Updated on 05.09.11

Addicted to “Solutions”

Trent Hamm

An interesting question comes from Jonas:

Do you read a personal finance book a week? Seriously? Are you really learning something new each week?

First of all, I don’t read a personal finance book each week to find some overarching theory that will “explain” something to me. I read them for two reasons. One, I look for little ideas that I haven’t heard before so that I can toss them into the stew of personal finance ideas in my mind, a stew from which new posts are often born. Two, I read them to “filter” books for my readers so that they can decide for themselves whether a book is worth reading, much as any book reviewer does.

That being said, there are certainly people who do such things. They’ll constantly read new personal finance books or weight loss books or self-help books, hoping to find some answer that they’re always seeking that they never quite find the answer to. They’ll pay for seminars and programs and presentations, seeking out that “holy grail” of answers that will make them rich or make them thin or turn them into a “better” person, whatever that might mean to them.

I receive emails from them. They’ll offer me long rundowns of different seminars that they’ve attended or different programs that they’ve tried, pointing out the gaping flaws in each one. They’ll ask me for suggestions on what they should try next.

I usually tell them to stop looking for outside solutions.

Here’s the truth: no weight loss plan, no personal finance plan, no investment strategy, no path to self-growth can work without internal commitment from yourself. If you’re not willing to commit to going through the painful process of change – and it is often painful – then there is no book, no seminar, no coach that can help you to change.

Furthermore, if you’ve already familiarized yourself with several plans, you will simply get diminishing returns from reading further plans. You might read three different personal finance books and get three different money approaches, but by the sixth or seventh one, you can’t help but see repeated ideas. The same is true for seminars and speeches, and the pattern repeats itself in other areas such as weight loss, investments, and personal growth. You might find new specific tips, but it’s not the specific tips that will make the difference. It’s commitment to change in your life.

If you find yourself unable to change and also find yourself constantly searching for an answer from some new source, here are a few suggestions.

First, take stock of the core principles you see coming up time and time again. With personal finance, you’d be looking at things like spending less than you earn, being mindful of your spending, and saving for the future. With weight loss, you might see things like burning more calories than you ingest.

Then, take a serious look at what you’re currently doing. Are you actually taking actions that are in line with those repeated core principles? Simply put, if you’re not making personal choices that match up with those core principles you hear over and over again, nothing will change in your life.

I’m a big believer in positive reinforcement, but positive reinforcement is still a reinforcement. It comes coupled with actually taking personal action on the basic principles of whatever change you’re trying to find in your life.

If you want change, you have to act. The things you’ll need to do to bring change into your life aren’t easy. They’re never easy. They usually require you to change some element of your behavior, and human beings are creatures of routine. We don’t like to change our behavior.

Without changing the way you act today, you can never change the life you’ll have tomorrow. Reading another book or attending another seminar won’t change that simple fact, and no new little “tip” you learn will allow you to get around this hard work. It’s up to you and your internal fortitude to make it happen. There is no magic answer around the corner.

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  1. As a fellow blogger, reading gives me ideas for writing. And I agree that there isn’t a single solution. I think it is healthy for you to read lots of books for intellectual curiosity. For someone struggling to get out of debt, I think that person probably only needs one book (as long as it’s a good one)

  2. lurker carl says:

    In addition to acquiring nuggets of knowledge, being well read helps give one the ability to question if many commonly held truths are legitimate. Like installing a programmable thermostat does not guarantee you’ll reduce your home energy bill.

  3. Tyson says:

    I read books on various subjects that I want to grow in. I usually find one book that really just ‘speaks’ to me, but its helpful to find other pieces of information that you can input or execute for your plan. They key is though, is to change behavior if you are not currently at where you want to be. Knowledge only provides so much…knowledge without execution is useless.

    If you continue to do what you always have done, you’ll continue to get what you currently have. Gotta move.

  4. EngineerMom says:

    I agree about change having to come from within.

    A friend of mine went through AA about 12 years before we met. She mentioned that change can’t happen until the pain of staying the same becomes worse than the perceived pain of the change.

    I think that rings true for more than just alcoholics drying up, though. Until continuing on as you are becomes a more painful experience than your perception of the pain of making the changes to your life to alter that course, nothing will happen.

    This definitely relates to Trent’s earlier post about hitting bottom, and how the experience is different for different people.

  5. deRuiter says:

    Actually you don’t even need a single book if you think about it. Fat people need to eat less calories than they burn and they will lose weight. Those in debt need to earn more and spend less, and they will prosper. People who suffer from depression may feel better if they get up, go outside, exercise, go to the local animal shelter and walk the dogs on death row every day. If they don’t feel appreciated, this dog walking will do it, the sad creatures are so thrilled to be out of the cage. Sadly each of these requires will power and backbone. Instead people buy “self help” books by the pile (look for the self help books at garage sales, all those books are there, generaly in almost untouched conditon) thinking some book will give them a “magic bullet” where they will get thin without cutting calories, get rich quick without working hard and saving, feel better by popping the supplement flogged by the author of the anti depression book. Doesn’t happen folks, you have to do the work. Fat people, please don’t tell me it’s “glandular” or “hormonal.” For proof, look at photos of Nazi concentration camp victims, there are no fat ones! Eat fewer calories than you burn and you will lose weight, sneak eat and you will gain weight.

  6. Pat S says:

    Reading wont do anything for you unless you act!

  7. aeko says:

    During the time I was trying to get my finances in order, I read every blog I could get my hands on relating to frugal advice, lowing my debt, and how to do it. I noticed some of the advice was the same, some of the advice “spoke to me”. I eliminated the blogs the offered little help and kept the ones that did help me. Three years down the road I have a nice emergency fund, a nice saving account, don’t spend more that I earn, etc. Your blog is a keeper, thanks for the help.

  8. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    When I first started working on my health and finances I read a lot of blogs and books. There were some interesting ideas and many of them were helpful, but it soon started getting repetitive.

    Like you, I still read them because there are occasionally little nuggets of wisdom but once you have the basics, the rest is up to you. There is no magic bullet and no real secret waiting to be found.

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