The 3 Layers of Learning in Personal Development

There are many ways to learn and grow as an individual, using a variety of tools. But not all of them work as effectively, and each tool entails a unique mix of advantages and disadvantages.

I’ve been involved in the personal development field for more than a decade: first as a practitioner only, then as a trainer, and now as a coach. In time I’ve reached the perspective that there are only 3 major tools a person can use in their self-improvement, and each one signifies a certain layer of learning.

The higher you go with these tools and the deeper you go in these layers of learning, the better results you achieve in your self-development. So I’d like to talk about these layers and help you get a better image of what you can do to see the changes you want to see in your life.

Layer #1: Articles

The internet is riddled with how-to articles on every imaginable personal development topic. Such articles are the first and most basic tool for self-improvement.

Articles are usually short and simple, each one only takes a few minutes to read, they are fairly easy to find, and most of them are free. So it’s obvious why, when facing a problem in life, people are quick to jump online to search for some articles with advice on how to solve it.

The trouble is that, although reading articles is a good start to learning how to deal with a certain problem, if the problem is fairly complex (and most personal development problems are), it will not be nearly enough.

This is why often, people who try to solve intricate issues like a lack of confidence, poor social skills, anger problems or toxic relationships just by reading some articles, although they make some progress, they fail to fully fix the issue or they take a reaaaally long time. The tools of the next layer may just do the trick though.

Layer #2: Books

booksBooks are the next level in personal development. When you feel like you’re not getting good enough solutions for a problem from articles, it’s wise to look for and pick up a good book addressing your type of problem. This can be a physical book, an e-book, an audio guide, etc.

As a general rule, books provide a much better learning and growth experience for a few keys reasons:

  • They offer more in-depth advice, which works better when put into practice than the more superficial advice you find in articles.
  • They address the multiple facets of a problem, from more angles than articles do, because they have the space to do so.
  • They typically organize all the info into a system, a method, which is much easier to apply then a bunch of scattered tips and advice.
  • People who write books tend to be more competent than people who write only articles, which makes for a higher quality of information on average in books.

Of course, books have the disadvantage that they cost money, although usually not that much. Price tag considered though, if you’re serious about making a crucial change in an area of your life, it’s highly valuable to get at least one book on that topic instead of stopping at reading articles.

I’ve read many personal development articles over the years, but I’ve also invested in many dozens of books, and looking back, it was definitely worth it.

Layer #3: Coaching

Coaching is in my view the most advanced tool for personal development, and it reaches the deepest layer of learning. By ‘coaching’ I mean any type of one-on-one learning, whether it’s coaching, counseling, therapy, etc.

Coaching people on a daily basis, I understand its dynamics and I’ve witnessed its benefits clearly. The main reason why coaching is a very powerful tool has to do with the fact that, being a one-on-one experience, everything is entirely customized to deal with your particular issues, in your particular circumstances.

When you work with a coach, you move from, for instance, “here is how to gain confidence in general” to “here is how you can gain confidence, given your specific beliefs, personality structure, lifestyle, and life experiences.” Plus, you get constant support to implement effectively all the insights you’ve gained. And that matters, a lot.

The major drawback of coaching is that it costs, and it costs considerably more than books. While you’ll usually spend $20 to $50 on a good book (physical, digital, or audio), you can expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for a full-fledged coaching program.

Provided you find a good coach, I believe it’s definitely worth it though. But I also realize that for many folks, such a financial investment is too much for their current possibilities.

So if you have a meaningful goal you wanna achieve and you can afford some coaching to help you, I definitely encourage you to use it. You’ll see much, much better and faster results with reliable one-on-one support. Otherwise, consider both books and articles.

Of course, working with a bad coach will probably help you less than reading a good book and applying it on your own. And a bad book will likely help you less than a few good articles. But a good coaching program is net superior to a good book, which is net superior to a few good articles.

On the assumption of competent authors and providers, it’s worth shifting your self-improvement from articles-based to books-based, and then, if you can, to coaching-based. By investing some money in the right tools, you save a lot of precious time and you get way better results.

For more personal development and social success advice and articles from me, I invite you to join my free newsletter. And to take your learning to the next level, check out my Conversation Confidence audio-book.

Dealing With a Personal Development Information Overload

Information overload is very common for people who are into personal development. It’s essentially when you’ve learned so much theory that your mind is overburdened and so it’s difficult to put it into practice.

What happens is that you consume a lot of conceptual information from books, articles, trainings and so on, and then instead of applying it, you get even more information; and more, and more. And when you finally decide to start applying it, you find out there is too much competing information in your head, to many concepts, ideas and voices telling you what to do.

You can recall everything and nothing at the same time, you don’t know where to begin with practicing, you feel confused and overwhelmed. So you become paralyzed and all that information goes to waste, because you don’t actually apply any of it to build real-life skills or attitudes.


I think that personal development information overload is very common because many of us, when we decide to improve an area of our life, we want to get all the information from the get go, to make sure he have any hypothetical scenario covered, and only then start using it.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work very well. There needs to be a continuous balance between theory and practice in personal development, otherwise is gets disrupted. Considering this, here are my top 3 pieces of advice for dealing with a personal development information overload.

1. Take a Clean Break

Obviously, you’ll need to stop learning new concepts in order to prevent burdening your head with even more info. However, at first it’s also good to not try and jump into practice right away either. Instead, it’s best to take a short but clean break from both theory and practice.

You see, if you have too much information and you wanna start applying it, you’re like a person who ate an excessively big meal and wants to go jump in the swimming pool. With all that food in their stomach, it won’t be a pleasant experience. What they need is to wait a while and give time to some of that food to digest.

Similarly, you need to wait a while and give time to some of that excess information to go out. Your mind will quickly begin doing a cleaning job in your memory, dump some of the surplus info and keep and reorganize the info it sees as the most relevant.

This does indeed mean that you’ll lose some of the knowledge you acquired, but it’s much better this way. Because with less knowledge, your mind is more flexible, it can dig through the knowledge faster and it’s much easier to apply it.

2. Select Just a Few Ideas to Practice

When you start to practice the theory, don’t try to use it all at once. It’s too much. Your actions will be all over the place and you’ll make little progress in terms of building new habits.

The best route is to select only a few key ides and concentrate on applying them until you feel they’ve become a part of you and you now employ them naturally. If for example you want to be more outgoing socially, pick just 2-3 techniques and apply them. Then select a few more ideas and apply them, and so on.

This is the step-by-step approach to personal development, which is much more effective than trying to make one big jump and be done with it. The human mind works best if it focuses on a few simple tasks at a time. With this approach you’ll make the most progress in the long-run.

3. Set a Theory/Practice Ratio for the Future

In the future you’ll want to prevent information overload from happening again. This implies keeping a balance between how much theory you learn and how much you practice it.

The top way I know to achieve this is by setting a theory/practice ratio that you find convenient and sticking to it. For instance you can set a 1 to 5 hours ratio, which means that after 1 hour of conceptual studying, you need to spend 5 hours applying what you’ve learned. And you only allow yourself to go back to acquiring more info after the 5 hours of practice.

There is no universally perfect ratio; you’ll have to find one that works for you and your personal development goals. Just keep in mind that whatever ratio you pick, it’s key to have relatively short periods of learning theory followed by much longer periods of putting it into practice.

One of the perks of setting such ratios it that it forces you to be selective about what you study, since you’ve put a strict constraint on your studying time. This in turn means that you’ll be particularly picky about what you learn and you’ll be much more concerned with the quality of the information you get.

You’ll want to learn from the experts, you’ll be more willing to pay for information if it’s more valuable than free information, and the benefits will show in the results you’ll obtain consistently.

Your self-growth will be real and effective; you’ll see your behavior, your emotions and your life improve day by day, and you’ll enjoy every moment of it.

PS: I recently wrote 2 articles for One article is about making women notice you, the other is on how to make a girl laugh. Check them out.

Image courtesy of Will Lion

Wow! 22 Personal Development Guides

If you are a personal development passionate, if you want to make the best out of your life, this is literally a once in a lifetime offer and I’m writing this post to let you know about it as soon as possible.

Some of the best and the brightest personal development bloggers out there have joined forces to give you their e-books, courses and guides in a package like you’ve never seen before. Check it out here.

Here’s why this is an awesome learning and growth opportunity for you:

  • There are 22 products in this package, worth a total of $1087.
  • For only 72 hours, you can have them all of them as a bundle, for only $97.

The package covers pretty much the entire range of personal development: money, career, happiness, confidence, relationships, productivity, traveling, love, and the list goes on.

Some of the tiles in this pack that grabbed my eye include:

  • Focus by Leo Babauta, one of the best and most read bloggers alive;
  • Reclaim Your Dreams by Jonathan Mead, who is an authority on, well, reclaiming your dreams.
  • A Daring Adventure collection, by Tim Brownson, one of the truly good life coaches out there.

What you have here is a compilation of the finest information products in the realm of personal development from people who really know their stuff. Their combined power to help you transform your life is impressive.

I can’t think of enough ways to tell you that you don’t want to miss this opportunity. Each guide in this package sells separately for anywhere between $37 and $77. For only 72 hours, you can get all 22 of them for just $97.

This special offer expires at Noon Eastern, on Thursday, June 23 and it will not be repeated. So you might wanna hurry up. Check out this package here.

Image courtesy of HarshPatel

Why Less Is More in Personal Development

I was reading earlier today a presentation of a one-day communication skills training, and browsing over the content. This training covers everything from non-verbal communication, to conflict management, to business communication, to presenting with impact. All in just one, single day!

There was a point a long time ago when I used to do the same. I thought that if I could get everything in there, in as little time as possible, I would deliver a very valuable training. I would also approach my personal development the same way. I would read and browse like a maniac through 5 or 10 books on people skills, then I would decide to practice it…all.

I was naïve, impatient, and had a fragile understanding of human learning. Looking at this way of doing personal development now, whether it’s people skills, confidence, productivity or anything else, it really amuses me.

Here’s the point: people don’t learn that way. A human being is not a computer on which you can install every piece software you’ll ever need in 24 hours, and get it over with. It’s rather like a computer with a 2 Mb software install limit for each day. So it will take you about 3 years just to install the basic operating system (aham… Windows?).

Trying to absorb a lot of information, on various areas of a big topic, in a short amount of time, and then to practice it all is a highly ineffective attempt some people make at developing real skills. It doesn’t work for a couple of reasons:

  • You try to cover a lot of concepts and ideas, you only get a superficial understanding of each one;
  • You overcharge your memory and you forget that vast majority of the theory you learn;
  • You instantly get de-motivated when you think about starting to practice, because you have so much to practice;
  • You end up practicing a bit of everything, which doesn’t make anything truly stick and leads nowhere.

The only way reading a lot without applying can make practical sense is if you’re in a phase where you just want to expose yourself to as many ideas as possible on a certain topic, so you can then choose on which to focus on. But the way I see it, this isn’t personal development, it’s just a preparatory, exploratory phase. Don’t expect to grow your skills from this.

The effective way to develop real skills and attitudes is to focus on the key ideas which have the most value for you, explore them in more detail, hammer them into your head and practice them consistently. And you do this one by one with each key idea, instead of all at once.

When I do coaching and trainings on people skills, I follow this exact principle. Some of my clients are initially surprised by the small number of ideas I cover, but as they move to applying them, they quickly understand why I have this approach. And have you noticed that I also usually write in the same manner?

There is more to effective personal development than meets the eye. We all want to improve fast, to absorb as much information as possible in as little time as possible, and then to watch our skills grow by themselves out of this process.

But this is not how self-growth happens. It’s a gradual process, which relies mostly on chunking things down, action, and persistence. This is why in personal development, less is more.

Men, Women and Personal Development

I recently had my first open training where all the participants were women. This made me realize that in general, my clients who are not sent and paid for by the companies they work for are at least 2/3 women.

My experience here doesn’t seem to be an exception. Other coaches and trainers tell me they have similar experiences. As a general rule, it seems that women invest visibly more in their personal development than men do: training, coaching, books and practice.

Now, I can’t help and wonder: why is this? Do women need more personal development than men? Do men have better people skills, career skills, attitudes which justify them not seeking as much self-growth?

As you probably guessed it, the answer is definitely ‘not’. Men need as much personal development as women do. They just don’t invest in it as much. Talking with people about their views on skills and success, I believe there are a couple causes:

  • Men are less willing to see their flaws and their potential for improvement;
  • Men are less willing to accept that someone else could be competent enough to help them grow;
  • Men are less willing to actually act for their personal development;
  • Men are more confident in their ability to learn on their own.

By the way: I was guilty of all of these at one point or another. The last one might be good or bad, depending on the context and the person. But the first three are definitely trouble. Simply said, they make men in general sabotage their personal development and improve their soft skills at a lower rate than women.

On top of this add the fact that trough our nature, we men are probably one step behind women in our fitness for this modern world we life in. Women are naturally more empathic, intuitive, good at reading body language, and have a wide range of better people skills; men are naturally more aggressive and good at lifting heavy stuff. Great!

Project this phenomena 25 years into the future, and if things evolve in the same way, we’re gonna be living in a world where the average woman is running circles around the average man. She is smarter, more confident, more effective, more successful and has far better people skills than her male counterpart.

The average man will be spinning his head and not understanding what the hell is going on with his life and his career, while a woman will be overtly or subtly running the show. Now that I think about it, a lot of this I already see happening around me. Maybe I just need to meet better men and worse women. Hmm…

Anyway, the good news is that in this hypothetical future, the few men who will be able to match women will be a very interesting and appreciated thing to have around. So, as long as you’re one of them, the future’s very bright.

Effective Personal Development Starts Here

I recently organized a public speaking training. While talking to the participants about their expectations from this training, one woman told me she was looking for a job and she wanted to learn skills which will help her get a good job. For a moment, I had to ask myself: “Wait! What training is this?” Cause I could only see a thin, anorexic link between public speaking and getting a job.

Did the training help her? Sure. Did it have a great impact on her ability to get a good job? Probably not. Because what she needed for that was mainly to develop interview skills, job hunting skills, networking people skills, skills to sell herself. Not skills to speak in front of an audience (unless she would have panel interviews with 50 interviewers at once).

This example reflects what in my experience is a common scenario for people who are interested in personal development. They usually know they want a better job, better relations, a better life, more money, more happiness, but their awareness stops here. They don’t have a clear and accurate image of the skills or attitudes they need to develop in order to achieve these objectives.

Mark Twain said: “Use the right word, not its second cousin”. Well, it also applies to personal development. We can also say, for instance: “Use the right training, not its second cousin”.

I think a lot of people embark in this process of personal development mostly by doing undocumented guessing about the skills and attitudes they need to develop. As a result, one of two things happens: either they choose to work on skills which in reality are not that relevant for getting what they want, or they define these skills in a very broad, general way, like; “I need to work on my people skills”. Which ones? Cause there are about a dozen of them I can think of right now.

The result is they waste a lot of time, energy and money by using them in the wrong area. They sabotage their personal development and don’t get the results they hoped for. Some people realize this mistake and refocus their personal development; some just give up and become bitter.

There is a very simple and important lesson here: start your personal development with the right foot, by getting a clear understanding of the skills and attitudes which will help you the most if you develop them.

Don’t overestimate how easy this will be. The preparation for personal development can involve just as much work as the personal development itself. Clearly understanding your self-improvement needs means doing some very intelligent detecting work. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Observe your specific behaviors and results, look for the patterns;
  • Focus inward, on your feelings and automatic thoughts in various situations;
  • Get some quality, 360 degrees feedback;
  • Go to trainings and activities dedicated to improving self-awareness;
  • Study people who have the results you want;
  • Work with a competent coach;
  • Stopping and really thinking about what you have and what you need.

As you do these things, you will be able to define your personal development goals in a more clear and accurate way. As an immediate consequence, this will boost your motivation and at the same time will make you more selective in what you read, the training you go to and so on. In the end, it will make your growth a lot more effective and you’ll see some very impressive results.

Personal Development Ideas I Can Do Without

I am going to hit the next person who gives one of the following ideas as personal development advice (this is bad, considering I’m an otherwise peaceful person):

  • Just be more confident;
  • Just be yourself;
  • Just be more positive;
  • Just be calmer.

Just, just, just. It just doesn’t work that way! There is a tone of self-improvement advice out there starting with the word “just” and then suggesting some pretty dramatic personal change, as if it’s simple as going to the supermarket.

With most of these ideas, we are addressing something which is more than just a behavior. We are addressing an attitude. Being confident is not just a way you act, talk and look. It’s a habitual way of thinking and reacting emotionally to various life situations, which is ingrained in your personality. To use some big and resonating words, it’s a complex psychological structure.

What does it take to change such psychological structures? Over time, I came to believe there is no magic pill. What works is consciously, gradually and systemically replacing old thinking patterns with new thinking patterns, old associations with new associations and thus, old emotions with new emotions. Plus, using the right tools and methods to do it. Then, you can act confident cause you can are confident.

The fact these personal development ideas do not work isn’t half as bad as the treatment some of the people who talk about them will give you. I’m starting to call them personal development assholes. They have at least one of two traits:

  1. They naturally have these ways of being they give advice on. So for them, “just be confident” seems like solid advice. Because already having the right internal setup, they can do it just like that.
  2. They have a superficial understanding of how human learning happens and the qualities self-improvement ideas require to be applied effectively.

When you try to put their advice into practice but you don’t seem to be able and you don’t get results, they just start accusing you using advanced personal development jargon: of not wanting it bad enough, of having secondary gains or of lacking willpower. So now, you don’t improve and you also feel guilty about it.

Trust me: when for example, every time you go to a party you feel miserable because you’re too shy to talk to anyone and have some fun, you want nothing more on the planet than to “just be more confident”. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I’m sure a lot of the people giving this advice mean well, but they often do more harm than good.

The answer is not out there. It’s within. Personal development ideas that work take into account not just the external, but also the internal, to create deep and lasting self growth.

Personal Development Readers vs. Personal Development Doers

How many people would you say are into personal development? Very few, right? Keep on reading, and you may realize they’re really fewer than you think.

I say this because I think true personal development means a lot of doing, while a lot of the people in this segment are mostly just into reading/ listening/ viewing: books, blogs, articles, DVD’s, trainings & courses, you name it.

The way I see it, personal development is not essentially about acquiring new information, but about developing new skills and attitudes. However, developing skills and attitudes requires practice. I mean a whooole lot of practice! Massive, organized, ferocious and persistent action.

Most people I know who get into the reading part, considering how much they actually need to practice to turn the knowledge into skills and attitudes, just the most valuable knowledge, they barely scratch the surface.

They read a good book, find some very valuable and practical ideas, at best they start applying them for a few days, and then they move on to the next book, seeking some new “inspiration”. They are the “readers”.

I used to do exactly this; until I discovered I was just being a personal development literature enjoyer. Some people read love novels, I read “As a man thinketh” and the likes. I still enjoy the reading part a lot, but I’m very aware that this is not what real self-improvement is mainly about, so I also focus a lot on practicing what I read; on being a “doer”.

Besides the obvious difference in applying the theory between the readers and the doers, there are 3 more important differences I notice very often, which I think go hand in hand with this one:

  • Doers focus on selecting, remembering and organizing the most valuable personal development ideas from what they read, they put them into their growth plan.
  • Doers use strategies for doing, they set practice goals and daily practice tasks, they keep track of progress and find ways to keep themselves motivated.
  • Doers sometimes consciously cut down their reading, as they understand that new information can often interfere with their practicing and defocus them from their goals. Rather, they sometimes re-read the stuff they’re already applying, to keep themselves going.

The result is the actual growing process as a person. I think you can often separate the doers from the readers because the doers are the ones you see after 2-3 years and they seem strikingly changed, improved: maybe they’re more confident, happier, more expressive, more charming or simply… richer. I don’t know about you, but I for one have the pleasure of knowing only about a hand full of people such as these.

So, after finishing this article, are you gonna take a deep breath and move on to the next one, or are you gonna get up from that chair of yours? What do you usually do? Are you a personal development reader or a personal development doer?