A reader asked if I read self-improvement books. I certainly do.
To begin with, I read lots of books in general, and a sizeable portion of what I read are "how-to" books. I have "how-to" books on raising little kids; meditating; investing my money; photography; Microsoft Excel; law; business; banking etc etc, and for obvious ulterior motives, I also like to buy recipe books for my wife.
And yes, my "how-to" collection includes many titles on self-improvement, including titles by Stephen Covey, Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins, Tony Buzan, Brian Tracy and other lesser-known authors.
I’m aware that many people feel strangely adverse about self-improvement books. It goes beyond mere disinterest – it is actually an adverse feeling about the entire genre.
These same people wouldn’t hesitate to buy a recipe book, if they were into cooking. They wouldn’t hesitate to buy a book about how to look after a dog, if they had just bought a dog. But they wouldn’t even want to be seen in the self-improvement section of a bookstore, holding a book with a title like "How To Succeed in Life" or "Time Management for Dummies".
It’s interesting to examine the reasons why.
I think that some people feel that self-improvement books are for dysfunctional, inadequate people, who already have difficulty coping with everyday life and therefore need some self-improvement. According to this logic, if you buy a self-improvement book, you’re admitting to yourself that you’re dysfunctional and inadequate.
Heheh. If you subscribe to such logic, then you have some big insecurities to face up to. Enough said.
Others may feel that self-improvement books are full of good advice that can’t be followed. In other words, they doubt their own ability to apply whatever ideas they might come across in a self-improvement book. It is true that if you don’t apply the good advice that you read in a self-improvement book, then it will be of absolutely no value to you.
However, it is also true that if your mother, teacher, mentor, pastor, boss, doctor or best friend gives you good advice, and you don’t apply it, then the good advice will also be absolutely of no value to you.
If you go through life doubting your ability to apply the good advice, ideas and suggestions that come your way, then life will be quite challenging indeed. You’ll just have to rediscover and reinvent the wheel again and again. Others would have faced the same challenges in life as you have, and they would be willing to share those lessons. But if you do not wish to learn from the experiences and insights of others, well, you’ll just have to struggle on, on your own.
Now, of course I am not saying that everything written in a self-improvement book is going to be relevant, useful or appropriate for you. Similarly, not everything that your mother, teacher, mentor, pastor, boss, doctor or best friend tells you is going to be relevant, useful or appropriate.
Still, it seems wise to pay at least a little attention to what they have to say, and think about it. Take what you find is useful, and leave the rest behind.
I am also not saying that the application of good advice is always an easy thing. Then again, because good advice comes in many different forms on many different topics, it cannot be the case that it is always a difficult or impossible thing.
Incidentally, you could jolly well think of holy texts and ancient scriptures as the original how-to books. For example, you could regard the Bible as a big how-to book entitled "How to Have Eternal Life After Death in Heaven". You could also think of Buddhist texts as how-to books entitled "How to Seek Happiness and Avoid Suffering".
Whether you’re a Christian or a Buddhist, the application of such good advice could, in either case, seem very difficult or even impossible. But as a Christian or a Buddhist, you would know that the most foolish thing you could do is not to try.