Self-help Junkies, there’s a better way!

If you’ve been scouring the Internet looking for the best self-help insights, and you keep coming up short, look no further.

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I’ve been scared to write about this topic for some time now. Probably because it will seem to many that I’m quite the hypocrite.

But after reading this article, I realized that it’s okay to have thoughts that are temporary. In fact, mindfulness teaches us that all thoughts are temporary. So why be scared of them?

The reasons I’m scared of writing about this particular topic are, 1) It will paint me as a hypocrite, and 2) It propels me into an emotionally raw, borderline shouting, full-on tirade. My ears get hot and I talk so fast I start sounding like I’m drunk… an angry drunk. Before I know it, people are slowly backing away from me. Trust me. It’s happened before.

Let’s just say, I’m passionate about it!

I don’t only avoid the topic because of my own insecurities about having red ears or being perceived as a hypocrite. I also avoid it because I’m a chronic non-offender, which is different than a people please-er, by the way. Not always my best attribute, but there it is. I do what I can, sometimes to my detriment, to avoid conflict.

Nevertheless, Michael Thompson has unwittingly given me the last bit of oomph I needed to at least give it a whirl. And who knows, maybe through writing it out, I’ll find a better way to have this conversation without having to ice my ears afterwards.

Now that you’re several paragraphs in, I’m going to assume you’re keen to know what it is that I can’t reconcile between my mouth and my head.

The truth is, as much as I value the idea of personal growth, and as often as I write about topics that would be categorized as “self-help,” I personally cannot stand the stuff! * notice the hypocrisy I spoke of earlier.

I don’t think it’s because I’ve got everything figured out. Nor do I think that it’s because there’s anything inherently wrong with the concept of self-help. It has more to do with my own ideas about what constitutes as “help,” and what feels more like… enabling.

Now if you’re a big self-help junkie, you’ll probably scoff at that last bit. But let me explain. Self-help implies, by its very nature, that we are incomplete or inadequate as we are. We seek out self-help when we’re going through a challenging point in our lives, or feeling inadequate in some way. But maybe instead of obsessing over “fixing” or “bettering” ourselves, we ought to try focusing on just being ourselves (yes, I’m aware how self-help-y that sounds).

Mindfulness, which some would also categorize as self-help, suggests that we can find true inner peace by observing our state of being without passing judgement on it. It goes further to state that once we’ve noticed it, we can simply let it go. It’s aim is not to fix. Rather, it’s a practice in awareness of the self, as the self exists without manipulation. What’s the eventual goal of all this awareness? Altruism.

Maybe that’s the rub. On the one hand, self-help seems a bit self serving. After all, it’s baked right there in the name, self-help. On the other hand, I agree that we can’t expect to contribute to the world (in positive ways) without first taking care of ourselves.

So maybe it’s not that I have a problem with self-help at all. Maybe I have a problem with the results most self-help products market. Not only does it first imply we must be “fixed,” it also omits the idea that we can (and should, I would say) extend our newly-discovered well being to the benefit of others.

Were we to extend our self-help efforts beyond ourselves, and work towards a better world where each of us practices more kindness, patience, and respect towards others, then I think I could get on board.

In my few short decades on Earth (okay, rounding up to four decades) I’ve participated in both trains of thought: self awareness without manipulation, and self-help with intent to fix or change. Both have their merits, sure. But only one of them leaves me feeling better about my situation. Any guesses which one?

Mindfulness is, in essence, a way of accepting who we are as we are. And in doing so, we can become more flexible in our perception of the self. By the very nature of becoming more flexible, we are no longer doing the work of pushing or pulling ourselves along to some future version of ourselves. Instead, we’re appreciating the complexity of who we are — good, bad, and ugly — without judgement.

I’m sure I’ll continue to dabble in self-help. In truth, that’s how my writing would likely be categorized. But when it comes to trying to find peace with myself, I’ll stick to mindfulness. It can feel like a slower, longer, more drawn out, arduous process, but I’d argue that the results are more lasting and sustaining than any self-help tip, trick, or strategy could ever be.

And if you’re looking for an accessible way to approach mindfulness for the first time (or for experienced practitioners) check out headspace. * No, I’m not sponsored by them, get any sort of commission, or the like. I’m simply a happy subscriber to their product.

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