Are You Stuck In a Personal Development High? 5 Steps to Recovery

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“To live remains an art which everyone must learn, and which no one can teach.” ~Havelock Ellis

Have you ever noticed how you feel when you hear one of your favorite happy songs?

For the 3 minutes or so while the song is playing, your life actually seems better. Something about the music makes you feel that life is really pretty great. It's almost like you're starring in movie about you — with your own personal background music playing along to punctuate the wonder of your amazing life.

Another similar scenario is when you are reading something inspirational or listening to an uplifting talk from someone. While you are reading or listening, you are jazzed. “Yes, that is exactly what I needed to read (or hear). I'm going to apply that to my life right away. This is the solution I've been looking for.”

And for about an hour, you are on this high, thinking you've reached a peak moment or a transformational insight that will change your life. You can almost feel the new life emerging at that very moment.

Both of these experiences are like wearing sunglasses. Everything seems crisper and brighter when you're wearing them. But once you take them off, the world is just as it's always been.

I think this is why people end up reading so many personal development books and blogs. As long as you are reading great information, you feel uplifted and in control. You have great plans for applying what you have learned to make your life so much better.

But then you step away from your computer or put the book down, and reality starts washing over you, bringing with it a low-level sense of disappointment. You start second-guessing the validity of what you've read or heard, and you doubt it can really change your life.

Maybe you'll even try some of the ideas you've read or heard, but after a few attempts, you decide “it doesn't work.” And then you even resign yourself to the notion that either nothing ever really works — or nothing ever really works for you. Both thoughts are depressing.

But then inevitably we get lured back in by that happy song, the inspiring blog post or great book.

We long to feel those hopeful, positive feelings again so we might believe, at least for a moment, something better is around the corner, just within our grasp.

If you could see the floor beside my bed, you'd laugh at me sitting here preaching to you about this dilemma. I probably have 25 books stacked next to the bed, most of which are about some personal development topic. I do read these books so that I can learn more to share with all of you in my posts.

But the truth is, I've been reading these books forever. I am also addicted to the “personal development high.” The way I'm wired, I could easily sit around reading about personal growth for the rest of my life, just going from one book to the next without ever putting my toe in the water of real life.

Fortunately, somewhere along the way, I did read what a counter-productive habit that can become. (I probably read several things about it!) At some point, you must take off the sunglasses and experience the world in order to improve your experience of it.

One of the biggest take-aways I've ever received from all of my reading is this:

There is absolutely no substitute for real life experience and taking action when it comes to making dramatic, positive change in your life.

That means you have to put down the book and do something.

And there are a whole bunch of reasons why we are loathe to do that:

  • Reading about personal growth seems to be much more fun than actually attempting to grow. When you are reading, you can tell yourself you are taking action without ever having to take action.
  • Most of the time, we have no idea what action we are supposed to be taking.
  • Even if we do know what to do, we're afraid we may fail or it might not work.
  • We suffer from learned inertia. That first step feels way too overwhelming. “Maybe I'll just read one more post before I do something.”
  • We don't have a vision for how much better life could be once we take action. We assume reading about it is enough.
  • We feel completely overwhelmed because there are so many actions we need to take. It seems like a better life is too far off to even begin.

When we are stuck in this personal development high from reading, researching, and learning, it can be a pretty heady experience for a while. This is especially true when you are first beginning to discover new ideas and strategies for self-improvement.

But at some point, you look around and notice that not much has changed. The old hurts are still there. The lack of motivation is still there. The boring life is still there. The self-doubts are still there. All that reading didn't do a damn thing.

Hopefully, that's the point when we realize that reading and ruminating don't “do” anything. We do things. We are the doers. And to change and grow, we must do something.

I have found that any positive change in life requires the same 5 steps, no matter what that change might be. If you follow these steps, you can get unstuck from the temporary and shallow high of reading (or listening) about a better life, to actually living it.

1. Awareness

You have to wake up from the haze of reading and dreaming. When you are aware that change requires action and real experience, you have no excuses for remaining in your state of intoxication. Awareness will poke and prod at you until you do something. Any real change requires “waking up” from old patterns, beliefs, and habits and seeing that another way is possible.

2. Choose Something

Often we are so overwhelmed with all of the changes we want and issues we have before us, we have no idea where to start. It's totally overwhelming. Sometimes there is a “core” issue or change that will affect everything else in your life once addressed. That's a good place to start. But if you have no idea what that is, then just pick something, anything, to begin acting on. Tackle your areas of growth or change one at a time, and focus on that one area completely and totally.

3. Break It Down

Whatever you are working on, break it down to the smallest possible actions. Write down every possible action you need to take (or you think you need to take) to get yourself from point A to point Z. Make the actions so manageable that it is nearly impossible to feel afraid or overwhelmed by them.

4. Do the Work

Take the actions. Even if you feel like they are leading nowhere, keep moving forward. Every single day, do something — even if it is just a tiny piece of an action. Do the work, do the work, do the work.

5. Be Patient

We all want quick fixes and immediate solutions. But we've all lived long enough to know that these rarely happen. Anyone who is successful will tell you about the years of work and effort they put in to get where they are. Anyone who has made positive change in their lives, found their passion, become self-confident, changed their career, etc. will tell you that they had to shake loose from dreaming and just keep moving forward in the direction of their dream. You can't give up because you think it's taking too long. Good things take time.

There are no magical solutions. You will not “attract” change or a better life. Substantive change requires substantive work. Work is not a bad word. Make it a holy word. Make work your mantra, your ritual, your daily meditation.

Every single day, take action, experience reality, do the work. This will create a high that lasts a lifetime.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 26 comments
  • Glori S

    This post really brought a huge smile to my face.
    I realized that in the past weeks I’ve been reading about personal development and self-improvement. I was always in awe, inspired, uplifted, and even envious of bloggers who seemed to really know what they’re talking about.
    But then, I also realized that I can continue on reading about improving myself but nothing will ever happen to me if I don’t apply what I learn.
    In nursing school, we were taught three areas to focus on; Knowledge, Skills, and Attitude.
    I’ve been feeding my knowledge and improving my attitude, but I’m not DOING anything.
    So I decided to quit my job.
    You could say I more than dipped my toe in the water!
    But I decided that for the first time in my life, I’m going to pursue something that I love. I will write.
    I’m not sure where it will take me, but I know I won’t have any regrets in the future for “not trying.”
    Thank you for being one of my inspirations, Barrie!

      Barrie Davenport

      How wonderful Glori!! Congratulations on not only dipping your toe but taking the full dive. That is so courageous and exciting. Please let us know how it is going. You have definitely take action. Bravo!

  • Kim Larocque

    I too have fallen into the trap of constantly reading personal development books. It’s almost as if it’s an excuse for not taking action cause “it will all fall into place just after this next book” or “this is the book that will do it”. It’s important to take action after each book in order to learn and grow from your experiences.

      Barrie Davenport

      Yes, that is so true Kim. Or even take action during your reading of a book when you learn a new concept or way of thinking. Put it into practice.

  • Susan Gregg

    Action is indeed the key to real change. Without action nothing changes.

    When I was a little girl I had a plastic grasshopper. If I pumped it up and stuck it on a wall it would sit there for a while and then spring out, flying across the room. It scared my mom more than once. By itself it was rather cute, it looked like Jiminy Cricket. But add the movement, the action and it had a very different result.

    When I think of taking action as my little flying grasshopper it makes taking action fun and easy.
    Thanks for the great post. I hadn’t thought about Jiminy for years.

    With love,

      Barrie Davenport

      What a great analogy Susan! I can totally visualize that. (Your poor unsuspecting mother!!) Yes, cute is fine but it isn’t truly living. Springing off the wall is real action. 🙂

  • Rehasana

    You are sooo right! Initially, self-help books make us feel good while reading them. But there are those special books in our life that bring a paradigm shift in thinking and living. the test is in applying it to daily life.

      Barrie Davenport

      So true Rehasana. What good is a paradigm shift if you don’t act on the shift? I’ve had many of those special books, and I continue to try to put some of the shifts I’ve learned into action. One of the most profound for me was Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. I remind myself daily to bring my attention back to the present moment. It is always so powerful.

  • Kumud Adhikari

    Thank You Barry for the wonderful post. I discovered your blog recently and it seems I was waiting for this post.
    I’ve removed all the inspirational blogs from my bookmark and I am going to write now.
    Thanks once again.

      Barrie Davenport

      That’s wonderful Kumud. If my blog is one of those you’ve had to remove, more power to you! I totally understand. But I hope you will come back and visit from time to time. 🙂

  • Irving the Vizier/Han of Harmony

    Hi Barrie,

    Self-Development High is something that I have certainly experienced before. I did buy lots of self-help books at one point. But after awhile, it is more or less the same thing. Instead I prefer to learn about life and dealing with it through history and actually dealing with problems.

    The 5 steps to recovery you listed are all great and vital ways on dealing with Self-Development High. I generally prefer to do the work everyday. I would divine the day, week and month with my I-Ching and then manage my life accordingly with its foresight. If there are challenges to deal with and overcome, I take the appropriate steps. If there are opportunities to seize, I do so. By dealing with changes and life in this manner, self-development becomes second nature to me and therefore comes more easily.

    Along the way if I need to develop certain areas of my life, I find the info I need, work out the steps I need to do and take action.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

      Barrie Davenport

      How wonderful Irving. I am fascinated by I Ching, but it is hard for the uninformed to completely understand it or how it works. It seems like an amazing tool for taking action.

  • grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    wow, you SO hit the nail on the head with this one! It’s almost a little bit embarressing how true this is for me! But I can say that while I’ve been reading a lot and feeling that high, I’ve also been pressing into the lows and trying to keep working at those areas that are difficult…doign the work and then going back for a refreshment when needed. This is a GOOD reminder though to just get started!!!! thanks!!1

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Grace,
      I think any of us who love personal development can get caught up in this high. We all need the reminder. It sounds like you have been doing the work — so keep it up! Happy to provide a little nudge. 🙂

  • Bobbi Emel

    Thanks for this great reminder, Barrie. I, of course, have the same pile of self-improvement books you do and it is so easy to get lulled into thinking that just reading them will magically change me.

    Hmmm, perhaps I could actually DO something instead of just read about it. I think it has a lot to do with my (and most people’s) incredibly short attentions spans and our need for immediate gratification. We want our changes to happen fast and to do them well the first time, dammit. And if that doesn’t happen, then I’ll just chuck it.

    Practice, practice, practice . . .

      Barrie Davenport

      You are so right Bobbi. I think back to my high school years when I had to write a term paper. It involved going to the library, doing research in a bunch of big old books. Making photocopies of the pages I need. Then going home and typing a paper on an old manual typewriter. Now that process can be done in an hour. We have been trained to get immediate results, because in many things now, we do! But you can’t rush internal growth and evolution. It takes real work, doesn’t it? Darnit.

  • Sherry

    Hello, my name is Sherry and I am a self-improvement book junkie. This realization could not have come at a better time. Although right now I feel as if I am having another one of those a-ha moments I get from reading yet another self-improvement book; this is different in that I now know that if my life is to truly change as I want it to, I must take action. And that action is going to start with the 5 steps you identified. Thank you. I am so very grateful I came across this today.

      Barrie Davenport

      Hi Sherry,
      Thank you for your AA introduction! 🙂 And for coming clean with the rest of us junkies. If you read something useful and take action on it, then I think you are on the road to recovery. So glad my post came at the right time.

  • Sunny

    I really resonate with your post. There is a proverb in Chinese—“知行合一”,which means “the unity of knowledge and action”.

      Barrie Davenport

      I love that Sunny. So simple and elegant. And that is exactly what we all need to work on — this harmony between the two. Thank you for sharing that proverb.

  • David

    Learn then put it into practise…..think then take action
    One follows the other if you want to move forward Barrie
    Thanks for this
    be good to yourself

      Barrie Davenport

      You said it succinctly David!

  • scott_elumn8

    Hi – I’m Scott and I’m a personal improvement book addict. 🙂

    Maybe we need a support group. IA. Inertia Anonymous. My approach is to have the books handy in every area of the house and in my office. I also love handing them out to other people and telling them how amazing they are… well you know the rest.

    The first step is admitting I have a problem right?

    I wonder if there is anything good on Amazon that will help me with this.

  • Carrie Smith

    The most powerful thing in my life has been action. Putting my words into action, my thoughts and my to-do list. Once I have that “light-bulb” moment, I try to take advantage of the momentum by at least making a quick game plan or outline for how I will use the information. It’s very easy to get distracted and reality can set in very quickly, so your advice here is spot on! I hope you enjoy your trip in Europe – can’t wait to hear all about the lessons you’ve learned and new experiences. 🙂

  • Kris Roush

    Terrific post, Barrie!
    The next time we find ourselves feeling that expansive “Life is Grand” hit while reading or listening to something inspiring, let’s take a snapshot photo memory of it and compare it to the feeling we get when we actually practice whatever it was that inspiredus in the first place. It pales in comparison to the feeling I have when I anonymously pay for the person behind me at the Starbucks drive-thru. Now that is a high!

    And while I am here, you asked new self-development bloggers to introduce themselves. My name is Kris Roush, and my new blog is just over a month old. I love this!

  • Lana

    Hi Barrie!
    A little bit late for comments. Any way…I was a serial self improvement killer of my own life. But at some point it had to stop. The screaming of my soul became too loud to ignore. Preparing for life is not really living life. I’m happy to realize soon enough that being inspired by someone’s work fails miserably when my own aspirations get momentum. Thanks

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