Like any industry, the Life Coaching and self-development industry is rampant with half-baked ideas, poor advice and urban myths. It’s not always easy to pick the wheat from the chaff because some of them have become so ingrained in popular belief that to question them is almost seen as heresy.
Well I for one love a bit of heresy (everything in moderation), so I thought I’d take a look at some of the more popular myths and offer my take on them. Feel free to disagree or even offer some cool ones of your own because trust me, there’s plenty more out there.
1. We Only Use 10% Of Our Brain
I still see this one Tweeted from time to time decades after it has been proven to be completely untrue. It would be somewhat closer to being true if people said, “we only use 10% of our brain at any given time”, but even then it’s inaccurate, unless of course you’re a politician.
Recently I heard a motivational speaker claim (and I’m paraphrasing),
“Science can’t possible dismiss the law of attraction when scientist themselves only use 10% of their brains.”
If it were true it would kind of make sense. I mean come on, if we’re only using 10% of our mental ability and have still managed to invent the Internet, space travel and cabbage patch dolls, what could we do if we tapped into the other 90%?
The irony is the people making such claims may be the exceptions to the rule. When there is so much evidence staked up against them to prove otherwise, it seems they indeed may only be using 10% of their brains.
2. Positive Thinking Is Easy
This is another Twitter favorite as it can easily slip into 140 characters. Somebody will say something along the lines of;
“It takes as much energy to think a positive thought as it does a negative one”
It’s a lovely thought and it sure would make the world a more pleasant place if it were true and people practiced it, but it isn’t.
If you have a tendency to think negatively, you will need to expend more energy to break that pattern and think positively. You’ll need to kick you conscious mind into play as well as your unconscious, because without conscious intervention your background thoughts tend not to change.
The example I usually use to demonstrate this, is to think of the first day at a new job. No matter how little work you do, you’re still probably worn out at the end of the day. That’s because so much is new, so much needs your conscious awareness and that requires physical energy in he form of glucose, which is a finite resource.
This thinking malarkey can, and will, wear you out which so many people just leave it on automatic pilot.
Oh and by the way, do you ever wonder why so many people have a tendency to think negatively? Why really bubbly optimistic people stand out in the crowd?
So do I and whereas I don’t know for sure what the answer is, I’m highly suspicious that it’s down to the media in all its forms.
Womens magazines glamorizing ultra-thin models, news stations delivering a constant stream of bad news, TV programs hurling violence at us, advertisers looking for new ways to prove how empty our lives are without their products etc.
Is it really any wonder there are so many unhappy, negative people in the world?
3. It Takes 28 Days To Form A Habit
I have written in depth on forming habits before, but I really can’t write such a post without at least tipping my hat to this old chestnut of a myth because it seems to be part of the the very fabric of self-development.
To begin with, let’s leave to one side the rather obvious question of how long is 28 days? Doing something for 10 hours per day for 28 days is not the same as doing something for 5 minutes per day for the same length of time, but that’s just me being picky.
If you want to form a new habit of bouncing out of bed and pumping iron for 30 minutes before breakfast every day it would be great to think you only had to do so for 28 days (or 21 or 30 depending on your own favorite self-development guru) before it would be ingrained as a habit for a lifetime.
Er, except it wouldn’t.
I know lots of people that have been gym regulars for 3 months and then quit. Been daily meditators for 2 years and then stopped almost overnight (that one is me by the way and I’m just starting to kick it off again) and eaten a healthy diet for many weeks before sliding back at the sight of a Big Mac never to pick up a stick of celery again.
The reason people relapse so easily is because they were never true habits in the first place. They were always conscious decisions and for something to be a true habit it has to be ingrained at an unconscious level.
Think of your long-term habits and ask yourself are you just likely to stop them without any effort whatsoever?
Almost certainly not because they’ve been grooved over years. Doing something for 28 days doesn’t do that, and quite frankly I don’t care what Stephen Covey says.
4. Always Write it Down
There are huge benefits to writing things down when it comes to self-development. Written goals are more powerful than goals that can only be found floating around inside your head.
Most people have heard of the experiment done at Yale Universities in the early 1950’s regarding written goal setting. The researchers tracked the progress of 100 students, 3 of whom had written goals and 97 who did not.
A decade later when the researchers returned to question the subjects, the 3% had outperformed the 97% combined on every major parameter. Truly amazing!
The paradox with me using such a story to make a point in a post on urban myths, is that’s it’s an urban myth itself.
I’ve heard many self-development gurus quote it. Brain Tracey never tires of it even though he’s been trotting it out for the better part of a century, or so it seems. He’s quoted as saying when told it wasn’t true:
“Well it should be” Way to go Brian! If only scientists could get behind that rather unique way of thinking.
Having said that, I do think there are reasons why writing goals down is useful, not least of which is the sheer fact of putting our thoughts on paper forces us to clarify them. Seeing something written down is different and uses a different part of the brain to simply pondering an idea.
It’s also cool to write notes to aid memory, make to-do lists or keep a gratitude journal. However, what’s not acceptable in my opinion is when we are writing down how shit our life is in an attempt to sort it out.
A client only recently asked me why I didn’t want him to journal his thoughts?
It was because they were all negative ones and writing down stuff that makes you feel crap is not an answer. I know some therapists use it (and I’m sure it works with certain types of people otherwise obviously they wouldn’t do so), but I’m dead set against it.
Like writing down goals helps embed them, writing crap about yourself does the same. Where is the value in that, especially as there are nearly always more pleasant routes to the same destination?
5. A Leopard Never Changes It’s Spots
We’ve all heard people say things like this and I’ve had clients question their own ability to change many times.
Putting aside mental illness because I’m in no way qualified to talk on that topic, I believe everybody can change, at least somewhat.
If that is, they want to badly enough.
The reason I believe that, is because I have seen it happen time and time again. So by definition that means it’s not true.
It will often take a lot of hard work and commitment and that may be the reason some people don’t want to believe it.
Because let’s face it, it’s much easier to con yourself into believing change isn’t possible, in which case you don’t even have to bother trying.
6. Meditation Can Reduce Crime
I confess to taking this out of my Law of Attraction Is A Con post but it bears repetition.
In 1993 there was an attempt to prove that mass Transcendental Meditation could reduce the crime rate in Washington DC. Depending on which report you believe and on which day of the two month experiment it was, between 2,000 and 5,000 people attended the event.
However, if you try and research this event you are deluged by the same very official looking report in a myriad of different guises.
Every time I read something supporting the story it always linked back to this page which on closer inspection isn’t the Government body it appears to be.
When I first heard about this experiment in the cult movie (and one I love by the way, even though it does a lot of playing fast and loose with the truth) ‘What The Bleep Do We Know?’ I was stunned, but not especially surprised.
For what it’s worth, I do believe that thoughts have power, even if I have no idea what that power can do or even if we have the capability to harness it in a positive manner at this stage in our evolution.
The unfortunate reality for those perpetuating this particular urban myth is that 1993 was a record year for homicide in Washington DC.
This would suggest that if the crime rates did dip so steeply in June and July (crime usually drops during bad weather and is higher in the summer months) it must have been an absolute bloodbath of Biblical proportions for the rest of the year in DC, and it wasn’t.
7. Security Is Important
When I work with a clients values, security is something that comes up on a frequent basis. Often it will equate to financial security, but also job security, family security and just a general sense of overall security in life.
I never tell clients their values are wrong, but I must confess I don’t believe security is really a value.
Because it doesn’t exist!
Multi-millionaires have gone bankrupt, long-term loyal workers with Fortune 100 companies have seen their jobs vanish over night, successful entrepreneurs have lost all their business in the blink of an eye often through no fault of their own and super fit athletes in their prime have dropped dead from heart attacks.
Your life can be taken away from you at a moments notice. Brian Tracy once told me, 10,000 people die world wide reading blog posts about security every week! And if they don’t, they certainly should.
Security is trickier to grab hold of than a live salmon that’s coated itself in warm butter. In fact, security doesn’t even exist in nature and we all live in nature. So take the pressure off yourself and let it go.
So there you have it. Let’s hear your favorite urban myths pertaining to self development, or just tell me I’m flat out wrong because a couple I’ve listed are subjective.