15 Self Development Lies (and some are whoppers!)

The self development industry is worth in the region of $10 billion per annum in the United States.

And that doesn’t include the fitness and weight loss industries. So primarily we’re looking at books, audios and seminars.

That’s officially a shit load of books, audios and seminars being sold to Americans every year in the hope that they can improve the quality of their lives.

Some people will undoubtedly reap some benefit, but most won’t.

For the most part it’s down to the fact that most people don’t do anything with the information they acquire.

According to the expression, ‘knowledge is power’. But like some of the information I’m about to share with you that expression is total bollocks.

Information in and of itself is worthless.

How does me knowing Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia help me on a day-to-day basis?

It doesn’t.

However, if a man brandishing a scimitar, sporting a long mustache and rather bizarrely wearing Ibex horns on his head comes up to me and demands I tell him the name of his countries fine capital city on pain of death, then that knowledge could be very handy.

Knowledge is worthless, it’s the application of knowledge that has immense value.

You reading a great self development book and doing nothing other than pondering the meaning of existence is akin to reading the Bible and expecting an invitation to become the next Pontiff.

Similarly, attending a Tony Robbins seminar and jumping around like a loon for 3 sleep deprived days and riding on a crest of euphoria fueled by wheat grass and a lust for life is all very nice.

But if you leave that environment and promptly forget 99% of the nuggets of wisdom Tony shared with you, then was it really worth the exorbitant expense?

It’s a gloomy picture, isn’t it?

Well hold on Tiger it’s about to get gloomier.

Above I have talked about ‘good’ books, but in my experience, there are way more bad books than good ones out there.

And there are a lot of people delivering seminars, giving talks and doing group coaching who range from good to mediocre to so far out of their depth the should be wearing flippers and a snorkel.

And the problem is the average person who has a passing interest in self development often has no way of knowing if the information they are being given is accurate, pertinent and valuable to them.

Or if it’s a steaming pile of bullshit so tall a giraffe wearing platform shoes couldn’t reach the luscious leaves sprouting from the trees on top.

There are some very notable books that sold millions of copies that are utter garbage.

John Gray probably called his best-seller ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ because he lives in a distant galaxy far, far away, and has never actually studied Human Beings.

It’s full of cliched nonsense that kind of sounds like it should be true if you have never taken your head out of Uranus.

Similarly, Louise Hay’s ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ has such a slender grasp on reality and something called, science, that it makes creationists seem like thoughtful reasonable human beings.

Then there is ‘The Secret’. A scam pulled on some of humanity of such proportions that Bernie Madoff blushed with shame.

I could of course go on hammering books that should have remained idle thoughts drifting the lonely corridors of the authors mind, but I think you get the message.

Instead of ranting about bad books, I’m going to rant about about alternative facts and advice that circulates which are either flat out wrong, or at best misunderstood.

15 Self Development Lies

happy brain

1. You Can Achieve Anything You Set Your Mind To

No you can’t, don’t be a tool and stop filling your kids heads with bullshit like this (not you obviously, I know you wouldn’t be so rash, you’re smart).

No matter how much I want to be a ballerina and how hard I believe it I’ll never be able to do the triple salchow. Or even a single salchow for that matter.

This is so wrong I almost don’t know where to begin.

Just kidding, I know exactly where to begin.

Do you know where (largely speaking) unhappiness lives?

It’s in that gap between what you think your life should look like and what it actually does look like.

There’s an entire generation who are unhappy and more discontented that ever their parents were.

And that’s because they have been told over and over again, they can be what they want, have what they want and achieve what they want as long as they just believe.

Then when it doesn’t happen they are pissed, sulky and resentful toward Society.

Telling kids they can have whatever they want creates a fixed mindset and an expectancy that is difficult to match.

What you should be telling kids and yourself for that matter is this.

“What’s that you say, you want to be a professional golfer? Ok, well you’re going to have to work like a trojan. You’ll need to practice for hours on end. You’ll have to be immune to people telling you that you cannot make it. In fact each time you hear that you’ll just need to practice harder. Do you know that the brilliant golfer from the 1970’s Lee Tervino used to refuse to leave the practice ground until his hands started to bleed? 

You probably won’t be able to party as much as your friends because you’ll be too busy practicing. You’ll have to ignore praise from people telling you you’re talented because fuck talent, the public courses are filled with players with talent who never made it. You need to work harder and more diligently than your peers.

Then, who knows, you may make it, but it’s no sure thing. In fact you’ll probably still come up short. Can you handle that?

If so, I’m proud of you and I’ll support you entirely. Oh and please don’t tell you mom I swore like that”

It’s not quite as encouraging as, ‘yeh sure you can do that’, but it’s far more accurate and you will help the kid acquire a growth mindset.

Without a growth mindset, they have zero chance.

If you want to know more about the importance of a growth mindset, check out Carol Dweck’s book.

set goals

2. If You Tell Other People Your Goals You Won’t Achieve Them

Derek Sivers delivered a very good TedTalk that went viral on this very topic.

And do you know why it went viral?

Because it deviated from the previously held norm that telling others about your goals would provide encouragement and a support network.

The problem is, that there is a lot of truth in what Sivers said and it was indeed based on scientific research showing that talking about our goals *can* mislead the brain into thinking we have already achieved them and thus it takes it’s foot of the gas.

However, it’s somewhat misleading similar to headlines you see from time to time such as coffee causes cancer.

Swiftly followed up by coffee prevents cancer.

And then chocolate cures herpes and a bottle of gin per day can increase your tolerance to Donald Trump (the last one’s probably true).

Whenever you hear or read stories like that, here is what will probably have happened.

University ‘A’ conducts 5-years of research into cancer. Somewhere around year two they find with a group of 20 people who are heavy coffee consumers that they have slightly higher levels of cancer than the norm.

‘Huh’ they think, ‘That’s interesting. Admittedly, scientifically it’s almost meaningless, but interesting nonetheless’.

This nugget of information is then buried in their extensive research only to be plucked out of context by some eager journalist looking for a clickbait story headline.

Indeed there is a large group of people who are more likely to achieve their goals if they keep them to themselves.

But equally, there are people who respond better to just the opposite.

And do you know how I know that.

Because I’m one of them!

And I have coached dozens of people like me who respond better to putting their goals out there and asking others to hold them accountable.

You may be somebody who does better keeping quiet.

But if that doesn’t work, don’t presume there’s something wrong with you, just try the opposite approach.

writing down goal

3. You Have To Write Your Goals Down

You may have heard of the famous Yale study of MBA students that happened in 1953 that so clearly demonstrated you’re fucked for life if you don’t write your goals down.

Apparently 3% of students who had written goals outperformed the other 97% by every meaningful metric.

They were richer, happier, had better jobs, more loving relationships and were probably taller.

Pretty impressive stuff and it was widely touted by guru Brain Tracy in many a speech, audio program and book.

It was probably tattooed on his arse too.

I’m not entirely sure about the last bit, but it should have been because that’s exactly where it came from.

There was no Yale study of 1953, or Harvard study of 1973, or any fucking study whatsoever that tracked MBA students over a decade to find out the power of goals.

When somebody pointed this out to Brian he supposedly responded with, ‘Well there should have been’.

Ok Brian let’s base science on what should have happened and circumvent all that pesky time consuming research and hard work.

This is a bit like the aforementioned not telling people your goals in so much as there is a certain element of truth to it, but it’s not definitive.

You probably are better writing goals down.

It allows you to clarify them, analyze them, track them and make adjustments as you go along.

But there are millions of successful people who never write goals down and manage to squeak by and I’ve worked with some of them.

When people invent shit to make a point then they lose the point.

Brian and all the other gurus of his era such as Zig Ziglar and yes, even Tony Robbins, who were touting this erroneous information could easily have made the point with some killer anecdotal evidence.

Note: If you want help setting goals, sign up for my newsletter and one of the four ebooks you will receive will help you do just that.


4. A Leopard Can’t Change It’s Spots

If you are an actual leopard getting all excited at the thought of changing to stripes for a while, I apologize because it’s just an expression intimating that people cannot change.

We’ve all heard folks say things like this and casting scorn on people’s ability to invoke positive change in their lives.

Do you know why they do that?

It’s because they’re either lazy, ignorant or fearful.

Too lazy to bother to implement change for themselves because it takes some effort.

Or ignorant to the fact that breakthroughs in neuroscience have proved beyond any shadow of doubt, people can, and do change.

Or maybe they’re just scared of stepping out of their comfort zone and embracing change, and thus they feel better when others don’t bother either.

Alcoholics do quit.

Criminals do reform.

Procrastinators do get their shit together.

Introverts do learn how to socialize.

And morbidly obese overeaters do get fit and run marathons.

And in case you are wondering, yes, I’ve worked with people in all of the above examples.

Who cares why people believe others cannot change? Just know that you can if your desire is strong enough.

30 days to build a habit

5. It Takes 30 Days To Form A Habit 

To begin with, let’s leave to one side the rather obvious question of how long is 30 days?

Working on a habit for 10 hours per day for 30 days is not the same as working on a habit for 5 minutes per day for the same length of time.

That in and of itself allows you to laugh mercilessly in the face of the next person who quotes this nonsense at you should you so wish.

If you want to form a new habit of bouncing out of bed and pumping iron for 30 minutes before breakfast every day it would be great to think you only had to do so for 30 days before it would be ingrained as a habit for a lifetime.

Except it probably wouldn’t be.

I know lots of people that have been gym regulars for 3-months and then quit. Been daily meditators for 6-months and just stopped overnight. And eaten a healthy diet for many weeks before sliding back at the sight of a Big Mac never to pick up a stick of celery again.

They were always conscious decisions and for something to be a true habit it has to be ingrained at an unconscious level.

I doubt you stop to think of whether you need to brush your teeth before bed, shower after working-out or to decide where to sit in your own front room to watch TV.

They are real habits – the kind that is feels weird if we don’t perform them.

According to Jeremy Dean in his superb book ‘Making Habits – Breaking Habits’ (al) there is a figure of 66-days that is kind of, almost, sort of a benchmark for forming habits, but that is determined by some many factors that it’s next to useless.

If you try and form a habit and after 30-days it hasn’t stuck, don’t worry, just keep going.

It will stick eventually. But quite honestly, you have no way of knowing when until you do it.


6. Multi-Tasking Can Help You Become More Productive

There was research done in the 1950’s that suggested the human brain can deal with 7 + or – 2 pieces of information at a conscious level at any one  point in time.

So that is between 5 and 9, which when you realize it can deal with thousands of pieces of information unconsciously, is not really that many.

With the help of brain imagining we now know that in fact the human mind can hold a maximum of just 4 pieces of information at the conscious level at ay one time.

It gets worse than that though, because as David Rock explains in possibly my favorite self development book of all time, ‘Your Brain At Work’ (al) even trying to do 2 things at a conscious level severely degrades performance.

Forget multi-tasking because it’s largely a myth perpetuated by the manufacturers of electronic devices who claim they can help you improve performance.

I could tell you that research conducted by David Strayer and Jason Watson, cognitive neuroscientists from the University of Utah did find a group of people they called ‘Super Taskers’ who could multitask.

But as they make up less than 2% of the population I’m not going to tell you because you’ll just think you’re one of the 2%.

Focus on one thing at a time and you will get much better results.


7. We Only Use 10% of Our Brain Power

This ‘research’ is almost 100 years old now and was debunked over 50 years ago.

Yet still it clings on for grim death helped by people Tweeting it ad infinitum and some Law of Attraction followers in a lame attempt to defend their belief.

You use all of your brain at various times in the day and if you doubt that, go to a neurology ward and talk to stroke victims.

Those that fail to fully recover have lost the use of part of their brain and it’s that which causes paralysis and/or loss of speech.



8. Meditation Can Reduce Crime

In 1993 there was an attempt to prove that mass Transcendental Meditation could reduce the crime rate in Washington DC.

Depending on which report you believe and on which day of the two-month experiment it was, between 2,000 and 5,000 people attended the gathering.

However, if you try and research this jaw-dropping occurrence every account you read always links back to one very official Government looking report

The report was bogus.

When I first heard about this experiment in the cult movie ‘What The Bleep Do We Know?’ I was a tad suspicious, but it’s one of those things I just hoped was true.

As such I decided to check out the veracity and was disappointed that like much else in that movie it was gibberish.

The unfortunate reality for those perpetuating this particular lie is that 1993 was a record year for homicide in Washington DC.

This would suggest that if the crime rates did dip so steeply in June and July (crime usually drops during bad weather and is higher in the summer months) it must have been an absolute fucking bloodbath of Biblical proportions for the rest of the year in DC.

It wasn’t.

brain synapses

9. It Takes As Much Energy To Think A Positive Thought As a Negative One

I have rolled my eyes to this one on several occasions because it just demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what a thought is.

Thoughts are physical pathways in your brain and creating new ones takes up more energy (in the form of glucose to the prefrontal cortex), than it does to let your mind replicate old thoughts.

Therefore, if you have a strong tendency to think negatively, then unfortunately, switching that over will take more effort and more energy.

Of course the flip side is true and for optimistic thinkers it is easy to replicate that optimism.

fear sign

10. You Can Just Let Go Of Fear

I had the misfortune one time of reading a blog post written by somebody who’d spent one-hour too many listening to Eckhart Tolle whilst floating in an isolation tank.

He made this rather bold statement.

‘You need to let go of all fear. You probably think that’s hard, but it really isn’t, you just need to let it go’

Well he had obviously let go of his sanity some time earlier because as advice goes that’s right up there with, ‘If a Great White Shark attacks you whilst you are out snorkeling and minding your own business, email you Congressman to complain immediately’

Not only are we hardwired to be fearful, but fear has a really useful purpose.

Without fear we’d become reckless and probably very, very dead.

I understand that fear can often be not just unwanted, but it can also burdensome, hold us back and is often serves no purpose.

Getting over situational fear is very useful, but it’s rarely easy and glib comments like that one just make you look like you have a degree in assclownery.


11. Happiness Levels Are Dictated By Our DNA

Mathematically there is a large element of truth to this because indeed about 50% of your happiness levels are set at birth by your genetics.

However, there’s enough wiggle room in the other 50% to be as happy as a clam that just won the lottery and scored a date with a hot lobster.

If that is, you work at it.

Interestingly, people think the biggest impact on their happiness levels after genes is their environment.

By that I mean, where they live, their relationships with others, what job they do and how much money they earn.

I’m sorry to say, but that only makes up about 10%.

So a whopping great 40% is down to how you view life. In other words, your attitude.

So no copping out and blaming mum and dad in the future, ok?


no12. Positive Thinking Is The Same As Optimistic Thinking

No, no and thrice no!

If you’re a civil engineer, airline pilot or bomb disposal expert you really want to avoid positive thinking.

You cannot stop a bridge from collapsing, a plane from crashing or a bomb from detonating by thinking happy thoughts.

Every business needs negative people to see the potential flaws in ideas, plans, products etc.

Sure they can be a pain in the ass and bring people down from time to time, but they can often see danger where others are blind to it.

Also, there is little correlation between positive thinking* and good mental health.

Whereas there is a strong correlation between optimistic thinking and good mental health.

As we have already talked about, super positive people find dealing with severe adversity incredibly difficult, because smiling doesn’t always help.

But that’s not the case with optimistic people.

The latter acknowledge the situation, may indeed feel temporarily down, but ultimately believe it’s not permanent, pervasive or personal, which are the 3 things that lead to people becoming depressed.

Oh, and they’re more determined than positive people.

*And just to be clear – positive thinking is also not the same as having a positive attitude either.

depression meds

13. Depressed People Have An Unrealistic Negative View On Life

Er no, it’s actually the other way round.

Positive people have the skewed view on reality.

When scientists did research on what type of people see the world most accurately, mild to moderately depressed people came out on top.

Super positive people tend to see opportunity that isn’t always there, nice people who aren’t necessarily nice and a bright future that may be somewhat duller than expected.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that it’s better to be depressed and get a clear handle on life. That would be silly.

But it’s better to understand that depressed people aren’t just being worrywarts or seeing issues that don’t exist if we want to help them.

Also, super positive people are more likely to slip into depression than you may care to think.

Dealing with the vagaries of life with a big cheesy grin is fine. Until that is those vagaries become insurmountable.

When our strategy for dealing with misfortune is no longer effective, then that can lead to a severe decline in mood and mental health.


14. Change Is Easy/Change Is Hard 

Change can be easy, just ask a butterfly, they’ve literally all done it with almost zero effort.

Change can be hard, just ask our leopard friend above who didn’t listen to me and is still trying to change his spots.

That’s pretty much it.

If somebody tells you making changes in your life will be easy or hard and they don’t know you very well, then just nod your head slowly and start to back away.

What they mean is that would be hard for them or easy for them, but they’re not you.

life coach

15. Life Coaches Are Just Therapists Without The Qualifications

I’ve rolled my eyes to this sucker on many an occasion.

I have lots of certifications and I’ve done lots of training, but guess what?

I’m not a fucking therapist and I have no desire ever to be one!

There are some overlaps between therapy and coaching, but coaching is not a poor persons therapy. It’s just different.

I could have rounded out this list by talking about the equally spurious claim made by some people that Life Coaches tell their clients what to do with their lives.

This is the antithesis of good coaching as a coach’s main purpose is to ask questions that will allow their clients to think differently and come up with their own solutions.

Sounds easy, right?

Well of course it isn’t, but I think it’s time to bring this rant to an end.

Thanks for fighting through to the end and I’d love to hear any self development lies I may have missed off that bug you in the comments below.

And any social media shares would be greatly appreciated!