Self-help is a controversial subject that continues to grow in popularity, despite all the debate that surrounds it. It is associated with a growing number of books, multimedia, workshops, speakers and coaches. With so many people involved, what does self-help actually mean? Is it a misnomer? According to the American Psychological Association, “Self-help, or self-improvement, is a self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis.”
However, in common usage across various spectrums such as health, wellbeing and spirituality, its interpretation is often based on several misperceptions. Let us examine some of these:
Self-help means do-it-all-by-yourself
Opting for self-help means that you accept responsibility for your own welfare. You become the active participant in understanding your challenges, researching options, selecting and implementing your own plan of action. Instead of being passive and dependent on some one else’s decisions, you are the principal player in your progress.
But this path involves others as well. Reaching out to those with greater experience in managing your area of concern is a part of self-growth. Exploring books, training and other processes from those who have demonstrated some degree of success provides you with useful options. Yes, you can do a lot alone, and you definitely can’t do anything without your own help/motivation, but there will be areas where you benefit from others. So self-help doesn’t mean being a lone ranger.
Self-help excludes professional help
This is one of the most common myths and is actually the other side of the above-mentioned myth. Remember, self-help is about being in your own driving seat. But opposing qualified assistance can deprive you of timely and appropriate help. There will be situations where you are way out of your league, or your mind and body are struggling for coherence. These are not situations where one should stubbornly insist on remaining the decision maker. In this case, it would be more prudent to play an active role in trying to understand the situation and offering your views, but leaving the driving seat to a trusted professional or family member.
You can do a better job of helping yourself by including the right assistance. For example, selecting the right doctor and hospital are not matters to be taken lightly. In this
case, self-help is demonstrated in the research and discernment with which you select what is most suitable to your particular condition and mindset. If you are willing to make lifestyle changes and minimise medication, then you should settle on a doctor who can support you in doing so, instead of trying to self-medicate.
In other matters too, it may not be possible for you to master all the knowledge that a qualified consultant would possess. You are an expert on yourself but partnering with a professional will result in a powerful pooling of resources.
Self-help is a passing trend
Guidance for self-improvement has been around since ancient times. Disguised in the form of religious practices, scholarly texts, spiritual guidance or community traditions, support for improvement has always been available.
Modern times have allowed for a greater variety of channels and a faster spread of information. And no one school of thought can be considered as the most commonly prevalent or effective one. Easy availability and a wide variety of information encourage a sampling of different items on a rapid basis. The impression that all these are passing fancies is largely due to the changing popularities in media or social interest. While the process or tools may change, an underlying commitment to personal improvement remains constant. Whether on the path to greater peace, health or productivity, the seeker does not treat this as a temporary distraction, but as a way of being. And for the seeker, the support is available consistently.
Self-help does not require investment
Self-help involves equipping your self with the appropriate knowledge, learning it correctly and implementing it regularly. This naturally necessitates investing sufficient time and energy to make this effective. Like everything else, the process of acquiring these skills may also involve training aids or consultations, which require money. Consider these as investments, which when utilised correctly, can provide long-term benefits. To expect to receive valuable inputs at marginal costs is not a realistic approach.
All self-help is a money-making gimmick
A multi-billion dollar industry with high cost speakers, workshops, DVDs, and the works…the scepticism is unsurprising. Like any other industry, this one also has a fair share of people exaggerating their capabilities or being dishonest in their quest for profits. But it cannot take away from the fact that there are also many outstanding examples of those who have translated their own challenges, knowledge and experience into transferable and useful tools, thereby benefiting countless others.
In most cases, these are people who have invested significant energy, time and effort to distil and present their valuable offerings in a usable manner. It is only fair that they make a livelihood out of such service that is being provided with sincerity and honesty. If you select your resource material and your guide with due diligence, you can receive more than generous value-for-money.
Self-help provides quick-fix solutions
In a world that has grown accustomed to instant gratification, most people are looking for an instant resolution of their problem. Genuine and deep-rooted change is often difficult and may require dedicated and consistent efforts. Look at self-help as a way of bringing about systematic change through consistent application. It is not about applying a band-aid to the wound, but discovering and healing the root issue itself.
Self-help doesn’t work
People often give up on self-help too early. If you have taken shortcuts in the learning, understanding or application of any guidance, you cannot expect to reap the promised results. For example, it is not uncommon to modify suggestions as per convenience, or practise less regularly than advised—and then feel disappointed with a diet or meditation technique.
Over and above this, each one of us is unique and the time, efforts and efficacy of results vary from person to person. This is not a smooth disclaimer but a reality of life. It is up to you to persist in efforts to identify what is most suitable to your individual situation and then implement it consistently, for as long as is required. That is when you will be able to make a significant difference to your life.
I can compartmentalise my problems, work on some and ignore the others
There are many looking to manifest intentions, improve their financial state or have other specific aspirations. If you go looking for ways and means to improve only one area, you could end up neglecting your health, your relationships, or some other area of your life. Mindless pursuit of one at the cost of others has its consequences.
If you embark on the path to self-improvement, take a holistic approach to achieve meaningful change. Otherwise, any immediate benefits may come at significant unforeseen costs. While a particular self-help technique may provide specific steps to address one area of your life, the overall plan should take all factors into account. The foundation of self-help lies in building a maturity that enables not only financial but also physical, emotional and spiritual growth.
Self-help is for “losers”
If you have realised that there are areas of possible improvement in your life, you are anything but a ‘loser’. In a society that shies from admitting the need for counselling or support, people are often hesitant to express themselves. Options can also be limited because of finances. While self-help may come at a price, it may still be the only affordable option for many. Turning to self-help is the sign of an empowered individual, who is doing the best she can, under her present circumstances. If anything, that makes her a ‘winner’, because she is at least trying to bring about positive change.
You must share what you’ve learnt with others
Reading a few books or attending a couple of workshops frequently results in an excessive enthusiasm for sharing. One of the reasons that labels like ‘workshop junkies’ and ‘marketing ploys’ have sprung up is because it is common to see newly enthused people advising others with sure-fire means to change. This is unnecessary, inappropriate and most importantly—self-defeating. Until you are able to demonstrate some change in your own life, your friends and family are likely to feel that your latest self-help discovery is of little use. This can contribute to scepticism, aversion and also a lack of support and encouragement for your efforts.
Inculcating what you have learnt and practising it will have a greater inspirational effect, than preaching. Be the change you want to see and you will automatically have others asking you to share your experience—when they are ready for change. Besides, there is no need to insist that others follow your chosen path.
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