January 22, 2017

Why 97% of all Self-Help is Bullsh*t.

It’s 8:00 a.m., and I’ve just finished my meditation.

I’m drinking my coffee and reading an article that’s telling me what I should do in my life to find real joy.

That evening at dinner, I try to recall some parts of it, and I can’t remember a single idea.

Ninety-seven percent of all self-help advice is generic bullsh*t. (This number is not a result of scientific research, but rather my opinion based on the last hundred articles I read this month.)

That includes many viral articles, New York Times best-selling books, and my earlier blog posts. This content doesn’t compel the reader to make significant change. Or, to put in another way, the reader reads it and gets inspired for a few hours or days—and then it slowly fades away to make way for newer information waiting to hit.

The information available to us is incessant. This week it’s affirmations. Next week it’s how to surrender to life using Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. (Incidentally, this is definitely part of the three percent that’s the real deal.)

It’s hard to know where to look and who to trust.

A few years ago, I had just started meditating and was struggling with the practice. I wrote a blog post about meditation, and although it was informative—I explained how you must sit and breathe, and what to do when the mind wanders—it tanked. I had no real experiences to share yet.

Compare that with this post on elephant journal I read a few weeks ago, which made me want to meditate immediately.

Now consider a blog post I wrote to explain how rising early literally changed my life, as it allowed me to adopt many positive habits like meditating, journaling and reading. Not only was this post popular, but I also received a call from a reader in the community who told me he hadn’t missed a day of rising early since reading it.

These days, we find information communicated in one of three ways:

>> Telling people what to do as if preaching from the altar: “You must do this and that.” I find this quite annoying, and unfortunately it dominates the web and many bookshelves.

>> Telling people what do, but using scientific research or data to confirm that point of view. This is slightly better than the first method. But, the research is often based on a small number of people in a prestigious institution and doesn’t give a real picture. It’s as if the theory comes first, and then the research follows to confirm that principle. Not the other way around.

>> “I’m telling you what I did. See if it works for you.” As James Altucher says, “Advice is autobiography.” Here, the writer shares their experience with the public, and readers can connect the dots, take that experience and apply it to their lives. For example, If I write about my experience preparing to run a marathon, runners will immediately connect, but so too might those competing or wanting to compete in any field.

In my opinion, the best writers and bloggers employ this experiential method of communicating information. It’s no surprise that James Altucher has one of the best blogs, or that Tim Ferriss’ books sell in the millions.

They enable us to viscerally relate to the information delivered.

Our minds can only retain a small amount of the information we take in. It’s when a thought becomes an emotion that our odds of grasping it rise higher.

When we share ourselves and our experiences, we replicate the age-old tradition of storytelling, in which emotionally compelling tales were handed down from generation to generation. These stories have had a great effect on preserving our universal consciousness and culture.

For example, I still remember where I was when I first heard the story of how my grandfather helped the poor in the town where he grew up, though he had no money himself. He acted like Robin Hood, taking foodstuffs, clothes and money from the rich to give to the needy. I was 13 years old when I heard that story.

We can only share information that we’ve owned—knowledge that has worked in our lives. We can only preach the lessons that we’ve learned and the changes that we’ve made. These learnings must have first resonated with who we are and what we stand for.

To conclude, I’d like to share a wonderful story I heard on James Altucher’s podcast. It’s known as the Gandhi Sugar Story:

“A woman walks with her son many miles and days to come to Gandhi. She is very worried about her son’s health because he is eating too much sugar. She comes to Gandhi and says, “Please, sir, can you tell my son to stop eating sugar?”

Gandhi looks at her and thinks for a bit and finally says, “Okay, but not today. Bring him back in two weeks.”

She’s disappointed and takes her son home. Two weeks later she makes the journey again and goes to Gandhi with her son.

Gandhi says to the boy, “You must stop eating sugar. It’s very bad for you.”

The boy has such respect for Gandhi that he stops and lives a healthy life.

The woman is confused and asks him, “Gandhi, please tell me, why did you want me to wait two weeks to bring back my son?”

Gandhi says, “Because, before I could tell your son to stop eating sugar, I had to stop eating sugar first.”

I’m now careful to share stories and experiences that may be of benefit to others. After all, while most self-help advice is bullsh*t, that other three percent might just change someone’s life.

It did for me.


Author: Mo Issa

Image: Amy Wilbanks/Flickr 

Editor: Emily Bartran


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