How many self-help books (SHB) have you already read and you’re still not where you want to be? While the ideas in many SHB are wonderful, one of the main problems is that unless we see instant results, we let ourselves get distracted toward the next shiny thing to pursue.
That’s something to notice and not criticize. It’s normal. But it’s not effective.
Here are some of the inherent follies I’ve seen both in and associated with SHBs and how you can overcome those problems.
And yes, I realize the irony that I, the author of two bestselling self-help books, am pointing out the inherent follies of self-help books! That said, let’s take an honest look at what SHBs can and cannot do or provide, and learn how we can maximize our own results.
1. Weapons of Mass Distraction. If you truly believe that any book’s tips can be of help, you’ll have to really work to stay on track. The mind is not your friend; it’ll try to take you out of the game whenever possible. So try to witness your inner opponent doing what it does so well. And accept it. Why? Because fighting your inner opponent hasn’t worked yet. What we resist, persists. And what we embrace, dissipates. Embrace your desire to check your email. Acknowledge your random thoughts about dinner or politics. And without beating yourself up for being human, accept that these are normal. What we judge gets louder. So don’t judge your judgments, rather, notice them. Tell them that you see them and honor them and then consciously and lovingly choose to refocus on the book or task at hand.
2. Energetic Transmissions: One of my Buddhist teachers pointed out that while it’s great to read a book, it’s a lot better to be taught by a master, or at least someone who knows about a subject more than you do (mastery isn’t necessary to teach others!). He said there is an energetic transmission from the teacher/author that can help assimilate the information deeper and faster than reading a book. I have found energetic support to be vital in learning and healing. When a teacher, author or healer holds sacred space, the recipient receives the benefits of being seen and met where they are. A good teacher lovingly challenges the recipient to go just beyond the comfort zone, which is where growth really happens.
3. Consistent Application: How many of you could have read a book on riding a bike and been able to ride right away? Do you think you could read a book on learning a new language and become fluent quickly? In the bicycle example, you really have to get on the bike and practice until you get it. You may fall a few times, you may need someone to assist you, but either way you have to get on, try, and build up the muscle memory and the neural pathways that make bike riding possible. In the case of learning a new language, you have to practice enough to become fluent. Very few can take a weekend immersion in Spanish and be totally fluent on Monday. So in the case of my second book, Self-Care for the Self-Aware, how can we expect to read the about the tools to become a high-quality empath and expect to have it mastered right away? Still, we do so anyway.
Why? Because the words that resonate will seem so simple. The theories will make so much sense, the mind will say, “Okay, I’ve got this. I can now go into a crowd or stressful situation and open my keyhole and I’ll be fine.” While that is possible, it’s rather improbable, given that you’ve likely spent (insert your age here) years NOT doing those things! So, don’t expect instant results. Do the work. Be patient. And if you don’t want to do the work or be patient, ask yourself what trying to short-cut anything has truly gotten you.
4. Unrealistic Expectations: Books can be wonderful tools, but they’re still just a tool. You have to use the tools consistently and well to get any results. One of the biggest follies I’ve seen in self-help books is the well-intentioned but ultimately facetious belief that we can always heal what ails us on our own. Some can. I have hundreds of testimonials from readers sharing their incredible but real results they’ve gotten using my tools. But some can’t. Not because the reader is unspiritual or unloving or unintelligent, but rather, for Empaths and Highly Sensitive Persons, because they’ve absorbed so much energy from others that doing this work can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack—blindfolded. Using that analogy, how much easier would it be without the blindfold? Somewhat easier, yes, but still difficult. And to the prior made point, how much better will the experience be if there is another set of eyes looking for that lost needle? Either way, do the work, but do so without unrealistic expectations. Think of it like doing an experiment—you can’t know the outcome until it’s done, so why even guess or assume? Why jump ahead? Just do your best! And know that your best can vary day to day. (How much is your left brain hating me now?!?!) If we knew everything in advance, there’d be no purpose in doing, trying, or learning anything. Release attachments to an outcome and all will unfold in perfect order!
5. Lone Wolf Syndrome: One of the more common selling points of many self-help books is the idea that by reading a few pages and practicing a bit, you too can be a master at anything. While that can raise awareness, and that of course is very important, how can we really grow without others being mirrors for us? How can we measure our success? I’ve had clients tell me they feel they’ve mastered certain things I’ve shared with them, only to later on tell me they were triggered by the same thing once again. Meaning, it’s easy to feel aware or even super conscious when you’re alone or with like-minded people, but can you maintain the needed presence to not get triggered when with others who you think are very different? Similarly, it’s relatively easy to meditate on a mountaintop, but can you attain a meditative state in a noisy city environment?
Practice the tools in any self-help book without unrealistic expectations. Be aware of your thoughts, and your tendency to isolate yourself. While I understand how isolation can feel safer and therefore preferred, being a master within your home is good but not great. The world needs you to step up and share your gifts. You need to share your gifts to feel connected and vibrant. But don’t force it. Be patient. Keep the end goal in mind but also get fully immersed in the present moment. What is this moment calling for you to do or be?