To these people, I would ask, how much do you really value a thing if you refuse to improve it? Click To Tweet
The self help movement appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon. Only since the 20th century, with books like How to Win Friends and Influence People and Rich Dad, Poor Dad has the self help craze really gained momentum.
But the belief in texts and teaching to help one grow is not a new idea. What we as a society are seeing in the 20th and 21st century is merely a resurgence of a tradition going back thousands of years. Only then it had a different name: Philosophy.
If you take the time to really look, you’ll find the writing of people like Socrates and Plato are often not about the nature of the soul, or society, but instead about the ideal way to go about personal development. Not only do they write extensively about the proper way to improve, they also proclaim that self-improvement is a necessity for being a virtuous individual.
So don’t take it from me. If you think you’re better than what the great geniuses of human history saw as paramount, well… you may just be an asshole.
The Dangerous Mindset of Cynics
Many people see self help as strange, unnatural, and worst of all, unnecessary. These people see their own behaviors and identity as something unchangeable and sacred. They see self help as an affront to their authenticity.
This mindset stems from a complete misunderstanding of self help. These people fail to see that self help is not the act of becoming someone you’re not — it’s the act of becoming you’re truest and best self.
Self help is more about stripping away pain and fear than adding on new personality traits, because lets face it: people aren’t good at totally changing. A sensitive person who tries to become insensitive will turn callous, cruel, and self hating. A spiritual person who tries to become completely mathematical will end up confused, tense, and hollow.
This is not to say we shouldn’t push out of our comfort zones. In fact, pushing out of the comfort zone is perhaps one of the most common messages of all self help. But we should be doing this pushing in order to reach our truest, purest, and most confident inner core.
Those who would deny and ignore the benefits of self help often use skepticism to avoid change. This skepticism is often just a cover up for fear. They fear the idea of facing their fundamental flaws, and working to fix them, so they invent ways of minimizing the influence and potential power of self help.
Sometimes these people will deny the value of self help based on a proclaimed “radical self acceptance and love”. To these people, I would ask, how much do you really value a thing if you refuse to improve it? It’s really quite simple. If you love your house, you will work to fix its problems and expand on its strengths.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love yourself. What it does mean is that you should embrace self improvement whilst also loving yourself for who you are at that moment. This is the ultimate paradox a healthy mind must hold. It’s challenging, but incredibly useful.
What Self Help Isn’t
Self help is not a never-ending pursuit for a new identity. It is not useless navel gazing, thumb twiddling, mental masturbation, or any other activity of no real value.
Well… If done correctly, it’s not.
What self help is, when practiced ideally, is an acceptance of a basic premise. This premise is that you are not perfect. You are valuable and worthy of love, of course, but you are not perfect. If you were, what would be the point of anything? You wouldn’t even be here. And again, paradoxically, it’s in this very understanding of ourselves as imperfect in which true perfection is found — our ongoing imperfection is perfection.
Accepting this means not only can you can improve with change, it makes actually changing a much more simple affair. And since humans are self aware (and quite clever) you can work to improve yourself.
This improving will not always be easy. It will require discipline, strength, and most of all, bravery. It was perhaps put best by the scientist Alexis Carrel:
Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor. ~ Alexis Carrel Click To Tweet
And this may just be the most empowering knowledge a human being can posses. It is the basis of the meritocracy at the heart of the American Dream, as well as natural selection: “From whatever your starting point, you can improve yourself.”
Not only that, but you should improve yourself, and it is for the benefit of the Earth, the human species, and the universe if you do improve yourself.
In the face of this knowledge, the belief systems of those who dismiss self help become clear: If you see self improvement as vain, or pointless, what can your self-worth possibly be?
How to Change
Whether you yourself dismiss self help, or someone close to you does, there are several ways to make a change. It all starts with your belief systems, and by this I mean those demonstrated in your actions and behaviours — which always demonstrate your true beliefs — and not those in your mind.
Do you value yourself enough to understand the importance of improving? Do you know yourself well enough to see your flaws, and your strengths? Do you have the courage to confront those flaws, and work to heal them?
If the answer is yes to those questions, you’re ready. If the answer is no… just jump in anyway.
First, start with a problem in your life that you are comfortable enough to admit to your friends. Maybe you’re a bit out of shape, or anxious, or shy. Choose something that doesn’t hurt too much to confront. There’s no use jumping in the deep end at first.
Once you’ve found this problem, do some research. How have other people worked to solve this problem? Are there different methods, theories, or guides? Try them out for yourself. See what works. Stick with the one that garners the best results.
It’s as simple as that.
Once you see the change that can be made, move on to a problem that’s a little more painful. You’ll see that as you get more comfortable with self improvement, the problems and flaws in your life don’t seem so indestructible. They appear as just what they are: problems. And now with self help, you are empowered to solve them.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: