Recently I’ve been reading (or trying to read) Essentialism by Greg McKeown. As the blog title implies, it’s a self-help book. I’m stuck on chapter three, haven’t read it in like five days, and it seems like a chore to open to even look at book. There’s also How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, a self-help classic that has transcended the genre. I’m fairing a bit better on that one, nearly halfway through after a week of reading, but this is ignoring the fact that I purchased the book years ago. I’m mired in the mud and can’t make any progress on it.
There was the book about self-esteem. And Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules (I swear I will finish that book this year!). And Go Unfuck Yourself. I think I have a few more laying around the house whose titles I have forgotten over the years. Self-help books are a pain to get through and I burn out about halfway without fail. Is this me? Is it you? Why? Let’s try to answer that here.
They’re Not Fun
Self-help book are not fun, by definition. Self-help books are never going to be as entertaining as a novel, and even some non-fiction books are more entertaining if you’re a fan of the topic (Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage as a personal example). Self-help books, true to their name, are about helping yourself. A few things are implied here. There’s something about yourself that you’d like to change. They’re an admission that you’re not perfect and that you’d like to fix some of your issues. While self improvement is great — everyone should try to better themselves — it doesn’t make for a fun topic to read about. While reading one you’re blatantly aware of all of your flaws. You have self-esteem issues, you never take charge of your life, you put other’s wants and needs above yourself, you might be a toxic person, and so on. It’s not a fun time!
And why isn’t self-improvement fun? Because…
Change is Hard
I’ve been trying to wake up at 11 a.m. for the past month. It’s a laughably easy goal with a clear path to obtain it: set my alarm at 11 and wake up. Easy right?! Hell no it isn’t easy! What’s stopping you from turning off the alarm and going back to sleep? What’s stopping you from turning off the alarm at 5 a.m. because you can’t sleep and what’s one extra day of waking up late? Change can always wait for tomorrow…
Anyone who’s tried to change anything about themselves or their life knows how hard it is; even tiny, insignificant and “easy” things are surprisingly difficult to change. Who’s tried to keep a workout routine? Who’s tried to lose twenty pounds of weight? Who’s tried to eat slightly better? With self-help books we’re never talking about easy changes either, we’re talking about fixing some possibly deep personality flaws and toxic habits that you’ve unknowingly picked up from the time you were a baby. Their as much of a part of you as your eye or hair color is; in fact your personality traits (and flaws) are more you than your physical traits are! Self-help books are hard by definition and I suppose the fact that their existence is testament to the fact that change is stupidly hard to pull off. If it was easy there’d be no need for the books in the first place and we’d all be living in a peaceful, utopian society.
Why is change so hard? Because…
You Have to Put the Work In
Most of the books I have are only a few hundred pages long — an easy read that should take a week at most — but you can’t read them this way. They require you to put some effort into processing what they’re trying to say. Change is hard (harder than it should be) and getting the most out of a self-help book means you have to put some work into it.
Self-help books are stupidly dense and to get the most out of them — their whole point is to change yourself — you have to go slow and really work on their lessons. You have to internalize their messages. You can’t fly through the book because that’s missing the point of the book itself. It’s like reading Anne Frank and thinking, “Maybe the Nazis weren’t so bad after all!” You might’ve misunderstood the purpose of the book! Even if you consider an average time of a month to properly internalize the lesson of a single chapter, were talking around a year to finish the book.
Knowledge is only learned through repetition and use. It isn’t enough to read a chapter and pretend you’ve absorbed it because that only happens when you’ve done the thing long enough until it becomes part of who you are. This naturally takes time and there is no way to speedrun it, no quick path to the goal, no cheatcodes to use. You have to suck it up and work on what you want to work on over and over and over again until it sticks. Until you’ve absorbed the book. Until the book’s lessons are a part of your soul.
Change is hard, self-help books kinda suck, and I’m going to set a goal for myself today. A pretty easy goal but hopefully you’re aware how easy goals are really just-not-quite-as hard as other goals but are still hard. I’m going to post a blog post every Friday. (I underlined it so it’s true!) No excuses, no bullshit: how hard can a few hours of work be each week to have a post ready by Friday?! Apparently hard enough that I have nothing to show for my time during the past two months. Here’s to change! Cheers!
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