What I learned from reading 100+ personal development books

A couple years ago I decided that it was important to develop myself. It was more than just curiosity. It was necessity. I had went through a series of traumatic experiences which left me with the regret that I could have done better.

If only I had known…

So I began to read about personal development. I studied psychology, NLP, self-hypnosis, meditation…

I think that the vast majority of what happens to us is beyond our control. But we always get to choose how we react to what happens to us.

Which makes how we react a lot more important than what happens.

So, what did I learn from reading over a hundred such books in two years?

1. You are what you think.

It is almost impossible to find a self-help guru who’d disagree with this statement.

It all starts with thought. It is the building block of action, of emotion. It is the way that you think that determines the quality of your life.

2. Thought without action is useless.

I started with a piece of paper, a pen, and some fifty, sixty affirmations. Tried to write them in first person, second person… I even tried recording myself and obsesively listen to that recording.

Nothing changed.

My theory is that action is what truly reinforces beliefs and habits. You need to fake it until you make it, so to speak.

It is useless to read, over and over again, that you are outgoing if you do not go out into the world and try to be that.

3. Happiness is simple.

It is. Just a combination of getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising.

Being busy also helps.

The mind is this treacherous thing: it sabotages itself by thinking too much.

The more you think, the likely it is for you to think yourself out of being happy.

Happiness is not this check list of things that you need. It is not to be found in any place or situation or another person. Or any other number of people.

Happiness is a state of mind. And like all other states of mind, it comes and goes.

4. Surrender to the moment.

Ever tried to fight off certain cravings? Give up on certain bad habits? Quit smoking? Not think of someone?

And the more you tried to think of something else, the more difficult it became?

In fact, you are actually holding on to that thought by trying to escape it.

Let go. Surrender to whatever it is you are feeling. Observe what your mind and body are telling you.

Self-awareness is underrated. But it is extremely important. You need to accept the fact that you are how you are, and then understand why, and then you can change. There’s no other way.

5. There are no shortcuts.

Sorry, guys. No how-to guide can ever tell you how to live life, be happy, become successful, or earn a lot of money. You can read about other people’s struggles, what they did, how they did it, their principles and beliefs and thoughts patterns, but it might not apply to you.

You cannot replicate another’s life.

You can only arrive at the same conclusions, figure some things out, and that’s it.

6. Change doesn’t happen overnight.

It doesn’t take seven, or ten, or thirty days. It’s not as easy as listening to recordings and watching a bunch of seminars. It takes more time, more effort, and it’s an overall frustrating experience, even though these books would like to tell you otherwise.

In fact, it is only through a lot of effort that you can change certain habits and behaviors. It is a painful process. Your mind rebels against the new ideas. A paradigm shift is you vs. you in a very costly battle. You have to ditch harmful ideas, you have to accept reality as it’s being painted in front of your eyes by other people.


That being said, I’d like to conclude that personal development is a fascinating topic. Bettering yourself is an ongoing process which stops only when you decide to. There’s always something new to learn, some different approach to certain issues, there’s always room for progress.



22 thoughts on “What I learned from reading 100+ personal development books

  1. This is such a good article, very relatable! If there’s one thing I learned so far in my life, it’s that you’re never done learning, and that you’ll never know everything. I dare even say that we know nothing, because the older we get, the more our views and ways of thinking changes. The things we thought about life in the past, we know think is a silly thought we had, and when we’re older and will look back on the today, we’ll also think to ourselves: I still had so much to learn.

      • It’s true. The more we learn and know, the more we realize that we don’t know. In some instances, being a bit ignorant is “bliss”. Actually, some of the happiest people in this world, don’t have much to their names. They are happy because they don’t know what they are missing out on having. Take a wealthy person’s belongings away and they are miserable under the same circumstances that the man with nothing much lives with every day because they know what it’s like to have much more. Sometimes, it’s best if we are simply us, as we are and learn to like who we are, as is. There are happier people out there who have never sought out a way to be happy. Ironic, isn’t it? Thank you for this piece.

  2. I have never been a fan of self-help books for this very reason but I understand they do have some value to people trying to learn how to improve in any aspect of his/her own life. I prefer to read fiction and observe human behavior and then analyse myself and work on the things I don’t like. Thank you for the insight.

    • A lot of so-called “Self Help” books are simply New Age concepts that has become trendy to believe in. We are all looking for some sort of magic wand to make us happier and yet, we live in a day and age where we have more than previous generations and should be happy. Maybe, there’s something to be said for having “too much”???? Good point.

  3. Meditation is an excellent way to quiet the mind. It helps you understand things, and the truth is you don’t need to look outside of yourself for the answers. When you quiet yourself and listen, you will find the answers were inside you all along.

    • Yes i agree Meditation and Yoga, they help a lot and you can see the changes within a month. I did it for a period of time and also experienced the better part of me.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful insights. I am sorry for your trauma. #1 is key for me~ and I have to be oh so careful with what I think! The heart loves to lie-And I am a such a sucker to believe!

  5. Wow, 100 books is a lot of books. Even though I have read only 3 or 4 books of the personal development nature, my conclusion would be very much as you have described in your 6 points.

  6. Great observations. If one happens to read such books one after the other, that itself is the sign that it does not work. I was once interested in such books and videos. But it didn’t take me long to realize knowing is one thing, whereas doing and being is entirely another thing. Have to admit – those writers have a spell over those who are seeking confidence and success. Time to keep them away and start living.

  7. I love this! Simple yet truly resonates with my own personal experience. I believe understanding this and knowing what to expect when undergoing through personal development journey really helps tremendously. Not knowing what happens beyond our current challenges is very scary and can cause us to stop trying. “Change doesn’t happen overnight” totally hits the shadow of confusion. Two thumbs up! Thanks for this post!

  8. We’re on the same boat, Cristian! Like you, I was not a fan of self-help/personal development books before. I soaked in most of my time in highly technical engineering topics. It was just during my first ever corporate job that I started to long for some insightful readings that would change the psychology of my mind and my emotions. (Yes, emotions have a psychology as well).

    I met my former professor in Mechanics at a coffee shop and we had this great talk as he advised me to read a book written by Stephen Covey, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I bought the book, shortly after that. At first it was so boring because there are no catchy and techy illustrations like magazines do, but it really takes time and habit forms along the way.

    Now, I was able to finish another hard-core personality development book by Thomas Stanley, “The Millionaire Mind” and Robert Kiyosaki’s “Cashflow Quadrant”. I hope you guys would take time to browse through these books as well.

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