Thursday 15 December 2011

The Perfect Self-Help Mistake

[Photo by jessamyn]

The world is full of Self-help books, coaches, trainers, teachers, gurus - basically anyone self-taught to self-help him- or herself, is also able to help anyone else - it seems

Naturally these self-helpers all preach different ways to the same solution: heal yourself, make yourself better. Quotes that make sense or "go straight to the heart" are one manifestation of this that they all share, and in general the similarities can be summed up into two simple truths: 1) they promise you a better life, 2) if you do what they tell you

Where have we heard that before? Thousands of years of oppression by religion, politics, tradition and in one word, institutionalisation, come to mind, each of which has used these same rules. I've come to call it the False Promise, and it's based on a Lie you're not allowed to question

  • Do what the priest says and you'll be saved from Purgatory (suggesting that you'll safely make it into Heaven). Question him and he'll claim "You're questioning The Word Of GOD?!"
  • Vote for your regular party and they'll get you out of this recession / war / mess the other party created. Ask why and how and they'll frown "Are you being disloyal to the party?!"
  • Work hard to achieve your targets and you'll be rewarded at the end of year by your manager. Question why you're getting mostly sales targets while being a consultant and doing a consultant's work, and the answer will be "You're getting the same targets as everyone else of your standing. Are you saying you're not up to it?"

Funny, isn't it? All these promises which you just have to believe, and aren't allowed to question. Now compare that with this post by Justine Musk (for clarification purposes, I'm not trying to pick on Justine in particular, but this post originated from a conversation with her and Tim Kastelle, over that specific post - and it is a good example)

I give you seven awesome reasons to kill your inner nice girl. That's 7 promises if you do what she says you should do: kill your inner girl. You'll get to be:

  • kind
  • authentic
  • stand for something
  • to live off your ragged edge
  • love up your inner voice
  • to be the hero of your own freaking life
  • to have a voice

Awesome, right?! No. All well-meant, but this is only suggesting that none of this has been achieved (enough) so far. And the worst part? You have to recognise first you have an inner nice girl, and that she should be killed. Why? That's probably in a different post - not in this one.
Don't get me wrong. I like what Justine is saying to some extent, but mostly posts like these order you to swap one mental model for another. Hence why I said:

@timkastelle I'd really like to see @justinemusk drop the entire concept of mental models, in stead of merely battling the obvious ones

What do I mean by that? I mean that people have many mental models they live by, some stronger than others. Read the list below and you'll agree to at least 3 of them, and probably most if you add the word "more":

  • If only I were rich
  • If only I were loved
  • If only I had friends
  • If only I were valued
  • If only I were appreciated
  • If only I were not alone
  • If only I were in charge
  • If only I had power
  • If only I were famous
  • If only I were fashionable
  • If only I had x Twitter followers
  • If only I had x people reading my blog
  • If only I got x comments to my blog

If you listen to all this, you Promise yourself that it / you will get better when you do achieve your Goal. But who is the judge of that? You yourself - and that's wherein lies the catch.
You'll always have e.g. less Twitter followers than someone else, and when you do have the most Twitter followers, that's probably because everybody else moved back to MySpace.
At some point you will be appreciated, in charge, in power, in control, loved - but will you cherish those moments, value them, count them, or even see them? Will they add to the pile, and give you satisfaction? Enough satisfaction?
So will you be able to achieve any of these goals? Well no - and yes. Yes because the world never stands still and tomorrow we have more Twitter followers than today, no because it's never enough

It simply is never enough, because these are not solutions to your problem. The problem will persist regardless of these achievements. You'll go to Justine or someone else and say "Hey I killed my inner girl and I'm kind now, and have a voice, but I still don't feel whole". Maybe you'll be told to love up your inner voice more, to stand for something - all just more instructions, more orders, more need-do based on hear-say

The Problem will persist, because it is based on a Lie. The Lie is not even that you have an inner girl, or that you should kill her, or that she is even bad for you; the Lie is that you're not good enough in some way, and that your inner girl is one of its causes, or maybe even a main one.
You can change the Rules: kill your inner girl, become authentic, raise your inner voice, whatever - but you'll keep playing the Game.
The Game is that you're not whole, and that you'll become whole if only you obey the Rules

It is a silly game, but one that almost everyone plays for some reason, without knowing it. Look around you:

  • that influential friend who gets to be first in every new committe, is simply someone who feels utterly powerless
  • that overachiever there is simply someone who feels unappreciated, undervalued
  • that great neighbour who has all these friends over during every weekend, is simply someone who feels very alone
  • that girl friend who wants something in return for everything she gives, relatively insignificant though they are? She's feeling absolutely not loved by anyone

It's the game of believing the Lie in your head, and overcompensating your way towards the False Promise. Because everyone fails to achieve the objective (regardless of what it is, everyone fails in different ways, yet with the same outcome), they start doing their best more than ever, and giving all they've got.
Of course that still won't make them feel successful, so they'll start changing the Rules to the Game.
That is only natural of course: either you are failing, or the means to your goal. Well you did your best, didn't you? You tried, didn't you? Gave it all? Hell yes!
So it must be the means they acquired: whether they make money, friends or targets, they'll make more of them, different ones. That doesn't help, so they switch currency, take away other people's friends in stead of making new ones themselves, or fake having achieved a target (and on and on and on and on...)

Nothing ever works. Nothing. You can never find something you haven't lost, you can never prove yourself innocent of a crime you didn't commit, you can never get cured from a disease you don't have

All you do, when you play the Game, swapping one Rule for another, is continue to play the Game - you are not changing anything. Paying attention to something only makes it stronger, gives it more importance, and switching your approach, attack or game-plan will make sure that you can't see the forest for the trees

Stop changing the Rules. See the Game for what it is: an eternal, vicious circle, a broken record, an arena or labyrinth you once entered and can only leave when you realise it's all around you.

Easy. Take your demons that get handed to you each and every day. Say to yourself:


  • kind
  • authentic
  • stand for something
  • live off my ragged edge
  • love up my inner voice
  • the hero of my own freaking life
  • have a voice

Start at the first one, and go into detail, dig deeper:

  1. What does being kind even mean?
  2. What does it mean that you can't be kind?
  3. When did you try (to be kind) and fail, the last three times?
  4. When did you try and succeed, the last three times?
  5. When did you NOT try yet still succeeded, the last three times?
  6. Where does this thought come from?
  7. Whom does this thought come from?
  8. Should I stick to this thought?

You don't have to finish this all within a minute, few hours, or even day(s). It is important that you ask the questions, and the answers will come to you over time.
When you're done with kind, pick a next one. It will take a few weeks and months maybe, but feel free to wrap it all up in one weekend if you like - it's all up to you

At some point you'll recognise that your whole life has been built around this Game, and that you've been changing the Rules since pretty much Day one. And when you real-ise that, you will no longer be able to look with the same eyes at the world. You'll realise that you can't heal yourself, because you aren't broken. As is no one else

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