A radical approach to self-help


“I made myself a promise… to stop living vicariously and start living.” ~ Aunt on “Pushing Daisies”

It seems like everybody is writing manifestos. They are everywhere and some of them are even pretty good. (Normally I would share some links here but that would be counter-productive given the goal of this post… keep reading!) The problem with all of these manifestos, self-help books, e-books, blogs and online programs is that a regular person can start to believe that the published manifesto-writers are the only qualified experts on how you can feel better… and live better… and be better.


Let me give you an example. In November of 2010, in preparation for the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNo WriMo), I considered the idea of becoming a “NaNo Rebel” by writing a book of non-fiction instead of a novel. Before I made the decision, however, I felt that I really should read Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest For the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers before I start writing. Ah hem. (Clears throat.) I know better and so do you! I have read at least 20 books about writing and don’t need to read another one… I needed to sit my butt in a chair and write. (In the end, I began a YA novel about a teenaged girl with superpowers and did NO research at all!)

I use this example to argue that YOU are the foremost expert on you. I am hereby giving you permission to put down your self-help books and start helping yourself. That’s right. Put the book down. Good. I am not a self-help guru or a social networking expert but my work as a high school counselor has helped me to believe in most people’s extraordinary power to help themselves!

Two disclaimers:
1. From time to time, many of us need the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. If that’s you, make an appointment now. Ask for the help you need.
2. Lots of people have great ideas that you might employ to help improve your life. These people include – but are not limited to – your mother, your best friend, some published authors and some people on the web. Take what you like, leave the rest. Some pieces of advice are better than others; you’ll need to be the judge.

Where to start? Let’s start at the very beginning…

1. Name what you want
Most people read self-help books because we have a gnawing sense that our lives are not as fulfilling as it should be. Let’s start there. This is your chance to name your game. What do you want? Is it more money you’re after? Less? (It is possible!) Shorter work hours? A move to the countryside… or a brand new country? More meaningful work? This can be the toughest thing of all – to admit what it is that our heart most desires without permitting interference from the buts (but it’s not practical… but we have kids… but we won’t save as much money for retirement… but what will people think.)

So why take the risk and change your life? Many people believe that our personal happiness is closely aligned with finding and fulfilling our purpose in life. In an interview with Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres said:
I believe we’re all put on this planet for a purpose and we all have a different purpose. It’s our journey and I believe that if we follow that journey… and it’s got nothing to do with sexuality… it’s just when you connect with that love, with that compassion, that’s when everything unfolds. Every bad thing that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion.

So what’s your purpose? What would you need to do in order to live a life more closely aligned with that purpose?

2. Self-directed learning
After you have named your purpose, you are going to need to figure some things out. Go ahead and learn what you need to know but limit the amount of time you spend reading self-help books and blogs.

Without abusing the people who make a living writing this literature (some of whom have offered me truly helpful advice) the question that I have been asking myself more and more is “While they are becoming wealthier, are we becoming happier?” Why do we persist in giving so much power to these people?

No one knows you better than you do. When you have a specific question about something along your journey, seek that specific answer, much the same way that you would if you were trying to find out what train to get to the city centre. I would even go so far as to say that many of us would be much happier if we limited our time online. Period. That’s our life passing by. Start spending that time addressing and solving your problems.

3. Just do it. (Nike got it right!)
You think I’m cheating here but I’m totally not. You already know what to do. You didn’t get to this point in your life without noticing, not learning, not seeing. Develop a strategy. Write it down and establish deadlines. Act according to your deeply-held values. Buy stuff that you need or sell stuff that you don’t need. Get busy! This brings us to the next step…

4. Don’t stop living and loving your life while working on the BIG change
So you know what you want, you’ve worked out a plan and now you are going for it! There may be setbacks along the way. Your travel departure date may have to be pushed back six months because you were not able to save as much money as you planned. Fine. Feel sad (for just a little while) and adjust to your new reality… but keep living your life, enjoying your friends and family members and going to the movies and learning about good wine or whatever else it is that you do. Remember that YOU are not the sum total of the challenge you are facing or the problem that you are trying to solve. It only defines you if you let it!

5. You are AMAZING!
You are already amazing and you have everything you need. Not because someone else says so but because it’s true.

Write your own e-book. Create your own life.

Tell us about it in the comments!


  1. Two years ago, I left corporate life to create my own business serving others as a coach. the most important thing I have learned to date is that one can find nourishment and fulfillment through work. As you suggest, I wrote an e-book which I call 'Do Right Work', created a workshop to share my message with others, and will conduct the first workshop in January. Not sure how it will go, but I always take the three question approach to new things:1. What worked?2. What did I learn?3. What will I do next time?So…my strategy for self help is create your own solution, be your own guinea pig first!

  2. Slightly off topic … but along the same path:An Ottawa reporter [Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen] has written a book and several op-ed pieces lately on the topic of 'expert opinion' and how we are all suckers for the predictions of supposed experts. He asks: what makes them expert? And then he goes through, in admirable detail, just how wrong or off the mark they mostly are. And yet, no one seems to notice that the 2010 predictions were, well …, wrong, and we eagerly look for the 2011 predictions to help with our forward planning. In his words, for the so-called expert it's win-win: "Heads, I win. Tails, you forget we had a bet"Helping and thinking for oneself. An excellent way to start the new year…

  3. Beautiful post and a great point! You got me thinking – thank you so much!!I wonder if we could boil it down to energy/vibration – quantum physics? Are these 'self-help' experts not just humans, on this exact same experiential enlightenment journey, who have found a way to increase their own molecular vibration, making them naturally attractive to the rest of us? Will we reach a tipping point, when the masses have committed energy and focus to self-help, improving their life, feeling more happiness, compassion and joy, when the reflection will mirror an entire species living enlightened, spiritually motivated, planet saving kind of existences? (I think so.)I think we're all contributing energy to a species wide evolution beyond that in which we've ever seen. If you thought Live Strong, Yoga, Starbucks or Facebook was big – I think you'll be surprised. I truly believe that there is a force, gathering strength and momentum that today looks like a bunch of web-addicted self-help junkies who read lots, but don't do much. I think, tomorrow (proverbial) might look like heaven on earth.I'm excited about what's happening. Everyday somebody else wakes up to the truth. Authentic living is where it's at and that starts within YOU!If you're still in the reading lots phase, fear not. I SO agree with this post that YOU have to be the one to act in the end, but, as you gather motivation, clarify your passions and build a relationship with yourself, (while reading lots of self-help, feel good kinda stuff) know in your heart that you too are amazing!!Thanks again for this great post!!In love and light,Heather

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