Self Help Experts, Gurus and Their Books

In Self Help on July 29, 2008 at 12:02 am

It has been claimed that self help books outsell all other categories. (The only exception is the Bible.) Why is this? Are there really that many different types of problems that we need a comparable number of solutions? Its only my opinion, of course, but if these books were effective I doubt that we would buy so many of them. In my experience, they rarely work as advertised, and we assume that it’s our fault, so we feel some guilt while we escalate the search for the holy grail of self help, or for one of it’s high priests.

The concept of self help is pretty straight forward, but to write a book on the subject requires that we complicate the message to justify the need for the book – or the need for yet another book explaining the first book. The books themselves almost always try to convince us that the author has found the correct system. And if we would only follow the methods dictated by the system, we would attain the mystical experience required to change our lives. Only trouble is, I don’t like the silly exercises, do you?

And there is the key to this whole business, isn’t it? We don’t want to change: we want to be accepted as who we are. In some cases, we want the world to change, but it’s rare that we are willing to reciprocate, even when we continue to say otherwise. If we are honest about it, at least to ourselves, we never really learn the method proposed. And we keep talking about “the problem” until our friends find other friends, and our family discovers the virtues of having things to do somewhere else, other than at home.

Been there, done that. But along the way, I discovered three principles that changed how I felt about myself, and how I felt changed how I behaved, which changed how others saw me. I didn’t discover a system; I discovered some basic, practical approaches to dealing with my world. One thing led to another, and I went from high school dropout to running a 900-person information systems group, which convinced me that making minor adjustments can result in successes which lead to greater successes.

Let me summarize these approaches for you, and if there is any further interest, I will follow up later with more detail and perhaps some examples.

Principle #1:  Take Responsibility for your Actions and Outcomes

You can’t outsource this to a therapist, even if you decide to hire one. This does not mean that you should grade yourself, tell yourself you don’t deserve success, or in any other way focus on your mistakes. Focus on problem solving: and be sure to solve the problem, not the person. Success breeds success, not books. Books, which are a subtle form of criticism, breed more books (as we have seen above).

The bottom line is that most people don’t need therapists, gurus or books to tell them how to behave. They need operating principles – a short list of things to focus on, from someone who has been there, tried everything, and failed a few times before finding success.

Principle #2:  Let Your Feelings Be What They Are

Vestiges of the past, about as useful as an appendix. From an early age we have been instructed to control our feelings. The emphasis was incorrect. We don’t need to be at odds with how we feel, but we do need to refuse to act on feelings alone. Do not let your feelings run your life. They are not an indicator of your sensitivity, only of your preoccupation with self. You don’t need to analyze them, change them, or even control them. You only need to recognize that they are reminders, that they are only one input, and that in most cases they will lessen their hold on you if you stay the course.

Everybody has doubts. Most of us can’t ignore them, but we can postpone them. The next time you start running yourself down, tell yourself that you really are going to give yourself a good talking to for being so stupid, but that you are going to wait until you have more time, say in a couple of days. By the time two days rolls around, you will very likely have forgotten about the “promise.” More important, chances are good that the act of not running yourself down will make a permanent change in you, and in the way your friends see you.

Successful people focus on the process, not on the feelings of self doubt, and they recognize that it may take more than one try to be a success. Ever played a video game? Did you beat it the first time? Or did it take several tries?  Why should life be any different?

Principle #3:  You Are the Source of Your Pain

Am I saying that your pain isn’t real?  Not at all:  the pain is real because you make it real. You are the source or the cause of this pain. People around you almost never appreciate how they are affecting you. Therefore, you are the only one who knows how you feel. Recognize that how you feel is a choice, and that expectations create outcomes.

Once again, delay being critical of yourself, or critical of others, and you will find yourself becoming less negative regarding outcomes, and feeling less pain in your life. Let me sum up the summary for you:

The quicker you own your own mistakes and take action to fix them, and the slower you blame others for theirs, the greater the likelihood that you will feel right about yourself, and that success will follow.

NOTE: If at anytime you experience suicidal, homicidal, or otherwise destructive feelings towards yourself or others, then by all means see a medical doctor because your problem may require medical treatment. However, if you are like the vast majority of us, you can go a long way with some minor tweaking to old habits, attitudes, and behaviors.

2008-0729 Self Help Series # oo1 Copyright © 2008 by Tad L. Graham.

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. Words of wisdom. Thanks! One of my favorite authors of this genre is Martha Beck. I”ve read “Finding your Own North Star”, “The Joy Diet” and “Steering by Starlight”. All have helped me.

    I will take a look at these. Thanks, again.

  3. You need to read this through two or three times to be sure you absorb it. Articlulated very well. Figuring yourself out is much more productive, if harder, than figuring others out. Success, often, comes down to pacing yourself, and not wanting (or needing) it all at once! I am still in the process of succeeding..;-)

    Managing yourself rather than trying to change the world is certainly an important idea, but the message here is that we don’t have to be perfect to succeed. We just need the right attitude. Self Help books focus on chasing perfection, i.e., unattainable goals. All we really need to do is accept who we are and focus on the work. (But I am preaching to the choir … You sound like you have already mastered this part.)

  4. It’s said that life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. BUT, you usually get to choose between nuts or chews.

  5. Have to agree TG. Another couple of things that helps to succeed. 1. Work hard, go the extra mile, do the dirty jobs. As long as you want to move farther up the ladder, take the opportunities, they will seldom be offered again.

  6. This is a great start! You know, some might consider The Bible the “ultimate self help book”, so maybe they do outsell all other categories.

    I like the new design as well…

    I like your observation about the Bible. Never thought about it like that before.
    I’ll have to steal it from you in the updates … 🙂

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