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Why I Hate Self-Help

When somebody asks what I write about on my blog, I quickly reply with one of the three pretty much identical topics: health, fitness, or wellness.

When in reality it’s more of a self-development/life-performance type of site. So why do I respond like I do?

Because I’m embarrassed.

On one hand, I think self-improvement and self-help are some of the most important topics to learn about – why wouldn’t you want to get better with money, become a better partner, become more confident, or a better speaker – but on the other hand I feel like the self-help world has this stigma of being “scammy” or a little too “woo-woo” so I get embarrassed being associated with it.

Books that preach that you can change your life with this “6 Step Model” or imply that living the life of your dreams is easy drive me crazy. Changing your live, and improving yourself is hard work. It’s incredibly rewarding, but let’s not front and say you’re only 6 Steps and $47 + tax away from getting there.

Two Problems With Self Help

1. You learn that you have all these issues that you didn’t even know about

I remember when I first started reading this stuff, and I’d finish a book, realize there were all these things I wasn’t doing, and naturally go buy their Rock Your Life Starter Kit™️ for $27.95 so I can “fix” all of my issues. “I need to meditate! And do these weird affirmations to tell myself how awesome I am, even though I actually thought I was awesome until I read this book. Oh, and wake up so I can have a Miracle Morning, and floss, stop eating popcorn and hotdogs, and visualize, and do push-ups every morning, and on, and on, and on… 

Read: 5 Problems With The Self Help industry by Mark Manson

2. There are no 6-steps, lottery tickets, or Starter Kits

Here’s the thing, stepping out of our comfort zone sucks. That’s why we dig things like lottery tickets, “6 easy Steps,” and Adderrall. Scratching a ticket, performing six, easy-to-follow, orderly steps, or popping a pill are easy. Unfortunately, that’s not how change works. Over the past 5 years my life has changed a lot, and for the positive.

My income has tripled, my relationships have improved tremendously, I’m in the best shape of my life, and I have a set of skills that can help me make money from home. Here are 10 SIMPLE STEPS TO YOUR HAPPIENESS, HEALTH, & MILLIONS!!!

Read 200 books.. some of them twice. Give free workouts, have many 4am mornings, give a terrible presentation that only 6 people show up for (two of them being your family members), get caught with huge armpit sweat stains (multiple times), move away from all of your friends, experience intense loneliness, go though a breakup, spend 2 hours on one blog post that only your Grandma and Aunt Terri read, and eat weeks-old chili and deal with the digestive consequences.

Okay, yes, those are some of my darker times, and because of those I’ve also gotten the opportunity to work from home, travel to Australia, San Francisco, NYC, Europe, and more, made some incredible friends, date an incredible woman, and live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

But the point is that it’s not a straight line. Life is crazy, unexpected, and full of heart break and fun. So rather than just bash the self-help industry – I’m kind of a part of it after all – I wanted to add some value. Below are 5 principles of improving yourself. They are not tactics, but guidelines. 

5 Principles of Self-Development:

I. Time:

“Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait.” – Thomas Edison

Life, in that of itself, is the best self-help tool there is. With experiences had, knowledge gained, risks paid off, failures accumulated, and hands dealt, you will become a different person. Simply by turning off Netflix and being out in the world you will be molded and shaped.

You can accelerate this growth process by reading good books, meeting interesting people, trying new things, and over time you will develop and grow, and you’ll look back and laugh at your armpit sweat stains and terrible presentation you gave. 

But it takes time.. like Edison said, hustle, and then give things time to develop.

II. Perspective:

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, or a heaven.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Exercises like practicing gratitude and positive journaling are real self-help tools that change the make up of our brains. The more you practice gratitude, the more you’ll see to be grateful for. This is what people mean when they say “Happiness is a choice.” To a certain extent, they are right.

This is what Harvard Psychologist Shawn Achor calls The Tetris Effect. The more we scan for good things, the more good things we notice, and the happier we become.

We don’t always get to choose our circumstances, but we get to choose how we respond. 

III. Acceptance:

“If my aim is to prove that I am enough, the project goes on – because the battle was debatable.” – Nathaniel Brandon

Having emotions like sadness, fear, anxiety, and envy do not mean that you are fucked up. They mean you are human. Welcome to the club. It’s when we try to fight these emotions that problems arise. We think something is wrong with us, but really these are very normal, human responses. 

Life is hard sometimes, but those times will pass, even though it feels like there is no end in sight. Every afternoon around 2pm, my energy drains, my motivation dwindles, self-doubt creeps in, and creativity is non-existent. And every single day, even though I know it’s coming right around 2pm, I still get down on myself, and feel like I’ll be miserable forever.. until that shit passes.. again. 

Accepting these acute emotions as natural brings clarity that life isn’t bad, it’s just life.Thanks for coming. 

IV. Awareness:

“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.” – Bruce Lee

Coffee after 12pm no longer gives me energy and alertness, it gives me anxiety. I can do moderation and have one beer or one glass of wine, but when it comes to popcorn, moderation is a myth so it’s best to just not have it at the house. I need to keep a wider stance when I squat. If I set my coffee timer, I can wake up early, when I don’t, I don’t. I suck at tech stuff, it’s best to hire somebody to build my website. I work better at Starbucks than at my house.

These sound silly, but they’re important. We read a book, follow the advice, the advice sucks for us, we continue to follow it because that’s what the “expert” says to do.

Knowing that in a weird way, our kindergarten teacher was right, we are our very own special snowflake, is great self-help advice. Just because it works for you, doesn’t mean it will work for others, and vice versa. 

Are you a morning person or night person? Does moderation help you with somethings, but absolutism help you stay away from others? How do you learn best? What nutrition works best for you? Become aware of what works for you, where you thrive, and discard the rest. 

V. Action:

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare, is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard

If we know a guy who is crushing Taco Bell daily, is being a jerk to his family members, picking his nose at social outings, and carries spaghetti in his pocket at parties, we’re going to have certain judgments about him.

Research by a psychologist named Daryl Bem shows that we do the same things to ourselves. Based off the things we do, we judge ourselves. Watch 8 hours of Netflix and crush a pizza (like I may or may not have done this weekend), and no wonder you feel down on yourself and lazy.

Make a move on that attractive person at the bar, and perceive yourself as Casanova, you old sailor you.

“Through this mechanism, which Bem calls Self-Perception Theory, behaviors can change attitudes over time.”

When we act, we slowly change how we see ourselves. Every moment counts. When you use self-control and read a book rather than watch TV, you move the needle. When you choose veggies over popcorn, you move the needle. When you get out of bed without hitting the snooze button, you move the needle. Then, “all of sudden” it’s 2021 and you are full of self-confidence and a positive self-image. It’s a beautiful thing.

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Now, let me hear from you. What are your thoughts on self-help? What has worked for you in the past? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sources:

Ben-Shahar, Tal. Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.

Manson, Mark. “5 Problems with the Self-Help Industry.” MarkManson.net. N.p., 12 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://markmanson.net/self-help>.

Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print.

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