Unlike the not so distant past, lately it seems like everyone is reading some kind of self-help manual. From devotees of A New Earth, believers in The Secret, to the inspired fans of Eat, Pray, Love, the past decade has made us all (okay, many of us), into spiritual seekers. Whether it’s religious or personal or some combination of the two, we’re all searching for something and willing to listen to most any advice that promises to get us there. Where, exactly, that is most of us aren’t sure. The point is, we want to be happy. And while consulting these books can help to guide us toward a more balanced, contented, fulfilling existence, self-help can hurt sometimes, too. Here’s how (and how to avoid the pitfalls):
Approaching the unapproachable
While self-help books have become more easily intelligible of late, many are still so esoteric they’re hard to crack. Thereby, instead of learning the lessons they contain, we’re forced to pontificate on what their authors are trying to say and (if we can somehow manage to make sense of their suggestions) how to apply it to our lives. This sort of philosophizing can defeat the purpose for people trying, simply, to make their lives better in some small way. Translation? Sometimes we don’t need more theories to think about, we just need better strategies for approaching the lives that we’ve got. Unless you’re looking to get a college-class experience out of your self-improvement reading (which is okay, too, as long as you know that’s what you’re getting into), stick to practical advice or inspirational, experiential stories. After all, the last thing you want is to find yourself confused or frustrated by the book you turned to in order to find some peace!
Quite the opposite of the aforementioned philosophical pontifications are those self-improvement guides that promise to bring you happiness/peace/fill in the blank if you do exactly as they say. While simplistic manuals to life can seem appealing – especially for those of us in search of a quick fix – if this whole existence thing were that simple, wouldn’t more of us have it figured out by now? There is no singular code that works for everyone and any book, author, speaker, person who tells you otherwise is simply wrong. What works for them may work for you – strictly followed, with some adaptations or not at all. Black and white adherence to rules or dogma can be a way of life that some find fulfilling, but the only guarantee a book like this can offer is that it will not work for everyone.
All selves are not the same
On that note, one of the biggest mistakes people who have benefited from a book, program, workshop or enriching experience can make is to assume that what has worked for them will work for you. And while mentioning something that’s been helpful is a nice gesture (which can make a difference), shoving it down your friends’ throats promises to get tiresome — whether you think they need the advice or not.
Searching vs. being
Finally, for those of us who are always searching, it’s vital to remember one very simple thing: while life includes searching, you have to take a break from envisioning your future and learning from your past every once in a while if you want to actually experience your present. Searching is a part of being, but it is not being in the moment, which almost any self-help master from almost any school of thought will tell you is one of the key tenets to a more fulfilling existence.
Ultimately, almost anyone who has lived has advice for how to do it – and odds are, there’s something valuable to be found in it. The trick is to avoid blanket solutions in favor of creating an individualized program that works for you.