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The genre of self-help gets a bad rap. Honestly, it gets a bad rap because there is a lot of bad self-help out there. There is also a lot of good self-help. (I like to think I fall into that category.) I went through a period where my quest to feel better and live happier sent me to the Self-Help section of every bookstore. My shelves are filled with the “10 ways to Bust Fear” and the “5 Ways to find Happiness,” Eventually I realized that these self-helps weren’t helping my anxiety, they were causing it. The constant pursuit to ‘feeling better’ was just out of my reach which became frustrating and exhausting. I see this with my clients who come to my office knowing some self-help principles and trying to implement them in their life; only to feel discouraged that it isn’t working. I call it self-help run amok.
For me, the phrase “self-help run amok” is defined as someone who means well, has good intentions but has grabbed on to one or more self-help concepts and twisted them to suggest they aren’t worthy enough as they are.
Here are some examples:
There is an End Point. We are sold the belief that once you master the 5 ways THEN you will find happiness. What they don’t tell you is that it will take a lifetime to master the 5 ways, IF you are diligent, intentional and committed. There is a sign that hangs in my office that says “Enjoy the Journey.” I refer to this reminder that there is no end point on a daily basis. This is a process, a journey. Our job is to enjoy it as well as we can with all of its crazy ups and downs.
It is Easy. Bottom line. This stuff is hard. We might be able to break it down to 5 steps but they are far from easy. Just because there are only a few principles doesn’t make it easy. A mathematician might be able to solve a math problem in 5 steps but each of those steps takes a lot of knowledge and explanation. Self-help is a daily practice – some days easier than others. It is a practice of resilience and intention. The belief that it is easy annoys me the most because it leaves us feeling anxious and asking “What is wrong with me?” when it doesn’t come easy. We see people on TV who are experts in the field. They tell us how amazing their lives are because they have practiced the 5 principles of success; but meanwhile we don’t see their crappy relationships, their ignored children or their depleted finances. I am NOT saying all self-help/psychology experts are charlatans; however, the ones saying “All the cool kids are doing it/ It is so easy.” that we should be leery of.
The people who I have learned the most from such as Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, Dan Harris or Tara Brach (to name a few) are transparent with their struggles. They are not selling the ease of the practice but the serenity that comes from it.
If I think happy I will be happy. Fill in the blank here. This concept is specifically The Secret gone amok. We have been told we need to pay attention to our thoughts. If we intend it then it will come. So, think positively and you will feel better. There are times we let ourselves get stuck in negative thoughts, negative patterns and we need to change those thoughts into more positive thinking. There are also times that we have real pain and we need to deal with that.
I need to accept people where they are. This one is frequently where people go amok. I fully believe that we need to accept people where they are. In fact, one of my life mottos is “They are doing the best they can with what they have.” That doesn’t mean I need to put up with abusive, negative or hurtful behavior. Accepting someone for who they are and what they are coping with and the pain they are in doesn’t mean I have to take that pain on or be hurt by their pain. Accepting someone for where they are also includes knowing your own boundaries.
Bottom line, the goal of self-help is to feel less angst, be in pain less frequently and learn how to interact in the world from a place of grounded authenticity. The goal is not to beat ourselves up, open ourselves up to unnecessary pain and feel like we are doing it wrong. Self-help is a wonderful space to start learning about ourselves.
Real growth begins when we can enter the world and interact with loving-kindness with ourselves and those around us. When we struggle with that task, we have curiosity around why and attempt to learn better for the future. So, give yourself a break. Wake up each morning and be the best you possible. Bring awareness to your pain, notice your mistakes and move forward making amends as necessary.
When we stop looking for the answer outside of ourselves and realize all the wisdom we need comes from getting quiet, paying attention and listening; then we can live happier.
Want to hear more? Listen to my podcast The Happiness Hacks where I share my stories, lessons and hacks I have learned and continue to learn on my Quest to Live Happier.