I’ve become very wary of self help books and articles, especially of the quick-fix variety. In fact, I’ve started to see them as more of a nuisance than a helpful resource, even damaging. The thing with self help, I feel, is that the main premise of the genre is lack or inadequacy.
Obviously, self improvement is generally an admirable endeavor.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aim to be the best person you have the potential to be. What I am saying is that the vast majority of self help material is primarily devised, not to make you a better person, but to make somebody else a lot of money.
Some of the best-selling self help works are aimed at improving social skills, for example.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with working on social skills per se, but the fact is that not everyone is of a gregarious disposition. Not everyone gets energized by going to a party or partaking in large group activities.
Peoples’ temperaments range between the extremes of introversion and extroversion, and neither quality is better than the other.
However, extroversion has been pedestalized by western society in the last hundred years, especially through American culture. In contrast, the ideal of the brooding philosopher or wise hermit has sort of died off.
Good social skills are invaluable. They are a magnificent tool to improve life and make it in the world, but I think they are highly overrated, at the expense of voluntary solitude.
Solitude is beautiful, and the potential for personal growth through being alone is definitely on par with the potential for growth through enrapturing, profound conversation.
An entire industry has risen around the myth that if you’re not extroverted, there must be something wrong with you and maybe you can fix it by buying this book/program/dvd-series!
That’s really the root of my dissatisfaction with the self help industry, the fact that at the end of the day, it’s all about selling more stuff. And I know there are some gems out there, but most of it is chaff.
In my own life, I’ve started shying away from this kind of material. The way forward for me has been to reconcile the paradox of self improvement versus self acceptance.
How can you be motivated to improve yourself if you already believe you’re good enough? And how can you accept yourself when you work from the assumption that you’re not good enough as you are?
This is a tough question, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out what can be done.
If you can’t accept yourself as you are right this moment, you can be sure of depression and anxiety. And if you narcissistically decide that you’re already perfect, you stagnate or you may even have a negative influence on those around you and ultimately make your situation worse.
As in so many things in life, a balance needs to be struck. A bargain of sorts. Self acceptance to the degree that self love is possible, without falling into narcissism.
You see, accepting yourself as you are is not the same as thinking you’re perfect. That’s narcissism, and that’s not a good path to take.
Accepting yourself means accepting your flaws and weaknesses, as well as your strengths. Ironically, true self improvement can only begin after accepting the flaws you seek to improve.
Even though both concepts are valuable, the fact is that self acceptance is the base or pillar on which self improvement necessarily rests.
Once I realized this, I instantly started to feel better about myself, because I started focusing on knowing myself, in order that I could finally come to accept myself.
In closing, my last beef with traditional self help is this: You should decide what needs improvement! Not everyone wants to or even needs to improve in the same way. Stop giving other people, companies or institutions permission to tell you what’s wrong.
Through introspection and contemplation, you can figure out what you really need. It may surprise you.
What’s helped me most of all are two things: Keeping a journal, and meditating. Maybe “helped” isn’t really sufficient. Transformed is better, more accurate. These habits, over many years, have transformed me to the point that I hardly recognize myself, and my perceptions of the world around me are totally different.
True investigation of the relationship between self and other is a rabbit hole so deep that you will never find your way back out. It’s the ultimate adventure. I hope to see you down there.
As always, much love.