Be Skeptical of Self-Help Articles (Like This One)

skeptical manI remember a lesson from the very first self-help book I ever read.

It said that when someone says or does something hurtful, it’s like they’re handing you a knife and asking you to stab yourself with it.

The idea was that you could choose to just drop the knife and walk away unharmed.

In other words, you could choose not to be hurt.

Putting Self-Help Advice Into Practice

This concept made such an impression on me that I still remember it more than 30 years later.

All I had to do was to figure out how to drop that knife – not stab myself with other people’s ill intentions.

What freedom!

It seemed ingenious to me. I resolved to put it into action.

And that’s where I ran into a problem.

I understood what I was supposed to do: Not take the knife when someone offered me one through their words or behavior.

But for some reason, even though I knew what to do, I couldn’t quite do it.

I continued to be hurt by the same kinds of things that had hurt me before I’d read the book.

It never occurred to me that the book might be wrong. It seemed so obviously right.

I figured it was me. I just couldn’t let the knife drop.

I was letting it pierce me.

But why?

Question Everything You Read

I was reasonably intelligent, motivated and I understood exactly what I was supposed to do.

So why didn’t it work for me?

I think the book was wrong.

It was wrong to ask me to try to control my feelings by controlling my thoughts.

“This is just a knife, and I’m not going to stab myself with it” is a thought.

Rejection, on the other hand, is a feeling.

You can’t control one with the other.

Everyone thinks you should be able to, because hundreds of books and articles have said so. We tell each other, and ourselves, “Just don’t let it get to you.”

We are true believers.

But books, and the people who write them (including myself), can be wrong.

Not only can you not control your feelings with your thoughts – prove me wrong if you can – but why even try?

All you need to control to get along in society is your behavior.

And that’s easy … as long as you don’t explode from all those feelings you “should” have been controlling all these years.

When you read a self-help book and it doesn’t work for you, it’s because either

  1. you didn’t take the advice
  2. you took the advice but didn’t do it correctly, or
  3. the advice is wrong.

Millions of people who read self-help and don’t get results assume that #2 is the best explanation. They know it wasn’t #1 because they took the advice.

They don’t even consider #3.

It’s time to seriously question any self-help advice you get – from me included.

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 comments on “Be Skeptical of Self-Help Articles (Like This One)

  1. Dyan says:

    Anything is possible. I guess?! What works for one, doesn’t always work for someone else! I like self-help books, because, I thrive on self improvement! I think self-improvement makes for a healthier, happier world to live in. I’m for it!

    • In theory, if something is true then it’s always true. But not everyone has the same work to do, so you’re absolutely right when you say “what works for one doesn’t always work for someone else.” Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, Dyan.

  2. timethief says:

    Well said, Tina. I’ve been reading personal development and self improvement articles, books since my college years and blogs for nigh unto a decade. I think that my skepticism has shielded me from many small cuts. Dumbing down an analytical thinker like me isn’t easily done so though I’ve read all the LOA stuff I’m still functional. I’m in agreement with you and with Don Miguel Ruiz whose Fifth Agreement is: Be skeptical but learn to listen.

    • I like the balance implicit in that advice, to “be skeptical but learn to listen.” Thanks for sharing that, Timethief.

      … When you say LOA, do you mean “Law of Attraction”?

      • timethief says:

        Yes I mean LOA. The Secret and its followers are a cult-like phenomena. They focus on using positive thinking to focus energy on securing material health, wealth and financial success from the Universe that smacks of religion that puts me right off. The truth is there is no secret and it’s not quantum physics, it’s neuroplasticity. Those who counsel others to use The Law of Attraction to escape something undesirable or to acquire something like wealth, status, fame, health or love fail to recognize such a belief system that counsels egocentric broadcasting into the Universe is doomed to failure because it amounts to objecting to reality.

  3. Nicole says:

    More, Tina, write more about this!! Maybe a book! :) I just find your perspective and thoughts on the topics of self-help, self-actualization, self-criticism, etc., to be so different, enlightening, really eye-opening, at least for me. They change the way way I “think” about things.

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