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11/3/2013 10:00:36 AM -
How to write a motivational self-help article

I’ve written here previously regarding the propensity of people involved with the fitness industry to be obsessed with self-help books and articles to the point of excluding all other types of reading materials from their lives. When I criticize people for this, it’s only one man’s opinion, and nothing more, so take what I say with a big grain of salt. I just think that if you can recite Tony Robbins and Stephen R. Covey at length off the top of your head, but you have no clue who Charles Dickens and James Joyce are, you’ve got issues—but that’s just me.

What I want to address today is one thing that really bothers me about most of the self-help material I see that’s actually written by people in the fitness industry. First, I’ll issue something of a disclaimer before I start critiquing anyone, and say that there is a good bit of high-quality material out there from people who really do know how to help others. I know plenty of people in this industry who’ve been through some serious shit, survived, and went on to be successful in their careers and lives. Some of these people have written about it, and you can learn from them.

Dave Tate is obviously one of these people. Growing up, the guy was labeled as mentally challenged, and nobody in a position of authority thought he’d ever amount to jack shit. After years of struggle, Dave figured out strategies for learning and success, and he’s gone on to build a very, very successful business. He’s written two books—along with literally hundreds of educational articles—that pretty much outline how he did this. They’re all worth reading.

There are plenty of others who’ve done the same thing. As for the rest, however, there are a few aspects lacking in their writings, and I think these things prevent others from truly getting the message the authors of these pieces are trying to get across.

The most glaring weakness I see in all this material is a complete and total lack of specifics. If you line up twenty fitness industry self-help articles in a queue and read them all, I’d wager nineteen of them will tell you that success, whether we’re talking about financial independence or the building of a stable, happy family, involves getting up early in the morning and working as hard as you can until late at night. Nineteen out of twenty will tell you that you have to learn how to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” and then they’ll throw in a quote by Muhammad Ali about how his fights were won “far away from the gym.”

This sort of thing can be very inspiring if you need immediate motivation to complete a hard task at the moment you’re reading them, but the problem here is that they don’t tell you how to complete that task. That’s the problem I see with most self-help books, too. They’ll give you the means to motivate yourself, and they’ll offer some very inspiring stories of people who’ve managed to succeed despite long odds, but the trouble here is they don’t tell you, step by step, how to do it.

When I read a self-help book by someone successful, I want to know what this guy does when he first wakes up in the morning. Does he drink coffee? If so, how does he take it, and why? Does he go to the gym? What does he do there? Does he believe in getting up before the sun rises? Or does he wake up without an alarm because he can’t function without a full night of sleep? In other words, when a self-help author tells me to carry around a notebook to write down ideas and obligations, I want to know what kind of pen the guy suggests using—and in most self-help books, we don’t get that level of detail.

In other words, don’t just tell me I have to manage my time effectively. I’ve bought your book or clicked on your article because I want to hear how you, the guy who supposedly knows how to do it better than me, manage your time. Do you wear a watch? Do you have an alarm clock, or do you use the one on your phone? What kind of phone do you have? What do you use it for? Do you keep a calendar? If so, is it a written datebook? Or do you use an online service like Google Calendar? If so, which one do you use, and how do you use it? Do you color code things? If so, what colors do you use, and for what categories?

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Several years ago, when I was transitioning out of non-desk job into a career that required me to sit in an office all day, I wanted to know how successful people set up their offices and their desks. I wanted to see what kinds of computers they used, where they put their keyboards and monitors, what kinds of pens they used, and where on their desks they put them. I wanted to see what type of lighting they preferred, and I wanted to see how organized they were, what types of filing systems they used, and where they put stuff. I wanted to know everything about the office logistics of successful people.

To do this, I pitched Dave on an idea I said would be helpful to a lot of people, but that was really being done so I could see things for myself. My idea was to ask the people affiliated with EliteFTS that I considered to be the biggest financial successes to take pictures of their offices and desks and explain why they had them set up the way they did. I don’t know if this article is still on the site, but I found it very interesting, because I was obsessed with the topic at the time. I still am, really.

The point of this exercise was that, at the time, I had all the motivation in the world, but no idea what the hell to do when I woke up in the morning. I knew I had to go to work, and what time I needed to be there, but I hadn’t yet developed a routine that would get me through my day in the most productive way possible. And without knowing the specifics of how successful people did that, I had no idea where to start learning, because all I was seeing was motivational texts—and nothing I could use as a template.

I’m not saying I want to copy anyone’s style, although when you’re struggling, this isn’t the worst idea in the world. What I’m saying is that I want ideas. I want specifics from a lot of people so I can take what I can use, and discard the rest. Most of all, I want something more utilitarian on an everyday basis than the standard, boilerplate, “You’ve gotta bust your ass” advice everyone seems so willing to give. Tell me how, and I’ll be a big fan.

Angry Coach

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