Personal Change: The Failure of Just Thinking & Not Doing

Since the start of 2012, I have read exactly two personal finance books for anything more than pure reference.

That will likely surprise some of you, because I once made it a habit to include personal finance books as part of my regular reading. In fact, for a long while, I made an effort to review one per week on The Simple Dollar.

Why the change?

I’ve found that, again and again, when I read a book on a particular self-improvement topic, I don’t feel strongly compelled to make personal changes right after reading it. What happens is that I already feel some sense of success with regard to that area of my life, even though I haven’t actually done anything to improve it.

When I’ve found success in some area of my life, that success has been launched by my own drives and desires that are completely independent of any books I may have recently read. In the short term, in fact, those desires are sated just by reading that type of book. I feel good and empowered, even though I haven’t actually done anything.

Success has usually come for me when I draw upon books I read a while ago for ideas. I’ll return to them for specific reference and perhaps to review a particular idea, but if I read them for too long, that false sense of success will return.

For me, the best process for learning about change and bringing it about in my life is a multi-stage one.

Once I first start thinking about a personal change I might want to make in my life, I gorge on learning about it. I try to really understand what it is that I want to change.

When I first dug into personal finance change, I did exactly that. I headed to the library and left with literally an armload of personal finance books.

When I wanted to make a lasting change to my food consumption, I went to the library and checked out a small mountain of books on human food consumption and what our true dietary needs are.

The same is true for time management and, then, weight training. Lately, I’ve been reading a ton of things about prayer and meditation and mindfulness.

Those readings didn’t bring about immediate personal change. Instead, in the very short run, those books filled up my desire for change. I felt, on some level, that I had already succeeded, that I had already made the change I was thinking about.

Where I found success was by waiting for a while.

Eventually, my life would show me the signs of failure from my inaction, and that drive for change would start building up again. The only difference was that now I was equipped with the knowledge I needed to bring about change in my life.

If you spend too much time thinking about the change you ought to be doing, that thinking can often trick you into feeling successful without having really done anything. For me, this shows up most often when I’m reading about change, because thoughts about that change fill my mind.

Don’t over-think change. If you see a problem in your life, gather information about it, look for sensible action you can take, and just move forward with that action. Thinking about it too much can give you a false sense of success – you’ve already thought about it so much, so you’ve already done something, right?

If you don’t know what to do, don’t be afraid to learn about it for now and then let that knowledge settle in your mind. Soon, you’ll see that drive for change reappear, and then you’ll be ready to take action, which is the real key to any change in your life.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...