Self help doesn’t help, or why we should chuck out all those books

I just read SHAM recently by Steve Salerno, about how Self-Help and Actualisation Movement is a never ending source of  sales, as people just keep buying the books and going to workshops, but never actually self-helping themselves into being able to get on with their lives. Nobody just buys one book, reads it and changes. They keep spending more and more money on feeling something is wrong but never getting better and the gurus take advantage of this.

Steve then commented on people who have survived a terrible accident, perhaps loosing fingers and toes to frostbite, who can then make a fortune on the motivational speaker circuit, even if their accident was due to stupidity and they only survived because other people helped them at great personal risk. Unsurprisingly, the terrible accident that leads to a lucrative new career is then described as ‘the best thing that ever happened to me’.

On the other hand I have read that post-traumatic personal development is a real thing (sort of ruins the theme of my argument, but plenty of people just get on with their lives and don’t become a SHAM guru).

This then seemed to be the explanation of Aron Ralston’s comment in an interview in 2010 when 137 hours came out.

There he said that actually he didn’t learn anything through his adventure. He went in to that canyon thinking he was pretty good. He came out knowing he was  pretty good. He then argued that being dumped by his girlfriend led to more personal growth than chopping his own arm off.

It seemed this was  a rejection of the  self help movement lecture circuit. though checking just now, wikipedia says that he does now give motivational talks. At any rate I always loved that comment as it shows we can grow as a person in our own lives, without having to go to extremes to do so. This is also the theme of Gretchen Rubins’ The Happiness Project.

Continuing on from SHAM and the idea that people will constantly read new self help books but never put the work into practise. This idea is covered in Marie Kondo’s book on tidying. She argues that we should always throw away all materials from courses/seminars we take. There are always books where you could learn the stuff, but we go on a course to benefit from the passion of the teacher and from the learning environment. Personally I have certainly found that just having the time to think about a project can move it forward tremendously even if the class doesn’t provide any extra facilities compared to being at home. But if you do not put the content of a course into practise, the paperwork is meaningless. You might plan to reread the materials but you never do (I never have done, for n=2). Just chuck the paperwork out. You can always get a book from the library or go on another course if you want another crack at learning the stuff.

So I have chucked out my copy of ‘How to win friends and influence people’. I don’t need a copy of either book to appreciate the joke in the title of ‘How to loose friends and alienate people’.

Mill said it first

It’s a bit annoying when you read or learn something new, that you think is the best thing since sliced bread and will result in a great change as soon as everyone learns the new info (if only the world really worked like that) and then it turns out the idea has been around for ages and perhaps just having the idea is not enough. After reading The Spirit Level, I came across this quote:

It is only in the backward countries of the world that increased production is still an important object: in those most advanced, what is economically needed is a better distribution.

Mill, 1848, Principles of Political Economy.

Though to be fair, we hadn’t invented GDP back then. If Mill had known what a wonderful number that is, that counts only paid work, but not unpaid (mostly women’s) work, that counts pollution and the effort to clean it up as two pluses, then  he might have thought twice about this.