Why I Stop My Self-Help Books Addiction

In the 11 years of running my first business, I didn’t read a single management book.

That’s right. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Unless you want to count the one I placed on the bookshelf just behind my desk. That was a textbook during my uni days, and it is put there primarily to impress strangers. I’m not sure if that works.

About eight months after my exit, I started to pick up books again. Hoping to gain wisdom from it and learn how I could do better in my next business.

I didn’t keep track, but I think I read at least 20 books since the beginning of this year. Books mainly related to productivity (Essentialism) and management (7 habits).

20 books may not seem much to the bookworms out there, but for a retired book reader like myself, it was going from 0 to 100km/hr.

But reading takes time, and I read slowly.

So I turn to audio books to supplement (Overdrive is perfect for this, and it’s free).

And in between, I also subscribed to podcasts. Ranging from Tim Ferriss to Michael Hyatt.

All this in an attempt to catch up on what I should have done from my day one of entrepreneurship.


Fitting them all in

As you can probably tell, it is an overwhelming load of information to digest.

At my peak, I subscribed to eight podcasts stations, about 30 eBooks that I have not started on and close to 15 books (Overdrive) that are on my wishlist.

And I have not counted the physical books that are still in shrink-wrapped sleeping somewhere in a dark corner of my bookshelf.

To catch up, I begin to multitask. I would listen to a podcast while I read an ebook. That works as good as trying to cook and vacuum at the same time.

I ended up making myself busy but gained nothing.


More books = more wisdom?

I have friends who own hundreds of physical books (mostly non-fiction business related) and had read every single one of them.

Another have probably half of that in his office. All impressive titles that I would love to read. I’m not sure if he had gone through all of them though.

With so much knowledge, you would expect their businesses to be through the roof. Even if they apply just 1% from each book, you would have something pretty awesome.

But that isn’t the case.


Wake up call

Interestingly I got my wake-up call via a podcast from The Art of Manliness.

The guest gave a scenario – imagine you already acquired all the knowledge you need from these self-help books to do what you need next. Now, what else would you be reading?

It got me thinking.

As much as I wish to acquire the wisdom printed on these self-help books, I don’t enjoy reading them.

Reading to me is also a form of entertainment. Self-help books are like watching CNN. I prefer watching Fast & Furious instead.

So on my next trip to the library, I borrowed four books. Zero Footprint, a John Grisham thriller (he remains my favourite author), a book that teaches how to draw comics and one on Buddhism.

Zero Footprint Book cover

I only had time to finish the first, another reinforcement that I only have some much time to read.

But boy was it an amazing book. It chronicles the life of Simon Chase (not his real name), his childhood, how he joined the military and how he transitioned to become a private military contractor.

Perhaps given the context, there’s a lot of action. Peoples’ lives are at stake every single minute during his mission, and it makes for one exciting read.

The thing is I enjoyed myself and finished the books quickly because I just can’t put it down.

Even more significantly are the lessons I learned from this book – the importance of discipline and pre-planning every single scenario possible.

This was reinforced by a friend of mine who runs a very successful recruitment business. His company was acquired, and it made him very wealthy.

He has an engineering background and because of that, he brings along probability scenario planning in every step he makes in his business.

But I digress.


Teach more, learn more

This has been the mantra of Singapore education system for many years.

In our desire to squeeze every ounce of brain juice from our kids, we taught them more and more.

Parents jumped onto the bandwagon and piled on enrichment classes to make sure they can keep up or stay ahead.

But educators are realising that it doesn’t work that way. Even sponges have a fixed capacity on how much water they can absorb.

More importantly, why do you want to consume for the sake of consuming?

Think back to the stuff you learned in school. When was the last time you applied algebra or the periodic table in your office job?

I was doing onto myself what the Singapore educators had been doing to our kids, frontloading all these information into my head without an outlet to apply them.

My next business is still only at a seed stage, why the hell am I reading From Good to Great – a book that compares management practices between fortune 500 companies.

Don’t get me wrong. It is a great book. But can I apply the knowledge from the book tomorrow? Not that I can think of.


Motivation is like masturbation

One of my friends said this to me about motivation workshops – Motivation (workshops) is like masturbation.

You get a good high after the build-up. But when it all ends, you just want to crash onto your bed and do nothing.

In my journey of reading up these self-help books, I was searching for that motivation.

And perhaps just like a drug, you won’t be satisfied just one-time. You go for more and more.

It never ends.



So now before I pick up my next book, I ask myself if I can apply this knowledge immediately. If I can’t, I’ll skip. Even if I have plenty of time, reading a fiction would be more entertaining.

And as I realise from Zero Footprint (although it’s more autobiography), you can learn from more interesting topics.

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