Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests. After examination, believe what you yourself have tested and found to be reasonable and conform your conduct thereto — BUDDHA
Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own — BRUCE LEE
These quotes often come to mind when I pick up a book written by someone with instructions for changing my behavior. On the one hand, I feel a sense of possibility and hunger for new ideas. At the same time, I brace for disappointment.
In book publishing, the self-help and business genres are plagued with two intractable problems:
- Most of the content has not been researched or tested. Doing literature reviews and scientific research is time-consuming and expensive. Many authors simply don’t bother. Instead, they mash up random personal stories, uninformed opinion, and ideas cribbed from other people. The result is a vanity piece — a thinly-disguised memoir with little relevance to you. This happens when authors don’t know — or care — about the difference between scientific and anecdotal evidence.
- Even well-researched and tested ideas might not work for you. Writers and speakers are often appealing to the masses. Authors splatter a lot of ideas on their audiences, cross their fingers, and hope that the content resonates with as many people as possible. This is about as precise as painting a barn door by throwing open cans of paint at it. Individual differences get ignored. Techniques that work for someone else might fall flat for you.
One solution is to consistently ask three questions about any idea:
- Is this idea worth taking seriously? Be open-minded and skeptical at the same time. Yes, expose yourself to new perspectives. At the same time, keep your crap-detector handy.
- Does this idea call on me to do something? What’s the overall outcome or big result that the author promises me? What’s the very next action that I take to achieve that outcome?
- Did that idea work for me? As you experiment with an author’s suggestions, collect data. Monitor your new behaviors and their results. You’ll experience the power of precise awareness — and discover what truly works for you.