July 23, 2020

Self-Help is Dangerous: Why (& How) to be your Own Damn Guru Instead.


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I have found myself on the exhilarating loop of the self-help hamster wheel—all the books and masterclasses you can imagine.

I get a high from it: from believing something external and tangible can solve my life’s dissatisfactions.

Buying books is easier, less vulnerable, less time-consuming, and less outcome unknown than sitting with myself in silence and working through the stuff. There’s something to the belief that I need fixing and that a fix is possible that has me excited every time I begin a new self-development book.

It’s obvious by now, isn’t it? That we can all become our own life coaches?

The steps have been laid out for us; that’s for certain.

Everyone from Wayne Dyer to Gabby Bernstein, from Brené Brown to Elizabeth Gilbert, have gone the way and recorded their trail for us. If wholeness is what we are after, we have been shown and told how to do it, and those of us addicted to the path of healing instead the place of healed can follow the path again and again.

From Rumi to Glennon Doyle, we know the way.

Are we ready to be honest with ourselves that maybe all this time of reading, and listening, and watching, has been because we haven’t been ready to heal? Because maybe we were addicted to and comfortable with our own suffering and repetitive stories? Or maybe, because we thought being healed would look or feel different than it does.

We can continue to project all of our hopes and dreams of an easy fix onto the pretty woman on the stage with the microphone in her hand, or we can start to walk the path she’s laid for us.

It’s actually quite simple, in that the steps are pretty straightforward. Deciding and committing to the work is the part that gets so many of us caught up in the loop of seminars, workshops, talks, and book signings.

Don’t replace your addiction to diets and workouts with self-help. Really, all the best authors have something to offer—we’ve already read all of the best ones, haven’t we?

Now, the point is, are we ready to commit to our own healing and fulfillment?

Do we want change for ourselves more than we want the safety of what we already know? Are we ready to do the work instead of just talk about the work, finally?

Steps to Becoming Your Own Life Coach:

Seek out Space and Solitude

When you are ready to start being honest with yourself—because of how uncomfortable it will likely be—it’s best to go there alone.

Remove the distractions, overpower your desire to run, and sit quietly.

There is no other way or place to start. There is no way to avoid this; you have to learn to be alone with yourself, quietly. And then, you’ll have to do it the next day. And the next. And the next.

It does get easier, but it’s rarely easy.

Start where you are. Do it badly, close the door, and try again tomorrow.

Practice Detachment

The next part may be the trickiest; it is to become the observer of your own experience. You are not your patterns and feelings: you are the witness to them.

When you begin to separate yourself from your circumstances and emotions, you may try to respond swiftly with action.


Do not try to invoke your will just yet. Do not try to invoke change without having properly observed what’s present, or else you are just swinging to opposite sides of the pendulum, and truth is at neither end. It is incredibly hard to train your brain to see feelings and emotions as separate from you.

This, of course, is where meditation comes in. Your feelings and emotions, from your seat as witness, become distinct weather patterns to be observed and separated from. They are not to be ignored—they are excellent sources of information—but they are not the truth and they are not you.

This is difficult but not impossible; it’s very similar to training a new muscle group. It feels unnatural at first, but gets easier with continued deep practice. Sit still. Watch. When you tell yourself you’re doing it wrong, watch that. Continue to sit.

Be Curious

When you’ve watched, be curious, meaning ask why with a genuine desire to understand not to judge. Your entire life, and how you’ve lived thus far, has been about keeping you safe. What about your current behavior that you wish to change has been motivated by fear? What are those fears? Where do they come from and what underlying beliefs do they reveal about how you see life? Yourself? Others, love, money, art, or happiness?

What about your current life was the result of a desire for safety? What were you avoiding, perpetuating, denying, rebelling against, that landed you here? The tools of detachment will help here; as you go deeper, you’ll likely uncover beliefs that grew out of painful experiences.

To heal, you have to identify the traumas that are motivating you, the wounds you are protecting unknowingly. Use curiosity and detachment to see your story as a story. Follow it to its end point, keep asking questions to determine its beginning. Then, you can start to rebuild.

Stay Committed

Your buy-in is required; this is not optional.

It’s embarrassing, committing to yourself, because it implies caring, and caring makes you vulnerable.

So instead of a personal investment, you have done what’s been deemed an acceptable alternative: you’ve paid. You’ve thrown money at the problem instead of your time and passion.

It seems to be viewed as more legitimate (and definitely less risky) to pay someone to solve our problems than to sit with them ourselves.

If we aren’t ready to sit with ourselves and ask what is not right, or how did we get here, or what is it that we want, then how much help can another person really provide, regardless of their skills or the money we are willing to pay them?

When I realized I had an eating disorder, it was because I realized I’d been fighting the exact same fight, every single day, for more than 10 years. I still believed the answer was out there, and that the solution could be handed to me by someone else.

The same is true with my addiction to self-help: I finally saw that I was outsourcing my life.

I wanted someone else to do my sitting, my searching, my healing, and as a result, I was missing my life. If you are on the treadmill: stop. Allow yourself to feel really uncomfortable as you adjust to not reaching for the next great solution (it passes, I promise, and it passes even faster if you don’t fight it), then sit your ass down.

You are the guru you’ve been reaching for—it’s just that saying that from a stage with a microphone in your hand sells a lot fewer books.


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