Personal development has helped me tremendously throughout the years. I’ve gone from an anxious guy who lacked self-confidence to a business owner with a loving girlfriend of over two years.
But there’s also a lot of crappy personal development advice out there with little or no basis in reality. Sometimes reality and popularity are not the same. As humans, we all have cognitive biases that encourage us to believe certain things and discourage us from believing other things.
I’ve spent the past week analyzing quotes from some of my favorite personal development gurus — people like Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss and Malcolm Gladwell. In this article, I rebut 22 famous personal development quotes. In doing so, I’ll be overly critical and, frankly, a downer.
With that being said, I hope I can debunk some common personal development myths and provide some more rational strategies and mindsets for achieving happiness and success (whatever that may mean for you).
Tony Robbins Quotes
- “Your life changes the moment you make a new, congruent, and committed decision.”
Yes, your life does change when you make decisions. Your life also changes when you eat a bag of Doritos.
The positive impact of a new, committed decision is of course dependent on the decision itself — and would be hard to measure because success is dependent on so many different variables.
- “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.”
Figuring out what to do is hard. But actually doing it is even harder.
Analyzing competitors and successful people in other industries is extremely valuable. But executing is at least half the battle.
Kevin Systrom founded Instagram and sold it to Facebook for $1B less than 2 years after its launch.
You could copy Kevin Systrom’s habits, hiring strategies, marketing strategies, even his product but still not succeed.
It’s not just what you do, it’s when and how you do it.
- “People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire them.”
Maybe people don’t have goals because they are lazy. Sometimes correlation does equal causation.
- “We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish.”
We can change our lives. Agreed. Learning this simple fact had a huge impact on my own personal growth.
However, having exactly what we wish is wishful thinking. I don’t think I’ll ever have a billion dollars from being a doctor — and not having a degree is only part of the reason.
- “If you believe you are right, or you believe you are wrong, you’re right. Whenever you are certain about it, you will support it. Remember that.”
This is called confirmation bias.
- “Most people fail in life because they major in minor things.”
I major in being healthy and helpful. I don’t consider myself a failure.
I don’t measure success in material outcomes or in comparison to anyone else.
Success, failure, happiness and sadness are all subjective states that we can choose to experience.
- “Success is doing what you want to do, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want.”
Doing what you want, when you want, where you want, with whom you want, as much as you want is not an overly materialistic goal. In addition, it’s probably more achievable than you may think — depending on what what you want is. But it’s still hard to do.
To me, success is being alive: Learning, growing, experiencing — in any way, big or small. Without constantly wishing and hoping for more, I find myself more at ease. Being more at ease, I find myself more productive and motivated.
- “Nothing has any power over me other than that which I give it through my conscious thoughts.”
I do think it’s important to manage reactions. Our reaction to our circumstance is one thing that’s well within our control.
For example, making money often requires being around some crappy people. But those crappy people don’t have to affect you.
However, some things do have power over us regardless of if we give them conscious thoughts. You will still have to pay taxes even if you don’t give them conscious thoughts.
- “Create a vision and never let the environment, other people’s beliefs, or the limits of what has been done in the past shape your decisions.”
It’s ok to not be grounded in reality if it’s useful. It’s just important to know that it’s not grounded in reality.
- “Your income right now is a result of your standards, it is not the industry, it is not the economy.”
Having high standards is important and useful. However there are a lot of factors that contribute to one’s income.
Having a product or service that people want. Having the right marketing strategies. Innate abilities.
Talking about innate abilities has become quite taboo. Yet it has a major impact on our income potential.
Tim Ferriss Quotes
- “Different is better when it is more effective or more fun.”
Anything that is more effective or more fun is better.
Doritos are better when they are more effective or more fun. The important question is if Doritos are actually more effective or more fun.
- “If you spend your time, worth $20-25 per hour, doing something that someone else will do for $10 per hour, it’s simply a poor use of resources.”
I’m a big fan of outsourcing and delegating. If done right, it can increase efficiency and productivity. However it’s not a panacea.
The quote above fails to consider opportunity cost and risk.
To consider opportunity cost, one must consider what else the $10 could be spent on. If the $10 could otherwise be spent on something like a software tool that could automate the task completely and in perpetuity, then hiring someone might not be the best long-term investment.
With regards to risk: If you have a $1M, then spending even $100 (.01% of your capital) is not a major risk. However if you only have $100, spending $10 (10% of your capital) on a virtual assistant might not be the best allocation of resources.
- “I will take as a given that, for most people, somewhere between six and seven billion of them, the perfect job is the one that takes the least time.”
Some people have enough money to not need to work full-time. Others do not have that luxury. For those people, the more time they can spend on the clock, the better.
- “It is possible to become world-class, enter the top 5% of performers in the world, in almost any subject within 6-12 months, or even 6-12 weeks.”
Using the word “possible” makes it hard to debunk this quote. However “possible” is not the same as “likely”, which means this quote doesn’t have much practicality.
- “The question you should be asking isn’t, ‘What do I want?’ or ‘What are my goals?’ but ‘What would excite me?’
This just sounds like a poor strategy me. When considering the effectiveness doing what excites, one must determine what excites them. Some people are excited by gambling and drugs. Doing those things is usually not so productive. I do appreciate the idea do though and I’m sure it wasn’t intended for everyone to take literally or in isolation.
Malcolm Gladwell Quotes
- “…If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.”
- “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”
Someone who is able to rise before dawn 365 days a year may be more likely to be able to make his family rich. But rising before dawn certainly doesn’t guarantee riches.
- “You can’t concentrate on doing anything if you are thinking, ‘What’s gonna happen if it doesn’t go right?’”
I always have a bias towards thinking optimistically. But it is important to consider reality – including the potential consequences of our actions. Of course I don’t spend all my time thinking about what can go wrong, but I do try to consider it before I jump into something.
- “all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
If being “unreasonable” leads to progress, then it’s not actually unreasonable.
I think the confusion here stems from the inability for most humans to differentiate between what’s reasonable and what’s not. In addition, “progress” is arguable subject to opinion.
I would say that “progress” often requires rational irrationally. Starting a startup is rationally irrational. It’s very likely to fail but it can lead to outsized returns.
More Personal Development Quotes
- “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
Mindset is powerful but not an end all be all.
- “What ever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” - Napoleon Hill
Fact check: false. This is a helpful mindset though.
- “You can get most things you want in life. It’s just that most goals will take one or two years longer than expected. Be patient.” – Tai Lopez
Patience is key. Big goals take a long time.
However, not all business ideas are viable and not all goals are achievable for everyone.