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Why Self-Help Is Not Working for You, Yet

Small boy standing at the bottom of a huge staircase.
By Eric Egan
By Eric Egan

Why Changing Yourself Is So Difficult.

You have read book after book on self-improvement and see little or no change in your life.

When all visual and physical evidence clearly and logically says self-improvement is not working for you. Here are some reasons to keep going and never give up.

You Were Not Always Good at Being You.

How long did it take you to learn to ride a bicycle? You quickly learned balance. You learned if you leaned a little to the right and turned the handlebars to the right, you went to the right.

If you were falling to the left, you might avoid falling if you turned the handlebars to the left too. You quickly learned the action and reaction of the handlebars.

You Did Not Give Up on You.

In the beginning, you had to put a lot of thought into steering your bike without falling or crashing.

On your first few solo rides, you could not carry on much of a conversation with someone. Doing a task that requires you to put a lot of thought into doing it correctly is stage two, “Conscious Incompetence,” of the “Four Stages of Competence.”

You can learn more about the four stages in another article I wrote, Why Mainstream Self-Improvement Is Not Working For You.

You Are Excellent at Being You for a Good Reason.

Eventually, you mastered steering a bicycle and could easily do the task unconsciously. Now, even if it has been years, you can steer a bike and carry on a conversation as well as if you were sitting on a park bench.

When you can do a task well without thinking about it at all, you are at the final stage of learning, stage four; “unconscious competence.”

Reaching the unconscious competence stage means your brain has dutifully built a very efficient and very durable group of neurons and “hard-wired” them together.

Donald Hebb was the first to theorize that “neurons that fire together, wire together” 1 They call this Hebbian Law or Hebb’s Law.

Here is a short video explaining Hebb’s law for you.

Key point. Your brain did not simply start using the existing wiring in a new way. Your brain had to take the time and energy to grow new sections and make new connections.

Yes, your brain actually has to grow the neurons to fire together. Here is a 40-second video of neurons growing together.

That video of neurons growing is a time-lapse of almost 200 hours into less than a minute. Think about how long it takes for your hair and fingernails to grow or a wound to heal.

The same goes for your brain to grow new pathways and connections for you.

You are excellent at being you because you have spent years growing those neurons. (You are growing neuron connections right now). The neuron pathways you have grown over the years are well-established, durable, and lightning-fast.

Because of Hebb’s law, almost everything you do, think, react to, and feel throughout the day is done on autopilot. Autopilot can be both good and bad for you.

When You Are Too Good At Being You

So, you can steer a bicycle without thinking about how to steer it. What if you had to learn a completely different way to steer the bike? What if someone created a “backward bicycle?”

One where if you turned the handlebars to the right, the front tire turned to the opposite of what you expected, to the left. When you turned to the left, the tire turned to the right.

Sounds simple enough, right? Just tell yourself that the steering is backward on this bike and go for a ride. Right? Nope. Check out this video.

Why will it take you much longer to learn how to ride the backward bike than when you first learned to ride? True, as you age, your neuroplasticity is not as pliable as it once was. However, being older does not explain the incredibly long time it would take to learn a reverse bike, compared to when you learned to ride a normal bike.

The main reason is you are not just putting energy into learning a new thing for the first time. You must also unlearn your expert unconscious competence at riding a normal bike. At the same time, you are also trying to work your way through the awkward conscious incompetence stage of learning to ride a reverse bicycle. You must unlearn the well-established old you and learn the new you all at the same time.

The Dark Side of Your Unconscious Competence.

Remember your neurons that fired together and got wired together by your beautiful brain?

The solution to change from the old you to the new you is simple because “Neurons that do not fire together do not wire together.”(Munakata, & Pfaffly 2004) Simple? Yes. Easy? Not at all. Because the key to success is the neurons must “not fire together” part.

Because your subconscious mind knows your conscious mind is noisy BS, it does not listen to you most of the time. Your brain does not listen to you until it believes you.

Until it feels like you are serious about a change or idea. Your brain does not pay attention to words. Your brain is only moved by your actions and your emotions.

In the above video of the backwards bike, those people’s brains were given the knowledge needed to steer a backwards bike. Did any of their brains listen to them and use that knowledge? No. Not a single person could ride the backwards bike because their brain refused to listen to its carrier.

In another article, “Why You Cannot See Opportunities Right in Front of Your Face When Others Can,” I wrote about the “McGurk Effect” and the “Charlie Chaplin Optic Illusion.” Those two videos showed you in real-time your brain changing reality to what it knows you expected: your personal reality, a custom-made lie.

You must watch the videos to believe it. Your brain refuses to stray from the neurons it put so much time and energy into wiring together (more like welded together after all these years).

Your brain also avoids wasting valuable energy to build a new group of neurons unless you are serious about using them.

Even after the people in the videos explained what was happening in the “McGurk Effect” and the “Charlie Chaplin Optic Illusion” videos, your brain figured it was just more of your BS and dutifully created the false reality you programmed.

Your brain has little to no choice in the beginning because another path of neurons for a new experience does not exist right yet.

Until an alternate group of neurons fires together and wires together, your mind will lack understanding of the new way of thinking.

This is because

knowing something is not the same as understanding it.

As you try to do something in a new way, you keep returning to the old you, your old neurons, unconsciously and automatically. Each time you fire the old neurons, they stop “pruning” themselves, and it slows their replacement.

Old pathways in your brain are like zombies; they keep coming back to life.

There Is Hope.

If you keep using the new way of thinking long enough, your brain starts to believe you a little bit. It will start growing an alternate group of neurons, an alternate way of thinking.

One day, your new way of thinking is equal to your old way, and the next day (if you do not give up), you go from, “THIS SUCKS, AND IT’S A STUPID WASTE OF TIME,” to “Oh, I think I’m getting it;” a personal micro victory. Personal micro victories will be one of my next articles.

What Does This Have To Do With Self-Help Not Working for You?

What if the first bicycle you learned to ride was a backwards bike taught to you by your parents? You would have learned it just as quickly as your normal bike.

Your neurons would have fired together and welded together just the same. What if your parents rode backwards bikes and their parents before them? (Money doesn’t grow on trees).

All your friends and siblings ride a backwards bike. (Honey, we’re not like rich people, we’re good people).

You have been riding a backwards bike all your life in many ways. (When things are going great, it never lasts) That’s your “normal.” (You’ll never be able to afford that). Plus, because of your normalcy bias, everything you see and feel proves this is how life works! 

Your “reality” is also formed by  “social proof” or “social cognition,” Which means, “In order to assess the need for an adjustment of one’s own behavior, the individual monitors the degree of agreement with or deviance from other people’s behavior” 2

In other words, it has been scientifically proven: Monkey see, monkey do. My friend, you need a new normal.

How To Get a New Normal.

In the backwards bike video, Destin made a personal challenge and spent eight months learning how to ride his backwards bike. His brain kept trying to use the old reliable neuron circuits it made.

For years and years, his neurons fired together and welded together for how to steer a normal bike. After those painful eight months of failures, Destin said,

“One day, I couldn’t ride the bike, and the next day I could.”

He had a personal micro-victory. Were those long eight months of failure after failure, leading up to the day Destin finally had success, a waste of time and effort?

Was the last self-improvement book you read, “that did nothing,” or so you thought, a waste of time? Or were you and Destin both failing forward into a new normal?

The Times You Do Not Want To Be Right.

If Destin stopped trying to ride a backwards bike after seven months and 28 days, believing he could not learn to ride a backwards bike, he would have been 100% right. And if you stopped your self-improvement journey now because “THIS SUCKS AND IT’S A STUPID WASTE OF TIME,” you would be 100% right as well.

You have spent your entire life learning to be you. You have put how many years into growing the brain structure you are using now. That is a lot of firing and wiring.

Now you know why change will take time and a lot of not firing and re-wiring (pruning). Commit to being a lifelong learner, at becoming a slightly better version of yourself, every day.

People often say, “Never give up.” For me, a natural response to most advice is why? Give me a good reason. That is why I did a lot of research to find the “why” and write this for us.

I hope you enjoyed it. Oh, and NEVER GIVE UP! Why? Scroll up. 🙂

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