Why I hate personal development blogs

Published by Nela Dunato on at 06:48 in Mindset, Thoughts, Personal

A long time ago (about 15 years to be exact) I got my hands on a computer with an Internet connection, and unleashed my genius onto the world. I was a sarcastic little bitch opinionated freethinker, and expressed my uncensored thoughts on newsgroups, forums and later on my own blog. (Thankfully, you won’t find any of that on the Wayback Machine.)

People found those posts amusing, because bitchiness is funny when it’s not directed at you.

As the time went by, I grew and changed and entered the world of personal development.

I read books, meditated, observed my emotional reactions, slowed down my negative thinking and even got certified in a few emotional healing modalities. I became a better person and stopped bitching on the Internet so much. (Really, I was just too busy working my ass off to even give half a crap about all the things that are wrong on the internet.) Recently, I complained about something unrelated on my personal Facebook profile, and this seemed to surprise some people. They weren’t accustomed to this tone, and had no idea what brought it up. (FYI, weeks of not enough sleep and too much work is what brought it up.)

If you happen to think I’m a nice person saying nice things all the time, I want to prove you wrong. And also possibly amuse you while I’m at it. We’ll see if I’ve still got it.

Why I hate personal development blogs

I love personal development. I really do.

If you’ve been around here for a while, you might have noticed that the majority of my posts are about personal development, which may seem a bit weird for a blogger that’s not in the business of selling personal development.

Except, there is a connection between what I do for a living (design & art) and why I do it, which I explain in more detail here.

Topics of our beliefs, emotions and memories, and how they affect our ability to show up with our full creative potential are what inspires me the most. It’s what I think about when I’m not thinking about work, money, relationships, chores or the impending uprising of intelligent machines.

If I wasn’t a visual artist, my second career choice would be a psychotherapist. That’s how much I care about the human condition (and my own condition, to be completely honest).

But those blogs.

You know which blogs I mean. You’ve probably read them, too. Those blogs that feature a new post every day of the week – a post that looks and feels exactly the same like the post from the day before, and if you've read one, you've read them all. Those blogs that seem to talk a lot, yet say very little. Those blogs that are listed on every life coach’s sidebar under the title “As seen in”.

(I won’t name them because I still hope to eventually write for them to fill up my own “As seen in” list, so I don’t want them to know I told you this.)

During my battle with depression, I thought I needed more positivity and encouragement in my life, so I subscribed to a few of those blogs – all the most popular ones.

Day after day I’d try to keep up with the flood of posts. After reading through a dozen of them, I've realized it's a pile of drivel I don't have the energy or patience for. I kept scanning through them and noticed how each post follows a template that makes them so predictable and boring, and that there's so little substance in them.

I wanted to like them. I truly tried to enjoy them, but I just couldn’t. One by one, I unsubscribed from those blogs, and continued my search for meaning without them.

And what a great decision that was.

I didn’t think about this topic until today. I didn’t even care. They never crossed my radar (and thankfully, nor my Twitter feed because apparently you, my friends, aren’t tweeting their stuff. Good job.)

What triggered me so much that I want to dedicate 2000+ words to this now?

An epiphany. A real epiphany, not a fake one that happens after you read one of those posts.

No, it was something that stuck with me for hours after, and made me think about the question How do we really change? How do we absorb positive influences and allow them to affect us?”

I’ll tell you right away, it’s not through reading 7 tips to worrying less and enjoying life more.

But first, I want to answer the question why I hate personal development blogs:

1. They sound actionable, but they’re really not

How annoying is it when the title says “How to X”, and then it doesn't actually teach you how?

All those blogs have in their writing guidelines that the posts must end with actionable steps, not just inspiring thoughts. The problem is, “actions” people suggest are almost always gigantic and vague.

“1. Question your negative thoughts. 2. Meditate. 3. Make peace with your past. 4. Write a journal. 5. Drink a smoothie every morning.”

Each of these “actions” is its own huge topic that has to be deconstructed into 10 or 20 smaller steps, to make it truly actionable.

Entire books have been written about questioning your negative thoughts, meditation and green smoothies. What the post is really suggesting is to go read a dozen other blog posts in order to even get a chance to get up from your computer and take action.

2. They make things appear easier than they are

Like overcoming depression, losing weight, finding a dream career or your ideal partner. See, it’s easy, just follow these 17 steps, and it will all come around.

No, it won’t. These 17 steps may have worked for that one person in that specific situation, but to even suggest that this formula will fit you is borderline insane.

I cannot overstate the damage that these kinds of posts inflict. If a person tries to follow the outlined formula and doesn’t succeed (because life doesn’t work that way), they may end up thinking there’s something wrong with them, or lose faith in any information they run into, even one that could be genuinely helpful. People start saying things like "Self-help doesn't work" because they've been burnt.

Change is hard, and while it's encouraging to read how someone has overcome hardships through a mindset shift, it's a huge stretch to suggest that “anyone can do it” if they just repeat all the things that worked for the author.

3. They sound really profound, but don’t challenge you at all

Because you’ve heard it all before.

Popular blogs become victims of their own success. As the number and diversity of their readership grows, they feel pressured to maintain the growth (because advertising dollars), and so they do what they need to do.

Publish every single day. Limit posts to 1000 words, or people will get overwhelmed and won’t read them. Stay away from the dark and heavy topics, unless they have a happy ending. Don’t dig too deep, it has to stay palatable for the average reader.

These are some serious constraints – ones that I as a writer have difficulty agreeing to, and luckily, I don’t have to because I don’t need millions of readers for my “business model” to work. I can write whatever the hell I want (including criticizing other blogs).

When you’re limited by a word count and what topics you may and may not cover, that presents a problem for writing things of real value on the topic of everything that happens inside your head.

And since each guest blogger only has a chance to publish one post in 6 months, they can’t do a series that would allow them to go into the depth that the topic they're an expert in requires. It’s not the writers’ fault – I’m sure they’re smart, wise and experienced people, and their own blogs may actually be way more interesting.

Big personal development blogs are fast food for your mind

Since you gotta get it cheap and fast, they can’t really provide you with all the nutrition you need. But they give you a hook to keep coming back for more when you have to spend 10 minutes waiting for a bus. They make you feel like you're doing something useful, while you're not really doing anything.

Just as a diet of cheeseburgers isn’t a recipe for a healthy body, a diet of popular personal development blogs is not what you need for a more fulfilling, meaningful, joyful life. I'm not saying that any kind of blogs are a requirement for a more fulfilling, meaningful, joyful life – people have found ways to be happy centuries before we even had the Internet. But if blogs happen to be your thing, there are alternatives.

Let me circle back to what I mentioned in the beginning.

The epiphany that started this avalanche

I’m in the middle of a process right now, with no idea how long it will take for me to get through to the other side (and if I ever will), and recently I’ve been doing some heavy lifting in the personal development arena.

Writing my butt off every single day. Meditating. Long walks in the park. More meditating. Stalking like a jungle cat for any sign of judging thoughts and hurt. Working with the thoughts and emotions that arise, until I get to the root of them, until I realize why they’re really here.

It’s a full time job. It's not for everyone, and not even for me the majority of the time. But right now I’m in this process that I want to dedicate my attention and energy to, because I suspect that it will have a profound effect on my personal life and my career.

And today I’ve been avoiding work in favor of working on my issue of avoiding work (I call that productive procrastination), and the results have blown my mind.

I excavated so much old gunk and hurtful memories that have been keeping me back, and so much guilt that no child should ever experience, let alone carry around for 20-something years. I cried from sadness and then I wept with joy, and then I just sat there with a stupid smile on my face because my mind went completely blank. Not a single worry in the world. If this is what I get a few days in, I can’t imagine what will happen in the month and year ahead of me.

This is the kind of magic that happens when you apply what you already know. When you practice what you preach. When you walk the talk.

You don’t waste your time with 6 tips blog posts. You don’t eavesdrop on every podcast that gets into your orbit. You don’t binge-buy books from the “Spirituality” section, devour them and throw onto the pile.

There’s literally no time for that. Because working on your “stuff” is work, and it takes so much of your energy, that you can’t possibly keep up with all the distractions.

Working on your stuff is work.

At times like these, 6 tips posts are not what I need.

What I need is one of these things:

  1. Paradigm-shifting thoughts that blow my socks off
  2. Step by step techniques I can apply to get through the sticky parts
  3. Truth. Not the Truth, anyone’s truth

Number #1 is the kind of thought that makes you go either “Holy shit, this never even occurred to me – it changes so much!” or “This is exactly how I've been feeling about this, but I couldn't find the words to explain it to myself so eloquently.”

To be honest, I don’t really need #2 since I’ve found what works very well for me, but I like to supplement my toolbox with more variety.

And the truth. We call it “authenticity” – you know, the thing we need to do in the “social era” if we want people to “know, like and trust” us. The word “authenticity” has accumulated so much lint from being dragged around every thought leader’s blog, stage and elevator, that a lot of us have become a little desensitized. So truth will do for now.

Being the aesthetics snob that I am, I don’t want poorly written truth. I like it to be poetic, beautiful and spelled correctly. This doesn’t mean lightweight and joyful, oh no – it can be dark and heavy and difficult to stomach, but as long as it’s true and beautiful, I’ll take it.

So I’ve found other sources for that – some old, some new – and I’m bathing in them and finding tiny gold nuggets of my own inner truth reflected in their words.

My absolute favorite “personal development” blog right now is The Fluent Self. I’m using quote marks because she’d cringe if she knew I'm associating this term with her blog, but “destuckification” still hasn’t caught on around these parts, and I have to keep things palatable for my readers.

Anyway. If you go there now and try to read from the latest post to the earlier ones, it will absolutely make no sense. It took me several attempts, until I realized that this is not a collection of loosely connected self-contained articles – it’s a story. I needed to first get familiar with some core concepts and how things work so that I can follow along. (Luckily, there’s a list of most popular and helpful posts in the sidebar, so start there.)

The reason this is my favorite blog of this kind is that it doesn’t preach the concepts so much (though it does offer plenty of useful theory). It’s about demonstrating how the theoretical concepts are implemented.

What this blog does for me is that it provides accountability. When I’m tired, worn down or just plain don’t want to journal my heart out or apply any of the techniques I know, all I need is to go there and see “Oh, she’s showing up again. Every single week. Just showing up, and look how things change.”

And this makes me want to show up. Sometimes I literally show up in the comments. Other times I grab my journal, or go meditate, or console my inner child or whatever.

Knowing that I’m not the only one doing the heavy lifting does seem to make things easier.

What now?

All this begs the question, how does my own blog fit into this? I just trashed some of the kindest, nicest people on the Internet and called them out for superficial writing – how am I going to prove I'm not like that and make your time here worthwhile?

By everything I hold sacred, I will try.

I vow to never write pretend how-to posts that feature vague tips that aren't actionable at all. If I write to teach, I'll show you how it's done. No secrets or hooks.
Feel free to call me out if I fail to deliver.

I will strive to write things that inspire you to question your current perception of the issue, or that sound like music to your ears because this is what you've been waiting for someone to say out loud so you don't have to. Things that challenge our ingrained beliefs about life, creative work, business, health and relationships.

And lastly, I offer you truth.

Not the Truth, just my truth, so you know you're not alone in the arena.

Sometimes, that's all we need.

Love and jungle cat purrs,

Nela
Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I run a boutique design consultancy that helps creative businesses evolve into premium brands and connect with their dream clients, by crafting extraordinary visual experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...



Your comments

  • Luisa

    Luisa
    2015-11-13 at 01:36

    Fantastic post Nela! The fluent self is still one of my favorites.

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-11-13 at 12:05

    Thank you, Luisa!
    I didn't like the fact that I found her so late in her blogging journey, and that I missed out on so many things she used to do and no longer does, but as she always says: "all timing is right timing" :)

  • Christen

    Christen
    2015-11-13 at 20:23

    I saw your link on the Makeness FB group and this is the first I've seen your blog. I tried all of those personal development blogs, too, and wondered if something was wrong with me that I didn't "get" them. What the hell was so fabulous about those posts that said nothing over and over??

    I actually started with productivity and organizational blogs and they were the same. Get up early, exercise, don't procrastinate. Oh ok, my life is solved! Ha!

    Anyway, love this and now I'm sure I'll be "procrastinating" other things to read through your archives.

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-11-13 at 22:25

    Welcome Christen, and thank you! :)
    Hahaha oh my, yes, that's my thoughts exactly. I didn't read many organization/productivity blogs hopefully, because I'm sure they would just make me want to cry.

    The only blog that was somewhat helpful was by Gretchen Rubin, because she correctly identified that some of us are simply wired differently, and "common sense" advice doesn't apply to all of us in the same manner. She offers a ton of different strategies to changing habits, not just the most obvious ones that only work for people with iron willpower.

    I hope you enjoy your procrastination while you're here! :)

  • Tara

    Tara
    2015-11-18 at 14:10

    Ah I love a bit of this feistiness. :) And I found myself a bit torn because I have written for one or two of those blogs, so it seems a bit hypocritical to agree with you. I will say I've been disappointed when they change my title to something like 'how to' or 'x steps' when that's not what they were about at all, or edited parts so it sounds more 'lite', but as you say, they have a system to run. I don't think those posts are necessarily harmful, but I do think they can't possibly be expected to replace really Doing The Work and getting real support for that. I find it hard to believe anyone would really think they do. They are absolutely in a way like fast food, but on the other hand people often find comfort in learning 'it's not just me', being reminded of something. And far better those kinds of posts than a lot of the other horror and pointless negativity and hatred that's available if you look. Either way, I find your blog refreshing, thoughtful and funny and pick it over those blogs any day of the week. :)

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-11-20 at 13:57

    Aw, thank you so much for your kind words Tara!
    I feel the same way about your blog, just so you know ;)

    I don't think it's hypocritical – after all, as I only half-joke myself, I'd still like to contribute something of my own to them, if only to offer a different perspective. But it's awful that they changed your titles and edited things out!
    That's precisely what I dislike about them. You can be the greatest writer with a great message, and they'll peel off the bits that don't fit into their mold. It's so sad.

    You may be right, maybe no one really thinks those posts are as valuable as "doing the work" – but I remember spending my time reading those posts thinking they'll somehow help me get through the bad stuff (honestly I did, I was depressed and obviously wasn't thinking very clearly), and it took away time from something that might have actually made a difference.
    (Obviously, my feisty approach is in part fueled by my regret for the time lost reading that. I'm aware I have my "stuff" about this.)

    "And far better those kinds of posts than a lot of the other horror and pointless negativity and hatred that's available if you look."
    Oh, that I absolutely agree with.
    Maybe I'm too hard on them because I've been on this journey for how long now? I don't even know, 15 years at least. So my criteria for "usefulness" has become much stricter, because I'm aware of how much there is yet for me to read, and I need to be able to quickly asses if something is for me or not.

    I used to be the kind of person that read the article or a book to the very end, even if I didn't really like it.
    It's only in the recent months that I allowed myself to give up the things I don't like the "vibe" of and move on immediately.

    Anyway, obviously those blogs have an appeal for a certain demographic, and if they enjoy it so much, that's great! I can find a lot of reasons why they can be helpful for someone, especially if they're new to a lot of these concepts and haven't found a supportive community around them yet.
    I definitely don't intend my post to be judging people who *do* like those blogs and find value in them.

    What I do mean to say is that the people who thrive reading that kind of literature, aren't "my right people".
    It would take a while for a person used to "X tips" and "Y steps" to adjust to my writing style and get the patience to read 2000-3000 words in one sitting. I'm aware it's a lot to ask for.

    So what I'm doing is putting a stake in the ground and saying, hey, if you feel the same way about those blogs as I do, we're going to be great friends, and boy do we have a lot to talk about :)

  • pam

    pam
    2015-11-21 at 00:02

    Hey Nela
    Oh how I love this post. Thank you.

    I just tripped over here from Havi's latest post. So glad I did.

    I am slowly emerging from what feels like a loooooooong and looooooonger time of ... the sads, the oh-so-tireds, the why-on-earth-can't-I-write anymores.

    Having Havi's posts land in my inbox during this time has been a Treasure Beyond Measure. It has been months since I even CLICKED out of the email and came out onto the web to read the posts and the always lovely/inspiring comments from folks drawn to her flame.

    And now.... I have a whole new world to explore here on your blog.

    Wheeee!

    And...yes... in my saddest/downest times I often fall for the click bait of "7 easy steps" and ever and ever and ever again it just makes me feel even worse. Must stop that. Must know in my deepest knowingplace that I already have everything I need.

    Ahhh.

    Thanks for this.

    go easy ~p

    ps...must trip back over to Havi now and let HER know how thankful I am for her.

  • Tara

    Tara
    2015-11-21 at 13:14

    Thank you for saying that about my blog. :) I've been feeling a little like some things need to change around there, partly inspired by blogs like yours with more of a personal angle, so am looking forward to making a bit of a shift.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say, I have an annoying habit of playing devil's advocate as a reflex; I wasn't disagreeing with any of your points. I just always see all sides which can be really confusing {for me at least!}. I really like how you've intentionally drawn a line in the sand around what you write and how; in a way I think it's quite brave to go for longer posts and not the usual format {two line paragraphs etc - argh!}, but I can also see how it will very effectively mean a more specific type of reader, ie. 'your' people.

    Like you I've been 'doing the work' {there must be a better expression than that!} for many many years now, and am much clearer about what's effective for me as a unique individual. But as you say, for those just starting and without a support structure yet, perhaps such articles can act as signposts.

    Anyway I won't go on - I appreciate your reply to my comment! It's an interesting discussion for sure.

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-11-21 at 17:15

    Pam,
    thank you so much, and I'm so glad you're here, wheee! :)

    Oh, the clickbaits lure us so hard where we're in that vulnerable place... and indeed, I always come out from reading one of those as empty as before, feeling cheated somehow because I was desperately expecting a miracle.
    I know it's not fair from me to expect any piece of text to fill that hole... and it's my responsibility to resist the siren's call.

    "Must know in my deepest knowingplace that I already have everything I need."
    Yes! That's been my VPA this week, but really – it's a lifelong lesson.

  • Nela

    Nela
    2015-11-21 at 17:34

    Tara,
    I'm so, so glad to hear that, and I can't wait to see how it turns out!

    Haha oh my, I'm the same way, so I totally understand and don't mind at all :)
    Even if I agree with someone 100%, I tend to ask uncomfortable questions just to make a conversation more interesting. But the benefit of those questions is that they make us think harder about how we really feel and what it means to us.
    Without adding a different angle, these discussions might dissolve into pure rants, and that's not very helpful.

    Yes, a synonym for "doing the work" that sounds a little less like Get Things Done would be good.
    Something like a "spiritual practice", but sounding less pretentious and prayer-y? Something to ponder.

  • Carl

    Carl
    2016-08-17 at 17:38

    Hey Nela,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post (almost a year ago...I'm a little slow apparently.)

    I'm in the early stages of starting something that I truly believe can be revolutionary for others because it has been so for me and everything in my being tells me that this is it.

    (Whether or not others think so, I don't really give a shit because those who are supposed to get it will get it.)

    I Googled "What personal development people hate" and found your post which I will definitely keep in mind as I go about this project. You've summed up a lot and challenged me a bit at the same time.

    For example, if people keep writing the same things over and over, what if that meant that there was actually some truth and value behind it?

    At the same time, I'm with ya in that a lot of it kinda dangles the carrot in front of you and then when you reach for it you realize it's a fuckin' illusion. Oh well.

    Anyways...enough of my rant. I really just wanted to send you a 'Thanks in advance!" for putting your flava on the PD circuit and helping me to do the same as I hope to give people the actual goods on how to find and follow their own path.

    Take care Nela,


    Carl, The What If Guy

  • Nela

    Nela
    2016-08-18 at 17:24

    Hi Carl,
    all timing is right timing! I'm happy when someone discovers one of my older posts.

    I'm glad that this post was useful to you! And of course, these are just my personal opinions, so not something that should make or break anyone's project ;)

    Of course, it's difficult to think of something completely original that no one has shared before. Some of the wisdom has been around for thousands of years and it clearly does work for many people. What I'm saying is: we shouldn't stop there and just re-tell stories that we've heard and internalized. I think it's our responsibility, if we really want to help other people, to give more depth, meaning and personality to these truths.

    Your project seems interesting because it has this "action" component that most personal development websites are missing. Even if the message behind it is simple and people have heard it before, it's packaged in a new way, which has undeniable value.

    The community driven blogs revolve around people writing content to get featured and drive traffic to their own websites. I understand this, because I want more people to visit my website too, and I'm using the same tactic (guest posting) to achieve that. But I also want my writing to be full of value and not based on a template. I think this is necessary if you want people to stick with you for years to come, and not just rotate your readership because people get bored with your content.

    Thank you for chiming in, and I'd love to hear how your project goes!

  • Lily

    Lily
    2017-06-21 at 09:09

    Hello there Carl,

    all planning is correct planning! I'm upbeat when somebody finds one of my more seasoned posts.

    I'm happy that this post was valuable to you! Furthermore, obviously, these are quite recently my own suppositions, so not something that should represent the moment of truth anybody's venture ;)

    Obviously, it's hard to consider something totally unique that nobody has shared some time recently. A portion of the shrewdness has been around for a huge number of years and it obviously works for some individuals. What I'm stating is: we shouldn't stop there and just re-recount stories that we've heard and disguised. I believe it's our duty, on the off chance that we truly need to enable other to individuals, to give more profundity, which means and identity to these truths

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