The End of Self-Help - Part 1

Last night, I woke around midnight with a series of ideas flowing through my head. They were ideas inspired by recent conversations with my wife and then stoked by an interview I watched before bed.

What Kalpna and I were discussing the day prior was her insight that her relationship with her meditations was undermining their power to create. More specifically, she shared with me how the belief that she needed to meditate to fix or repair something followed her in each meditation. Every time she meditated, while it created freedom and power in certain ways, because of this relationship to meditation, the practice was at the same time entrenching the idea that she was broken.

I reminded her of the words she spoke to me when emerging from a dream not long ago…

“There is nothing to be afraid of because everything has its purpose.”

In the same way, I suggested that nothing is broken or needs fixing because everything has its purpose.

The conversation we were having felt familiar, and then it came to me. 

“Do you remember what I used to say to the guys who came to The Magnetic Man workshops?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know how a lot of them had been going to ‘pickup artists’ to learn how to be with women?”

“Yes!” said Kalpna firmly, her annoyance still evident now 12 years later.

“Remember how I started by pointing out that the entire industry of the pickup artist was creating a problem that it was offering a solution to. They were telling guys that this was something they were supposed to be able to do if they wanted a fulfilling life. And guys were buying it and then seeking help in attaining that.”

“Oh yeah,” she said.

“Well, it’s the same thing with all self-development. Not as degrading to women, but just as much a trap to the self.”

I went on to explain my perspective that, at large, the industry of self-development offers a solution to the problem of yourself not being enough in some way. This is not exclusively the fact of course, but the large majority of teaching is soaked in the idea that there will be better than here because here is not good enough, wrong, unenlightened, etcetera. 

By no means am I denying the fact that things can be better, that life can be better, that even the way your ‘self’ functions inwardly and in the world can not be improved.

My point is that the overarching context of this being necessary, right, and required for you to be whole, worthy, or complete is a farce. 

This farce undermines the efficacy of the wisdom and practices that one could utilize to grow themselves. 

This is what caught my attention while listening to the woman in the interview, who struck me as particularly brilliant. Her name is Abigail Shrier and she’s the author of a book called Bad Therapy which expands on research showing the negative side effects of children being subject to therapy. In summary, the constantly revisited context that you are wrong and need healing trumps any productive work the therapist might do with the child. She suggests the most powerful impact of therapy on children may be the inculcation of the idea that you need therapy. 

Kids are more sensitive to context, but we’re certainly not immune to it. 

Coaching can be distinct from therapy, but in many if not most cases it is not. I have long distinguished therapy from coaching by suggesting therapy is about fixing something and coaching is about creating something, although most other coaches don’t see it this way.  

The power of deciding that you have reached the end of your self-help journey is not an end to your growth, but it is and can be an end to the paradoxically imprisoning context within which you might be living.  

Loving us all, JPM