One of the many wonders of the digital age is that it’s never been easier to locate advice on how to live a happier, more productive life. A seemingly never ending library of self-help literature is now just a Google search away.
The only problem with the wealth of information available online is that not all of it is true. Just about anyone can call themselves a life coach. And literally anyone can call themselves a self-help blogger.
The result is a lot of self-help advice that isn’t necessarily all that helpful.
You Can Buy All the Answers
A related myth surrounds the idea that there’s a person out there with all the answers and all you have to do is find him. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to solving your problems or unlocking your true potential. There is no magical product, it simply does not exist. Self-improvement comes from within. You can pay people to tell you the best course of action, but you’re still the person that’s going to have to actually do it.
The term “self-help junkie” was coined to describe someone who attends seminars and buys many books, DVDs, and CDs on the subject. Junkies fuel the $8 billion dollar industry in America alone.
Thoughts are powerful, yet they are not everything contrary to what is preached by advocates of the law of attraction. To think your universe can form from thoughts alone is absurd.
I’ll prove how intellectualizing and thinking stops emotional wealth. Dr Steven Hayes, founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), who I had the pleasure to work with for Big Talkers , has a nice technique. Give the label of “good” or “bad” to the follow emotions:
Done? I’m guessing you labeled happiness and joy as “good” and anger, guilt, sadness, and shame as “bad”. Let’s analyze these labels. What if your mother died. Is sadness bad? What if you punched your child. Is guilt bad? When you put this into perspective, the thoughts you attach to “negative emotions” shift.
Your entire life is not a product of your thinking. With excessive positive thinking you risk building a life that excludes reality. You may go to exorbitant lengths to avoid a problem by looking for the easy way out. Positiveness becomes escapism.
Your comfort zone can stagnate along with the quality of your life through avoidance. Carl Jung says your dark-side (what you want to avoid) – not the light-side you probably love to focus on – contains the gold you seek. I look back on my life and see the areas where I took a step of courage to breach my comfort zone, transformed me. Look at your life and you will see the moments you acted in the face of fear created the greatest results.
Along similar lines as the exaggerated power of thoughts is the undue emphasis on self-discipline. Discipline is made to be the secret of change. We all know self-control and courage is important to help you confront what you prefer to avoid because it pushes you outside your comfort zone. The self-discipline myth depends on the definition of discipline.
Scott Peck in *[The Road Less Traveled] says, “With total discipline we can solve all problems.” The more I think about the statement, the more I see its truth. Again, though, it depends on what is meant by “discipline”.
When self-discipline is understood as willpower, self-discipline is overrated – even dangerous. I’ve heard many people express discouragement over their lack of discipline when it’s understood as willpower. They think something is wrong with themselves because they cannot change a habit like wake up early or quit smoking. Eventually they believe change is impossible because they have insufficient “discipline”. We’re made to feel as low-value humans for our innate habitual patterns.
Humans are autonomous creatures, not creatures of willpower. Studies prove 90% or more of your behavior is habitual. We think we are in conscious control of our lives, but we have behavioral and thought patterns repeating day-after-day. Your patterns simply vary in order.
This is not to say habits are permanent, yet they require focused effort and systems to assist change. How you use your limited willpower determines if you alter unwanted autonomy, remove a bad habit, and create the life you want.
It is sad most people waste their limited willpower on resisting people, thoughts, and feelings. Accepting a problem puts you in the game to fix or at least live with the problem. Acceptance means you humbly acknowledge your limited willpower, the degree you influence the problem, and the time it takes to stop what you don’t want and get what you do want.
Thoughts are not everything, emotions are overlooked, positive thinking is taken too far, and self-discipline is overrated. There is a sinister amount of focus on intellectualizing. This is what drives the self-help junkie. Any self-help junkie will tell you he struggles to use what he knows.
This post is not intended to degrade anyone or self-help. Authors and bloggers do their best to help, yet intention is not all that is needed to affect change.
When someone with an inordinate amount of anxiety comes to self-help material, two things usually happen, and neither of them fix the problem.
They simply replace one neuroticism with another, slightly healthier neuroticism — think someone who goes from being an alcoholic and unable to hold a job, to meditating and doing yoga five hours a day and still unable to hold a job.
Or they use the self-help material as another form of avoidance. Dating advice is a classic example here — I don’t know how to ask out the person I like on a date, so I’ll read four books about it and feel like I did something. Suddenly reading the books feels far more important than actually asking the person out.
The fact is that the majority of self-help information out there is either a placebo at best or complete bunk at worst.