10 Reasons Books Are the Best Teachers

I can’t coach you man.  You’re un-coachable.  I’m un-coachable.  It’s Y2K plus change baby.  We’re all fucking un-coachable.

We have too many preconceived notions.  We fight back with what we think we know instead of putting plans into action and seeing if they actually work.

We cling to dogma and tradition instead of having the courage to try other methods.  We favor fitting in with our social circles instead of finding truth or efficiency.

We have massive egos. We are offended when someone disagrees or suggests an alternative strategy. So we tune them out.  Or worse, we ask them to coach us on our own methods.  I never understood that one?

We’d rather project an aura of intelligence or superiority, even in areas outside of our expertise, than be humble enough to learn and improve.

We ask too many questions – often times a disguise for fear or procrastination – instead of having faith in a plan, and embracing the process of struggle, growth, and evolution along the way.

We are good at acquiring information overload, but terrible at applying anything.  We are good talkers and pontificators, but terrible doers.

It’s like this Zen story:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” – 101 Zen Stories

It is 2014. We don’t have cups of tea anymore. We have 84-ounce jugs.  Yet our jugs of tea are still full.  And although some of our teas taste like shit, we’re too proud or scared to empty that trash out and try a new one.

How do you break through that force field? You blast through it with great books.

Maybe I’m just a shitty coach?  I’m fully prepared to admit that. I’ve always looked at myself as an athlete and student who enjoys sharing what has helped me, rather than a coach.

But maybe after 15 years of watching how people learn best, I’m on to something.

Regardless, here are 10 reasons why I believe books make the best teachers.

1. You become your own teacher.

Read all kinds of books of man — the central themes, the styles, the advantages, the disadvantages…self-education makes great men – Bruce Lee

No one likes to be told what to do.  We fight back with what we think we know, or just out of spite.  Our egos are too inflated for true learning. Reality TV and social media have warped our minds. We all believe we are mini-celebrities starring in our own reality show.

We’re not as open to learning and growing as we think.  We become set in our ways.  We are stubborn as hell.

This is especially true if you’ve gained success in another area of your life.  Once you’ve become the master of something, it’s hard to become a student again in anything else.  After all, you’re the bad ass that knows best right?

But when you read, it’s almost as if you are discovering the strategies yourself. It’s like you are teaching yourself. There is no third party to size up, prove your superiority to, or match wits with.

You can let your guard down, be humble, and learn in secret. Books can’t listen to your bullshit.

Then you can re-emerge as the know-it-all, the wise one, the guru, or whatever else strokes your ego.  The world loves listening to your bullshit.

The only way information will stick for the long-term is if you believe it came from within you, from your own thoughts, research, and conclusions. Remember, you are a mini-celebrity and the world revolves around you right?

Bruce Lee was right baby, “there is no help but self-help.”  You must become your own teacher.

2. You get the best an educator has to offer.

With the spoken word, it is impossible to be at your absolute best every time. You don’t always have the right words, you can’t express yourself in the exact way you intended, you forget important points, you can be distracted by outside thoughts, you can have a hangover from hell, or just be in a foul mood, and not really give a damn, etc.

With the spoken word, you get the best a teacher can come up with at that moment in time.  The great ones prepare, but some elements are left to chance regardless.

With the written word, an educator can take all of the time necessary to express the information in the exact way intended.  With writing, editing, analyzing, re-thinking, re-working, re-writing — all multiple times — you get the best a teacher has to offer, EVER.

3. You retain the information better.

It takes multiple exposures to new material to retain it.

With books, you can read, re-read, and refer back to specific lessons as many times as it takes for the light bulb to go off, and attain a true understanding.

In the modern world, we already have so much going on in our heads on a daily basis – work responsibilities, family life, finances, social obligations, health and fitness, etc.  We’re fucking scatter-brained. It is difficult to make room for new theories and approaches.

It takes both time and the right emotional state to absorb, filter, process, and implant information, especially if it is new material or different from what you are used to.  It takes even longer to build up the courage to apply it.

A book will be there throughout that entire process, no matter how long it takes for you.

4. The lessons will strike when the time is just right.

Sometimes with live instruction, you’re not in the right frame of mind to take immediate action.  You have barriers, preconceived notions, doubts, distractions, fears, and prejudices.

A book in your holster (bookshelf) allows you to act on the information when the timing and circumstances are just right.  Pull it out and fire away when the world forces you into a shoot out. It may be a day later.  It may be a year later. It may be a decade later.  It makes no difference.  Good information stands the test of time.

Put it back in your holster when you don’t need it anymore.  A proud teacher will get pissed when you don’t follow their advice right away.  A book doesn’t give a shit.

5. You can learn on your own schedule.

We are all too busy to disrupt our schedules and break away from the grind in order to take care of ourselves.  We’d rather sink into the quicksand of work and responsibility.  We are willing to accept poor physical, mental, and spiritual health in exchange for traditional success.

If self-improvement is just another stressful commitment, appointment, or obligation in your day, you will resent it.  You will just go through the motions.

You do it just to get it out of the way, but you have no real intention of actually learning or applying anything.  Thus, you rarely do. Or you half ass it, which is even worse.  You blame the information, which is really not the true problem.

But with a book, you can pick it up whenever you have a little extra time.  You can fit it into your day as opposed to the other way around. You can learn as slow or as fast as you want.  You can skim the surface or dive into the deep end.

If you are being proactive and seeking out the information in whatever limited free time you have, that means you are ready and motivated to learn and take action.  You’re in the right mental and emotional state to get shit done.

Obligation vs. Personal Motivation & Desire?  I’d place my money on the latter every time.

What’s the saying, “when the student is ready the master will appear”?  A book is a master at your disposal 24-7-365.

6. You can absorb and apply what is useful to your life, and ignore the rest.

He studied all the traditional philosophies, but then he began to form his own philosophy, and he came to the realization that you just can’t borrow another person’s philosophy.  You have to learn about yourself and create your own philosophy, your own way of life. — Linda Lee (on Bruce Lee).

The essence of jeet kune do:  1.  Research your own experience.  2.  Absorb what is useful.  3.  Reject what is useless.  4.  Add what is specifically your own.  — Bruce Lee.

With books, you can absorb the parts that seem useful to you, ignore the ones that don’t, and apply whatever is relevant in your own personal journey at that moment in time.

A guru will get pissed if you don’t follow their exact system.  A book doesn’t give a shit.  You’re on your own when the pages shut.  And maturity is taking responsibility for your own self, for your own destiny.

The sooner you realize there is no such thing as an all-knowing guru, the sooner you will be on YOUR WAY.  You must be the captain of your own ship.  A guru will shove you to the side and take control of the steering wheel.  But what if he drives you to a place you don’t want to go?

A book allows you to drive, to pick your final destination.  It sits quietly as a road map on the side, just in case you get lost along the way.

7. It is a permanent resource always available at your side.

The spoken word is frequently lost in the chaos of life.  It is there for an instant, gone in a flash, and disappears into dust.

The written word is frozen in time.  It is immortal, and stands for an eternity. It provides an indefinite resource that you can call upon and use as a weapon whenever appropriate.  You can refer back to it when:

  • You are having a hard time getting started and need an initial spark.
  • You’ve fallen off track and need a kick in the ass to get back.
  • You are feeling discouraged and need some inspiration.
  • With life experiences and personal growth, your outlook and theories change.  You are ready to learn something new, or perhaps, reconsider something old.
  • Circumstances change and you need new information, or again, are prepared to reconsider something old.
  • You’ve become so scatter-brained and information overloaded that you are suffering from paralysis by analysis.  You need to be pulled back to the center and given simple, actionable strategies.

8. It gives you the tough love you need.

We’re all pansies these days.  We’re too politically correct.  Sometimes that which needs to be said is left unsaid for fear of offending.

We’re too entitled.  If someone gives us the tough love truth, we resent it, tune it out, or fight back with excuses.  If a person is fixed in their ways, arguing is wasted effort.

As a result, we often times back off when we should be pressing forwards.  We don’t go all the way in the educational process because we deem that a person is not quite ready to hear or handle the truth.

With the written word, a teacher can give you a little more of the tough love that is necessary to induce change and produce results.  He can tell you exactly what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear.  He can present the absolute ideal scenario.

Then, every individual can work forwards from there.  We can find our own personal level of comfort, determine what we will and won’t commit to, and make our own compromises based on where we are currently at in our personal journey.  We can find a Way that is right for us.

And besides, a good teacher never wants to underestimate a student’s potential to change their self-defeating ways, learn, apply, grow, and improve.  A book allows a teacher to not hold anything back. It prevents human emotion from getting in the way.

9. It’s the complete package

With blogs and articles, you only get bits and pieces.  Those may be great bits and pieces, but they are never the full story.  And half the time, its just glorified marketing material (oops, did I just write that out loud).

But with a book, you are getting the big picture, the entire system, the full manifesto, the comprehensive masterpiece.  Nothing is held back.

Books are pure baby, without any of the bullshit.

10. It forces you to take personal accountability for your own results.

There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself. ~ Miyamoto Musashi

The medicine for my suffering I had within me from the very beginning, but I did not take it. My ailment came from within myself, but I did not observe it – until this moment. Now I see that I will never find the light unless, like the candle, I am my own fuel. ~ Bruce Lee

When the book is shut, the ball is in your court.  You are either going to apply the information or you’re not. It’s as simple and straightforward as that.  There is no one to whine to.  There is no one to make excuses to.  Take action or get nowhere.

Sometimes unlimited access to coaching is a bad thing.  It allows you to overanalyze. It allows you to ask too many questions. It allows you to focus on approval or validation rather than real world results. It allows you to stay in the locker room and draw game plans forever, instead of getting out onto the field, playing the actual game, and putting your skills to the test.

Sometimes, you just have to take action and let the chips fall where they may.  As Musashi once said:

The only shame in dying incorrectly is to die a stupid and meaningless death. To die as a warrior means to have crossed swords and either won or lost without any consideration for winning or losing. ~ Miyamoto Musashi

Most sincere writers put everything they can, put their life’s work, into their books.  What more could they possibly teach you?  What more planning can you possibly do?

The goal of a great educator should be to empower YOU, not make you co-dependent on them.

Your goal should be to get to where you want to go, regardless of the resources you use.

In other words, you don’t need a guru.  You need a guide.  I don’t know of any guide better than a good book.  That’s why the best have stood the test of time.

So with guide in hand, have some courage, be your own lab, and go out and find what actually works FOR YOU.