Habit Change Struggle and Toxic Self Help Loop

Self help is probably the most lucrative business in recent years. If you typed in the phrase “self help” in your browser, the social media almost instantaneously start to bombard with the adverts from self help gurus.

The baseline story is pretty much the same, some pathetic story of how desperate I was, what I did and how I bumped into the ‘get rich quick vibration’. The final call to action is a surefire promise to transform almost anyone as quickly as one could possibly imagine.

To secure the prey, the last line is often a money back guarantee. A guarantee that is so cryptic that the burden of eligibility for refund lies on you, often with an unachievable action or set of actions you MUST have already performed before you could seek for the refund.

The idea is not which method works or which guru is the true savior for you. Before diving into why most of the method seem to work for all and not for you, lets first look into how novelty interacts with our brain.

To understand this, one doesn’t need to be a doctor of psychology, a simple concept of economics that we learnt in high school would suffice. Alfred Marshal has a classic terminology for this, often referred to as ‘ The law of diminishing marginal utility’. Marshall observed that for any goods or service, the more you consume, the less incremental satisfaction you get, the marginal utility or the incremental joy of anything diminishes once you start to have it.

You might be wondering how this weird paragraph in the self help topic even makes any sense for my personal transformation journey. But if we carefully relate the goods/ service Marshall says to the self help methods we constantly keep switching, things start to make sense for sure.

Novelty and Brain Chemistry

Every new method seems promising at the outset and its very novelty is sufficient for anyone to try it. And when you are on the personal growth and transformation journey, you are ready to consume anything. But Marshall’s law kicks in very soon and well before anyone sees a glimpse of so promised breakthrough and paradigm shifts.

At the same time, one is being bombarded with another method or another guru, a better workshop or another retreat to lift one which looks damn promising now in comparison to a boring practice of present.

And needless to say, this is a perpetual loop.

If this is true, is self help a lie? What’s the problem here?

Is self help afterall a scam then? Does nothing happen at all? This is not necessarily true on the contrary. The self help industry has helped millions if to get rid of limiting beliefs, get rid of depression and countless others to secure the richness and abundance that they never thought was within their grasp. And most of the self help materials are crafted out of a lifetime experience and intensive researches of the scholars, researchers and the veteran in the field who genuinely have tried their life to make this planet an abundant and joyful for the rest of us.

But the media bombardment is so rampant that anyone and everyone struggles to decide which one to follow. And the carefully crafted ads with success stories that resonate with anyone’s pathetic self combined with powerful hypnotic background music is more than enough to hook anyone’s attention. To secure the victims further, the fake and paid testimonials and reviews is their last weapon that completely shatters any residual doubt of the victims. Fake testimonials are easier than ever to buy with few hundred dollars as click farms in in some of the countries are more a less a mainstream business now a days.

The Real Issue

The real issue here is not necessarily the method is fake or someone is ripping you off. Real change and transformation lies in less knowing and more actions. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I Sutton in 2000 at Harvard Business School coined a classic term called “Knowing Doing Gap” that beautifully explains why no significant change occurs despite our huge knowledge on any domain.

The value of knowledge cannot be undermined as any change first starts with new knowledge, that may be from a friend, a teacher, a book, a podcast, a video, seminar or retreat. But simply knowing anything, of any great value has no real meaning unless we use it to improve the life of our own and our loved ones.

Lets take an example, you read a book on time management and came across a new concept that seems fascinating at the outset. Sometimes, a new concept is so amazing that we fall into the false confidence that of ” I cracked it” but this is a rather complicated situation. Now we are deluded to assume we know everything on time management without actually practicing a bit of it. As sense of being smarter than our circle boosts our ego a little bit. This applies to anyone and on anything, we are suddenly healthier, smarter, more spiritual, more creative, productive and the list of attributes is endless.

And very soon, we end up where we started and now a search for new method starts again. 

After having tried few methods, few gurus, the idea of transformation seems daunting and too large a thing to conquer. ” May be the idea applies to someone who is in a better or easier position in his life than me”, or ” May be that was a marketing hoax I fell prey to”.

Whenever I have been able to change any of my habits for good or improved in any subtle aspects of my life, I can recall and confidently suggest anyone that it was the action that worked and not the egoistic sense of what I knew. The thing I knew very little but went into my practice until it formed a part of my habit was a real game changer.

James Clear in his book Atomic Habits has explained a very simple approach to personal development, precisely ‘habit change’. His advice is to take tiny little steps that result in remarkable results in the long run. It’s through atomic or increment habits and continuous practice, anyone can change his/ her life situations. Massive changes don’t need massive steps, it’s tiny and incremental ones that do the miracle.

So, if you are a habitual night owl for 40 years and wake up at 10 am, don’t get carried away by the idea that someone wakes up at 4 am. I can recall my own experience of starting to wake up at 5 after reading Robin Sharma’s ‘5 am club’ which I could not endure after months of struggle. If you want to change your habit to get off your bed early, start from your current position, try with 8 am, regulate your late evening caffeine intake, take tiny steps and be confident that you will achieve what you target but not at once. You might experience immediate success, but cannot sustain it.

So, if you are struggling with your habits, your personal improvement goal, exercising, quitting smoking/ alcohol, stop shopping around for a better procedure. Just familiarize yourself with few of them and put that to action. Before jumping on to the next so called better approach, sit back, relax and reflect. Question yourself “Have you been sincere enough on the existing one?” Perhaps the answer would stop your perpetual search for better alternative.

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About Us

Personal development including productivity, mindset and psychology have been my key interests in the recent years and I am on constant exploration. Apart from this, I am deeply interested in meditation and its potential for our transformation from deep inside.

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