I have a problem. First, I didn’t take the symptom seriously when my wife warned me that she wouldn’t come shopping with me anymore. Rather, it looked like a blessing in disguise, although I pretended that I was going to miss the great shopping experience. But later, when my daughter pointed out to me more bluntly that I was suffering from a kind of syndrome, I couldn’t brush it aside anymore. Yes, it called for a bit of hard work, but it has worked now.
Nowadays I don’t automatically halt on spotting a sprawl-of-books on footpaths nor walk into every bookshop I pass by to browse the books endlessly, without any sense of time. Sometimes, the salesboy has had to remind me with a polite harshness that I had to wind up as they were about to close the shop. What my daughter pointed out made a lot of sense. She said one thing that awoke me to my bibliomaniacal behaviour of buying and collecting all Coveys, Zigglars and Carnegies that come my way: ‘Why don’t you put at least one thing into practice from the last book you had bought before buying the next?’ I have not bought a single book since then and now it is almost four months. When I see the array of books in my bookshelf, they are not sitting quietly waiting to be picked, but each of them is jumping out at me asking, ‘have you started doing what I told you to do?’
I am not alone
I wanted to know if I was an odd man out or if there were others having this dysfunction. I did a simple online survey among my professional network using the SurveyMonkey site and the responses were really comforting. The first comforting factor was that my friends out there were doing no different than what I have been doing. Most of them were buying and reading SI (Self Improvement) books like crazy, although they were not disturbed when they didn’t implement something from the book. But one thing that struck a chord is that every one of them was making an earnest effort to internalise the ideas of the book. Some even said that they didn’t fully complete the book but didn’t have any qualms about buying it. I felt the reason
could be the cost–benefit analysis; since the cost invested is meagre, there is no real concern if benefits don’t accrue.
As to what specific efforts they have taken to implement the learning from the books, the responses were, however, diverse and wide ranging. While Ajita, an HR executive, says that she makes a conscious effort to put the learning into action, Rajesh, an aviation trainer, feels that reading naturally gets internalised as he reads and it just flows when he gets into the situation. RN, who is in a senior leadership role in a global IT firm, believes in a more systematic approach such as noting down the major points and reading them through the first thing in the morning, whereas his professional peer GN feels that books can only serve to motivate, inspire and provide some tips and real personal transformations can come about only by real life experiences. Lakshmi, an archie in the making, says she has implemented what the books had instructed, reorganised schedules, work patterns and diet habits. Sudhanva, a cement technologist, has tried to implement the learning from these books, whereas Nadesan, a behavioural trainer, feels that the books have not been of much help.
So, do SI books help us improve?
Emboldened by the responses from the survey, I placed a question in a networking site, ‘What did you implement from the self improvement book you read?’
One lady remarked that the SI books helped her reach the jar of cookies, by placing them on a chair. My wife not only loved that reply, but she further added that they helped in levelling the planks while preparing for navrathri golu. But a more useful comment came from Judy Hojel, CEO at People and Performance Training, Sydney, who remarked: I read self improvement books constantly and consciously try to implement two to three things from each book I read. I just finished reading a book called The Power of Impossible Thinking by Colin Crook and was reminded once again about how powerful our mental models are and how important it is to constantly check whether we are being imprisoned by them or believing something that doesn’t even exist. Carolyn, a student at the University of Southern Queensland, said: I have been able to turn my life around through my wide reading. My best piece of advice would be to just get started by putting one piece of advice into action and not to try to implement too many changes at once.
Sales pitch or help-talk?
Looking more seriously into the problem, I thought I would go through what the authors promised in the foreword and how they wanted their readers to read the book to realise what they promised. It looks like most authors do not want to put things straight and say who the book is meant for and what the readers need to do to get to where he wants to take them by the end of the book. Probably they kept their captions and prologues very generic with a marketing approach rather than attracting a specific target segment. Think of a book dealing with specialised subjects in physics, say, on ‘optics’ captioned as ‘The Wonderful Light’ or ‘quantum physics’ titled as ‘Cosmic Beauty’. I felt it is time we graded SI books so that people at different stages of lives are able to pick the right kind of books. A book that sells a million copies definitely delivers a great result to its publisher. But are you getting your results?
Reap results from what you read
When I was in school, I remember my mom preparing a meticulous list before shopping, lest she missed out buying an essential item. Today, we do not do that anymore, since everything is on display in the shop and we end up picking and filling our carts with whatever we feel we may need. But there could be quite a few that we may not use at all once they adorn our shelves. This probably happens with books too. So here are a few things, I thought, that can help in making your reading render results you want:
- Stay focused: Before buying an SI book, choose an area of your life you want to improve in the course of the next three to six months. The area could be career, health, finance, family relations, networking, confidence, communication, and so on. Be focused on what you want; while buying, skim through the contents to see whether your specific need is addressed.
- Personalise the book: As you read along, highlight the points you feel inspired about and jot down your notes and insights along the margins. This will provide you with continuity when you stop reading and resume after some days. Going through your comments and the highlighted texts can give you a quick snapshot of the book.
- Share your progress with your pal (partner @ learning): Having a friend with whom you can share your goals and commitments can help a good deal in your improvement. During my schooldays, one of my friends and I used a similar technique of exchanging five new words everyday to improve our vocabulary.
- Have your SI journal: Start maintaining a personal journal to log your progress with the new behaviour or habit and the breakdowns you come across as you go along. Keeps it self-motivating?
If you find these ideas worth practising, or you if you have a better idea, do let me know.