The Abstraction of Self-Help Guides

Originally published in: The Ascent

Photo by  David Lezcano

Photo by David Lezcano

On getting stuck in hypotheticals, and feeling content with stagnation.

As a fierce advocate and practitioner of self betterment, I’ve exposed myself to a lot of content focused on just that subject.

And, though a relative term, I mean A LOT.

I’ve listened to hundreds, if not thousands, of podcasts and audiobooks. I’ve attended webinars, seminars, and a handful of retreats. I’ve read no shortage of content online, in books, in magazines and in publications.

A lot of the information that circulates these mediums, the inter-webs and beyond is, at its core, very similar. But while these teachings themselves may be somewhat repetitive, I believe such a breadth of offerings to be necessary.

No one person learns in the same way or is inspired in the same way, nor is no one person motivated by the same things as others.

There will always exist the space and desire to continue combing these platforms and resources to find what resonates with us: that unique combination of words, sensory imprints, and X factors that strike a chord within us to actually do something.

To make a change.

“Wouldn’t That Be Nice!”

I’ve noticed, much to my own self-denying horror, that it’s very easy to get stuck in hypotheticals and the wonders of ‘what could be’ when we consume content centered upon self-betterment.

Reading these works can beget its own overwhelm…self-help gurus and cinderella-story-tellers whom have come from nothing and believe so strongly in their readers’ ability to do the same can have that effect.

The thing is, the “I could never” stories that we tell ourselves are often so deeply engrained within us that we approach these teachings with unconscious doubt that ultimately negates much of the value these works are providing (before we even finish them).

We’ll listen or read something and believe in the ideology and/or practice for a few days, but shortly thereafter find ourselves back to square one. The material is just a blip on our life’s radar and we settle back into the monotony and stuck-ness that likely made us seek out that material in the first place.

It’s easy to completely forget the glimmer of fire, passion, and inspiration that we might have felt at the prospect of instigating change in some aspect of our lives.

Do Something

Photo by  Blake Cheek

Photo by Blake Cheek

We read of these practices, the “being honest with ourselves”, and it sounds all well-and-good at first. In the moment that we’re exposed to information there can exist a seeming lack of a need to actually take action. So it inherently sounds a lot more appealing.

It’s easy to focus only on the benefit of what that theoretical honesty will bring, rather than on the truth of how difficult it may be for us to confront that which we haven’t been able to do for, or admit to, ourselves.

The identities we cling to, lies that we tell ourselves, and self-loathing that we might hold onto which we’re unable to truly confront (let alone speak about with others).

It’s time to end the whole “that sounds nice…I’ll get around to it” thing.

When you find yourself inspired reading some obscure line that resonates with you, don’t ignore it.

  1. Take action.

    Do something. Write down a goal or a game plan for how you’re going to institute this positive change in your life. Many self-help guides include blueprints for how to make change. They might be mini-assignments or journaling exercises…just find something to keep you accountable and get started.

  2. Let it sit. 

    It’s also important to let our minds wander and digest information, especially if it’s something that has particularly resonated with us. If we move on to some other task or to-do list item immediately, we’re making ourselves more susceptible to information overload. So allow yourself to close the book after a chapter, to pause a podcast, to take a walk and reflect on what you’ve collected. Don’t immediately move onto the next thing, stuffing it away for that ever-elusive later.

The plethora of material that is out there to help us become better is waiting to be taken advantage of. We’re the only ones stopping ourselves.