Have you ever been faced with a problem or life challenge and opened up self-help books, watched videos from self-help gurus, listened to podcasts, or used some other resource to get help with a solution? You did what was recommended in the self-help programs, yet saw no change in what you were experiencing?
The short answer to the question of why self-help is so frustrating is that the popular understanding of self-help has an incomplete understanding of the problem(s) it is trying to solve.
To quote Charles Kettering, “A problem well-stated is half-solved”. And the common understanding of self-help is only seeing 2/3 of the problem. It is like trying to solve a task with one hand tied behind your back. Very frustrating.
A Brief Look Back at the Early Self-Help Gurus
It is natural to assume that the way we look at life and its challenges is the “normal” way to see things. It is how everybody around you is looking at life.
Yet, when it comes to self-help, the way we typically view life is significantly more limited than the way life has been seen for thousands of years.
We can use 1,500 A.D. as an approximate benchmark for how people in Europe and cultures influenced by Europe of started to see nature, ourselves, and self-help differently. And not completely to our benefit.
There are self-help writings going back as far as ancient Egypt in 2,800 B.C. While we are not familiar with these writings, we have probably been exposed to writings from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. (You can think of these as the earliest self-help books.)
The dominant worldview at that time in history was that nature was an expression of divine activities which we could see. There was a force, an energy, which expressed itself through nature and through humans. There was more to life than meets the eye.
This is a worldview which can be seen today in indigenous cultures.
That worldview began to shift with the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century.
The experiments and writings of Copernicus, Galileo, and many others who contributed to our scientific understanding of the world, shifted our worldview to believe that only that which we can see and measure is real.
It was these writings, along with other historical forces, which led Descartes to articulate a worldview we know as dualism. The view that humans are made up of mind and matter. Or, in self-help writings, as a mind/body approach to self-improvement.
Historian Jacques Carre notes that in self-help writings after the acceptance of dualism as a worldview, “their spirit was lost, and only a mechanical application of some isolated recommendations, supposed to procure immediate gentility, was proposed to the unsuspecting reader.”
A whole genre, called Conduct books, told the reader how to behave in polite society. Think Emily Post as a contemporary example of this genre.
A Brief Look at the Self-Help Programs of Today
A mechanical worldview has dominated Western culture, and self-help writings for the last 400+ years.
In American culture, we can see this “mechanistic” view of self-help in from the writings of Benjamin Franklin, to “Self-Help” by Samuel Smiles in 1859, to “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen in 1902, to “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill in 1937.
It is helpful to note that Western psychology came out of the medical model developed from the assumption of a mind/body worldview. And contemporary self-help has evolved from the contemporary social sciences which have developed from the same worldview.
It’s Time to Look Again
There has been another revolution in our scientific understanding. It’s time for self-help programs to adapt to what we now know about our world and how humans are wired.
Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, science has been “seeing” that there is a quantum, or an energy dimension, to nature and humans.
In the hard sciences, such as physics, we now know that nothing in the world is solid. Everything is made of atoms and those atoms simultaneously generate, emit, and receive energy.
One example is what happens when you split an atom. A tremendous amount of energy is released.
In fact, when you use a high-powered microscope to look inside an atom, it is a cloud of energy. The Department of Energy describes it as “electrically positive protons and electrically neutral neutrons. These are held together by the strongest known fundamental force, called the strong force.”
To be fair, there has been an increasing acceptance of Eastern ideas into self-help (e.g., mindfulness). But it is not yet benefitting from a wholesale adoption of the role energy plays in our wellbeing.
Just as dualism grew out of discoveries from the hard sciences, and the social sciences followed suit, it’s time for the social sciences and self-help to update their worldview to follow current scientific understandings.
The same way we have to update our computers from time to time, it is time to update our worldview, to update self-help, and benefit from doing so.
It’s time to update our worldview from mind/body to mind/body/energy.
Looking Forward: How to Develop Self-Help Skills
One of the next big leaps in self-help will be an acceptance that everything is a form of energy. Not just nature, not just our material bodies, but also our thoughts, our emotions, our beliefs, our memories.
Ongoing research in the area of Energy Psychology is providing convincing evidence of this worldview (www.energypsych.org is one resource).
Of more immediate benefit though, is that when you approach life’s challenges and problems from a mind/body/energy understanding, you receive improved results.
Going back to the quote from Charles Kettering at the beginning of this writing, when you are able to better understand/state the problem, you get a better your solution.
Outside of the laboratory, using techniques incorporating the important role energy plays in all forms of emotional distress, practitioners are consistently helping clients to improve faster and more completely… with a lot less frustration.
Instead of relying on traditional self-help which is limited by a mind/body worldview, we can adopt an empowered self-help which is line with today’s science and uses a mind/body/energy worldview.
I have been benefitting from, and helping others to benefit from, an empowered understanding of self-help for over 15 years. Having been educated in the conventional world view of the social sciences, I am glad that I have been able to update my understanding of life’s challenges.
You can too.