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I attended a talk last Monday by an excellent speaker, Jamie Denyer, whose presentation included a sobering observation. Once I got past his odd clothing choice – a bit hip-hop for a grandfather living in Swansea – I really enjoyed all of his talk, except that sobering bit. The sobering bit thrown right at me, personally. At least, I thought it was personal. I thought it was personal because the cap did fit and I had to wear it.

He described the individual who buys a personal development book, avidly reads it to the last page, then puts it down and “waits for the magic to work.” Then, when it doesn’t work because they aren’t applying it in a disciplined fashion they go out and buy the next one – and repeat. Then they repeat ad nauseum. He said that this is referred to in the trade as ‘shelf-development’, in that your book shelf gets fitter by holding up all your books.

Ouch. You should see my collection.

When I give talks on self-leadership (yes, fraudulently to some degree), one of the things I tell people is this.

  1. Choose your self-help book carefully. (I recommend The 7 Habits or Awaken the Giant Within, plus a couple of good time management books.)
  2. Apply the content religiously and don’t buy any other book!

There is a personal reason that I do this. I will sit there and read one of my books. I will then think, “This is the system I will now apply.” I will then see another book, listen to another trainer, see a new form, or just have something come to mind when I am walking the dog, and I start to think about how I will apply that instead of what I was already (supposedly) doing. As a result, instead of ‘doing’ I am perpetually ‘thinking about doing’.

The daft thing is – and Stephen Covey wrote about this in The 8th Habit – they are all saying the same thing.

  • They ALL say that taking responsibility for our thoughts is the key to a directed, patient, principled life.
  • They ALL say that having goals and a sense of direction towards a passion is key to a successful life.
  • They ALL say that relationships are important.
  • They ALL say that looking after your body enables success in the former three endeavours.

BUT they all have subtly nuanced alternatives to how to apply the philosophy to the discovery of a purpose and how to define goals.

I have suggested before that success is created by application of self to a simple philosophy.

  1. Know what you want.
  2. Manage your time accordingly.
  3. Communicate with clarity – in and out.

After that, it’s all about method, system and practices. For me, I always come back to Covey’s template because I understand it so well, teach it in schools, and absolutely believe in the systematic approach and principled teaching that it is. You could choose Canfield’s, Robbins’, Ziglars, Hobbs – whoever you like.

But just pick one. It leaves the mind clear for the important stuff. Then apply it with discipline.