The world of personal development is large, especially since any successful person nowadays can join and start spouting success tips. With all that noise, we must be careful of which advice to follow.
After years of being a fan, I discovered a few common sayings that I believe are false upon closer inspection and reference to historical data.
You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind To. Nothing Is Impossible.
Alright, then that would mean that if I believed hard enough, I could turn into a pig with wings and fly into the sky, right?
This belief can make people delusional. While it’s an inspiring saying to say that “you can do anything”, the more realistic saying is that you can do a lot more than you believe to be true. But there are extents to it. I’m not going to waste my whole life just sitting on a couch, trying to will myself to turn into a pig just because I believe it’s possible, for example.
I was watching HBO’s documentary on Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, which portrays the latest big “Emperor Has No Clothes” scandal since Enron. The documentary portrays Elizabeth as someone who believed nothing was impossible.
As a naive 19-year-old, she refused to believe it was impossible for her extreme biotech ideas to be made into reality. She went to a professor multiple times with an idea for a nano-tech device that would take your blood, read it, and administer antibiotics immediately. The professor tried and failed to convince her that it wasn’t possible since people needed large IV bags for the potency of the antibiotics. She went onto fake the results of her product and mislead investors until people found out Theranos couldn’t do anything it claimed, causing a company valued at billions to drop to zero.
You may argue that her folly wasn’t believing the impossible, but ultimately realizing it wasn’t and choosing to do the unethical thing of lying about it. She should’ve folded the company gracefully and admitted to it. If you want to dream big, you have to execute properly. Watch the Netflix documentary on the Fyre Festival for another example. This naive college kid thought he could put together the biggest festival in the world in record time, ultimately resulting in a failed, rushed festival on an island without the infrastructure and tons of rich kids who were out tens of thousands of dollars in tickets.
Don’t get me wrong; Many of the things people believe are impossible can be done. People didn’t think we could fly in the air, and yet the Wright Brothers invented the airplane. People told Jay Z he would never sell millions of records. People told Bruce Lee an Asian actor would never make it. But they’re not exactly trying to transform into a pig though. Yes, they were against enormous odds, but the Wright brothers used physics, Jay Z was a rapper in the music industry already, and Bruce was an actor and martial artist. I’m saying that it’s a tricky, nuanced balance of figuring out what truly is impossible and what’s not. And it most certainly doesn’t mean you should believe any possible thing you can conceive is possible.
Charlie Munger explained this point beautifully in one of his lectures I saw. He said a 90-year-old woman is not going to consistently land lead film roles as the sex symbol in Hollywood. A 3-foot-tall man is not going to become the next Michael Jordan in the NBA. There are boundaries of what you can expect.
Drawing the line between possible and impossible is a very tricky business that no one gets right completely. The Wright Brothers proved many doubters wrong by showing that we can fly in the air with planes. Many friends and family doubted that Jay-Z would become a famous rapper. And yet what about all the stories of people who failed to achieve their goals? The 90-year-old female actress trying to play the lead role as a sex symbol in a film. The 3-foot-tall man who wants to play in the NBA? There is no magic answer. But two factors are patient and seeing progress. Jay-Z was able to tell he had some talent and skill. The Wright Brothers were able to see some momentum and progress through their experiments. Maybe what Theranos envisioned could be possible a hundred years from now. Maybe you can become a millionaire one day if you worked really hard for the next 30 years. Maybe in the distant future, it will be possible to morph humans into flying pigs through genetic updates or virtual reality. It just takes longer than you think. Impatience causes delusion. People want to be the next Silicon Valley millionaire in three years, not 30 years from now. Maybe some can. Others ruin their lives by being impatient.
If I Become Rich, That Will Solve All My Problems
This one comes from people following personal development related topics rather than the gurus or influencers. When (usually poor) people hear from rich people that “money doesn’t buy happiness”, their knee-jerk response is, “Well, give me your money if you don’t think money can’t buy you happiness” or “I’d rather be depressed in a Ferrari than happy and broke in a Camry”.
But the truth is, they’ve never really experienced depression or sadness or their life or still having all sorts of issues while they’re rich. And it actually sucks more than being happy and poor. Money does help in a lot of areas of your life. You’ll probably be happier that you have food on your table rather than starving. You’ll probably be happier that you’re out of debt and can pay for your kid’s college tuition.
But there’s plenty of things it can’t solve. It can’t solve someone who is spiritually distraught, unable to find happiness, unable to live fully, a job you hate, an industry you can’t escape, who suffer from terrible relationships.
The next knee-jerk reaction from these people is “Well, I can just throw money at a therapist, dating coach, a nanny, a beach home, retirement, a house party … that’ll solve those issues.”
Well, you still have to have the skill set and a game plan to identify the holes and the areas to improve and work through them. Money definitely helps, but plenty of people are rich but inept with women and choose not to invest in a dating coach. I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who have millions and are still unhappy so they think that making more money is the way to get happy; they’re on a delusional treadmill. I think it’s interesting how it’s always rich people saying this and hordes of poor, broke, ignorant people in the comments with these reactions. Frankly, I’m not rich yet but I believe the ones who say that money won’t solve everything.
Maybe some people can only learn this the hard way. They’re too close-minded to believe otherwise until they experience what money buys themselves. For the rest of us, I think we can ourselves years of heartache chasing some goal by focusing on finding happiness now through ways that are science-backed, like developing strong relationships and friendships, exercise, and community.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of happy millionaires too. And it’s better to be rich than poor. Keep trying to grow your income. I definitely am still pursuing that because money helps. But I know for sure that money can bring short-term pleasure, not long bouts of enduring happiness. Money is useful and the lack of money can bring unhappiness. But money alone is not the answer.
If I Get The Perfect Partner, All My Problems Will Be Solved
Of the four pillars of personal development: health, wealth, love, and happiness, I think that happiness and health come first because the others are often pursued on the belief that they’ll lead to happiness, which isn’t always true and can take many years to get there. Similar to wealth, I have found plenty of people who believe that having the perfect girlfriend or boyfriend would solve everything. On the flip side, I see people who have that tell them that all their other problems are still going to exist even with that.
If one has issues caused by a dysfunctional family or upbringing or life events, that’s something where investing in a therapist can really help out with. Let’s say that person got their dream partner today. All those dysfunctional issues that cause unhappiness, stress, anguish, communication issues, or whatever, are still going to exist. I’ve seen plenty of men who believe the perfect girlfriend would solve all those other issues. But they’ll still exist. You may sweep them under the rug for now, but they’ll come out to play soon enough.
If I Get A Perfect Muscular Physique, All Dating Problems Will Be Solved
These last few years, I’ve seen a few viral videos come off in my recommended section of YouTube with titles like “I thought getting jacked would make girls like me…” and a thumbnail of a young man who went from skinny to bodybuilder. When you start the video, a sad story unfolds. This kid thinks he will become desirable because women like him, so he dedicates himself to the gym for years. Then, he becomes super jacked yet the results aren’t what he expects. He may be a bit more confident and a bit more successful with women, but he gets a lot more attention from men than with women. Sometimes, it ends with a happy revelation around the true value of working out and sometimes it doesn’t.
This ones nuanced because some men actually do see plenty of results from working out and exercising. Some do feel more confident, look better, and do better with women. And women arguably can see more results from working out since men biologically tend to care more about looks than women do. Others, especially those who exercise with cardio or some sport, get a lot of health and energy benefits. I’m personally a big believer in exercise for those reasons as well as for your happiness and longevity.
My point is to just watch out for the extremes. The people who usually make videos and tell stories like the one I mentioned go to more extremes with the work they put in and the expectations they get out of it. They put in years at the gym and expect their appearance to do all the work when they never worked on their personality and communication skills. In reality, your musculature is just one trait out of many that a partner cares about. In fact, both genders start to consider more internal traits when they start to seek long-term relationships, so if you’re looking for a long-term relationship, physique isn’t everything.
As you can see, a lot of these points center around the idea that you shouldn’t be chasing or waiting some extreme payoff at the “top of the mountain in your journey,” especially if you’re doing nothing but suffering to get there. There’s a lot of enjoyment that you can get in the journey now. You can find happiness now. By understanding how people’s perceptions and beliefs are distorted, you can be more efficient in optimizing your life. Else, you may find that the pot of gold at the end of your journey is actually just a pot of potatoes. I’m a fan of the manga One Piece, which is about a pirate crew trying to find an island rumored to have the greatest treasure of them all. No one has seen this treasure except for one pirate crew lead by someone called Gol D. Roger. When they saw the treasure, they all burst out laughing. While it still hasn’t been revealed what this treasure is, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually just a pile of junk. The rumors changed people’s imaginations and galvanized pirates all over this world to chase after it, and it’s a similar thing in many Western countries. People are so obsessed with the idea that money/women/insert x will solve all their problems that they put blinders to all the things in front of them that can bring them happiness right now and chase after something that actually won’t bring as much as they think.