The Self-Help Trap
3 min read

The Self-Help Trap

If you read this blog you are most likely looking for ways to improve. Maybe you want to exercise regularly or eat healthily. Maybe you want to start a new business or improve your social skills. Whatever it is you want, it all starts with action.

If you look at comments under motivational pictures, inspiring videos, or blog posts like this, you’ll read one specific kind of comment all the time: “Nice content. But no one does this anyway.”

And you know what? It’s true.

Only a minority of people reading a post like this execute on the advice given. As a writer, this is what I fear the most: That you will read this post and not take action. You may think that’s already not true because by reading this article you have already taken action, right? Yeah, kind of. For better understanding let’s clarify what I mean by action.

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.
-Steven Pressfield[1]

Execution and Theory

For me, action is divided into “theory” and “execution”.

Theory is preparation.

It’s reading, researching, watching, listening, thinking, and waiting. Of course, theory is not bad – quite the contrary: theory is useful to reach good decisions, to become more efficient, and to get new ideas. It’s a good starting point for something new and guidance for topics to improve in. Theory is also easier than execution. Especially in this age, you often don’t even have to take any real risks.

What happens most of the time though is that you stay in the realm of theory so long, it becomes a burden. At that point, theory turns into procrastination. You are avoiding executing your idea by reading posts like this one, researching, and planning. That’s why I view theory as action only as long as it is needed to start executing, but when is more theory too much?

This is where execution is important – purposeful execution.

“Purposeful” means, that your action is necessary for the advancement of your goals. At a certain point, more theory is not necessary; that’s when it turns into inaction and execution should take its place. Another way of looking at it is doing what feels right. It’s listening to the voice that says “you know, we do not need to read another book about exercise to go to the gym, right?” and then – go to the gym instead of doing more research.

Stuck in Theory

I was stuck in the realm of theory very recently, when I wanted to start this blog.

I had many excuses for not starting: “Who am I to write about self-improvement?” or “I need more time!”. When I decided I was going to start anyways I had hundreds of excuses to not go through with it: “I need to do more research!” or “I need more information!” and “I need to improve my writing!”. Then my friends’ advice was added on top of it all.

If I took everything to heart and only started when I was absolutely ready, I would have been stuck in the realm of theory forever. I’m not even ready now! Still, I know I need to start executing, so that’s what I do.

If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.
-Derek Sivers[2]


Now that this blog is public, one might think I would regret not having done more research, improved my writing or incorporated more feedback. Instead, I have only one thought:

I regret not starting earlier.

This is also true for many new things I’ve picked up in my life, after procrastinating or just preparing to execute for weeks and months. Among them, cornerstones of my routines like meditation and exercise, but also new interests like martial arts and dancing.

For many people not having executed on an idea earlier, or, worse, not at all, will be a great source of regret – and regret is terrifying. Thoughts like “I wonder what if…” or “I wish I had done …” are tragic and more often than not originate from not taking action or not executing.


So, after reading this article you can read more articles on this blog, or go to YouTube to watch a motivational video, or read another self-help book. But at the end of the day, this will only get you so far. To take your life to the next level you have to move away from theory and into action.

You have to execute!

  1. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, p 165. ↩︎

  2. Derek Sivers, On Tim Ferriss' Blog. ↩︎

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