We are increasingly using self-help books to guide us through life and at Healthista, we’re as obsessed with all that as anyone. But according to life coach Sarah Alexander some nuggets of self-help advice don’t quite hit the mark…here’s why
Launched in the 1970s by such US giants as Tony Robbins and Louise Hay, and fed by a continuous stream of new releases ranging from The Secret to What the Bleep Do We Know!? the self-help movement has become a booming industry serviced by a plethora of teachers, authors, coaches, therapists and film-makers specialising in everything from NLP and healing to the Law of Attraction.
However, though the ideas within these schools of thought may be useful, the overall value of self-help remains worryingly unproven. As it spreads like wildfire through popular parlance and via YouTube channels, this movement is now starting to present a hugely over-simplified set of ideas and assumptions about life that risk causing more problems than they solve, including increased anxiety, decreased self-esteem and a deep dissatisfaction with life. I suspect that the self-help industry, with its estimated $11 billion turnover in the US alone, and its multitude of advice, help and solutions to all of life’s dissatisfactions, may possibly serve those who sell it more than those who buy it?
this movement is now starting to present a hugely over-simplified set of ideas and assumptions about life that risk causing more problems than they solve
So what exactly are the pitfalls of self-help for women like us? Here are some key concepts that it may be best to ignore.
1. Follow your dreams
Advice to ignore: The self-help industry tells us that in order to be happy in life, we must follow our dreams. To this effect, we should set goals clarifying what we want to achieve, and then visualise them, affirming all the time that these goals have already manifested, thereby attracting them into our lives. The theory is through a series of practical, logical, and experiential steps, anyone can realise a dream.
This idealistic form of goal-setting therefore tends to leave people short, and deprived of the fulfilment they hoped for in their pursuit of happiness
Sounds interesting. But among those who follow this advice, many risk their incomes, or struggle to generate business from a small venture aligned with their ‘calling’. For, unless they choose their dreams carefully, they may lack the inner resources, mindset or external support structures necessary to run their schemes effectively. This idealistic form of goal-setting therefore tends to leave people short, and deprived of the fulfilment they hoped for in their pursuit of happiness.
The belief that our greatest goals and intentions can work out through the sheer power of intention can also trigger intense feelings of shame at disappointing outcomes. Add such feelings into the mix of our stressful lives, and our sense of worth and confidence can quickly erode.
The alternative: If you want to follow your dreams and find greater happiness, the first step is to heed your own inner sense of direction. Time spent in meditation, reflection and contemplation will bring you this clarity.
If you want to follow your dreams, the first step is to heed your own inner sense of direction
From there, acknowledge that following this dream may not be about making grand gestures, such as giving up your day job and setting up a business (that may ultimately prove unviable). Instead your happiness and fulfilment may flow from smaller ventures, such as taking time off, doing some part-time work, exploring a passion or talent, volunteering, trying out a hobby, setting up a charity, or offering a service. Do remember: just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean it will pay the bills.
2. Make life happen and say yes to life
Advice to ignore: As we set about realising our intentions, we are told to take massive action, make life happen and become a ‘yes’ person: someone who always embraces whatever opportunity comes along. With determined action and a ‘yes’, positive results are guaranteed, for then the universe supports us and gives us what we want in return. The ‘make life happen’ approach is also seen as the road to inner satisfaction – the theory being that by working hard and accepting everything that comes our way, we squeeze the most juice out of life.
For if we really value our time, our energy, our relationships and our health, ‘no’ is a word we simply must embrace
So much for theory. In fact, the pressure to take continuous massive action and keep saying ‘yes’ is known to leave people depleted and overwhelmed. They may have given of themselves at a cost: a certain balance in their lives may be lost, or time for themselves and their families sacrificed – most importantly, their sense of self-worth may start to erode. For if we really value our time, our energy, our relationships and our health, ‘no’ is a word we simply must embrace.
The alternative: Call it common sense, intuition or inner guidance, we all have the power to discriminate between situations when we should indeed work really hard and other times when it is actually in our very best interests to refuse. It’s this capacity for discrimination, rather than an automatic ‘yes’, that brings rewards. And, if you are in doubt, do nothing, until you have a clear answer.
3. Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want
Advice to ignore: According to the laws of self-help, we must avoid thinking about our problems or focusing on them in any way. Since we create our difficulties through our own thought processes and subconscious beliefs, to place our attention on a problem is to energise it, thus increasing its disruptive power.
What are we advised to do instead? Keep our focus fixed on our intended destination, be it business success, new markets to open up or an increase in profits. And stay happy, as happiness has a healing effect on all our problems and so the more we can laugh at them, the better.
While there’s much to be said for taking responsibility for our problems on one hand, and seeing beyond them on the other, ignoring problems altogether rarely resolves anything – as with many business-related issues, for instance, which may call for immediate action. And all the happiness in the world is unlikely to heal a business heading towards bankruptcy. Moreover, the notion that we have created our own problems as a result of our thinking – while empowering and in most cases true – can make us feel guilty about the smallest setback if this subtle message is crudely delivered.
Ignoring problems altogether rarely resolves anything
The alternative: Blaming ourselves is of no value. Turning inwards, quieting our mind and consulting our inner wisdom is a better answer, as our intuitive guidance can offer us viable solutions and a win –win for all involved – if we are willing to listen.
4. Practice mindfulness
Advice to ignore: The current self-help buzzword in self-help is mindfulness. A practice which has its roots in Buddhist meditation, true mindfulness is an experience of deep stillness cultivated slowly over time by spending sustained periods in mental silence.
Mindfulness is a mental state that is “caught”, not “taught”
By contrast, current mindfulness practitioners teach us just to bring our awareness into the present moment, by noticing our breath, our thoughts or our feelings. The aim is to keep our focus solely on what we are currently doing and experiencing. To support this phenomenon, a host of Mindfulness Apps and Bells have now emerged, with the declared intention of bringing us all back to the present moment. While there is some value in disrupting a long train of unconscious thought, these methods do little to bring about any real mental silence unless the user is able to stop, quiet the mind and enter into a state that allows true mindfulness to arise.
In truth, there is no shortcut to mindfulness: it takes time, effort, awareness, perseverance. Ideally work with a teacher with a long-established meditative practice, for mindfulness is a mental state that is “caught”, not “taught”. In the absence of an experienced guide, there is limited value in trying to capture fleeting moments of mindfulness.
The alternative: Once again, if we are able to turn inwards and practise mental quiet, our intuitive wisdom, inspiration and creativity naturally arise to guide us. Properly developed, these inner powers offer us a practical, step-by-step route to the dreams that we must fulfil, the things that we should say ‘yes’ to, and the answers to our questions and problems. It’s by strengthening our ability to tune into our own inner wisdom that we stand the greatest chance of finding long-term happiness, developing emotional stability and creating a sense of personal fulfilment.
MORE: THREE SELF-HELP RULES YOU NEED TO BREAK NOW
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Alexander is a coach, mentor, author and speaker with 14 years’ coaching experience. Sarah has worked with international sports competitors, executives from multinationals and successful entrepreneurs. She is the founder of a coaching and training system called MAGNIFICENCE: Twelve Steps to High Performance and Low Stress for Business Professionals.
Sarah Alexander has had a daily meditation practice for over 18 years and brings that quietness of mind and inner connection to her coaching. She offers intuitive guidance in her coaching conversations which gives clarity, inspiration and peace of mind.
She is the author of Spiritual Intelligence in Business – The Eight Pillars of 21st Century Business Success, £7.99 and Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership: From Manager to Leader in Your Own Life, £10.99
For full details and to download Sarah’s ‘Eight Top Tips on How To Be Magnificent’ go to www.sarah-alexander.co.uk
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