I still remember when I first put my hands on a self-improvement book. It was in 1999 and the book was Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I was 16 at the time, and reading that book represented for me the beginning of what became a continuous journey of self-growth.
Later on this journey I also started helping others improve as individuals, and then I turned this into a full time job when I became a coach. I also ended up disagreeing with many of Dale Carnegie’s ideas at one point, but they will always have the merit of having opened the doors to a fascinating new world for me.
On this journey of self-improvement, I had the opportunity to witness and investigate the attitudes and approaches of hundreds of people towards personal development. Some of these people were seeing amazing personal transformations and, implicitly, they were vastly enhancing their lives and their happiness. Most of them, unfortunately, were not.
In time I realized that there are 5 major types of people based on their attitudes and approach towards self-growth. But only one of them achieves amazing personal transformations. I’d like to present you these types and describe them.
I’m sure you’ll recognize yourself and perhaps others around you in one or more of these types. It is my hope that you’ll move towards the last type I will present, which in my experience, is the only truly effective type, and move away from any other one.
This being said, here are the 5 key types in self-improvement, one by one:
1. The Ignoramus
This person is at the bottom of the personal development ladder. Worst case, they’re not even aware of the idea of self-improvement. It never occurred to them and nobody told them they can consciously become a better a person, by deliberately working on developing various skills and traits.
Best case, they did hear about this idea or they’ve seen someone they know practicing it, but they just brushed it off as a silly idea. In this case they either believe that you can’t really change the way you are, that it’s too much work, or that trying to improve yourself is an open admittance that you’re defective, which they’re sure as hell not gonna do. They have a reputation to preserve.
Personal development is a new concept for them and trying new things forces them out of their set ways, which is simply not something they’re comfortable with. So they choose to just discard the whole concept and stick to the familiar. It’s not unlikely for them to mock people who try to better themselves.
If you’re into personal development, the ignoramus is easy to detest. Because they’re not only ignorant (hence the title), narrow-minded and insecure, but they also think they’re better than others.
In the end though, the ignoramus pays dearly for their attitudes towards self-growth. They never surpass their given life conditions and they achieve little if anything meaningful. This is for example the guy in a crappy job, in a toxic relationship, head over heels in debt, who spends nearly all his free time drinking beer and watching TV.
He regularly makes bad choices and suffers for it, he has few options and little excitement in his daily existence, he doesn’t know how to deal with the challenges life throws at him other than by drowning his sorrows in a bottle, and past the age of 18 his life is on a constant downward spiral.
Since you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to assume this is the one type that’s not you.
2. The Slogan Lover
This is the person who’s into the idea of personal development, but practices a very crude form of it. And I’m not sure the word “practice” is even suited here.
This person loves clever sounding, inspirational slogans like “Dare to be different”, “Change your actions and you’ll change your life”, “Make today ridiculously amazing”, and so on.
They probably follow on various social media sites people and accounts that share a boatload of such catchphrases. They love to read these slogans, ‘like’ them and share them. They inspire them and make them feel good for a brief moment.
The problem is that this person thinks reading, sharing and occasionally attempting to put into practice such slogans means doing personal development. It doesn’t even come close.
The major issue is that a clever sounding slogan tells you what to do, but it doesn’t tell you how to do it. It sort of provides a basic destination, not a step by step process to get there.
How do you dare to be different when you’re stricken by anxiety and insecurity? It’s a lot easier said than done. How do you change your actions when you lack consistent motivation? And can someone tell me what the fuck making today ridiculously amazing even means concretely?
Unsurprisingly, when people try to live by these slogans, they fall short, because they lack the process. And since slogans are simple and easy to come across, especially with the rise of online communication, it doesn’t take long to have your head full of them but be unable to effectively implement any of them.
So the slogan lover doesn’t experience much more real self-improvement than the ignoramus. And there are tens of thousands of people out there who fit this profile. Still, the slogan lover is on the right path because they believe in and desire personal development. They just chose a really bad vehicle.
3. The Avid Reader
This is the person who reads a lot of personal development material, but actually puts into practice very little of it. They’re a reader, not a doer.
This person puts in the effort to go more in depth with their knowledge than the slogan lover. They read personal development books and articles, they sometimes go to trainings and seminars, they learn actual systems and methods for self-growth, and they don’t rely on catchphrases as a solution.
They make one costly mistake though: they stop at reading. After they’ve finished reading a good book on, let’s say, overcoming shyness, they just pick up another book and read that one too. Then another, and another. Maybe they go out once or twice in between to try and apply what they’ve learned, and that’s about it.
But the thing is that developing a life skill or personal trait usually requires a significant dose of regular practice.
If you’re shy for instance, becoming outgoing and social (something I often help my coaching clients accomplish) typically requires dozens of hours of practice in real social situations. And you only need one good method to practice, which you can learn from a book or a course in a few hours.
So the ratio between time spend reading and time spend doing should be tilted significantly towards doing. Well, for the avid reader, it’s tilted significantly the other way. They will overload their brain with information, but practice very little of it, and even that insufficiently. Therefore they only see small improvements in their skill level.
Why does the avid reader behave this way?
Sometimes it’s because they don’t fully realize that skills develop by doing, not by reading. They believe that if, for example, they read a lot of material about making conversation and then go out and talk to someone, their conversation style will be significantly better. But that won’t really happen. In fact all the new information in their head will most likely paralyze them and make them act awkwardly.
Typically though, the avid reader behaves the way they do because reading is a lot easier than doing. To put something into practice regularly over a length of time entails making effort, challenging yourself, and risking making mistakes. Comparatively, absorbing conceptual information while sitting on a couch and sipping ice tea is considerably less demanding.
Nevertheless, the avid reader needs to realize that reading is important but not enough, and that too much reading is actually detrimental to doing, which is even more important. And with this realization, they need to become more selective with the theory they consume, and put more time and effort into applying it. It will do wonders for them.
4. The Gullible Person
This is the one person that, as much as they bumble, I have a lot of sympathy for. The gullible person does almost everything right: they believe in self-growth, they seek in-depth knowledge, and they put it into practice with determination.
Their only problem is that they think everything that glitters is gold. So any method they find that promises fast and incredible results in losing weight, becoming charismatic, attracting women, gaining confidence, making money or whatever, they believe. They’re just very credulous.
And in the realm of personal development, there are so many crappy methods and so much bad advice, nearly all marketed as the next miracle solution, that if you’re gullible, you’re likely to buy into and try a lot of ineffective methods and advice. And when I say a lot, I do mean A LOT.
So the gullible person will spend hundreds of dollars and many hours of their time to learn and apply a wide range of tools for self-improvement. The most preposterous method you’ve heard of, they’ve tried it. Twice.
If they’re lucky, they’ll eventually find the tools that actually work well and they will achieve impressive changes. But this will require both persistence and the ability to learn from past mistakes so they don’t buy into the same cheesy marketing schemes again and again.
Sadly, the gullible person is often likely to lose hope and give up before having found the tools that work, bitterly concluding that there is simply no chance for them to improve and have the kind of life they desire. It’s sad when it turns out this way.
Finally, after 4 unsuccessful types, let’s talk about the ideal type regarding personal development.
5. The Self-Improvement Specialist
This is the person who makes none of the mistakes the other types make.
First of all, the self-improvement specialist believes they can better themselves and that bettering themselves is a worthwhile pursuit, which will greatly enrich their existence. They don’t think it will happen overnight though, and they don’t wanna change everything about themselves either.
Second of all, they know self-improvement is not achieved through cheesy slogans and one-liners. They seek comprehensive guides and systematic information. Also, they realize the importance of practice, so they invest a lot more time in doing than in reading.
Last but not least, they know how to do their research when looking for the right methods to reach their personal development goals. They are open-minded, but they demonstrate critical thinking at the same time. You may fool them once, but you won’t fool them twice.
This is the one type that achieves incredible results in self-improvement. When the self-improvement specialist sets their mind on developing a certain life skill or personal trait, you know they will succeed. Others frequently notice how much this person can change, and they’re floored.
With better skills and traits come exponentially greater achievements and greater happiness in life. In fact this type alone reaches a quality of lifestyle and level of fulfillment that few people ever experience.
Predictably, in the end I have one invitation for you:
Be the self-improvement specialist in your own life. Avoid the mistakes the other types make, and develop effective attitudes towards self-improvement. Value self-growth, seek quality guidance without overloading your head, and apply it consistently.
The preoccupation for personal development is becoming more and more popular, which I think is great. Nevertheless, effective personal development is still atypical. So when it comes to personal development, be the exception, not the rule. Adopt the approach of the specialist. It will pay off.