There’s a certain part of me that feels a bit sheepish about my love for self-improvement and business-themed betterment books. My internal cynic wants me to be too evolved for all of it.
I once saw a woman on a plane reading “Start With Why” and I was thrilled because I LOVED THAT BOOK…but hesitated to start a conversation about how life-changing that book’s thesis was for me because I didn’t want to be that seething fangirl of self-improvement (and also, 75% was just that she was in a middle seat and I did not want to be the person shouting over both an aisle and a human being just to gush about her “why”).
Some of this comes from the media’s lampooning of the new-age self-improvement junky as an archetype. The prayer bead wearing, slightly disheveled yogini who is fully connected to “the goddess within”, lives for Tony Robbins and Landmark, and says Namaste after yoga without a hint of hesitation (or concern that it’s some complex form of appropriation she should avoid or at least not have printed on the rear-end of her $98 Power Within Super High-Rise leggings).
That’s not me. I am not sure I even want to hang out with that person.
Sure, I read Dr. David Hawkins (and spent the longest time feeling weird about his books until I realized he never uses “I” when he writes and that was why it felt so clunky and hard to read), Brene Brown, and countless spirituality and self-improvement tomes, I do yoga every morning, I (attempt to) meditate, I try my darndest to stay present…but I only wear black, ride a chopper, and prefer a screeching Fiona Apple over Enya with Whale Songs compilation.
The other day I finally realized that I am, for one, taking myself way too seriously caring if others judge me for reading self-improvement books on the reg because, duh, my tribe reads them too. But I also realized why they’re so helpful.
When you read that business, thought leadership and self-improvement book niche (I’m talking about the whole swath from Brene Brown to Simon Sinek here) what you’re doing is hearing statements, ideas, and ways of looking at the world that you may not have heard before because you were not raised or socialized on them.
As much as I think Lean In should be burned in a pyre of feminist rage, the power of that book is that millions of women heard statements that reinforced that they have as much right as anyone else to be at the boardroom table if they want to be.
As much as Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas confused how I feel about thought leaders like Simon Sinek or Amy Cuddy, all three of them put new ideas in my head. The former that I should question everything about how the world works, and the latter to ask why I am doing something and to remember to carry myself with pride and authority.
They’re not new ideas per se, but I didn’t have a frame of reference to reflect and meditate on them in a way that incorporated them into my brain’s daily functions. And really, that’s what your brain needs. As you run new ideas through it the plasticity of your neuronal systems adapts to incorporate those ideas and ways of looking at the world into your daily experience.
Your brain habituates to the ideas you feed into it, and they become part of you. All of life is a meditation (so says Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth), and if that’s the case you better pick good mantras and kick the ones that aren’t serving you out of your grey matter.
This means if you were raised to feel ashamed of yourself, or to be small, reading a crap-ton of Brene Brown can help you rewire from thinking phrases that reinforce you as shameful, to strengthening the pathways of your brain that see you as capable, worthy, and lovable. Erase the bullshit, and reinforce the good shit.
For me, my parents were not entrepreneurs so I rarely heard statements that supported a freelance or entrepreneurial mindset, but Seth Godin sure as heck has trained my brain to recognize the capacity I had to start, run, and thrive in my own business.
My partner, on the other hand, was raised by an artist from a long line of entrepreneurs and these ideas are a normal part of their life and brain patterns. It fascinates me on the daily how differently we’ve been wired and the different truths about the world we were raised to accept as “the truth”.
Regardless of whether you harbor any shame at being one of those “self-improvement” zealots, the take-home lesson is to find the ideas that you want to be a part of your daily experience and read them, over and over if you need to, until they become your truth.
Cherry-pick whichever ideas you need to become real in your head to succeed and pour them into your consciousness with reckless abandon as often as you can (If you’re not sure where to start… I’d suggest you grab a copy of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and read it again and again until the pages disintegrate).
The best way to change your mind is to replace the things you assume to be true with new truths. Allow other’s ideas to shape your mind and your perception, and open yourself to the possibility of an entirely new world of possibility.