A note from Rach Smith's digital garden

The diminishing returns of self development content

Added: August 16, 2022

Tags: productivity books

The first “self help” book I read rocked my world. It was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This book taught me how to be tidy. More importantly, it taught me something else: that I could change the way I behaved if I wanted to.

Until I was 30, I was operating under a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. I didn’t know that was what it was called at the time, but it’s the perfect way to describe what I thought about myself. I believed I was just “a messy person” and that’s how I would always be. The Magic of Tidying Up showed me that messiness wasn’t built in to my personality, I just needed some strategies for being tidy.

The next book I read was terribly written, but had a real impact. Instead of playing on my phone in bed for an hour in the morning I was getting up and going down to the beach next to my apartment, doing yoga, writing and meditating. I realised that by changing what I did first in the morning positively effected the way I felt about the rest of the day.

Inspired by the changes I’d seen already, I went ahead and read many more self development books. A few of them significantly improved my life - Deep Work and Atomic Habits come to mind. Some had a good practical tip or mindset trick here and there. Some felt like they were just common sense. Some helped me understand other people better when I realised there are things they need to learn that just come naturally to me (Stoicism). There was also a lot of crap.

After a while, there comes a point where the things you are reading are just repetitions of things you’ve read before. The book that made me realise I didn’t need to read any more productivity books was Make Time. It is a great book filled with awesome advice, but I’d heard or read everything that was inside it already.

There’s something sad about reaching the point of diminishing returns with self development content, because you can no longer operate under the hope that the next book, video or podcast will be the key to unlocking a big change in your life. You have to face the realisation that improving yourself doesn’t come from reading about how to do so. It comes from putting in the work and often, the time.

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