07/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

Lessons In The Key Of Life: Are You Reading Or Applying?

Can reading these self improvement posts actually help?

How about "no, not likely" for an answer?

First of all, let me underscore the idea that there is nothing new contained in just about anything you read here!

For that matter, I would submit pretty much everything you read about improving life has been said before, over many centuries, and by philosopher-writers far more eloquent than me.

In the past, whenever I would sit down to write something about improving the quality of life, I used to admonish myself by saying something like, "what do you have to say that is unique or new?" And I used that admonition to stop writing.

Part of my recent awareness is that just because there isn't anything new doesn't mean that there isn't something new to learn.

If all you do is read what is written, you may not get much value. If, however, you practice or apply what is written here, if you examine each element from the point of view of how it applies to your life, if you actively participate with the information, you may discover incredible insights into your own life. Surprisingly, you may learn lessons that you thought you had learned long ago, only this time the lesson will come at a much higher level, and take you far deeper into your True Self than you ever could have imagined.

Do you like cake? Or bread? If you don't, think of some other food that requires a recipe. For simplicity sake, I am going to stick with cake. For most of us, cake will help clarify many of these points.

Have you ever made a cake from scratch? Not from a box or some premixed source - from scratch - starting with flour, sugar, baking powder or baking soda, etc. My mom taught me to bake when I was eight, so I've been there a few times.

Most recipes start with a list of ingredients. For example, here's one I like:

• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
• 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
• 1 1/4 cups milk, scalded
• 2 cups cake flour, sifted or stirred before measuring
• 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2/3 cup shortening
• 3 eggs
• 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Does this sound good to you? What kind of cake is it? What will it taste like? Although everything in the cake is listed, most people will not find the list of ingredients to be anything like the cake that results from following it.

Does reading the recipe produce cake? Of course not. Now, if you are an experienced baker, you might get a good idea of what the cake will be like once it is fully baked, and still you have to get actively involved with the recipe to produce anything worth eating.

Most recipes start by asking you to sift together the dry ingredients. Once you sift the dry ingredients together, do you have cake yet? Nope. Does it taste good yet? Not even close!

Let's add the eggs and milk and other wet ingredients - do you have cake yet? Nope. Does it taste good yet? Depends on who you are! For some, the batter is good enough!

So if you have a perfect recipe, and you have followed it perfectly so far, how come you still don't have cake yet? Because you haven't finished with the process. Batter is important, but not enough. You still have to grease the pan, pour the batter into the pan and put it into a preheated, 350 degree oven.

After a while (25-30 minutes) you will probably wind up with cake. Notice I said probably. Why probably? Because if you decided you didn't really need to preheat the oven, the cake wouldn't rise properly and you'd have some kind of sticky mess, albeit a sweet one. Or, even if you did preheat the oven and followed everything "perfectly," if you keep opening the oven door to see how things are going, you can wind up with a sticky mess again.

Can you tell I've made a few cake recipe errors in my time? And not just with the kind of cakes you mix in a bowl, pour into a pan, and bake in an oven. I've messed up all manner of "life cakes."

So what's a "life cake?"

Well, that's what this whole series of posts is about! How do you create the kind of "life cake" you truly seek? How do you produce the kind of positive life experiences you want more of? How do you recover from mistakes in the process along the way?

Some of those answers are found in the cake making metaphor. Simply reading the recipe doesn't get you there. You still have to get actively involved and follow the process.

One way to view these articles is to consider each an exercise in cake baking. If all you do is read the recipe, the likely result will be somewhere between "so what" and "that's interesting." But don't be surprised if nothing changes in your life.

One of the big differences between a real cake and a "life cake" is that a real cake can pretty much tell you all the steps necessary. It may be off slightly on things like baking time depending on altitude, humidity, and other variables; however, it will be pretty close and with experience, you will learn what adjustments you need to make.

With your "life cake," we can't really tell you how hot the oven needs to be, or how long it will take to bake, or even what all the ingredients are. Some of that is because we don't know what kind of cake you want to bake - what is your desired outcome, what experiences are you looking for, and what life purposes are you intending to fulfill.

The delightful contradiction that I have learned over the years is that just because I know the information doesn't mean that I actually know how to apply the information.
Reading about something is not the same as actually applying the information to my actual life circumstances. Knowing the information and making the information work are very different things.

In future posts, we will explore some of the key ingredients to most life recipes: Awareness, Choice, Response-Ability and Accountability. Get out your aprons!

PS: The recipe above is for a southern style "Devil's Food Chocolate Cake."

In subsequent articles, we will explore how to produce more of what you truly want out of life.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)