I had a habit of regularly reading books that are of pseudo spiritual and self help and personal growth nature. I did not follow their contents word for word but I believed I could glean useful solutions to life problems and new ways to think about reality. Recently, I came to a conclusion that I’m not going to read such books anymore. No more productivity books. No more books on settings goals. No more books on personal growth.
At the core of my discontent is a realization that every person exists within a unique set of circumstances. The set of circumstances benefits from a matching set of solutions. Solutions could be anything from spiritual beliefs and value systems to productivity habits and strategies. Whenever a person observes himself succeeding in light of his actions he entrenches in conviction that his discoveries are universal.
I have a problem with this premise. Even in relatively similar environments every person is shaped by an intersection of local influences, actions, ideas, challenges and opportunities. I don’t believe there are universal truths as to how to run distinctive lives. Trying to blindly follow someone else’s beliefs is akin to dull imitation. In addition, the result is likely to be irrelevant and misplaced.
Most of the self help literature builds upon anecdotes – stories of highly successful people (I’m talking about success in its widest meaning, anything between spiritual enlightenment and lucrative business empire). Authors conveniently escape talking about failures and millions of interrelated things that contribute to extraordinary outcomes. I don’t believe it’s possible to extract specific traits or behaviors that guarantee success. Some highly successful people are punctual. Others never gave shit about being organized yet are arguably in the same success “league”.
After all the hours spent on reading these books I’ve embraced introspection as an alternative tool. Instead of looking outwards to find solutions I look into myself to understand what challenges I face, what is important, what brings happiness and joy. I also take a moment to appreciate what I already have.
See what I have done here? Exactly what the self help literature does. I’ve imposed personal experience to provide seemingly helpful guidance. The problem is that this “guidance” builds upon my perception and a set of beliefs that are likely to be very different from yours. Maybe if I’ve never read any of the self help books my stance would be different. Perhaps you should read all the self help books you can and come to the same conclusion independently.
If there’s anything to take away then it’s that it helps to be critical when reading other people’s ideas.