10 Lies Personal Development Bloggers Tell You

Half a truth is often a great lie. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Astonished woman
After writing about Personal Development for seven years and blogging for more than two, I’ve come to know this niche well. Here are some of the lies we tell you, our beloved readers. That wasn’t one of them, we really do love our readers!

Not all of these are direct, blunt lies. Some of them are lies of omission (i.e. implied non-truths). 

Lie #1: This is the article or product that will change your life forever.

Type: implied, direct

It’s so competitive online today that an article less than a must-read is buried under heaps of enticing reads. We are in the information gold rush, and if your headline and content are merely silver, people will Digg elsewhere.

Personal Development bloggers want to give you answers to life. It’s not an easy task. We know tall claims draw people in, and sometimes we’ll embellish on what a technique can really do for your life. Perhaps it’s just good marketing, but it can be a little dishonest.

Lie #2:You can do anything you set your mind to

Type: direct

Realism is important in life, and while most people do have artificially low ceilings that can be raised with a shift in perspective, believing you’re superman when you’re not might end in pain and confusion. It’s difficult to encourage people to test their limits without taking the “you can do it” cheer too far.

It sounds crazy, but there’s sometimes a fine line between inspiring and deceiving.

You can do anything! Well, except for that, and that, and that…

Lie #3: I am perfect, which is why my advice is so good

Type: omission

Sneaky man

No, I’ve never failed before. My ideas are perfect, like me. I am the best, man. In weddings, I am always the best man, man.Oh, that? My back itches. Don’t worry about it. Just take my advice, buy my books, and remember that I have never been embarrassed in public. 

It’s like the preacher who never sins, the baker who never…eats raw cookie dough? You get the idea. Personal Development bloggers may feel pressured to paint a rosy picture of their own life in order to maintain credibility. Who wants to listen to a hypocrite or amateur?

Who wants to take tennis lessons from Donald Trump? I do, but I’ll ask him about business instead of my backhand swing.

With the endless stream of questionable tactics, false personas, in-your-face advertisements, and self-promotion (Deep Existence is amazing) flooding our lives, people have more respect for vulnerability and honesty than ever. Vulnerability is a counter force of credibility that makes up for a less than perfect image. Personal Development bloggers, that is the upside to being a flawed person with good ideas!

It’s easy to leave out the part of your life where you fall short, because you want people to trust your advice.

This is what it’s like to be vulnerable: I live with my parents and I’m 27. I’ve never used my Finance degree from 3 years ago. I have struggled mightily with sleeping in.

…oh hey guys, I’m back from crying in the shower.

Because I feel uncomfortably exposed, I’ll mention that those facts all have upsides too. Living with the folks means I can travel much more often (San Francisco earlier this year and Rome in May) and take more business risks, I don’t want to use my Finance degree right now, and I’ve gotten up early for a month+! But still, it’s embarrassing to admit that to a critical world when I’m positioned as an expert.

Lie #4: You can do exactly what I do

Type: implied, direct

If I am able to get up at 5 AM, exercise an hour, read two hours, down an organic green smoothie, and write a best-selling book every day, then everyone else can! That’s a lie. Every person operates differently and occasionally that means different strategies are in order.

Personal Development bloggers get this wrong a lot, but it’s not their fault. They assume what works for them works for everyone. But guess what, I’m going to flip this around on you. Many times it will work for nearly everyone. While we’re all very different, we’re all human, and humans have a lot in common with each other.

This is one reason I like to use science to base my conclusions on. Scientific studies reveal universal human traits and biases.

Readers need to understand how an article can apply to their own unique situation, even if it is touted as a panacea. Sometimes you’ll have to experiment and see what works for you. Experimentation is an effective way to grow because it moves theory into practice.

Lie #5: Change is easy

Type: implied, omission

Most bloggers I see tell people “No, It’s not easy!” as a disclaimer. But this lie is more often an omission of reality than a direct lie. I just used a headline like this in my article – The Easy Way To Change Your Identity. Is it a lie? That depends…I see changing your identity as a difficult thing to do in general, and I believe the technique I give in the article is the easiest way to go about that difficult task. So it’s difficult, but it’s easier. A reader could read that and misinterpret it as easy overall.

Here are two headlines about the same thing…

  1. “How I got ripped abs in just 6 weeks!”
  2. “I was throwing up from the workouts. It was the hardest 6 weeks of my life.”

The first one is a smart headline. The second one is known as reality. Though really, the second one sounds like an interesting read too.

Many headlines trick the reader into thinking of the benefit so they’ll get excited and read the post…

  1. Benefit mindset: “Six weeks until hot abs? Just in time for the beach? Sign me up!”
  2. Reality mindset: “Doing crunches while my abs feel like lava? Throwing up? Forget it. Beer me, bro.”

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. With really really hard work, you can gain really amazing benefits. It’s the job of the writer to explain both sides of the equation, and the job of the reader to consider what it really takes to get there. Legitimate shortcuts are few and far between. Most great things require great effort.

Lie #6: Change is nearly impossible

Type: misleading sales tactic, error

It’s weird, but sometimes Personal Development bloggers overstate how difficult something is. This can be a sales tactic to get you to buy a product (i.e. “you can’t do this without my help!”) or a simple miscalculation.

Sales Example: 97% of bloggers make nothing, but I make [impressive amount] doing what I love while sipping margaritas, and I’ll show you how if you pay me! I just saw this exact ad. The numbers are skewed because a huge percentage of bloggers don’t try to make money or are so horrible that it’s not possible. But it plays to his favor to be “one of the coveted 3%”… This product may be legitimate, but it’s a clever sales tactic.

Misinformed Example: I once parroted that it takes 21 or 30 days to form a habit. Then I stopped because I found out it’s absolutely false information. As a general number, it’s a good guess. But habit formation depends on the person and the difficulty of the habit. It takes much longer to make 100 daily push-ups a habit than to drink a glass of water every day. I easily quit soda forever one day. It was an autonomous habit for me to drink water (instead of soda) in maybe 3 days. And yet, quitting soda is a very difficult for some others.

Studies show that easier tasks become habits (defined: tasks done autonomously) much faster. It makes sense and it means that habits are not 30 days fits all. To be fair, many habits should develop fully in this time frame and a month is a nice clean unit of time.

Drinking a glass of water every day is not going to take 30 days to turn into habit.

Bloggers may convince you that change is harder than it truly is when they have something to sell or when they are accidentally skewing data (or repeating a myth).

Lie #7: I am not an expert

Type: modesty, legal protection

Personal development experts often claim their site and content is “for entertainment purposes only.” It must be done for legal purposes, because some of them are bona-fide experts at teaching others how to grow. While I love the researchers and scientists with PhD degrees, it’s sad that someone like David Rock could be doubted for a second as being an expert or not because he doesn’t have a degree.

I’m reading a book by David about how the brain works. David has interviewed numerous neuroscientists, spent hundreds of hours reading studies, and compiled a wide breadth and depth of scientific knowledge into this book, Your Brain At Work. But you’re telling me that he isn’t an expert because he doesn’t have PhD after his name?

I just had someone question me about his credentials: “Oh, he’s not a neuroscientist? I would rather get a book by someone with more credentials.”

The problem with people with credentials is that they’ll often focus on their own research. Science gets very interesting when you combine the ideas from different studies to gain a broader understanding of reality. This is what David has done in his book. No, he isn’t a neuroscientist, but he has learned from neuroscientists and the studies they’ve done. He grasps the concepts well enough to teach them as an expert.

You don’t have to have a PhD to understand something.

Lie #8: I am an expert

Type: direct

This lie is told in every industry. People want to get ahead. The zillions of websites on the internet have created a credibility crisis. Who can we trust? How do I know that your site and advice is legitimate? Everyone wants to be an expert so that people will listen to them and follow them. Unfortunately, not everyone is an expert. In a somewhat subjective field like personal development, the lines are blurred and things like social proof, links, and association with other experts are used to verify trustworthiness.

Lie #9: I’m only interested in helping others or making the world a better place

Type: omission, implied

It isn’t wrong to make money doing what you love. It’s not wrong to want to make money by helping others. Nobody criticizes doctors for getting a paycheck, nor should they! Many times, bloggers want income from the value they give to the world, but are too afraid to admit it in fear of appearing greedy or “less passionate” than other bloggers.

I don’t think that’s necessary. If you help people and want to do it full time, then the people you help will be glad to support you in exchange for the value you provide (if it truly is valuable). There’s no need for us to be sneaky or ashamed about it.

As for me, I plan to make money with Deep Existence. It has the traffic and reputation to make money now, but I’m not going to rush anything for a quick buck. I’ve turned down some fairly lucrative offers for advertising and sponsored links/posts because I didn’t believe they were of much value to you.

Lie #10: Fake Testimonials and Reviews

Type: direct

Consumers love and depend on reviews. This creates a temptation for people in all niches to generate a lot of positive feedback for their products. Occasionally, they’ll go too far and bribe people or even create false personas for fake 5 star reviews.

This is a big problem on Amazon, especially for books.

When I released my book, I didn’t ask anyone for a review. I didn’t hand out copies of it so that people would be encouraged to review it. I made sure that the feedback I received was unsolicited. The result? I got just a few (very positive) reviews. But I should have been more aggressive and encouraged feedback (ethically, of course).

This lie is perhaps the most malicious and the most common, because of its direct relationship to sales, though it can’t be for certain how common it is.

Conclusion

This is no reason to stop reading blogs or buying products. Malicious lies are rare unless there is a strong incentive (see Lie #10). Even then, a better long term strategy is to provide real value honestly, because it’s not worth risking your reputation for money. As such, the lies you see today are often of more innocent origin – ignorance, accident, or selective framing.

Lies are not big threats to a critical reader. If you have a habit of thinking critically about what you read, you’ll glean the quality content from the half-truths and pseudo-growth tricks. And the more you learn, the more you’ll know what works and what doesn’t.

In my journey, I have found what works, and I’m going to dedicate this blog to it (still working on the new logo). It’s focusing. When you focus, you’re most effective. When you divide your focus between tasks and short term goals,  your maximum strength is not maintained and distributed between them… rather, it’s weakened and then distributed amongst your multiple areas of focus.

Humans are like lasers – we are most powerful when we concentrate our energy in one spot. Tweet this

If mastering the art and science of focus sounds like a better idea to you than flip-flopping between various personal development “tricks” and ideas you’ll forget tomorrow, subscribe to Deep Existence to stay informed.

I’m going to help you get focused and stay focused… and that’s no lie. 🙂

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Jimmy Burnett

One thing to look for when reading blogs is to look for author information. I’m finding that blogs with little or no “off-topic” blog posts about stuff other than their “niche” topic can be a tell tale sign that their blogging motives might not be up to par. Another sign is an about page without any Author information. if they don’t have their real name on the blog, it’s not a sham.

If all you see is “How to make money blogging” or “10 thing to get more traffic to your blog” but never see “Hey I found a good beer last night” once in a while, it’s probably just a blog to make money.

It’s becoming more rare to find blogs where you feel in touch or connected in some way with the Author.

Stephen Guise

That’s a great point Jimmy. If you think about what an untrustworthy person would likely do, it’s withhold as much personal information as possible.

Though some blog content can be strictly educational. A CSS tip website doesn’t need to be personal because the visitors are just looking for code or ideas. But a Personal Development blog by nature should be more personal. People will want to know how reliable the advice is and how and why you came up with it.

Trevor

On. Point.

This is all so true. There is definitely a dark side to the personal development industry. And that dark side manifests most often as a lack of transparency. As if personal development bloggers are somehow above the flaws and faults of regular human beings. As if their shit doesn’t stink too.

Thanks for keeping it real and pointing out some of these blatant lies Stephen. We need more honest truth in this biz. Even if it’s ugly truth.

Cheers!

Stephen Guise

“And that dark side manifests most often as a lack of transparency.”

This is a nice summation. I think that when an expert admits flaws and shows weakness, it actually enhances credibility, which is somewhat counterintuitive. There’s also the relatability aspect of “oh, he’s been there too” instead of a perfect robot who can do everything right the first time.

I’m always trying to keep myself honest, though it’s not always comfortable. I get that impression of you too Trevor. Thanks for the insight!

Cheers!

Matt Maresca

You hit the nail on the head with these Stephen. My favorite is the “you can be like me” bit. I always think “Why would I want to?” I mean, isn’t personal development supposed to be personal? Isn’t it about finding the best ways to grow yourself? We can take ideas from each other, but in the end we must develop our own path if personal development is to truly mean anything.

Jimmy Burnett

You’re right but at that point I wouldn’t consider a “CSS Tips” type site to be a blog. Blogs were originally personal journals outlined in reverse chronological order. Some peopled used call signs, but most used their real names or provided real life information. Now everyone calls every website a “blog” when in fact it’s just a website.

If a blog has no personal touch to it, it’s just like a website.

Either way, you list here nails it pretty good. #1 and #10 still make me laugh when I read one.

steven

This is very honest and accurate. The most important thing about changing your life is actually taking some action.

Stephen Guise

That’s true. The term “blog” has really expanded to mean more than it used to. The way you define it makes sense to me because of the original meaning.

Haha, I know…I really laugh when I see people selling fake reviews on Fiverr. If they’re selling them, then someone is buying them!

Stephen Guise

It is about finding your own way to grow, that’s true. Though there are some universal principles that apply to everyone because of how the human brain works.

For example, pursuing too many things at once will inhibit you versus pursuing fewer things (ideally one) at once. This type of universal truth is what I’m passionate about researching and promoting to the world. There isn’t a single person who is more effective multi-tasking than focusing.

Stephen Guise

Taking action is a big deal. I agree. 🙂

kulls

True.. I sometimes feel if the person is speaking or writing from heart or not. The points which I personally feel are lies are Point No 1,3,5,9, and 10.

Thank you for this. This will keep me informed always on whom to trust.
http://www.letsnurture.com

Stephen Guise

You’re welcome Kulls. I can see why you picked 1, 3, 5, 9, and 10 specifically. Thanks for the input!

Chim Aaron

You make some interesting points. I think the bottom line with personal development is that you have to take action. Nothing is easy and there are no quick fixes. But change is possible if you’re willing to work on it.

Stephen Guise

I agree, Chim. The exciting part is what you said last – change IS possible (if you’re willing to work on it). What’s interesting to me is how you can make progress by trying and failing repeatedly. Each try can be a little bit better than the last until you get the results you want.

Inspiring Citizen Rafi

Hello Stephen,

By far, this is one of the 5 best articles I have come personally come across in the personal development niche. Amazing stuff, my friend..!

I have a question for you? While I read your personal information you have mentioned that you are living a minimalist life and you can move anywhere.

Down here in India, we need to support our family financially because of our culture and bonding..What do you suggest in such a situations? This is another reason that stops me from taking a blind folded risk on the path of entrepreneurship..Apart from blogging what else do you do for a living?

Sincerely,
Rafi

Joan Harrison

Music to my ears. I have only been blogging for a couple of months and have been reading SO many personal development sites which cause me frustration. There are no real answers there, most of them are not helping people they are keeping them in the place they are in – what is the point. Interesting for me though is I am recently finding the no BS sites, and this is inspiring, I know there is a place for the ‘no nonsense’ site where people can find honesty and emotion in the raw. Change, or development is painful, that has to be made clear from the start. Thanks for stirring it up with this article – greatly appreciated.

Stephen Guise

Hi Rafi,

I appreciate that!

The minimalist lifestyle and being able to move anywhere are more talking about not being trapped by owning too much stuff (not being rich enough to move anywhere). 🙂

For income, I do some marketing contract work and I could also start freelance writing too if I need. I’m starting another website business that I hope will turn into my primary source of income. With the way things are now, you really don’t have to risk much to try something new.

Often times people think in all or nothing terms like, “if I want to be an entrepreneur, I must quit my job.” But a more promising scenario is trying something on the side as you work your regular job. Depending on what it is, you can usually start out inexpensively.

Right now I have some money saved up from working a lot last year, so I’m putting more time into this business. If I must, I will get a “normal” job later or do more freelance work.

In your case, it’s clear that you need to be reliable for your family, so I wouldn’t encourage you to risk very much. But you don’t need to risk much for most online ideas. And you can even try to raise funds with kickstarter if your idea does require more money.

Of course, once you move into physical stores and products, the risk and financial requirements shoot up. I’m not sure if that’s what you had in mind. I’m interested in the information business. The business model is hard to beat. 🙂

Cheers,
Stephen

Stephen Guise

Hi Joan,

I know. It’s wild in the personal development jungle. Speaking of the no nonsense and “not getting anywhere,” I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because of a lack of focus. If I read an article, “12 tips to be happier today” and then “4 ways to get hired” and then “how to be grateful”… what am I going to take away long term? Probably nothing.

On individual blogs as well as the industry as a whole, people are tossed around like clothes in a dryer. As they jump from topic to topic, they don’t get the depth and repetition that help us to remember and apply what we learn. That’s why I’m changing this blog to be all about focus. I want to teach people how to focus. There might be an occasional off-topic article, but for the most part, it will be focused. 🙂

As you said, change and development are painful and difficult – an unfocused mind will drift into something more comfortable.

Joan Harrison

I have just died and woke up in heaven!! More power to your elbow Stephen.
The numbered/list scenario that they are all using is driving me to distraction, I cannot read the stuff it will never work as long as they have a hole in their a*s*. Believe me I went the longest route and tried it all.
Everything starts inside your head and ends there too…with this in mind I am taking the subliminal route as it holds a fascination I cannot find elsewhere.
Good luck with yours and thanks for being there.

Shawn

This is a GREAT article. I am glad you are willing to point these things out in such a candid way. It is a shame that there is still so much of this kind of stuff out there. I think there are more and more quality writers out there that are starting to get noticed, and hopefully the people that really want to improve themselves will sift through the lies and find blogs like this that try to express the truth.
Thank you for being honest!

Stephen Guise

Shawn, I appreciate that! I think it will always be an issue, but there will always be honest people out there too. Cheers!

Gareth

Fake reviews is a big one for me and something which is on the rise with the growing number of review websites. I’ve written about this in depth on my marketing blog if anyone is interested (search ‘blackhat cro by seo doctor’).

Stephen Guise

It is on the rise as everyone realizes how much reviews affect sales. It’s pretty tempting for a business to “create an advantage” in such a competitive marketplace.

Alden

Haha lie #1 is so true (if that sounds right).

Everyone is always so ready to tell you that they’re 100% correct and start saying how it will change your life if you just follow their path.

But people need to create their own path!

Stephen Guise

It is true. I agree, people need to create their own path. The best thing Personal Development bloggers can do is give people ideas and reliable information about how to go about creating their own path. Thanks Alden!

Joseph Dabon

Nice blog. Entertaining, too. Well, I happen to write a self-development blog, http://withinyouisyoursuccess.com/

I don’t know if you will find my writing a pack of lies. But I call them “living through,” in my more than 18 years in the corporate world from nothing to something.

Software Company Malaysia

Yeas, I saw this same things on number of blogs . :|. I think hats off for you to share this information to aware people who don’t know about this.

Michal

Whenever I see this kind of advice (Follow me! Do it my way and you’ll succeed etc.) I run away.
I value Jim Rohn most among PD experts, because he repeteadly said “Don’t follow me blindly; think and draw your own conclussions.”

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