Last year, I decided to help myself. I suppose we all do that regularly in some way, but I decided to make it an organized thing.
I think I was partially inspired by the podcast By the Book which is self-described as “half reality show, half self-help podcast, and one wild social experiment.” They choose a different self-help book to live by for a few weeks and follow the advice and report back on how it went. Are the books “life-changing”? Most are not – at least not for the two hosts, Kristen and Jolenta.
Self-help books and regimens are big business and there is no shortage of them. That’s why I like that Kristen and Jolenta do some of the heavy lifting and elimination for me (and make me laugh along the way).
There is also no lack of lists of the best self-help books. There was an episode of the TODAY Show I surfed into that told me the self-help books that would change my life. I approach those kinds of lists with a large glass of skepticism.
One of the originals of the genre is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book was published in 1936 and it has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.
I have seen the book described as teaching you the rules you learned in kindergarten, but haven’t been following because they are actually quite hard to follow.
The rules are not complicated. For example, smile. Quite a simple concept, yet how many people do you see in a day without one on their face? And how about Don’t argue with people. Ever. Because you gain nothing from it and it only fosters negative feelings.
By the numbers, dale offers 6 ways to make people like you, 12 ways to win people to your way of thinking and 9 ways to change people without arousing resentment.
A book I loved when it came out was Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It sounds like, from its title, that it covers the same ground as Carnegie. Nope.
Fulghum finds life lessons in little things. Some were in kindergarten – as with that bean seed we put in a plastic cup with a hole punched in the bottom and put on the windowsill. We watched it grow, get stronger, get weaker, and die. The teacher may not have launched into a life lesson but it was there: mortality and the delicate nature of life and nurturing. We do need to be reminded.
My own self-help experiments have been more focused. For example, I decided that since my FitBit tracks my sleep (a chronic problem for me, including sleep apnea) I would begin recording on a chart my sleep beyond its data. I recorded what I did, ate, drank, or took before I went to bed: caffeine, alcohol, melatonin, valerian, acetaminophen (Tylenol), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), prescription sleep aids, and an assortment of herbals that supposedly help you sleep. I am charting my pre-sleep against my sleep data which includes time awake, light and deep sleep, and REM results. I’m hoping to discover whether or not anything really helps me get better sleep. Maybe I’ll report back later, though my results are not your recommendations. Early revelation: Go to bed earlier.
Yes, I’ve read a lot on sleep over the years, but I think self-help actually begins with self.
Self-help goes back well before Carnegie. How about The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius? He tells us how to follow the philosophy of stoicism. Before I took philosophy courses, I thought being stoic meant being tough. It is more relaxed than that. Stop believing that Life is doing things to you. That’s just how you perceive what you believe to be reality.
Marcus’ advice also sounds simple and easy – on the surface:
- Change your mind and you can change your reality.
- How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks.
- When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.
- If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.
- How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.
What would Dale say?
- Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.
- Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
- Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.