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The genre of self help gets a bad rap. It gets a bad rap because there is a lot of bad self help out there. There is also a lot of good self help out there (I like to think I fall into that category). But I know I went through a period where my quest to feel better and live happier sent me to the Self Help Section of the every book store. My shelves are filled with the “10 ways to Bust Fear” and the “5 Ways to find Happiness”. Eventually I realized that this self help wasn’t helping my anxiety it was causing it. Today, I see it with my clients who come to the Live Happier Loft knowing some self help principles and trying to implement them into their life only to feel discouraged that it isn’t working.
I think self help causes anxiety because it makes us believe:
There is an End Point. We are sold the belief, once you master the 5 ways THEN you will find happiness. What they don’t tell you is that it will take a lifetime to master the 5 ways…IF you are diligent, intentional and committed. There is a sign that hangs at the Live Happier Loft that says “Enjoy the Journey” it is a reminder that I refer to on a daily basis that there is no end point…this is a process, a journey and our job is to enjoy it as well as we can with all of its crazy ups and downs
There is a RIGHT Way. There is no right way to do your own life. The more you look outside of yourself for the answer the answer the further you will be from finding it. When we live our lives based on what other people are thinking we can lose sight of what we are thinking. Yes, we can listen to other perspectives and get insight. But too often when we are seeking answers we lose the skill of discernment. We forget to ask ourselves: Does this perspective fit my life and if so how can I best implement it? Instead, we attempt to swallow the advice whole and then get anxious and blame ourselves when we can’t do it ‘right’.
It is Easy. Bottom line. This stuff is hard. We might be able to break it down to 5 steps but those 5 steps are far from easy. Just because there are few principles doesn’t make it easy. A mathematician might be able to solve a math problem in 5 steps but each of those steps take a lot of knowledge and explanation. Self Help is a daily practice, some days easier than others. But it is a practice of resilience and intention. The belief that it is easy is the one that annoys me the most. Because it leaves us feeling anxious and asking ‘what is wrong with me?’ when it doesn’t come easy. We see on TV experts in the field who tell us how amazing their lives are because they have practiced the 5 principles of success, but meanwhile we don’t see their crappy relationships, their ignored children or their depleted finances. I am NOT saying all Self Help/Psychology experts are charlatans I am saying it is the one’s saying ‘all the cool kids are doing it, it is so easy’ that we should be leery of.
The people who I have learned the most from such as Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, Dan Harris or Tara Brach (to name a few) are transparent with their struggles. They are not selling the ease of the practice but the serenity that comes from it.
When we stop looking for the answer outside of ourselves and realize all the wisdom we need comes from getting quiet, paying attention and listening…then we can live happier.