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$elf-help can be a minefield, and we are running in the minefield, pausing to grab the latest better-me morsel to make our run easier.
Self-help doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution for our apparent myriad of make goods—it is a multi-billion dollar, multidimensional business that stalks us on social media and looks down on us from our bookshelves. And it’s not uninvited, because us humans, we are always looking to improve our situations.
“As a society, we are obsessed with optimizing every part of our lives—our eating, sleeping, studying, exercising, relationship-ing, and, of course, working. As a result, the market for self-improvement content continues to skyrocket. In 2018, the self-help industry was worth about $10 billion per year in the United States alone. Experts predict an average of 5.6% yearly gains until 2022, at which point the market should be worth $13.2 billion, writes the Harvard Business Review.” ~ Aytekin Tank, Fast Company
We really want to change, but change is hard, so we keep browsing, burrowing, looking, leaning in and letting go, speed reading and osmosing podcasts through our AirPods, and hoping for that magical, elusive unicorn—just add water, two-minute-noodle fix.
We, the improvers, have created our very own self-improvement culturescape—a wild and wooly wilderness of advice, templates, and tutorials for living our best lives. Or, at least, we can see how someone else managed to live their best life, while we are still depressed at home, eating donuts, not wondering why our jeans don’t fit.
Stop, pause, wait just a minute!
We seriously need reminding that there is no one road to success, no one-size-fits-all. That person or author made it on their own path, and so can we. Just like our asana practice, there is no perfect shape, no right or wrong way, my way or the highway, magic pill, unicorn puff, holy grail, fix-me-up. There’s no route 69 to success.
We are all unique with our own soul print or divine destiny, with different stories swirling in and around us alongside our beliefs, forming the foundations of how we function in this life. These foundations are the patterns and programs gifted to us by early influencers—our parents, extended family, teachers, friends, the news, the government, university, and workplaces all play a large part in the where, who, why, what, and how of our daily thoughts. It’s a wonder that we have our own thoughts at all, with all the noise, and well, I suppose we don’t really unless we have a fairly solid meditation practice that enables us to reconnect to source and find the connection to our creative higher self.
Our digital obsession has fueled and expedited the growth of comparison culture, where our closeted inner voyeur can dive down the deep and often dark digital detour for hours, pining for the life of someone who seemingly goes faster, is more bendy, eats healthier, travels more, or works less in a society where we often wear our exhaustion like a badge of honour, dropping to sleep on the couch with our iPad resting on the rise and fall of our ribs.
Comparison is the thief of happiness, and it’s bloody exhausting!
Super accessible social media tends to amplify our search results and occasionally leave us with feelings of failure, or not being up to par—no matter how much progress we have actually made.
The answer is to focus on your own path, which will include both cheerful successes and fall-down learning curves of failure. Failure is just finding your edge; it’s not a dirty word. Failure reveals to us those places where we need to do the work—so this undesired exploration or falling off your life path indeed illuminates the way to change.
Whether you’re reading a book or scanning your Instagram feed, use these stories for inspiration and information gathering, not for comparing yourself. My best advice is to curate your digital diet—if people or accounts leave you feeling empty, unfollow, or unsubscribe. It’s simple: why torture yourself?
You can learn plenty and be inspired by good ideas and stories from other peeps, but your path to personal development is going to be unique.
I am going to highlight here that it’s essential to be realistic about your goals, dream big, make a plan, and then break that plan down into pieces of the puzzle and do one piece at a time. Want to make it really real? Get someone to hold you accountable—accountability is a superpower in the change game. Remember, though, real change doesn’t happen overnight, although it will happen. You have to commit to it and do the work. Twenty-one days is what you need to instill a new habit—there’s no quick fix; there is just tenacity and application. You have to shift your mindset.
Reading books will change your life; reading is awesome. There are so many ah-mazing books to be peeled open and dog eared on your journey to your best life. However, reading one self-help book and expecting that book to magically change your life is one of my many definitions of madness.
Think of reading like creating or curating your own development program, where you assess what the authors are saying, and see if it makes sense in your personal circumstances: will it help you create the future you, dust off your sparkly soul print, and send you off to fields of joy? Just because it’s on a best seller list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna be your game changer, “the one” that will resonate, recalibrate, and rocket you off into the happiness stratosphere.
This is my M.O. (modus operandi / method of operation):
When you find a book that resonates, read that bad boy six times, and then read another six books! Soak that information up, read them again, and then trade what doesn’t resonate with you. Find new stuff, linking common themes along the way. Try stuff on, test out the tactics. Adopt the practices that you find work to help you morph into future you.
It’s essential to get out a highlighter, a pen, and Post-it notes and turn that book—or all of those books—into your personal, unique transformation program. Make it so you’ll never want to loan those books—because they will be messy, illegible records of your life change, with scribbles of deeply personal notes and memos for you to read and re-read. And what is fascinating is reading your “notes to self” six to twelve months down the track—new you smiling at old you, seeing your personal evolution documented in the indents and paragraphs.
These books become your friends—you call on them for reminders, like advice from a good friend. And that good friend is really just you.
Don’t give up just because that first read of that one best seller book wasn’t your cure-all; re-read it and get a vision of the future you, if it exists in that book. Perhaps it’s the next, instead. Do the work, form new habits, evolve, read more, and repeat!
Most of all, you have to take action—reading alone won’t break the old patterns, programming, and beliefs—you need to go all in. Get someone—a coach, a mentor, a group—to hold you accountable, and remember it takes 21 days to form a new habit!
Here are some of the books and blogs that I have loved and learned from:
Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now
This book is profound and life-changing—you might not be ready for it on your first read, and that’s okay. It will re-appear and come back to you when you are.
Radhanath Swami: The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami
I first listened to this as an audiobook. It’s one man’s journey across the world from Chicago to the Himalayas, temple cities to the Ganges. This transformation tale is a collection of Richard Slavin’s engaging, colourful, and mystical personal stories that have transformed him today into one of India’s most respected spiritual leaders.
Likeable, relatable, insightful, factual—literally anything she writes, that I read and reread, has shifted me. I particularly like The Gifts of Imperfection.
The last four years have seen this man journey from student to a monk and digital dynamo, and then to being the fastest-growing influencer on the digital landscape. No doubt you have seen him pop up in your Facebook feed. His first book, Think Like a Monk, is out now.
Ruby Wax: How to be Human, The Manual
This book will have you laughing and learning. This book, hilariously mingling science and philosophy, teaches us how to be happier by becoming aware, and changing and choosing our thoughts and emotions. And it will walk you through the how-to.
Happy reading and evolving.