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September 27, 2019

Self-help is mental Masturbation: a guide for No-Bullsh*t Self-Improvement.

Naughty language ahead ~ Ed.


Some time ago, I was on the phone with Becky, a life coach who specializes in “helping people with an overwhelming desire to create miracles.”

Becky lives in North Carolina, in a quaint, sparsely populated town that sits somewhere between the Atlantic coast and the Great Smoky Mountains. She’s been coaching for more than a decade.

In addition to being a life coach, Becky is a wife, a mother, a traveler, an internet entrepreneur, and a motivational speaker. She’s also the seventeenth coach who reached out to me, after I’d shared with an online community that I was profoundly desperate to have some kind of a breakthrough.

Simply put, I’d hit a wall—the same wall I’ve hit repeatedly throughout my life. It’s a hideous monstrosity, one that, somewhere along the way, I constructed in my own mind. It spans my subconscious. It’s made of fear and anxiety and limiting beliefs, and, despite my goals and grand ambitions, it’s always stood in the way of my progress.

Previously, I’d have combed the self-help aisle and the blogs of influencers, looking for ways to tear down the wall—or, more preferably, obliterate it and turn it into a useless pile of swirling dust. I’d have downloaded podcasts, signed up for webinars, purchased courses, and joined forums. I’d have locked myself in a room and devoured information, only to emerge no more inspired and no less dispirited.

But, this time around, I sought out a coach.

I wasn’t looking for just any coach. I wanted someone to guide me, expertly and without platitudes. I’d grown tired of the cheese and sleaze and baloney and bunk. I’d grown tired of hearing that I’m a remarkable badass or a magnificent spark of divine light or a conscious creator who can connect to the cosmic life-force. I’d grown tired of hearing that the world desperately needs my special gift.

For fuck sake, I just wanted some information I could actually use.

I wanted someone to show me the clearest path toward a rich life. I wanted someone to look inside the nooks and crannies and crevasses of my brain, and scrape out the bullshit. I wanted someone to tell me exactly how to break through my psychological barriers, achieve my goals, and find contentment. Indeed, I wanted someone to help me create some goddamn miracles already.

First, I spoke with Marty, a street juggler turned circus clown turned toymaker turned life coach whose mission is to “inspire others to call in their creativity.” An interesting man, no doubt. But we spent much of the time discussing the intricacies of George Carlin’s most celebrated material. For some reason, I didn’t think Marty could give me the information I was so desperately seeking.

Next, I spoke with Angie, a Chicago-based fulfillment coach who strives to help young professionals “discover how bright and powerful they can be in the world.” Angie couldn’t have been kinder or more compassionate, which is why I promptly declined to hire her. I didn’t think Angie could deliver the proper, high-voltage ass-kicking I felt that I needed.

Then, I spoke with Karen, a former economist and policy advisor who spent the better part of 20 years working with government leaders in Africa. Karen affirmed that I merely needed to “look beyond thyself, shift thy perspective, and step into thy power.” When I asked Karen how to do that, she divulged that I could book a four-hour “Genius Session” with her to find out. Stupid me…I never did book the session.

I also spoke with Holly, who said she’d uncovered a transformative five-step strategy for conquering fear that she would happily divulge as long as I joined her 12-week mastermind group. I politely explained that I didn’t have that kind of time.

Then, there was Dennis, who promised I would gain an enormous amount of clarity by using a No. 2 pencil—and only a No. 2 pencil—to draw thousands of tiny circles on a standard sheet of white paper. According to Dennis, I needed to do this for at least 45 minutes, without stopping. Reluctantly, I complied, and came away with nothing more than a tinge of embarrassment and shooting pain in my hand.

Then, there was Jim, who insisted that I balance my checkbook.

And Rob, who made me punch a pillow while he watched.

And Mel, who unexpectedly read my tarot cards.

And Jackie, who demanded that I form a relationship with Jesus Christ.

And a succession of other coaches who all instructed me to do essentially the same thing: decide where I’d like to be in a year and figure out how to get there.

Then, Becky called.

She introduced herself in a mild southern drawl, radiating warmth and positivity. She told me that she’s a strong believer in the goodness of life, that she’s driven by joy and generosity and purpose. She told me about her academic achievements and her rigorous, post-graduate work. But, before she could tell me about her passion for helping people with an overwhelming desire to create miracles, I interrupted—quite tempestuously—and told her that I’d hit a fucking wall. Poor Becky.

I told Becky that I was frustrated.

I told her that I was angry.

I told her that I’d made some changes in my life, but it didn’t seem to matter. I told her that I just wanted to be happy and successful and do things on my own terms and make some kind of an impact in the world. I told her that I was struggling to grow my business, and struggling, even more, to figure out why.

I told Becky that I was tired of reading about the other coaches and entrepreneurs, making millions of dollars with their premium packages and online courses and group intensives and stupid fucking ebooks.

I told her that I didn’t get it.

I told her that I had just as much to offer as anyone else.

I told her that I’d taken classes and attended workshops and read every goddamn motivational book under the sun, and nothing seemed to help.

I told her that I was stuck. Completely, hopelessly, and inexplicably stuck.

I told Becky that I’d spoken with 16 other coaches before her, and not one of those motherfuckers could tell me how to move forward.

“So, what do you hope to get out of this call?” asked Becky.

I told her that I didn’t know.

I told her that I’d been hoping for some sort of panacea. A magic bullet. A nugget of infinite wisdom that would blow my mind wide open and change my life forever.

Then, I told her that such a thing probably doesn’t exist.

“As we’re talking,” I said, “I’m beginning to realize that you aren’t going to tell me anything I haven’t already heard. I don’t think anyone can tell me anything I haven’t already heard. I think I know what to do. I just need to, like, you know…fucking do it.”

“I think you’re probably right,” affirmed Becky.

“I think I need a nap,” I replied.

Learning versus Avoiding

If you’re a man who is desperate to become better with women, for example, then you’ve probably read The Game by Neil Strauss, in which Neil chronicles his rise from socially awkward journalist to the world’s most notorious pick-up artist. Maybe The Game led you to its companion piece, The Rules of the Game, and then to books like Mystery Method or The Layguide or even Robert Greene’s The Art of Seduction. Maybe you took to the internet, and spent hours in online forums, poring over the latest and most commonly used attraction methods. Maybe you even bought one of Ross Jeffries’ home study courses.

Then, you decided that canned openers, DHV stories, and kino escalation patterns all seem inauthentic and creepy, and you’d much rather attract women by just being yourself. So, now you’re reading all the best books on how to become a better, more integrated man, like No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover and The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida.

Maybe you’ve picked up Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, and Viktor Frankl’s timeless classic, Man’s Search for Meaning. Maybe you’ve even joined a support group, which allows you to comfortably share your story with other men.

Yes, you’ve embarked on a wondrous journey of self-improvement, knowing it could very well lead to the woman of your dreams. And, I commend you.

My question is: When are you finally going to walk up to a woman and say hi?

Similarly, if you’re a woman who wants to attract the perfect man, maybe you’ve been thumbing the pages of Elle, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan, looking for ways to “get his attention” and “find out if he’s into you.”

Maybe you’ve spent some weekends at home, curled up on the couch with Matthew Hussey’s Get the Guy, Ellen Fein’s All the Rules, and Dr. Ali Binazir’s The Tao of Dating.

Maybe you hired a dating coach to help you develop more confidence, meet higher quality men, and better understand the subtleties of male behavior. But maybe your coach seemed a little weird and charged too much and didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear and couldn’t really answer any of your questions. So now you’re hoping Steve Harvey has all the answers, because you’ve downloaded Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, and Straight Talk, No Chaser.

Yes, you’re a strong, intelligent, and ambitious woman, and you’ve become dedicated to learning the language of love, because, goddammit, you’re ready to meet your soulmate. And you deserve to. It’s about fucking time.

My question is: When are you finally going to introduce yourself to that cute guy at the gym and slip him your phone number?

If you loathe your job, and you’ve been dreaming of starting an online business, then you’ve probably read Tim Ferris’s generation-defining chart-topper, The 4-Hour Workweek. Maybe you’ve also read The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau, The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki, and Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Maybe you kill time in your cubicle by scouring the websites of prominent internet entrepreneurs like Frank Kern, Eben Pagan, Lewis Howes, Ramit Sethi, and Pat Flynn. Maybe you’re even subscribed to their email lists.

And, surely you’ve clicked on a Facebook ad, which brought you to a well-crafted landing page, which prompted you to sign up for a webinar, which promised to show you “The EXACT Blueprint that Thousands are Using to Turn Their PASSION into PROFIT and Consistently Land High-Paying Clients!” But, maybe the webinar wasn’t as informative as you’d hoped, and its real purpose was to sell you something, and even though you took notes, the whole thing kind of felt like a waste of time. So, now you’re reading all the articles you can find on content marketing and blog monetization and SEO and sales funnels and social media.

Yes, you’ve been learning everything there is to know about running an online business. After all, you’ve got big ideas, and you’re determined to create the life you’ve always wanted. No longer will you settle for being a paper-pushing drone, a cog in the machine, a slave to the modern workplace. And, I don’t blame you.

My question is: When are you finally going to put up a goddamn website and start telling people about your services?

Make no mistake; you should never stop learning. A renowned motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, once said, “Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins.”

But, at some point, you might want to ask yourself: Are you really learning…or just avoiding?

Are you filling your head with information to avoid taking action?

This, in fact, is one of the pitfalls of having an unlimited amount of information at our fingertips, and it’s especially dangerous in the world of self-help. For many of us, self-help material is just another form of avoidance, whether we realize it or not. We read books and listen to podcasts and watch videos and communicate with so-called experts, and our brains lead us to believe we’re making progress.

Except, we’re not really making progress at all.

Real progress requires action. And, while filling your head with information may feel like action, more often than not, it leads to lengthy periods of inaction. It’s mental masturbation—or, as it’s most commonly called, analysis paralysis.

It’s also why, as journalist Oliver Burkeman points out in his book The Antidote, “among themselves, self-help publishers refer to the ‘eighteen-month rule,’ which states that the person most likely to purchase any given self-help book is someone who, within the previous eighteen months, purchased a self-help book—one that evidently didn’t solve all their problems.”

The truth is, you are not going to find a nifty, book-sized solution to your problems. You are not going to achieve your goals by analyzing them. You are not going to succeed by talking to another success coach. And, you are not going to grow by watching one more PowerPoint presentation about growth.

If you want to make progress, start moving. Put one foot in front of the other. Do something. And, if only for a little while, stop filling your head with information. Chances are, you already have the information you need.

What would William of Ockham Do?

William of Ockham was an English Franciscan philosopher and theologian, generally considered one of the major figures of medieval scholastic thought. He died around 800 years ago, but one of his most important ideas lives on.

Occam’s razor (or Ockham’s razor) is a basic problem-solving principle which states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one. In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic to guide researchers in eliminating unnecessary assumptions while developing theoretical models. Of course, we’re not talking about science here. We’re talking about some of the most common parts of life that we humans tend to overthink, overcomplicate, and overanalyze.

Much like this essay, a great deal of self-help material includes notoriously vague directives: Start moving. Take action. Do something! This leaves us scratching our heads, wondering what the fuck the something is that we’re supposed to do. So we revisit the self-help aisle, hoping to find the answer. Rarely, though, do we stop to acknowledge that we probably already have the answer.

We almost always know what we need to do. We just don’t do it.

Doing something usually means doing something different. It means stepping outside your comfort zone, venturing into the unknown, and facing some of your fears. And, because this is emotionally daunting, we assume that it must also be complicated.

It isn’t complicated. The simplest solution is usually the correct one.

Wondering how you can get a date with that sexy barista? Ask her out. Wish you could get that cute guy to notice you? Walk up and introduce yourself. Sitting in an office is crushing your soul? Quit and find something else to do. Worried your business idea won’t pan out? Try it and see. Desperate to make new friends? Get the fuck out of the house and go talk to people.

As Amelia Earhart once said, “The most effective way to do it is to do it.” So, stop thinking and start doing.

You never know; you might just fulfill your overwhelming desire to create miracles.

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