Half a truth is often a great lie. ~ Benjamin Franklin
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
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
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…
- “How I got ripped abs in just 6 weeks!”
- “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…
- Benefit mindset: “Six weeks until hot abs? Just in time for the beach? Sign me up!”
- 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
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
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.
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. 🙂