Going Gaga Over Gurus

by Stephen Mills on April 2, 2010

Or what is the Best Self Improvement System Ever?



Answer:  None of them.  All of them.  Take your pick.

To help explain that answer, bear with me for a slight diversion.  Many years ago I read about studies on the relative effectiveness of various counseling and therapy techniques and of different types of therapists – from psychiatrists to lightly trained laymen.  The results were rather surprising.  Therapy worked, but it didn’t make a whole lot of difference what degrees or credentials the therapist had or what type of therapy was used.

One explanation is that people who were motivated to get better were those very people who chose to get help from a therapist.  If you were motivated enough to seek help and do something to get better, you were likely to get better.  There are many paths to getting better and so it didn’t really matter who or what you chose.  I think this same phenomena applies to self improvement.

Over the years I’ve read many improvement books by gurus promoting their particular methods.  The author usually describes the story of the their own life and how their method resulted in their own spectacular success.  I don’t doubt these stories.  I’m sure most of them are true.  I also don’t doubt that many people who read these books and try out the guru’s method, have varying degrees of success including no success at all.

Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup fame, tells his story of persistence in the face of failure and implies if you do the same you will succeed.  Maybe, but I’m sure for every Jack Canfield, there are many who tried the same thing and failed.  You just don’t know about them because they failed; they are not famous and you aren’t reading their unpublished books.  I attempted a humorous description of this effect in The Last Monkey Jumping.

As just one example, I’ve tried many productivity systems.  If you follow them they work; most of them anyway.  The problem with many of them is I didn’t stick with them because they were too complicated.  GTD is great, there is just too much to do.  I got tired of working the GTD system.  And yet following a productivity system works for me.  I now do something more simple.

If you want to know what works for self improvement, it’s not complicated.  You want to change, you are motivated to change, you commit to change, and  you actually do something to change.  What exactly you do is not as important.  That’s my opinion anyway.

What I recommend

  • Keep it simple.  I consider this the most important factor of all.  Whatever you do, keep it simple and the simpler the better.  Spend less time on the system and more time on the change.
  • Pick a particular system.  Doing something in a structured way will keep you focused.  Choose a system that fits your personality type or that appeals to you for some other reason; a system that is exciting or that motivates you.

This is all not to say I don’t think some things work better than others because I do.  I recommend them on this blog.  However, the method is very secondary to the action of actually doing something to improve.  There are many paths to success and you shouldn’t waste time trying a bunch of different systems unless you want to be a professional self improvement student.  Don’t go gaga over ever new thing you read or every new guru pedaling his own particular success method.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


Get Free Updates to The Rat Race Trap by Email here or via a reader in the top left sidebar.  I would love to have you on board.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Great Times Ahead: 10 Tips for a Tremendous Life | My Super-Charged Life
April 22, 2010 at 6:00 am
Coding Up Your Self Improvement System - An iArticle Exchange - INIZO.COM
September 20, 2011 at 1:01 am

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Earl April 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Hey Stephen – I’ve always found it amazing those who run around in circles, wondering why they haven’t accomplished any of their goals, despite having tried every system they could possibly find. And you’re exactly right, they are focused on the systems, not on the change and as a result, their productivity suffers greatly instead of improving.

I tried a few productivity systems myself and then decided to abandon them all. Instead, I took two weeks to really concentrate on what makes me productive and then created my own basic (very basic) system of spreadsheets that allows me to maintain my organization and be as productive as possible. I didn’t need to read endless books and learn someone else’s techniques in order to accomplish what proved to be the most effective in the end.

Great post!
.-= Earl´s last blog ..3 Best Kept Travel Secrets =-.


Stephen Mills April 3, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Hello Earl, my experience is similar. The other thing is that everyone is different and so what appeals to one will not necessarily appeal to another.


Sid Savara April 3, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Hey Stephen,

I think you nailed it with this line:

“However, the method is very secondary to the action of actually doing something to improve.”

Too many people get caught up in jumping from one thing to the next looking for the magical silver bullet – without giving any one system enough of a chance. Just pick something and try it out and stick with it long enough to at least know if it’s right for you =)
.-= Sid Savara´s last blog ..Your Hunger Will Fade – Five Ways To Keep Your Dreams Alive =-.


Stephen Mills April 3, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Hi Sid, thanks. I think that line sums it up for me as well.


Street Saint April 3, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I like this advice. You are very right about motivation. If a person is seeking help to change, chances are they are already on their way to success.

In my mission to overcome my social anxiety, I noticed the problem in myself and decided to try to change. Once I made this decision (without setting any specific goals) I quickly made huge strides.

The first step to self-fulfillment is deciding to strive for it.
.-= Street Saint´s last blog ..Road to Victory =-.


Stephen Mills April 3, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Hello Street Saint! Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts. I’m glad you found true “self-help” 🙂


Aaron April 4, 2010 at 5:06 am

This is so true about exercise, too. Especially for people trying to lose fat. People waste too much time researching and analyzing every possible method, time that would be better spent trying and adapting the one method that sounds the most suitable to you.
Regardless of what someone is trying to accomplish, there are many different methods to use. The important thing, as you said, is to pick one, put it to use, and stick to it.
.-= Aaron´s last blog ..What’s It Going To Take? =-.


Stephen Mills April 4, 2010 at 5:30 am

Hi there Aaron, that is a great example – exercise and diets. I think all the trying different diets is just a distraction that gives people an excuse to fail. Thank you for commenting.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills April 4, 2010 at 4:06 pm

This was so right on the money Stephen. No matter how good the system may be, it still comes down to taking action. So, does it matter whose advice we follow? I think it does for one primary reason.

Given 10 different methods with 10 different teachers (coaches if you prefer), some of those will resonate better with our individual preferences. If we choose a method we can live with from a teacher we can relate to, then we are much more likely to take action. It doesn’t really matter what the attraction is based on, we should go with the one that fits.

Feeling connected will influence our motivation. That, in turn will move us to action. And, as you so accurately pointed out, to get results we need to take action. It’s okay to like one method over another for seemingly trivial reasons, all that matters it that we like it enough to actually follow through.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Use Questions as Personal Development Tools =-.


Stephen Mills April 5, 2010 at 5:18 am

Hi Jonathan. As I stated at the end I think you should pick a system that motivates you or fits your personality. I think I’m saying the same thing as you are. The whole point is that many different things will work if you just follow them. One shouldn’t spend their time getting excited about every new Guru that comes along proclaiming they’ve got the secret to success. Thanks for stopping by.


Mike King April 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Great points Stephen and commenters. Its really a journey to find what works best for each of us. In fact, your last point Stephen to keep it simple I might argue with. I know that some folks need an elaborate system to really draw them into it deep, and stay committed. An easy system for them would be too simple to draw them in. Not enough invested to attract their attention so it wouldn’t work for them.

All in all, we must find what works for us best and then take action on that system, its the only thing really that we each have to rely on, our own individuality in who we are and in all that we do.
.-= Mike King´s last blog ..My eBook Released! Building Better Relationships =-.


Stephen Mills April 5, 2010 at 5:21 am

Hello Mike. You may be right about some people wanting complication, but I think the overwhelming majority of people are going to find something simple works best. That’s just my personal observation and experience. Even if you are initially drawn to complexity (like I used to be for example) that very thing may cause you to not stick with it (me for example). Thanks for offering your comments!


Sandra Hendricks April 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I have to agree that you can merely help those who WANT to help themselves! I wrote something similar, I would like to share – “What is it That the Self-Help Guru is Saying?” http://gg.thisshouldhelp.net/?p=872


Stephen Mills April 5, 2010 at 5:24 am

Hello Sandra. Thank you for stopping by to comment and leave your article link.


Mars Dorian April 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Hey Stephen

I’m not a fan of systems – you’re right about the simplicity, that’s what’s it all about. It’s mainly focus and commitment, and DIY inspirations you can assimilate.

I feel like having endless fire inside, and I can focus that fire like a laser beam which is really the main force of power in my life.
.-= Mars Dorian´s last blog ..Why YOU really Need a Logo ! =-.


Stephen Mills April 5, 2010 at 5:27 am

Hi there Mars. Many people are not able to DIY, in my experience anyway. They need a system to keep them focused and integrated. However, nothing works for everyone. Some people have to DIY. That’s the way they operate. Thanks for your comment.


Sunny Massad, Ph.D. April 4, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Let’s be precise, here. The “self” does not need improving! One does not improve a tree. One can nourish it and give it just the right conditions so that it has every opportunity to grow, but improvement is not really the question.

Westerners are stuck in a pattern of doing, doing, doing. Profound growth and transformation is the result of relaxing into your beingness. So both are needed: a calling forth to grow and a deep understanding that you are already perfect and all that is needed are the right conditions in which you will thrive!


Fatibony@Expressivewellness April 4, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Hi Stephen,
Different strokes for different folks..so what works for A may not work for B … thus we pick a system to suit which sounds great. .. and the key here like you have mentioned is motivation from the individual and most importantly taking action.. 🙂
.-= Fatibony@Expressivewellness´s last blog ..Are Your Personal Beliefs and Values Still Serving You? =-.


Evelyn Lim April 5, 2010 at 1:08 am

What works for one may not work for another, in other words. Most personal development books or systems are not truly complete in themselves. We may need to find out own unique combination of what works. There is nothing wrong for authors to share what has worked for them. However, it will be misleading to promote that theirs is the only path to self improvement success.

I enjoyed reading Earl’s personal story in his comments. It further reinforced your point about the need to take action.
.-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..5 Lessons From How To Train Your Dragon =-.


zmajeva April 5, 2010 at 7:43 am

“Failed” means “gave up”. Burning desire is the key, if people give up, their desire didn’t burn enough. It really that simple.
.-= zmajeva´s last blog .. =-.


Flash April 5, 2010 at 10:12 am

Good article! I’ve been a ‘cherry picker’ when it comes to self-improvement regimes. There are always nuggets of wisdom embedded in information but not all of it speaks to my needs.

I’m a survivor of childhood trauma (PTSD). Since my formative foundation was so flawed, I was completely divorced from my emotions and body language. I spent 53 years as a sentient robot.

My own regime consists of listening and examining my emotions, motives and body language. It’s not a quick fix but I’ve found it to be permanently effective.
.-= Flash´s last blog ..Multi-pocket mini album =-.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga April 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm

This is excellent advice- time is better spent on putting forth effort to improve than on worrying about which system will aid the improvement.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..How to Change Your Life and Become a Better Version of You =-.


Kenji Crosland April 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Gurus profess that their way is the one true way because it worked for them. The problem is, people are different. GTD might work for people who are very left-brained and good with systems, but would probably not fit well with people who are more intuitive and right-brained.

Sometimes we’re lucky to find guru’s who have similar personalities to us. We are able to relate to them and implement their teachings more effectively. Most of the time, however, we can only accept and implement a portion of what gurus tell us.
.-= Kenji Crosland´s last blog ..The Greatest Lesson I Chose Not To Learn =-.


timethief April 6, 2010 at 8:24 pm

What and great topic.

Taking responsibility for my own well being involves an ongoing decision making process and life changing shifts in direction. I have never followed a particular guru. When I became conscious I made the commitment to live life on my own terms and I’m glad that I did. I have charted my own course and I viewed every failure as a stepping stone towards future success. I am my own best friend and cheerleader.

I try remain focused on present moment living, avoiding non-productive self judgments and regrets, and I keep my eye on the prize, which is being the best being that I can be in every circumstance. And when I find that I’m off the pathway and in the ditch I take my own hand and guide myself back to the track.
.-= timethief´s last blog ..Protect Your Intellectual Property: Develop a Strong Brand =-.


Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com April 15, 2010 at 9:59 am

You’ve got to be confident enough in your own intelligence to pick and choose what YOU think is right and is wrong. If you let someone else decide you’re letting them write your life story for you. GREAT post!
.-= Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com´s last blog ..Tabata Intervals : Day 30 (Post Mortem) =-.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge