Let’s imagine that an alien of the small, friendly variety was to crash-land on earth, and somehow end up in my bedroom, as aliens often do in 80s movies.

Next, the little guy starts excitedly scanning through my bookshelf…

He stops at the self-help section, and starts reading the titles of the books out loud:

(Don’t ask how he can already read and speak English. Maybe the aliens have been picking up our TV signals or something)

“Woweeeee James, you must be superhero or something by now?”

Sadly, I’m not.

My brother takes great delight in telling a story about the time I called home to ask if anyone knew where my “Master Your Memory” book was.

Yes. Most delicious of ironies. I had forgotten where I’d left it.

As you might have guessed from the list, I’ve picked up a fair few books on self-development over the years.

How much of what I’ve read has actually stuck though?

It’s hard to say for sure; perhaps 5% at best.

I can say for sure that the reading I’ve done on procrastination has done anything but make me more productive.

Whilst it would be fantastic if simply reading something was enough to take it on board, instant learning still sits in the realm of science fiction.

Neo can download martial arts skills straight into his head in The Matrix, however, we’re stuck with time-honoured ways of consuming information for now: reading, listening, watching, and writing things down.

Reading good advice is only half of the story

I’ve dispensed a fair bit of advice on my blog over the past two years, but I wouldn’t want anyone to just “take” it at face value. (And I try to back up everything I write about with my own real-life examples, and those of other people).

What can you do with someone’s advice when you take it anyway, other than put it on your bookshelf or in your bookmarks?

So please... take everything I’m telling you here with a large pinch of salt.

You’ve no way of knowing whether something that worked for someone else will work for you. Their advice could be outmoded, tainted by ulterior motives, or just plain rubbish.

The other thing to remember is that reading too much advice can give you a false sense of empowerment.

When I became self-employed, I remember boldly declaring my intention to work four days a week, and keep one day aside for creative pursuits of various kinds. It was a nice idea, that was totally unfounded in practical terms.

I guess I thought that the personal development books I’d read had given me superhero powers. And don't get me wrong, I think they can be great tools if used correctly.

But maybe there's a better way?

Smaller portion sizes

When reading advice replaces taking action, things become problematic:

"Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen."
— Michael Jordan

Ultimately, the real magic happens when you put down what you're reading, and try another person's idea on for size yourself. (Often after it has been percolating in your brain for a few weeks or months).

Sometimes we are spurred to action by a "Fuck yeah!" moment... an epiphany which casts everything around us in a different light.

More often than not though, change happens in baby steps.

If there's a new habit you're trying to inject into your life right now, check out BJ Fogg's free Tiny Habits program, which reflects this sentiment exactly.

He's a social scientist who specialises in creating systems to change human behaviour, eg a hundred times more qualified than me to teach you about learning new behaviours. And as you'll see from the reviews on his site, people feel like they get very tangible results from his technique.

Whatever you do next, please don’t take my advice — unless you’re willing to do something with it.

Posted to Uncategorised in 2015.

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