Self-help books can sometimes be an oxymoron - the advice ends up being the least helpful thing you need during a crisis.
That doesn't mean they are all bad, or indeed, aren't helpful. But it's worth knowing what advice to take and what to disregard.
Sarah Alexander, life coach and author of Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership: From Manager to Leader in Your Own Life says: "Launched in the 1970s by US giants like Tony Robbins and Louise Hay, and fed by videos ranging from The Secret to What the Bleep Do We Know, the self-help movement has become a booming industry offering everything from NLP and healing to the Law of Attraction."
But, she says, this has also led to massive over-simplifications which "risk causing more problems than they solve, including increased anxiety, decreased self-esteem and a deep dissatisfaction with life."
Here are four of the most common pieces of advice, according to Alexander, and what you should do instead...
1) Follow your dreams
Advice: We must follow our dreams; set goals clarifying what we want to achieve, and then visualise them – by doing this anyone can realise a dream.
Why it's wrong: By following this advice many risk their incomes, or struggle to generate business from a small venture aligned with their ‘calling’ and yet they lack the inner resources, mindset or external support structures necessary to run their schemes effectively.
The belief that our greatest goals and intentions can work out through the sheer power of intention can also trigger intense feelings of shame at disappointing outcomes. Add this into our stressful lives, and our sense of worth and confidence can quickly erode.
Remember: just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean it will pay the bills.
2) Make life happen and say yes to life
Advice: Take massive action, make life happen, become a ‘yes’ person and the Universe will support us and gives us what we want.
Why it's wrong: In fact, the pressure continuously to take massive action and keep saying ‘yes’ is known to leave people depleted and overwhelmed, a balance in their lives may be lost and their sense of self-worth may start to erode.
If we really value our time, energy, relationships and health, ‘no’ is a word we must embrace. We all have the ability to discriminate between situations when we should work really hard and other times when we should refuse.
It’s this capacity for discrimination that brings rewards.
3) Focus on what you want, not what you don't want
Advice: We must avoid focusing on our problems. We create our difficulties through our own thought processes and subconscious beliefs, so placing attention on a problem energises it.
Why it's wrong: Instead we should keep our focus fixed on our intended destination, and stay happy, as happiness has a healing effect on all our problems.
While there's much to be said for taking responsibility for our problems and seeing beyond them, ignoring problems altogether rarely resolves anything. And all the ‘happiness’ in the world is unlikely to heal a person heading towards bankruptcy.
Moreover, the notion that we’ve created our own problems as a result of our thinking – while often empowering and sometimes true – can make us feel guilty if this subtle message is crudely delivered. Blaming ourselves is of no value.
4) There's a quick path to mindfulness
Advice: Current mindfulness practitioners teach us just to bring our awareness into the present moment, by noticing our breath, thoughts or feelings. The aim is to keep our focus on what we are currently doing and experiencing. To support this, a host of Mindfulness Apps and Bells have emerged.
Why it's wrong: These methods do little to bring about any real mental silence. There is no shortcut to mindfulness: it takes time, effort, awareness, and perseverance.
If we are able to turn inwards and practise mental quietude, our intuitive wisdom, inspiration and creativity naturally arise to guide us. It's by strengthening our ability to tune into our own inner wisdom and intuition that we stand the greatest chance of finding long-term happiness, developing emotional stability and creating a sense of personal fulfillment.
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