One of the most effective concepts in personal development is modeling. Modeling simply means that you find someone who’s already getting the results you want in some area, learn what they did to get those results, and then basically just do the same thing. It’s a lot like following a recipe to re-create a meal.

As an example, years ago I met a man who had gone from earning $40K/year to earning $400K/year over a period of two years. I asked him how he did it, and he told me. One of his main ideas was to find out what has made you money in the past, and do more of it; then find out what has lost you money in the past, and do less of it. But as brain-dead simple as this idea sounds, I found that it worked really well when I looked for ways to apply it, and I doubled my income in about six months. For example, I discovered that releasing products made me money, but developing products didn’t generate income at all. So I found a way to release new products faster. Simple idea, but very effective.

But something I’ve found helpful is that the reverse concept works pretty well too: If you find someone who isn’t getting the results you want in a particular area, don’t take their advice. This is an overgeneralization of course, but I find that more often than not, it’s pretty accurate.

Why would anyone buy a diet book with a picture of an overweight doctor on the cover? Isn’t that sort of like signing up for a martial arts class taught by a white belt? I read that the autopsy done on Dr. Atkins (of the popular Atkins diet) revealed that he was obese and that his arteries were clogged with plaque. And Dr. Phil, well, he doesn’t look too fit to me either, but he tries hard to add credibility to his diet by showcasing extremely overweight people who are given tons of leverage to lose weight (virtually anyone can lose weight with the leverage of national TV behind them). Other fitness books like Bill Philips’ Body for Life and Dr. Scott Connelly’s Body Rx are at least written by people who appear to be in good physical condition. One comment in particular that I loved reading in Connelly’s book was a challenge for all the other diet doctors to appear next to him in a bathing suit. Hmmm, why not?

Of course, you can’t determine health just by physical looks — Brian Maxwell, the founder of Power Bar and a former world-class marathoner, died of a heart attack earlier this year at age 51. So maybe you don’t want to follow in his footsteps either.

While it seems logical that just about anyone could potentially provide valuable advice on any subject, the problem is advice that often sounds good just doesn’t prove effective in the real world. This is why modeling can save you a lot of time. The person who is currently getting the results you want has probably already tried and discarded many strategies that don’t work. And they’ve obviously found at least one strategy that does work, at least for them, so their ideas have already passed the reality test.

On the other hand, be careful not to get trapped into the situation of continually seeking advice from people who aren’t getting the results you want. For example, I often see single people who are looking to marry ask other single people for advice on how to attract a future spouse. And these people get lots of well-meaning advice that simply won’t work. If you’re single and want to get married, then the best people to ask about how to do it are happily married people. Duh! And most likely you’ll find their advice very different than that of perpetual singles.

This is a really simple concept, but it’s amazing how few people take the time to apply it. Is there some area in your life right now where you want to start getting better results? Can you find one person who has already gotten those results and spend a few minutes asking that person how s/he did it? Or maybe find a book written by an author who had achieved those results? Then just by taking the same actions (almost blindly and brainlessly), you stand a good chance of getting those results for yourself.

Modeling — it’s not just for models.