What Self-Help Gets Totally Wrong
I saw an article recently titled, “11 Billion Reasons the Self Help Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know the Truth About Happiness.” The subtitle was, “Hint: Unhappy people buy things.” I’d like to start today with a few passages from that article.
“Most Americans are unhappy. Despite the abundance of material wealth, the idealism of democratic values, and flashy new iPhones, most people are suffering… See, part of being an American isn’t just getting ill from living in a superficial society that values materialism, consumerism, and working way too many hours each week, it’s trying to buy your happiness one book or pill at a time… Back in 2008, the self help industry was valued at 11 billion dollars each year. That’s a lot of books and motivational speeches that failed to help the 40 million people suffering from anxiety, the 14.8 million suffering from depression, and the 7.7 milllion people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.”
So how could so many people be hoodwinked for so long? Because pain demands a response. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we are compelled to try and fix the pain. So until people reach apathy, the end-stage of giving up, they try one thing after another. As I’ve said a number of times, my good friend Mark Victor Hanson once told me that the people who buy diet and weight loss books (the biggest category of self-help) are the same people who bought them last year.
Over the last 17 years, I’ve met many of these multi-millionaires from the self-help industry, ridden in their cars and stayed in their homes. About 2 years ago, one of these people can to me and the first thing they said was, “Can this be confidential?” I thought that was rather odd because we’d already had so many in-depth conversations, but I quickly understood why. They shared with me that every part of their life was going down the tubes, even while they presented themselves in their books and on TV as the ideal of happiness and success. They knew that my teachings were almost the exact opposite of theirs but asked if I’d be willing to help anyway. Of course I was, so over the next six months I worked with them, and the end result was that everything in their life turned around for the positive.
When the process was over, they came to me in tears and said, “Thank you so much, you saved my life. But what do I do now? I’m famous all over the world for teaching what I now believe is the opposite of the truth!” I couldn’t answer that one for them, but I did tell them that if they returned to living the way they used to live, they would probably end up in the same place again. It saddens me to say that they went right back to teaching the exact same thing while living a different way for themselves. This has happened to me a number of times over the last 17 years.
Why? Because more than 97 percent of the success, psychology, and self-help world—going back 75 years—has taught a three-step plan that makes logical sense but is a blueprint for failure. It goes like this:
- Step one: decide what you want, typically something in your life circumstances about the future, even if it’s only for today or tomorrow.
- Step two: develop a plan to get what you want, and revise the plan as needed.
- Step three: put the plan into action with your willpower until you get what you want, and never, ever give up.
That, in a nutshell, has been the entire message of this 11-billion-dollar industry for the past 75 years, and it makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course it does! It’s the way everything in nature works—reap what you sow, the law of attraction, Newton’s three laws of motion, you name it. The problem is that we are not built to work on the natural. The mechanism in our brain that controls our moment-by-moment experience works on the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual. Not the logical.
Here’s some more evidence of why this method fails. Steps number one and two are all about expectation, trying to make something happen that aren’t really under your control. The third step is all about willpower, making something happen under your own willpower. Dr. Dan Gilbert and his wonderful research on the campus of Harvard gave this as the takeaway from his research, “expectations are a happiness killer.” Why? Because they spike your stress, which is responsible for 60 to 80 percent of all emergency hospital visits, medication, mental and emotional counseling, and failure.
Dr. Bruce Lipton’s groundbreaking research at Stanford found that the odds of trying to make something happen with your willpower alone that you’ve never been able to make happen before is approximately a million to one. Do you like those odds? Throw the expectation research on top of that and you begin to understand that 97 percent failure rate! Yet we’re still cranking out the same blueprint for failure. Why? Because unhappy people buy things. Well, don’t be duped for a day longer.
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Have a blessed, wonderful day!