You should be a guru by now.
You’ve read so many self-development books over the years, it’s a wonder you haven’t transcended onto higher plane of existence, leaving a crumpled pile of clothing on your recliner.
Instead, here you are — very much on the Earthly plane — still struggling with issues like anxiety, self-doubt, perfectionism and procrastination.
Your phone is loaded too — with podcasts and audio books. You’ve got at least 50 blogs and articles bookmarked.
Yet sometimes it feels like you haven’t even read or listened to any of them. You still react badly to stressful situations, you still care (a lot) what other people think. You still yell at your kids and let them watch hours of Youtube on the weekend.
Shouldn’t reading 10 books on mindfulness at least help us not get frustrated in the line at Starbucks?
Yes, and no.
There are several reasons your personal development lessons just aren’t sticking — some involve your habits around consuming the information, and others have to do with your expectations and ideas about personal growth itself.
If you’re still suffering quite a bit, let’s look at 5 reasons why that might be, and what you can do about it.
#1 You’re Consuming Too Much, Too Quickly
You’re reading books and listening to podcasts rapidly and frantically, without pausing to reflect on their ideas or put them into practice. Sometimes you don’t even finish the book you read before you’re on to the next one.
Why It’s Happening:
There is a condition that plagues avid readers and personal development junkies, and I like to call it “Wisdom FOMO.”
FOMO stands for “Fear of Missing Out” — an ongoing, underlying fear that you’re missing our on an incredible life changing experience that others are having. They’re experiencing it right now, and you’re still standing on the sidelines — out of the loop.
Instagram is notorious for sparking this feeling, with its users posting photos standing on top of mountains or demonstrating the newest, most cutting-edge technology.
“Wisdom FOMO” specifically refers to that feeling that there is incredibly helpful, insightful, enlightening knowledge that we are missing out on right now.
This often happens to me when I’m reading a good book and the author quotes and mentions another author that I find intriguing. Within seconds I’m following them on twitter, subscribing to their blog (don’t want to miss any updates!) and adding their book to my Amazon cart.
You also might just be insatiably curious about a variety of topics, and when you hear an idea you haven’t explored yet — it’s down the rabbit hole you go, researching it online and finding new books on the topic.
I’m not saying any of this is a bad thing — you should follow as many intelligent people as possible within a diverse range of topics and disciplines, and curiosity is what drives us to learn and grow.
The problem is you’re not giving your brain a chance to focus on your current topic long enough for you to commit it to memory, relate it to your life experience and put it into practice before you move on to next one.
You’re feeding your brain a fast-moving conveyor-belt of information that never stops to get a closer look at what’s on the belt.
Calm your wisdom FOMO by keeping a list of all the books, podcasts and videos you want to check out in the future.
Start a wish list on Amazon, but don’t put any of the new books in your cart until you’re done with the ones you have.
Use the note function on your phone or an Excel document on your computer to keep a log of all other interesting content, the subject matter and where to find it.
Honor your sources of information by limiting them and giving them the attention they deserve. Limit yourself to no more than 2 books at a time, across no more than 2 topics. Finish them both to completion before moving on.
Give yourself 1 day a week to let your curiosity run wild. Go to the library and grab a giant pile of books that interest you, sit down and read as much as you want for as long as you want, across any number of topics. Just don’t take all of them home!
#2 You’re All Talk and No Walk
You love to read about self-development, and even counsel others on their problems, but you don’t integrate the information into your own life by putting it into practice.
Why it’s Happening:
To put it plainly: reading about self-development is a lot easier than practicing it.
Reading about feeling your feelings when you’re angry or panicking is a lot easier than actually doing it, and life can be so distressing that it’s easy for everything you’ve learned to fly out the window during difficult moments.
Reading also gives you the illusion that you’re doing something just by constantly immersing yourself in the content. A continuous stream of audio books and podcasts must have some effect on its own, right?
Wrong. There comes a time when you must turn the content off and start quietly practicing the insights you’ve gained.
Give yourself at least one week (or longer) after finishing a book to put the ideas into practice before you start a new book.
Start a journal and write about how your daily experiences relate to what you’ve read, and how it feels to practice the new techniques.
Resist the urge to tell anyone and everyone what you’re doing, just practice quietly and humbly, letting only your closest friends in on your journey.
#3 You Don’t Take Notes
You read and listen to countless books and podcasts but never take notes or highlight important points, so when you need to refer to something you’ve learned it’s extremely hard to locate or you forget about it entirely.
Why it’s happening:
Modern life is fast paced. You’re listening on your way to work in the car, reading in between appointments and there’s never any paper, pencils or highlighters around!
Buy a pack of highlighters and keep them handy when you’re reading the books you own, so you can highlight the parts you’d like to revisit.
Usually wherever my book is — in my bag, or on my nightstand, there are highlighters nearby. When all else fails, use a pen or pencil to underline!
Use the “Clip/Bookmark” feature on Audible to capture and save important points.
Start a “favorite quotes” library in a document on your computer, organized by authors, topics or even moods.
#4 You’re a Perfectionist
You have the idea in your head that one day, after you read enough books about anxiety, nothing will bother you anymore. You’ll just float through your day, super zen-like and totally in the moment.
Then when you fly off the handle or get anxious or self-conscious, you feel foolish, unenlightened and defective.
Why it’s Happening:
Perfectionism is sneaking into your practice.
No matter how much personal development content you consume, and no matter how many hours you meditate, you will always be a human being — and that comes with the universal experience of pain.
It’s not your fault that perfectionism is creeping in on you. How can you possibly read content about what you should do to grow and feel better, and not feel like you are constantly falling short?
The point of self-development is not to completely remove pain, it’s to help you learn to accept it and cope with it better.
Psychologist Carl Jung said:
“Rather than climbing up a ladder seeking perfection, we are unfolding into wholeness. We are not trying to transcend or vanquish the difficult energies that we consider wrong — the fear, shame, jealousy, anger. This only creates a shadow that fuels our sense of deficiency. Rather, we are learning to turn around and embrace life in all its realness — broken, messy, vivid, alive.”
Notice when you’re feeling defective or wrong, beating yourself up or policing yourself for mistakes.
Remind yourself of your humanity and allow yourself to open up and accept imperfection.
This is going to sound radical but I’m very serious about this last point: Stop taking your personal growth so seriously.
It’s wonderful that you care about improving your life and maximizing your potential, but it’s equally important to laugh and have fun.
Sleep in once and a while. Eat some junk food. Watch non-documentary TV.
And one I highly recommend: Take a break from non-fiction and take the time to fully read and enjoy a work of entertaining fiction.
#5 You Just Aren’t There Yet
This is going to be a hard pill to swallow for a voracious, passionate learner:
Books and podcasts are not the best source of learning: Life experience is.
You can only learn so much from reading and listening to content — the rest comes with experience, and that experience happens over a long period of time.
This means there is some wisdom that will always be out of reach because you haven’t had the necessary experience yet.
Rest in the knowledge that life will teach you at its own pace, and that you can choose to find meaning in every experience.
Express your trust of life experience by giving up all books and other content for a period of time, and journal about what you learn simply from observing yourself, other people and just being in the world.
A Wiser View of Personal Growth
Studying personal-development topics won’t make you impervious to pain, and infinite knowledge and perfection are nothing more than myths.
What’s important is to keep moving and connect with what draws us to learning in the first place — our insatiable curiosity, and the sincere hope that we can change and improve our lives.
If we can remember to quiet our fear of missing out, practice humbly, and accept the necessary ignorance that comes before experience, we can turn our personal development lessons into life-long habits that don’t just go in one ear and out the other.
You’ll never be a “guru.”
But maybe you could settle for being a life-long scholar. An imperfect but insatiably curious human who engages energetically with the world.
So grab your books, get your highlighters ready, leave your perfectionism behind and have fun.
Rest easy and know that while your personal development content is amazing and empowering, the world will teach you everything you need to know.