upgrading your wardrobe
  • acquiring new physical skills (juggling, skiing, dancing, gardening, massage, etc)
  • quitting smoking and drinking

Mental growth

  • increasing your reading speed and/or comprehension
  • building your vocabulary
  • acquiring new problem-solving techniques (mind-mapping, Fourier transforms, etc)
  • mastering a new field of knowledge
  • learning lucid dreaming
  • creating a web site
  • writing a book
  • composing a song
  • learning a musical instrument
  • learning a foreign language
  • increasing accuracy of intuition
  • getting a college degree
  • developing a faster and more accurate memory
  • learning speed arithmetic
  • learning new software
  • learning chess
  • learning computer programming
  • devising a new software algorithm
  • patenting an invention

Financial growth

  • increasing your income
  • increasing net worth
  • reducing your debt
  • acquiring new assets
  • generating passive or portfolio income
  • retiring financially independent
  • donating to charity
  • learning basic accounting
  • creating an estate plan
  • improving your portfolio’s performance
  • closing lucrative deals
  • buying a new house
  • investing in real estate
  • traveling the world
  • setting up a college fund for your children
  • becoming a millionaire
  • setting a new sales record
  • improving your negotiation skills

Social growth

  • meeting new people
  • making new friends
  • starting a club
  • getting a girlfriend or boyfriend
  • getting married
  • having children and/or grandchildren
  • recovering from the loss of a loved one
  • performing in a local play
  • doing volunteer work
  • losing your virginity
  • moving in with someone
  • building a Rolodex
  • giving and getting more hugs
  • enjoying new social experiences
  • going on more dates
  • being invited to lunch, dinner, or parties
  • hearing your partner say “I’m happy” more often
  • forming a mastermind group
  • mentoring someone

Career and business growth

  • landing your dream job
  • starting your own business
  • being promoted
  • getting a raise
  • getting a bigger bonus
  • receiving an award
  • getting a positive performance evaluation
  • being assigned to work on the best projects
  • becoming a manager
  • securing a bigger budget for your dept
  • hiring employees
  • serving more customers
  • selling your business
  • training your successor
  • publishing your work

Spiritual growth

  • learning to meditate
  • learning new forms of meditation
  • experiencing other spiritual traditions and belief systems
  • demonstrating new psychic talents
  • practicing channeling
  • forming a development circle
  • becoming a monk
  • discovering and committing to your life purpose
  • receiving thanks for your contribution
  • manifesting your desires more rapidly (less time between original intention and final manifestation)
  • learning astral projection
  • overcoming and facing your greatest fears

Personal effectiveness growth

  • maintaining a clutter-free, well-organized home and office
  • paying all bills on time with nary a late fee
  • being punctual for appointments
  • securing a reliable vehicle
  • having a clear list of goals and written plans to achieve them
  • having a functional time management system in place
  • routinely achieving an empty email inbox
  • overcoming procrastination

I’m not suggesting that any of the above should become the primary focus of your existence or that any of these specific items must be important to you as an individual.  My point is that if you’re genuinely pursuing personal growth and not falling into the trap of self-help delusion, you should be able to produce a similar list for your own life.  If your growth pursuits are effective, I guarantee they’re going to produce tangible, measurable results.  I’d be wary of anyone who claims his/her self-help results are purely internal and have no outward manifestations.  If those inner breakthroughs are genuine, they must eventually manifest changes in the physical world.

The purpose of self-help isn’t to endure crappy results and learn to feel good about them.  It’s to enter the positive spiral where your thoughts, feelings, actions, and results are all aligned in the direction of your goals AND this alignment is getting better and better and better.  The better this alignment, the more efficient you become at setting and achieving meaningful goals, the achievement of which can benefit a lot more people than just yourself.

As long as your ultimate focus is on results, the pursuit of personal growth is one of the best things you can do to help others because it can dramatically increase your capacity to contribute.  A small dietary change can add many productive years to your life, a moment of inspiration can drive you to start a new business that may serve thousands of customers, and a confidence boost can help you find your soulmate.  When one of us experiences true growth, we all benefit from it.

It’s great to feel good about your life, but if those feelings are only an escape, you’re merely deluding yourself instead of making real progress.  Real progress in the realm of thought will eventually manifest in physical form, and that physical form involves getting your ass in motion.

As you pursue your own unique path of growth, be guided by grounded intelligence.  Steer clear of the self-help junkies as well as the jaded cynics.  Opt instead for the path of conscious optimization.

My favorite tool for turning ideas into action is still the 30-day trial.  And if you need some ideas on where to get started on your own path of growth, be sure to read Where to Begin Your Path of Personal Growth.



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