In the US alone the self-help industry is worth around $12 billion. A Scientific American article observed that more than 95% of self-help programs have never been subjected to scientific scrutiny. Would you take a drug that hasn’t been through all phases of testing and approval? That is what 95% of the designers of self-help programs and the authors of self-help books are recommending you do.
Divorce is a time of emotional and physical stress. It’s a time of vulnerability when someone might have fantasies of running off to a retreat in the Amazon or to a steam lodge in Arizona to find enlightenment. And while most people accept that this sort of escape isn’t going to happen, they know they browse the self-help aisle of any bookstore and find many “self-help” books that suggest they do just that…escape the stress and negative emotions.
And, nothing floods self-help aisle in bookstores like divorce!
I’m not slamming the entire self-help industry. Some self-help books might be helpful, but how can we sort out the good ones from the ones that are at best a waste of time and even worse, harmful?
8 Suggestions That Will Help Those Seeking “Self-Help”
1. Read the classic self-help books first, the ones written before narcissism started erupting on the pages of modern self-help manuals: books like Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, first released in 1937. It not only truly original, but it was written in an era where there was a commitment to being a part of a community and less emphasis on self.
2. Google is your friend. Before you buy, spy. Search the author’s name and find out what you can. For me personally, if they’ve served jail time for investment fraud, I can guarantee they’ll never get a dollar of money from me for their investment advice packaged in a book. Ditto for yo-yo dieters who lose, gain, lose gain, and churn out books every time they can fit into that size 8 cocktail dress once again.
3. Following on from number 2, find out if the book is part of a marketing plan designed to draw you into spending more on follow-up things like seminars? These make me question the motives of the author.
4. If you’re looking for advice, first look to the people you know, the people you work with, or you know professionally: the people who’ve found their own personal success and contentment, in other words, people who’ve already done what a lot of self-help books are preaching.
Don’t be surprised if the word ‘luck’ comes up when you talk to successful people. Many self-help authors never mention the luck factor, but the truth is that most successful people will admit to being in the right place at the right time somewhere in their climb to the top. Or in things like marrying a compatible person and having a happy marriage.
5. Read at least a chapter before you buy. How many original ideas were there in that chapter? And how much psychobabble? You can do without the psychobabble! If you want some excellent examples of psychobabble and what to look for, have a look at Dr. Stephen Briers’ book Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation. Phrases like “finding yourself” and, “live the life you were meant to live,” or “we are masters of our own destiny” fall into that category. These are meaningless platitudes, not good advice.
6. Does the advice in the self-help book line up with your own values and beliefs? While it might be entertaining to read that you should be more adventurous and take up pole-dancing, if this makes you uncomfortable then you’re probably wasting your money on the book.
7. If you’re going through a time of emotional turmoil, such as a divorce, remember that no self-help book can give you a hug or take your call at midnight. Keep the people who love you and care about you close to you because you’ll never get any better self-help than that.
8. The best thing anyone can do during their journey to peace and contentment in life (which after all is the best kind of success) is to connect to something larger than themselves. I’m not recommending that you go out and sign up as a volunteer, but there are ways you can feel part of the larger world that don’t take such a big commitment. Things like smiling and saying hello to people you pass when you take your afternoon walk even if you get the grumpy face in return.
For me, I found it in a bag of bits and pieces of knitting wool I had accumulated over the years. I could have thrown it out, but instead, I found an organization that was looking for volunteer knitters of jackets, hats and blankets for babies and children. They distribute these free of charge to families that have had to go into shelters, and who often leave an abusive relationship taking very little with them. Sending my handmade items off to be distributed makes me feel good. I can best describe it as a sort of warm, contented feeling.
And for me that’s a lot more satisfying than spending my time reading books that tell me how to be rich, happy and successful.
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