That’s the thing about self-help isn’t it? All these books come out espousing this idea and that idea and all of them say that this is the one idea that will work. They claim that all you need to do is follow this way or that program and you will be better. You will be thinner, fitter, you will get rid of bad habits, whatever it is that the program is advertising. What they don’t tell you is that a lot of the time, the program probably won’t work. And that’s not because there’s anything wrong with the program, it’s just that it’s tailored for a certain type of person, or for a certain type of lifestyle.
There is no magic pill for anything, no secret that you missed that everyone else knows that helps them do a thing better or not do a thing or whatever it is that you’re trying to change. And anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying.
The only way through is to find your own way. Cobble things from multiple paths, try things and keep the parts that work and discard the rest. Read and learn and find new ways of looking at things or new ideas and introduce them into your routine and your life. Give them a try and if they don’t work, there’s no guilt, only the knowledge that a certain way of doing things doesn’t fit for you. People can be experts on different programs, disciplines, routines. You are the only expert on you. Defer only to your judgement.
A disclaimer here. I’m not talking about severe mental illnesses or any kind of disorder that is life threatening or otherwise dangerous to yourself or to others. Some things you need help with. Some things you deserve help for. Get it. Please.
For the rest of you, those who are relatively healthy and just want to tweak, to make better, to understand more, here is a brief introduction to some ideas that I’ve found helpful. Over the next few posts we’ll move deeper but for now, explore them if they sound interesting. Parts of them work for me. Maybe they will work for you.
- Critical Thinking.
Learning how to form an argument. Learning what a good argument is and what a bad argument is. And then going through your beliefs and working out where all of them fit. Discarding what you can’t support. Probably the most important idea in the world at the moment, and the most neglected.
- Myer Briggs Typology.
A slightly controversial system that is often used in workplaces to determine employee personalities. This is a misuse. Mostly meant to explain how your mind experiences the world and why this is okay and how to optimise in the way that your mind understands best.
- Systems Thinking.
I went over this before briefly, but this is a game changer. There is no cause and effect, there are only endless systems running and interacting and their natural results. If you want something to change, you have to change the systems.
- The Graves model.
A developmental model that explains different stages of life, of personal growth and the development of societies. Also ties into systems thinking. This model can teach you why others think the way they do, why you might think differently and what that means for your interactions. Very interesting when you start to look at different cultures through this lens.
- Habit Stacking.
This one is only partially helpful for me but I still wanted to include it. It is based on the idea that we are creatures of habit who perform one behaviour that is then linked to the next and prompts its performance and then the next and so on. My brain is contrary and doesn’t like doing the same thing at the same time of the day ever, but I found a way to make this idea work in my life.
6. The Morality of Sex.
This is a strange one. I’ve wondered for a long time why my sexual habits are irrevocably tied to whether I am a good person or a bad person. It’s odd when you think of it like that, why would a biological function make me good or bad? I’ve since come to believe that anyone who links sex and morality is not thinking properly.
- Mastery versus Marks.
This is a teaching idea, but also applies to everything that I want to learn and everything I need to be able to do. Studying at school and university teaches you to study and take an exam with an eye towards what marks you will get. The flaw in that is if you don’t understand 15% of the work, those missed parts accumulate and build up until they completely derail your learning. Why did this ever become the way to learn?
8. Controlling the Mind.
Whatever technique you use, and there are a few, this has been one of the greatest challenges in my life and the most rewarding. Bad thoughts are patterns. Don’t let the bad patterns stay. Hunt them down and destroy them. And yes, it is possible. Don’t be your brain’s victim.
This is a fairly obscure idea, though I have seen it in a number of books and on websites that keep popping up, usually called different things. I like to use this term. According to Barbara Sher, a scanner is someone who has ever changing interests, who learns a little about a lot of things. Before I read this book, I was endlessly angry at myself for never finishing anything. Then I learned that I just had to look more closely at what I considered ‘finished’.
I put this one last for a reason. Kindness is rare. In our modern world we are taught to ‘be cruel to be kind’, or to do whatever we have to do to get ahead, to put ourselves first in all ways. The first one might have its place, but mostly, I believe in kindness. Kindness to myself. Kindness to other people. Kindness to the world. There isn’t enough of it. I want more.
Those are some of my life changing ideas. I’ll go into more details about them later, but for now, what are some ideas that changed your life?