One of the things that has changed in my M.O. over the years is that I rarely read “self-help” and “success” books for fun. I think there was a period of time where reading one simply felt good–like indulging in a box of chocolates. It was enjoyable and probably motivational, but I oftentimes didn’t put the book to work for me. It stayed a theory instead of an application. I learned something from each one that I devoured, but the reality is that I didn’t get the mileage out of the book that I could have had I taken the time to put it into practice. Learning is a lifetime endeavor. But application is a moment to moment labor. One that demands that I read less and do more.
Does that mean that I am giving up books? Hardly. They are the door to the world and to knowing myself–and sometimes they are simply a pleasurable activity.
In the personal development genre, however, the book is meant to be acted upon, not simply enjoyed. It is the difference between a walk in the woods and cultivating a garden. You can find refreshment in both cases, but the garden requires action and effort. It is not enough to contemplate on these writings–they must be put into action to show any worth.
Reading a personal development book requires a different mindset and a preparation that a fiction or spiritual read does not require. In order to really get your money’s worth from a growth book, start with these 7 reminders:
1 You must begin by being open to new ideas.
If you believe that you know everything worth knowing or are satisfied with where you are personally, then a personal growth book will fall on deaf ears. Little, if any, change will result from such a mindset. It is true that there is nothing new under the sun. But for every truth, there are a 1000 different people presenting it in a 1000 different ways to give you the best way to see it.
2 Understand that the content is not doctrine, it is experiential.
You are a gold digger hunting for nuggets of applicable wisdom. I have read a great many books written by people from all walks of life. Some may have similar views, and others may be radically different. The key is to look for truth and principles. These don’t change and can be discovered in any work of thought if you are looking for it. To paraphrase an intellectual friend of mine, “even in evil, the truth can be found. Everything leads to what is true. Everyone is searching for truth, whether they know it or not.”
3 Own it, or at least keep a notebook at hand.
Have you ever stumbled across an old high school book that you had to highlight and annotate only to be surprised at your thoughts and what struck you at the time? When you take the time to highlight and make notes in the margins, you are capturing your initial thoughts and reactions. When you have moved on to other books, you will still be able to pick up your copy and remind yourself of what was most important. Taking notes and capturing the key ideas and page numbers is effective as well, especially when the book doesn’t make your “keeper” list but has a few good insights.
4 Start with one thing.
A book may be chock full of great ideas, methods and tricks but you can only be effective in one or two areas at a time. Instead of overwhelming yourself with a multitude of resolutions to change, start small. Pick one or two ideas that, if implemented immediately, would make a noticeable difference. When you get a grip on those, then move on to other suggestions.
5 Share it.
When I was 17, my parents gifted me a trip to Rome as my senior year present. It was a pretty awesome experience–standing where the Christians were slain for their faith, soaking in the glory of the Vatican museum, marveling at the intricate wormholes of catacombs woven beneath the city. But I had no one to share it with. My companions on the trip were from all over the country and did not remain friends. My family had never been to Italy. Every picture I wanted to share seemed more like a postcard than a memory of an experience. I still have the box of trinkets collected from that short stay. Looking back, I realize that what would have really made the trip memorable would have been sharing it. When you experience new ideas and new places, you are changed. When you take the journey with others, you grow together. You share in the experience and lock in the learning and the memories.
6 Track it.
“What gets measured, gets managed.” -Peter Drucker. Track your progress with the key ideas you learned and are applying to your life. Every day, for 28 days, track how well you are sticking to your resolutions.Momentum-Basic Month-1 page
7 Come back to it.
When you have read your book, taken notes and implemented some actions as habits, put it on the shelf. Months or years later, pull it out again and review it. See where you are today in comparison to when you read the book initially. My grandmother had a habit of putting her initials and the date in the front cover of her Agatha Christie books. I didn’t understand what the purpose was at the time. Now I see, that the older you get, the more likely it is that you will revisit previous works. It is fun to see what has changed and what remains the same starting from the baseline you set.
Whether you are an avid personal development reader or new to the personal development genre, action is the difference between a life changing experience and casual entertainment.
What have you read recently that could impact your life if only you put it into action?