I don’t know about you, but over the past few years I’ve read A LOT of stuff online about self-help.
So naturally you’d expect me to start bragging about how, after all the daily meditation and tips on productivity, motivation, and dating that I’ve consumed, my life has significantly changed for the better.
The fact is: I’m still inflicted by bad habits, I rarely ever meditate, and, although I hate to admit it, I still haven’t found that dream girl.
A while ago I started to wonder why that is, and it turns out there are reasons aplenty. What I discovered has set me on a new track—one of much higher learning and personal growth.
Unless you’re the one writing, all self help articles are an oxymoron—you read them so someone other than your ‘self’ can help you. But that all suddenly changes when you reach the final words and close the book or browser.
Of course, there can often be problems with the writing itself which may hinder your ability to turn the advice into action. But here we are focusing strictly on YOU, and what steps YOU can take to better convert otherwise forgotten information into concrete action.
Always Set Out With an Intention
The casual consumption of self help articles sits in a funny place on the spectrum of learning. Unlike one end of the spectrum—like when you sit down to study for an exam—you generally have no clear purpose when you set out to do it. You want to better yourself, full stop.
But you’re also far from the other extreme—drooling and mindlessly ploughing through cat videos on Youtube. You want to feel like you’re making good use of your time.
So before falling down the rabbit hole, understand what exactly you want to get out of your time by clearly defining your intentions. For instance, saying to yourself:
“For the next half hour I am going to find and learn 2 new ways to boost my productivity”.
Snap out of Shiny Object Syndrome
How many tabs have you got open now that aren’t directly related to this post?
And that includes your email inbox. It’s all too easy to procrastinate when you have an infinite number of shiny objects at your disposal, but why grant them the privilege of your attention?
You need to understand the true worth of your time and stop wasting it on generic click bait—pick and choose what you read with greater care and devote your full and undivided attention to the topic in hand before moving on.
Cultivate a Sense of Urgency and Dispel the ‘Someday’ Fallacy
Countless times have I read an article and thought, “Wow, that could really change my life”, all to have forgotten about it just 10 minutes later.
Usually another shiny object has caught my eye, or I’ve suppressed the idea due to a subconscious fear of change and failure.
Cultivating urgency is the key to taking action. We kid ourselves into thinking there will always be tomorrow, or ‘someday’, when in reality there is only the here and now.
If there’s even a slither of chance you might fail, you can bet your bottom dollar your brain is going to do everything it can to stop you going down the path in the first place. Our brains are conditioned to seek ease over effort, and pleasure over pain. And that can often mean the difference between sticking to a life of comfort, and striving for one of much greater reward. Which would you prefer?
Reinforce Teachings Over a Longer Period of Time
We know that new habits can’t be formed in just one sitting. Yet we’ll read one article and feel disappointed if by the end of it our lives haven’t significantly improved.
Charles Duhigg, author of ‘The Power of Habit’, breaks up habit forming into 3 parts: a trigger, an action, and a reward. An article can often be a trigger, but you need to take care of the rest yourself.
Let’s say you learn a bunch of ways in which cold shower therapy can improve your life. At this moment you are 100% convinced, but are also aware of the commitment it takes, the short-term pain it may cause, and the fact that the big pay offs may only come in the longer term.
Research suggests it takes three positive thoughts to counter just one negative. This is known in psychology as the ‘negativity bias’: the way in which, even when of equal intensity, negative thoughts have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive ones.
Reinforce the positive thoughts in your brain by periodically revisiting the information. Or, even better, place it somewhere where you cant help but be reminded of it—your computer’s wallpaper, the fridge door, the ceiling above your bed, etc.
As we’ve seen, we have an inherent tendency to self-sabotage which causes us to avoid short-term pain, give in to Shiny Object Syndrome, and fool ourselves with the ‘someday’ fallacy.
Recognizing these four reasons why you fail put advice you read online into action can allow you to stop self-sabotaging, make meaningful changes, and overall reach a much higher state of learning and personal growth.
Do you have your own trick for turning advice into long-term action? Share it with us in the comments!
Joseph Pennington is a writer, mindfulness teacher, and the founder of Bebot, the world’s first AI mindfulness coach. You can try out the Bebot Alexa app here and sign up to make sure you hear the latest from Joseph and your new mindful robot friend.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.