Americans are great believers in self-help, and with good reason. There are more tools for personal growth today than ever before. Books, seminars, weekend workshops and support groups of all kinds flourish in abundance. Cynics decry this as a symptom of narcissism, the navel-gazing of the Me Generation. Actually, self-help spans all generations, and according to studies, around 75 percent of people who improve their psychological state do so, not with a therapist's help, but by themselves.
Yet the more one looks into the self-help movement, the more confusion seems to reign. It's common to meet people who tell the same story of being adrift. Having read many books, visited many teachers and joined many groups, they continue to feel unfulfilled. Why? If self-help burgeons year after year, where are all these good intentions and well-meaning advice getting us?
I think a good deal of confusion can be cleared away if you stop for a moment and apply some realistic standards. In order for self-help to work, you need to know a few things with some certainty:
- Who am I today?
- Where am I heading?
- What do I want my future to look like?
These are not abstract or airy-fairy questions. At bottom, self-help exists to offer a new direction. For that to happen, the old has to give way to the new. Old habits and conditioning need to be transformed, and that isn't possible except at the level of consciousness. "Who am I?" really means "How do I see myself?" Self-help doesn't work because you found a wise, all-knowing teacher or a quick fix for a tough problem.
Self-help works if it wakes you up, either a little or a lot. The best way to wake up is to know who you are, where you're going and what the future could be. Present reality is the foundation. The future is a vision open to all possibilities.
Meet the enemy of self-help