This post is a follow up to my Focus for the Month: Can Self-Help Help? 1st May 2017.
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” Carol Burnett
I have recently been interviewed for The Times of India, a reputable newspaper, about the mounting concern that surrounds the self-help industry. I was questioned about the rise of the ‘anti-self-help movement’ and why this might be occurring. This lead me to reflect on my experiences with the industry, both as a participant on self-help courses and as a coach and trainer for 16 years.I got involved in the self-help movement in the late 1980’s and have used it as a vehicle for my personal and spiritual evolution ever since. As a result of following its philosophies, I have certainly experienced considerable achievements,
hitherto undreamed of lifestyle changes and expansions in my view of myself as I have ventured beyond my comfort zones. I have adopted a regular meditation practice based on the principles of the spiritual text A Course in Miracles, consistently quieting my mind, connecting with my True Self and listening to its wisdom. I have gained in self-awareness and am more mindful of my limiting patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour. And I have experienced the, often painful, gradual healing of my inner wounds that has led to a shift in my character: being less driven, less self-focused and more compassionate, loving and forgiving. Lastly it has given me a clear sense of purpose: inspiring others to their greatness and connecting them to their True Selves.
However, it has not been without its challenges: I was originally trained in the importance of setting clear goals, awakening the giant within and the seemingly magical law of attraction. Like many though, when this magic failed to generate my longed-for visions, feelings of disappointment, disillusionment and failure have arisen, at times leading to anxiety and depression. And, an envy for those who seemed to be able to manifest so effortlessly – according to their Facebook pages at least! These emotions have been exacerbated too by my meditation practices which always have a cleansing, releasing effect on the darker emotions in our psyches.
I am incredibly careful, too, about who I seek out for my own personal support and further training. There are now a huge number of people involved in the self-help industry, from therapists to healers, coaches to counsellors and a wide range of meditation facilitators, channels and psychics. Some of these people have little experience and, importantly, have not done the lengthy, often harrowing, inner work on themselves to perform such a significant role. They may have a powerful sales message which can misleadingly ‘feel’ so right when you are considering using their services – but perhaps it requires some discernment! You only have to watch the CNN film ‘Enlighten Us’ about the death of three people on a self-help course to see the dangers of certain motivational approaches.
So, given the above, how can we gain the best from the self-help industry and the value it has to offer?
Here are my thoughts:
- Recognise that achieving goals will not bring you long term happiness. Science proves unequivocally that when we are focused purely on extrinsic goals, such as attaining wealth, looking 21 again or achieving VIP status, we will be less happy and fulfilled. Such pursuits, in fact, lead to psychological instability. Yes, we will get the short-term high of achievement. But that high never lasts as a process known as ‘hedonic adaptation’ sets in and we grow accustomed to our new-found acquisitions.
In contrast, keeping our attention on intrinsic goals that focus on who we are being as a person: at work, in our relationships and in our giving to the world will bring us the feelings of optimism and uplift we desire. But with a caveat: Being happier, more joyous, more lighthearted and more fulfilled requires practice.
- Accept that achieving success will not make you feel worthwhile. Very often, goals are set, and strived for, because of an underlying sense of lack, unworthiness and gnawing insecurity. We believe, wrongly, that when we have the trophies of success: the thriving business, the prestigious job and a healthy bank balance, we will feel worthier. Our sense of inner value will increase with our growing outer value. And, the money, the toys, the house and the new car will bring us the inner security we crave.
In truth, our worthiness and sense of self-assurance are already within us. They are who, and what, we are. Our True Self, that is free from our mental conditioning, is secure. We don’t need to find it in the world. Instead, we need to live a purposeful, ethical life, with a full recognition of our inherent worth and security. Our inner value then becomes cause rather than effect. And we think about ourselves aligned with our inner magnificence.
- Acknowledge the wisdom within you. There is a huge amount of information out there. Some of it valuable. Some based on empirical scientific research. Some of it extremely misleading and ultimately useless. Whilst continuous learning is a component of a good life, so is listening to the intelligence and prudence inside you that is waiting to be a guiding force for your everyday experiences.
We receive this inner knowledge when we take time out for quietude and reflection: when we are walking in nature, on the treadmill, at a yoga class, painting, gardening or listening to music. If we are constantly on the go, taking ‘massive action’, we miss these subtle messages that tell us to change direction, end a relationship, move to a different area and rest. If we allow ourselves the time and space, it can also advise us on which self-help approaches might be valuable for us, away from the marketing and hype.
- Accept that ‘helping the self’ takes a lifetime of focused commitment. We want a quick fix. We want to be free from pain, a difficult situation, a life challenge. And we want it now. The reality is that change, personal growth and spiritual development take a lifetime of dedication. They require training the mind, letting go of the reactions of the ego and aligning with our ‘Higher nature’ unfailingly.
There are people from different religious and spiritual traditions that have gone a long way to attaining such an enlightened place. Most, but certainly not all, of these devotees have been able to renounce life and live in a place of solitude making it easier to sustain such a pledge. Most of us are not able to do that. What we can do is persistently, one step at a time, move towards that liberated place. We do it amidst our 21st century lives of busyness, information overload, personal and professional pressures and the darkness we witness in the world around us. And we accept that the journey is long-term. The peaks are hard won and difficult to sustain. And, no guru can do it for us.
To conclude, I believe there are huge benefits to self-help. However, they lie in your ability to fully accept that achieving and acquiring won’t make you happy long term; all the positive thinking in the world will not stop bad things from happening: it may only stop you planning for them. And the only person who can heal your life is you. Having a coach or counsellor with a wealth of experience can be immensely valuable. But all the very best self-help mentors, training courses, books and videos available will only be beneficial if you are willing to make a 100% commitment to helping yourself.
The question to consider is: Are you?