Archive for the ‘Self Help’ Category

Self Help Experts, Gurus and Their Books (Revisited)

In Self Help on August 24, 2008 at 1:43 pm

This blog addresses some of the unanswered questions raised by the original (see “Self Help Experts, Gurus and Their Books”). It in no way replaces the original. Rather it augments and further clarifies some of the concepts presented in the original. By design, my approach is make no attempt to formalize the method. It discusses three principles that worked for me, but it avoids the appearance of describing a system because you must be the one to decide whether or not these general principles work for you.

Additionally, the approach is pragmatic. By this we mean that we have tried to focus on what works, without dredging up

The Three Principles Form a Repeating Cycle

[1] All of us make mistakes, but some of us have such low self-esteem that we get defensive and go into denial. When that happens, we lose our connectivity to others. This is true whether “others” are your boss, your co-workers, your spouse or your children.

[2] Being alone and ignored, our self-esteem gets worse, which brings on harsh judgmental, internalized feelings that we try to suppress. But we can’t suppress them because deep within our brains we accept that there is something wrong with us.

[3] This gradually leads us to the source of our feelings, which is usually ourselves, although sometimes we provoke a negative response from others (family, friends or co-workers) and misdirect the blame.  Either way, we are the root cause of our pain. To end the pain, we need to do two things: accept ourselves and accept our mistakes. Only then can we get on with resolving the problem.

The CYCLE in which we Find Ourselves

  • Begins with denial – We tell everyone who will listen, “It’s not my fault!”
  • Next we feel badly about ourselves because we have conflicting – denial slowly shifts to anger at self, often with feelings of being stupid or worthless
  • And finally we begin to sense that we can get back to “normal” – which we do by reinterpreting history, putting the event in the best possible light. This brings us back to Step One, where we wait for an opportunity to repeat the cycle
The Only Way to Stop is to Break the Cycle

[1] Accept responsibility while staying out of the blame game – most people will respect you for wanting to be part of the solution. Do not get defensive. The moment you do, you lose. If you are sincere and focus on the solution to the problem, you are less likely to be ignored and more likely to be given the chance to help fix the mistake.  Keep in mind that we learn from mistakes. No mistake means nothing learned. Nothing learned means you are doomed to repeat the mistake.

[2] Accept that your feelings are valid, but do not let them tell you what your next move is. If you deny your feelings, or if you do the opposite and let them do the driving, either way you lose – feelings associated with low self-esteem rarely change through analysis , but often change through trial and error. when we achieve a series of small successes. In the work-place, a small success might be praise for your role in a task. At home, a family member begins to spend more time with you because you have stopped yelling when they make a mistake.

[3] Stop evaluating yourself and others, and focus on the issues, problems, or task at hand – it’s the only way to get the little successes started in your life.

Here are Some Tools You Can Use to Improve Your Odds of Success

  • Postponement – Instead of letting your mind seize control and run you through the ringer, make an “appointment with yourself” to have this “conversation” in a day or two. Chances are good that you will forget to do it later; otherwise, postpone it again. If you do this, you will eventually gain control.
  • Forgiveness – Never blame anyone for your problems, not even yourself. Attack the problem, not the people. However, acknowledge your part in the mistake by letting others know that you want to help, and that you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. (Blaming is not Acceptance and vice versa.)
  • Focus on the Issues, the problem or the event – If you focus on people’s shortcomings instead, the result will almost always be that you fail to break the cycle.

Do not do any of this to prove anything to anyone. Be yourself. But recognize that humans need other humans in their lives to be happy. Some of us get this companionship through service to others, some get it through focusing on the family, some get it through work, to name a few. It’s up to you, but it should not be ignored because we all need to have someone we can go to, someone we can rely on to provide stability.

Finally, in my experience just because a person is having self-esteem issues, doesn’t mean that they need to let someone else step in and run their lives. It’s just exactly the opposite. Unless you are part of the cure, your self-esteem is not likely to show much improvement. If it isn’t your success, how can it be your improvement? Worse, if you rigidly adhere to other people’s advice, every time you make a mistake you will see it as failure, but if you are actively engaged in the changes you want to make, you are more likely to see mistakes as the price of admission.

Now here’s the beauty behind the beast:  there is no right answer. We aren’t all going in the same direction, with the same motivation. What you want out of life isn’t necessarily what I want, and vice versa. And ideally, we need to recognize some of the “happy mistakes” we make. I doubt that they are fully random. I like to think that once we begin to nudge the brain in the direction we have chosen for ourselves, that it keeps working the problem and sometimes even demonstrates that it’s getting the message.

NOTE:  As before, 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.

2008-0824 Self Help Series # 002 Copyright © 2008,2012 by Tad Laury Graham.

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.