Getting the Most From a Self-Help Book—Change One Thing

I’m an avid consumer of self-help books. True, there’s some dross in this genre. But you can push all that aside and still find a legion of books with the potential to rock your life.

Still, there’s a huge obstacle to getting value from self-help books: The good ones offer you an embarrassment of riches.

A single book might offer dozens of suggestions that you want to implement. Multiply that by all the books you’ll read during your life.

How do you deal with all those ideas?

Ironically, it’s easy to read a great book and remain unchanged by it. We can let good ideas degenerate into vague intentions that are soon forgotten.

In addition, there’s the risk of turning into a “self-help” junkie—flitting from book to book. This happens in predictable stages:

  • This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read.
  • I need to get back to that book.
  • I think I read that book a while back—what’s it about, again?

Fortunately, I’ve stumbled across some articles that offer a solution. They’re variations on a theme: change one thing.

In The Single-Changing Method, Leo Babauta recommends changing one small habit at a time.

In six keys to changing almost anything, Tony Schwartz suggests essentially the same thing. See especially his instructions to “be highly precise and specific” and “take on one new challenge at a time.”

In To Change Effectively, Change Just One Thing, Peter Bregman reflects on his goal to manage his weight. After examining a number of complex diet plans, he chose to focus on a single, high-impact behavior change: giving up sugar-laden foods. As a result, he lost 18 pounds.

“Typically, people overwhelm themselves with tasks in their eagerness to make a change successfully,” Bregman notes. “But that’s a mistake. Instead, they should take the time up front to figure out the one and only thing that will have the highest impact and then focus 100% of their effort on that one thing.”


P.S. If you’re writing a self-help book, suggest the “change one thing” technique to your readers. 

Image by horizontal.integration, Flickr Creative Commons


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