Why 96 Percent of Personal Development Efforts Fail

Srinivas Rao
6 min readJan 3, 2017

A while back, our team polled over 1000 people who invested in personal development seminars/ courses, set goals, and worked on those goals for 90 days. The data from those polls was pretty shocking- 96% of their personal development efforts completely failed.

There’s a joke that goes “I’m opening a gym called Resolutions. It will have exercise equipment in it for the first two weeks and then it turns into a bar for the remainder of the year.”

It’s funny because culturally, we know it’s a thing- but quantifying it helped understand to what extent. But what exactly is the reason for this? And more importantly, how can we prevent it?

Much of this has to do with your personality types. Just like our bodies wildly vary in size, likelihood of heart disease, and fat retention, our personalities are much the same way. So let’s start with a breakdown of the major types of people we run into.

1.People with a Strong Bias Towards Action

These types have a natural bias towards action. By and large, these are the people who hit their goals. Many imperfect actions will get you far further than not doing anything at all. In fact, a daily habit of writing or training at the gym is just that- taking action, rarely ever perfect, day after day. These people are likely to change whether they read the self-help book, go to the seminar, or not. But they still read books and attend conferences because they understand and practice the principle of the slight edge: the little things they to do repeatedly lead to big changes in their lives.

2.People Who Need a Catalyst

This group of people change because of the effort they put into their personal development. Taking big action doesn’t come naturally to this group, as it does for the first. If the right seminar, coach, teacher or mentor lights a fire under their ass, they change and they become people in the first group. Often that nudge, or initial momentum is enough to get people moving. This is a tricky place to be because while external motivation is fine to get started, these people will have to find the discipline to stay on top of their habits- especially for the majority of the time when they don’t feel motivated. For this group, optimizing their environments is key. More on that shortly.

3.People Who are Addicted to Inspirational Kool-Aid

Dan Kennedy says a good amount of the people that buy his products never remove the shrink-wrap. There are other people who spend their entire lives going from one personal development seminar to another, but nothing ever changes.

These people believe in the myth of the “I’ve made it” moment. They think that the next course, book, or seminar will transform them in an instant, into the kind of person who is in the first or second group. It’s likely that the majority of the revenue generated by the personal development industry comes from this group of people. For this group especially, the environments are absolutely critical.

Regardless of where you are in these groups, the key to stacking the odds in your favor is to get rid of everything that may take away from your mission- which takes us into the importance of environments.

The Profound Impact of Environment

If you’ve ever been to a motivational seminar or conference, you’ve probably experienced the incredible “high” that occurs at the end of it. You feel like you’re ready to conquer the world and accomplish anything. You’ve probably also noticed that a few days after the event is over the buzz wears off and everything is back to normal.

This happens because you go from being immersed in an intense uplifting environment, back to your normal environment. And your normal environment has all sorts of subconscious triggers and behaviors that are associated with it. Make no mistake- environment is stronger than willpower and when it’s bad, whatever change you’re hoping to make won’t stick- the vicious personal development cycle starts all over again.

How To Start Upgrading Your Environment

First, you have to become aware of the 9 environments that make up your life, and then design an environment that is conducive to the person you want to become. The best part is upgrading your environments doesn’t require you to buy a McMansion and drive a Tesla- it doesn’t have to cost anything.

If you’d like to do a self-audit of your environments to understand exactly how your own 9 environments are helping or sabotaging your growth, sign up here and I’ll send it over.

Any of the following are simple environmental upgrades that you can make at little to no cost.

  • Upgrade Your Physical Appearance: Exercise, dress a bit better, and groom yourself as if you’re about to have dinner with the President of the United States. Changing the way you dress and the way you look almost immediately changes the way you feel. I noticed this by something as simple as putting on my nicest pair of shoes when I was working from home.
  • A more dramatic example: If you’ve ever dressed up for a prom or wedding, you remember the first time you put on a tuxedo. You stood a bit taller, walked a bit more confidently. The James Bond theme song probably played in your head- it still does for me. You felt dapper as hell and I know you ladies felt like queens in those flowy gowns. Your clothing doesn’t have to be expensive or new. But wear clean, well-fitting clothes and you’ll feel sharper.
  • Upgrade Your Physical Environment: Get your car washed and clear the clutter from your desk. A clear physical environment leads to a clear mind. My favorite example of a physical environment is the refrigerator. Imagine if you kept the fridge free of all the good stuff- the beer, ice cream, hot pockets, pizza. When you get home at the end of a long day and your willpower is at a minimum, that’s the stuff you’d reach for. But if you eliminate it from your environment, it doesn’t matter how little willpower you have- that’s not a choice you have to make any more. You’ll go for the healthy option- it’s the only option you have. Optimizing your environments means setting up your surroundings to make the decisions- you are no longer a part of that process.
  • Upgrade Your Network/Social Environment: If you become the average of the five people you surround yourself with, you’d likely want them to be people who lift you up rather than bring you down. A good amount of the upgrades in my personal mindset over the last 2 years have been the result of hanging out with my business partner Brian. The digital world also gives you a significant amount of control over your network and social environment. So upgrade it accordingly.

Some expensive, but incredibly effective ways to upgrade your environment include moving to a different city or attending events like Jayson Gaignard’s Mastermind Talks, where the room is filled with amazing people. Make the changes you’re able to make now. But recognize that spending money on this stuff is like investing in your own stock- put the work in, and it’s very profitable long term.

Each time you upgrade one environment, all the others will be impacted. The main reason that most personal development efforts fail is because most try to add in a bunch of new workouts and routines to their lives. And in the process, completely fail to take into account the impact of their environments. They really are that important.

I covered about 3 of the environments here because these three will create impacts in your life relatively quickly- but others make deeper, lasting impacts. I’ve written about all 9 environments in another post, which you can find here.

Before You Go…

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, you’ll love my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.

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Srinivas Rao

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