Why The Most Successful People Don't Do Personal Development

By Leo Gura - December 1, 2014 | 26 Comments

Is personal development really necessary to be successful and happy?

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Hey, this is Leo from Actualized.org, and in this video I want to pose the question whether personal development is actually necessary to becoming successful. Do the most successful people use personal development at all?

The question that’s been on my mind lately is whether personal development is actually something that successful people use to achieve their success. I want to take a no bullshit look at this. If it’s actually not, then in what sense is it right for me to be up here, espousing the benefits of personal development, if these people get their success without using these techniques or following certain principles?

This stuff takes a lot of your time and effort, watching all these videos and going out there and trying all these different exercises that I have for you, like journaling, meditating or going out there and reading lots of books. This is an investment of your resources, time, energy and effort.

This isn’t easy work. In the back of your mind, there will always be the question if this is really paying off for you. Is there a better and easier way to do it? I’m not here proposing self-help just for the sake of it. If there is a quicker and easier way to get there, let’s use that approach.

Is Self-Help Necessary?

The first thing that comes to mind is people like Justin Bieber. He’s got celebrity status and he’s very successful. Some people might laugh and think of him as a bad example. You have to ask yourself these questions. You have a lot of people in society, especially those who are portrayed by the media, for which we usually say that they are clearly a successful person. Do these people use self-help?

I have to say that the answer is probably no. Many of these people probably don’t use self-help, at least not in the kind of deliberate sense that we have been doing through my videos. We’re sitting down very continuously, going deep, strategizing and introspecting about all of this work. I would say that most of these successful people don’t do it.

It is a little bit dangerous to talk about these people because we don’t know their lives intimately. What do I know about Justin Bieber? I know very little about him. But if we take the kind of stereotypical idea that we have of him, I’m figuring he’s probably not just sitting there and studying Tony Robins’ books and doing all of this deep and inner work on himself.

That is probably not the way he lives his life. He’s a young guy. In some sense, maybe that’s something that will come later in his life. It’s okay to ask yourself – “If he can be successful doing it his own way, why can’t I be successful like that doing it Leo’s way or the self-help way?”

Besides Justin Bieber, we can also take a look at people like Elvis Presley, Curt Cobain, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Robin Williams. We can also take a look at famous people through history like Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso or Walt Disney. If you actually go and study some of these people, you will find out that most of them had really screwed up and dysfunctional lives. There is an entire list of people who belong in this category.

Naturally, this doesn’t apply to all of them. I don’t think that Bill Gates has a dysfunctional life. I think that his life is probably pretty even keeled, mature. His lifestyle is psychologically healthy. However, many people from this list have or have had inner turbulent lifestyles.

That’s why you can often see celebrities getting arrested, into fights, drunk or caught with prostitutes or drugs. This is well known in tabloids, and all of it is true. What’s interesting is the fact that a lot of these people achieve success, status in society, respectability and fame, and then it seems as though their psychology isn’t mature enough to handle it.

This of course isn’t true for all successful people. There are many actors, musicians and other celebrities whose lives are very even keeled and grounded. Most of us admire this. When you see an actor being interviewed on a show, you can tell if they are sort of an “all over the place” psychologically immature human being, or very grounded and mature.

They actually go out there, study stuff, read books and they are intelligent. But it’s not just that, there’s emotional intelligence there as well. There’s a high EQ. Have they developed it? Have they developed mastery over their own emotions? Have they worked out their issues from the past which were holding them back?

This is very interesting. I once read a book that was written by a psychologist who went through and actually profiled at least fifteen successful and powerful people throughout history. He also gave a quick bio of every person he was profiling. The most interesting thing is that many of these people had the most dysfunctional lives that you could possible imagine, yet they were still successful. How could this be?

Success And Happiness Aren’t Correlated

One thing that we assume when we embark on our journey to self-development is that success and happiness are correlated. You think that if you get success, happiness will come along with it. In fact, this is not the case.

There actually is no correlation between success and happiness. There are many people in society who are extremely successful, yet they have very screwed up lives. They might seem cool and glamorous on the surface, but you are not in that person’s shoes.

“Oh, that celebrity gets to go on tour and perform on stage all over the world!” If you actually take a microscope and examine their inner emotions and feelings, you would discover that there is no way you would want to be that person.

You wouldn’t want to be that person even for the millions of dollars and the opportunity to travel across the world. Inside, this person is so dysfunctional that you would never actually want to be them. If you give this person a self-help book, they are going to wipe their ass with it.

They are not going to care. That kind of attitude sets the difference between “fly by night” success and deliberate and conscious success, the way that we are creating it here for ourselves.

Here is how I see it. Basically, some people succeed in spite of themselves. Among all of the world’s population, there are going to be several people who will have their circumstances aligned. Maybe they have a little talent and it was nurtured when they were really young. They get a lot of practice and they become, for instance, a good musician.

Maybe their parents encouraged or pushed them to do what they really wanted to. They focus and master one thing. They put all of their chips into one basket and success comes. Sometimes, it’s well deserved success. Sometimes, it’s a little bit accidental.

This usually happens with child actors. They accidentally get discovered. Naturally, they work really hard at it. I’m not saying that these people landed their success just by pure luck. The only luck that is happening is that they manage to succeed, despite of the screwed up psychology they have.

Maybe they’re immature, don’t know how to handle money and have troubles with addictive behaviors. Maybe they don’t know how to weed out bad habits, or they have traumatic childhood experiences. In personal development terms, we would say that these are things that will rob you of your performance in life.

It’s sort of naïve to say that, and there are many examples, especially with musicians and artistic people in general. For instance, someone is a deadbeat alcoholic, very abusive with anger issues, a bad parent, but they write the most beautiful novels. Another example would be a musician who doesn’t know how to deal with their money, has bad relationships, but sells multi-platinum albums. What’s going on there?

If you only want success and define it as money and fame, which is something most people do, like being well established in your industry or career, then you can still achieve that and be really dysfunctional and miserable on the inside.

According to this, when you see these kinds of people, you will make the argument that they are doing pretty well even though they aren’t doing self-help. However, you have to take a look at the longer and bigger view. When you see this person on TV, it seems like they have everything together. That’s a very fake, small and artificial frame that you are looking at their life through. You don’t know what it’s like to be that person.

I can bet that these people, who have neurotic and dysfunctional tendencies, have miserable lives. You can be very sure of that. Find some examples. Take a look at someone like Elvis Presley or Kurt Cobain. Such people are known and iconic figures in popular culture. When you read their biographies and actually take a look at what their lives were like, you can see how dysfunctional they really were.

We all know about Elvis’ binging and inability to control his addictive behavior. He was very successful, earned millions of dollars and was basically adored by the entire world, yet he couldn’t resist eating a five thousand calorie sandwich, with bacon, cheese, grease and all of this nasty stuff. Basically, he died because of that.

On the other hand, you have someone like Kurt Cobain who overdosed on drugs. He was a very dysfunctional figure, even though he was well respected and loved for his music.

I don’t like to say that these people were born with a talent. However, I think that they worked really hard to achieve that. You have someone who has a great talent, but a highly unbalanced and dysfunctional life because they put all of their chips in one basket whilst developing that talent. This ultimately caught up with them and led to their demise.

Take a look at people further back in history, like Howard Hughes’ biography, Pablo Picasso’s life or Walt Disney. Walt is the perfect example of someone with great creativity and imagination. He embodied the qualities of self-development, yet at the same time, there were many things in his life that were dysfunctional. For example, he often struggled to hold onto his money, even when he was making millions from his movies and other stuff that he was doing with Disney.

His visions and his dreams always outstripped his funding. This led to constant struggle and tension. He was also a chronic smoker and drinker. This ultimately caught up with him and that’s why he died. When you focus on just one tiny little area of someone’s life – someone who is a genius at their work, career or industry – they seem great, but when you take a look at their entire life, you probably wouldn’t want to be that person.

Don’t Get Thrown Off Track

Don’t discourage yourself. Don’t tell yourself – “Why does it have to be so easy for these people, and so hard for me?” It’s not really like that because you are comparing apples and oranges.

It’s easy for that person because they aren’t doing anything to work on themselves. It’s easy, but where is that going to ultimately lead them? They might be super successful now, but where are they ultimately going to end up? For many of these people, it literally leads them to their graves.

Another thing that happens is even less visible. They just silently suffer and lead miserable lives. You can see this with many celebrities and actors too, when they give interviews and talk about their personal lives, or through their biographies. Many of them lead very miserable and dysfunctional lives.

In a way, these people are lucky because they succeed despite their dysfunctions. You have to ask yourself, is that what you want? Do you want to succeed only in one small area that looks good on TV, but when you’re actually living it, it doesn’t feel nice? It feels miserable and dramatic. Do you want that drama in your life?

If money and fame is what you want, that’s okay. You can go out there and achieve it, and ignore all of this stuff. I actually think that you won’t succeed. Many people get brought down by their neurosis before they can even reach that high level of success that some celebrities and actors attain.

There are probably thousands of musicians or artists who we will never hear about and who never got to that level of status or wealth because their frailties brought them down much earlier.

People who don’t do personal development are just so goddamn lazy and complacent in life. They don’t even have the energy to get themselves up in the morning to go work and become good at something. They don’t have the persistence to do it.

Some people kind of get that naturally from their environment. I don’t think that they are born with it. Out of the billions of people who exist, there are inevitably going to be a couple of hundred or thousand who grow up with a good work ethic or are really passionate about what they like and they go out there and learn it. You have to ask yourself – is that you?

If that’s not you, how are you going to engineer your own success?

Have A Plan For Yourself

You have to have a plan for yourself.

This is where I think that self-help and self-development are a really good idea and the best strategy you’ve got at becoming successful. If you’re as talented as Elvis Presley or Kurt Cobain, then go ahead and take the bull by the horns and seize your success. But you’re probably not that, are you?

You’re probably a little bit complacent and not a master of anything extraordinary. You’re probably not the world’s greatest singer, musician or mathematician. If you want it, you have to work towards that.

If you have problems with money, anger, bad habits, unhealthy food, depression or lack of knowledge, that’s going to hold you back. If you don’t develop a strong work ethic, that will hold you back. If you don’t know how to cope with procrastination and waning motivation, it will hold you back. If you don’t deal with your childhood issues churning the inside of your brain and it’s causing you to believe in weird things about how the world works, it will also hold you back.

If you don’t understand the difference between success and happiness, it will also hold you back. There are a lot of pitfalls that you will fall into if you don’t study this material.

You could imagine this metaphor. You have a five mile landmine field ahead of you. I tell you to go and walk through it. If there are a million people, and I tell all of them to go, inevitably a few of them are going to run through all the mines just by fluke luck and manage to survive. Do you want to take that chance?

It’s your life, you only have one. You don’t care about the other people, you only care about yourself. In this case, you want to get all of the metal detecting equipment that you can get. This is how I see personal development, as though it is a metal detector.

You have a bunch of them for detecting all kinds of different landmines that are potentially out there in the field of life that you are going to be walking through. There are potentially going to be plenty of landmines in your relationships, business, finances, success and so on. We are tackling one here right now – the distinction between happiness and success.

That’s one big landmine. Many celebrities think that they will get success and money and that their inner psychology will just take care of itself. Well, it won’t. When you get lots of money, success and fame, it actually puts your psychology to the test. All of the sudden, you don’t have that many limitations anymore. You don’t need to go to work. Nobody is forcing you to do this or that. You have enough money to literally construct the kind of life that you want.

A lot of people construct this very shallow and miserable existence. They cage themselves. They pursue the things in life that they think are amazing. What they actually are is very shallow and unfulfilling. This is why I think that self-help is a really good strategy.

Create A Sustainable Strategy

It’s important that your strategy is sustainable. This also means that you should become a well-rounded human being. Notice that these people who fail catastrophically don’t have really well-rounded lives. The biggest thing they are missing is the psychology component. The psychology isn’t right. There is neurosis in there.

Self-help is about fixing that neurosis and preempting it, and not letting it ruin your life. Self-help isn’t natural. It’s quite artificial and not many people do it. People in the Amazon don’t walk around with a self-help book. That’s fine. I don’t like that because it makes it feel like life is out of my hands.

I don’t like to have too much chance and randomness in my life because I only have one of them. I don’t care about millions of other people. I care about whether I’m going to succeed. I don’t want to hope to be that one lucky statistic. I want to make sure that my success is locked in stone. This is why personal development is so important for me.

This is why things like meditation, journaling, eating right and working on your relationships are important. These will be landmines that you will deal with whether you want to or not. Be careful not to get caught in the mental masturbation process of personal development.

You’re asking yourself – “Why don’t I just go out there and be a person of action, instead of sitting and theorizing here?” I think that’s a really great attitude. That might, in fact, be the best strategy. If you lock yourself in a room and read all of these self-help books, that will produce a mental masturbation effect.

You will feel like you have all of these amazing ideas. Then, you still won’t be getting any success in live even though you read all of this stuff. That knowledge doesn’t guarantee success, because success requires action taken.

This is something that maybe all of these celebrities are good at. They don’t know all of the theories and principles, but they have this intuitive ability to go out there and take action. They have an intuitive understanding of psychology and that serves them really well.

Let’s compare two people. Person A locks himself in a room for two years and reads self-help books. Person B doesn’t read any self-help books, but she goes out and takes action every single day. Which of the two is going to be more successful? By successful, I mean more money, fame and status.

It’s definitely going to be Person B, and not Person A. Person A might know a bunch of good stuff and might be able to preach at you, but he isn’t going to have anything to show other people to get success and fame for. It’s all in his head.

Person B has been taking action, even though she might have taken some wrong actions because she has been fumbling around and didn’t know exactly what to do. In the end, action is worth ten times more than just theory. Be careful not to get caught up with this mental masturbation effect.

In the lives of many of these celebrities, you can see the arc – they start off immaturely, they aren’t able to handle their success, and sometimes it literally kills them or drives them to other problems, but still, they’re on this growth curve. Over time, they sometimes learn.

Maybe they go to therapy or they actually do pick up a self-help book and read it. These are the celebrities who actually tend to come out on top, because they were maturing and learning through the process.

If you go out there and interview some older Hollywood actors, you’ll probably see that they have actually read quite a few self-help books at this point. I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t. These techniques are really helpful. This stuff really helps to optimize your life. Keep that in mind when you’re thinking about this stuff.

Wrap Up

This is Leo, I’m signing off. These were my thoughts about whether self-help is artificial or natural. Go ahead and post me your comments, click the like button or share this video on Facebook.

The more my videos spread around, the more of them I can make for free. Sign up to my newsletter on Actualized.org, it’s free. I release new videos every single week.

I also have cool ideas planned for my subscribers that won’t be available on YouTube. You will get all the strategies, mindsets, techniques and wisdom that you need to master your life and get on this journey of self-actualization. To me, this is a very rewarding journey where you can work on yourself and become a very well-rounded person.

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jacksparro says:

Now i feel pity for those celebrities, many of them live a miserable life, and end up suicide.
Happiness is not necessary coming up with success, and if this is the case then success will has no meaning at all.

Roshimon says:

Well that’s the case but I firmly believe success always has some meaning.

steve says:

It’s in the pursuing of success where you become a different person.
That’s where the value comes from in success, not so much the success itself.

If in the process of creating a business selling software, you decide you need to stop listening to news that distracts you and stop doing this or that, you’ve become a higher quality person, and then even if the business suffers issues, you’re now a disciplined person who can either resolve the issue or just start a new business.

Roshimon says:

Leo you said it right. It’s the actions that we do really matters and bring success at the end of the day. Yet another useful video. It’s time for action Thank you bro!

Ashray says:

Leo I think you should really do a video on mental mastribution, cause I am pretty sure many people are reading self help book and taking some action but is it enough? Am I following it correctly? How do I know what I am doing is enough to get the result I want? I might end up thinking it’s not gonna work due to lack of efforts and I don’t even know that.

Another great video by the way

Peter says:

The argument needs to be stronger.
These people are hollow tools.

Only if you have no hope to pursue your own development, only if you feel irrepressively inferior, only then you can become fully engaged into the pretending industry.

I am wanted so much, that I deny any serious effort. I only engage in party, fun, dancing and singing. Even through their good days, they need drug support to “perform”.

Look at paparazzi pictures of unobserved moments: Nothing lovely at all.

Leo Gura says:

If you take as examples successful people who are not celebrities, like high-paid CEOs or doctors or whoever, you will find that if they don’t do personal development, their lives are also dysfunctional. It’s just that no one ever knows about it except their family and close friends.

Aditya Tyagi says:

Do successful people use self help?

In a sense, they don’t need to because they have managers, lawyers, personal assistants, etc, helping them stay on track. Even while these people have major drug problems, financial problems, other personal problems, they have a whole cadre of people helping them. Most everyday people cannot afford to have such a retinue of people helping them and must rely strictly and solely on themselves.

Leo Gura says:

Yes, that can be true. Michael Jackson comes to mind. But even hiring a retinue of helpers doesn’t really fix the problem. It just contains it for a while. It’s really a dangerous trap because your psychology grows weaker and weaker as you use these people as crutches.

Stephan says:

Hi Leo, thank you for this amazing video.

You talked about mental masturbation, and I wondered if you could share some advices to help reduce this problem.

Personally I could watch videos, read books, and so on and so forth and still can’t manage to take action. It’s like I want to find the best way as possible first, and just then, act. Even though I am realizing more and more this is not the good way, I am stuck on this mental masturbation process.
Have you/anyone got some advices to help solving this problem ?

Thank you !

jacksparro says:

I have the same problem, i can not take an action, i keep looking for the best of the best, but even i find it, still addicted to look for a better one and find a million excuse to not take an action.

Any ideas,


Olafur says:

Just fucking go out there and take action man. You have learned so much that you should know what you love and what you want to go after in life. Make a plan on what you want to take action on, when you want to take the action, and how and where you want to do the action

Leo Gura says:

There is no shortcut for taking action. You buckle down and do it. Hence the importance of discipline and strong work ethic.

Stephan says:

Alright, thank you for the advices guys !
I’ll work on discipline and work ethics then.

Thank you for replying Leo (and the other 2 of course !)

Debra says:

Only thing I can think to say is (I have same problem but study self-help constantly) is to take baby steps towards what you want. I feel huge pressure to do things/achieve and to be perfect, and that causes the inaction – too much self-imposed pressure (cos my parents aren’t here anymore but it sure feels like it in every fibre of my being!). So be nice and gentle with self and take small, gentle steps towards the action and self-discpiline, people talk of. good luck x

Olafur says:

hey Leo, can you make this video a MP3 audio file. I really like this one, I got some kicks in my ass from it and some ahhhaa moments I liked your landmines example really much, you nailed it into my head right there.

Leo Gura says:

Coming soon.

Dexter says:

Great Vid once again!
One correction tho: Curt Cobain didn’t die of an overdose…
He died of a self inflicted shotgun blast in the face!
Lane Staley did overdose (alice in chains)

Leo Gura says:

Good correction. Reinforces the point about dysfunction all the more!

Brooklyne says:

Walt Disney wasn’t a creative. He was a visionary at most. He was able to see and use other people’s ideas that would be popular and successful. He was definitely a shrewd business man. Never a creative. Most of his early cartoons were stolen from other artists. He was good at hiring the right creative team to make the best entertainment.

Leo Gura says:

I disagree. His creative contributions were quite large. He pushed for innovation in every aspect of business he entered and he was not a great businessman. His brother Roy was the businessman and he always had to rescue Walt out of financial disasters. Walt’s genius was mostly creative and visionary.

Jason says:

We can do tons of things to feel good about ourselves, however the control is still an illusion.

I really relate to the fear you mentioned just past 24 0 and the need for the “feeling of control”.

Lin says:

Wow, this is THE VERY BEST of the BEST out of Leo’s great videos which are all so good! I am a huge fan.

I just love it!

Money and success does not equal to happiness, I finally get it! The dysfunctional immature EQ eventually caught with successful people too. The problems, if not resolved, hold us ALL back! Well-rounded person is such a rare case, but it is so worth to pursue.

Deliberate hard working toward the goal is the way to go. Brilliant on one aspect, yet dysfunctional on the inside, is tragic.

Deliberate and persistent baby steps each and every day is the way to go.

Everyday counts!

Action counts. Wow, thank you so much, Leo!

I just purchased the book list. Come on, let’s support Leo’s brilliant teaching. I am so grateful for his teaching. He is a role model.

gotdreams says:

good stuff and i get the point completly
seems like your a little harsh
and judgemental but I understand
why you need to tell it like it is. So is there any
hope for the man who is emotionally immature?
Mabey that type of guy who continuly reads self help material
is just going through a rough time and is not any more immature than
friends, because my past does not reflect that.
As a matter of fact its just the oppisite.
mabey its just i wanna make things right and don’t
see how a 9-5 job is going
to meet the needs of getting
anywhere in life.i have happy days
and have had a very happy life
but I’m ashamed of some of the mistakes I’ve
made ,and have had lots of help from ex-wife making
sure everyone knows my down falls. lots of people
judge from the out side but have absolutly
no idea what drives my determination to succeed
but choose self distructive bahaviours,
but deep down i know i have the ability to chan?ge

Anna says:

Here is a procrastination blaster.

Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
Pick something you need to do that has an intensity of 0 to 3, where 10 is an ASAP project.
Got something?
Now say out loud, “I have to do XXXX!” Over and over. Louder and louder. Faster and faster.
Stop. Deep breath in then out.
Now say, “I don’t want to do XXXX!” Over and over. Louder and louder. Faster and faster.
Stop. Deep breath.
When you start to hear a tiny voice in your head…and it is saying, “I want to do it…”
Let that voice get louder and louder.
Open your eyes.
Go and do it.

This method was developed by the Soviets and their Olympic Teams won like 30 gold medals!
A defector brought this method to the West.

When you have done a few 0 to 5 intensity procrastinated projects, work up to 5 to 7, then 8 to 10.
They get easier and easier to get done.


Preetpal singh saini says:

Action and self help go hand in hand that’s a great insight.thanks Leo.

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