Why Most Self-Help Is Useless

Are you one of those that has laughed at self-help books and courses? You have good reason to doubt.Start self help movement

Are you one of those that have tried self-help books or courses and found your life didn’t change at the core level?

Theories on why self-help doesn’t work are plentiful, but the theory I prefer is that most of these approaches are completely unable to help you think differently once you have finished the course/ book. Self-improvement usually is about finding your passion, your “true self” or ultimate meaning and having the courage to make that the priority of each day. It is my opinion that self-help products actually reduce your ability to fix your life.

Please understand that I am not high and mighty about reading self-help books. I have spent way too much on these books and courses because I believed their promises and I felt like I had no other recourse. So I am speaking here from experience with self-help.

After at least three decades of trying self-help, I can’t say that my life is better because I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, Think and Grow Rich, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind or any other of the major or minor players that told me my income and self-esteem would blossom once I have understood the material. And because I have been (and now am) an “A student” (at California College San Diego), I know the problem is not my intellect. (As a side note, after just a year of applying the teachings in The Twelve Commitments To Life, I noticed being happier with my life than I ever have been.)

Self-help instructors/coaches/preachers specialize in speaking our worst fears and telling us that we are not good enough as we are. They lay out a system that promises to make our life easier, more meaningful and productive in our areas of choice. But that doesn’t work because it starts by emphasizing our fears and makes that the basis of moving forward. And if we fail to get the results promised, our fears escalate and we are told to retry because the instructor “knows” and “has proven” that it works.

The Twelve Commitments to Life is not a system. It is listening to Life as you receive it and learning from Life’s most basic twelve ingredients. In my book, you become both student and teacher of your life. You don’t need anyone to tell you how to live. You are the best observer of your life and you are smart enough to read Life’s forces, hints and feedback. The only real requirement in this approach is to focus long enough and regularly enough to hear Life talk to you, guide you and grow you. That’s the wisdom that Life offers and The Twelve Commitments to Life is an inexpensive guide that helps you hear.

Check out the free introduction, table of contents and first chapter. (link) Or buy it on our shopping cart.

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Overpopulation Myth

It’s crazy when you think about it, but not in the way we’ve been told to think. overcrowded planet
We’ve been told, with statistical “proof” that human beings are becoming too populous for the planet. And while people of various political, religious, educational and cultural backgrounds have debated over the issue for many years, they have reached no resolution. Dan Brown’s bestselling book The Inferno posits a “mad scientist’s” scheme to reduce and limit our growth, adding more fuel to the debate. But the debate is bogus.

I will get to the flaw in this debate right after this note: one of the main arguments against improving human longevity is the impact humans living longer would have on an already overburdened planet. I have stated on this blog (several posts including A Conspiracy Against Wisdom?) that human longevity will bring us much needed wisdom, and likely, the wisdom to solve knotty problems like the myth of overpopulation.

The overpopulation debate is bogus because it is like the medieval jailer blaming the prisoner for the prison conditions. Human beings, the prisoner living on earth (the prison) in this analogy, is not to blame for the prison conditions. The prisoner does not have the means to populate, clean, or depopulate the whole prison, only his/her own cell.

Who is the jailer? The overly self-important ego. It’s the exalted ego that finds everyone else to blame for the current situation, never taking into account the part it has played in the creation of the problem.

Yes, I agree, there is no other species on the planet that creates as much garbage as human beings do, or allow their dwellings to get so uninhabitable, moving on to the next environment, only to leave that one uninhabitable. There is no other organism that grows so far beyond its sustainability. But the reason humans are like that isn’t due to our sheer numbers, our lack of intelligence or concern for our environment. It’s not even our ego. It’s the over-inflated ego that puts us in this position- that preference for and idolization of the big-egoed leader, conqueror, multi-millionaire performer and/or business. The exalted ego jailed us and then told us that the prison crowding is our problem.

When the imprisoned finds the jailer’s weakness, or discovers that the jailer is really in the prisoner’s own mind, finding freedom becomes a matter of choosing it. If we are to survive and live long, fruitful lives that our bodies can sustain, we only have to identify and get rid of the over-extended ego, wherever it exists- including within our selves and our beliefs.

For many of us, that wisdom comes later than sooner. Years of frustration with ego-based problems forces us to realize the flaws and the ridiculousness of repeating the behavior. But anyone at any age who frees him or herself is freed from exalted ego for as long as he or she chooses it. Come “overpopulation” or under. Come dictator or democracy. Come corporate egotism or cooperative exchange. It’s up to each of us.

There is no overpopulation that will kill us. Only ego-preoccupation.

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Criticism, a Failure to Understand

A dream series last night had me as guest and contributor to a group of very rich people in both home and elegant hotel settings. They were all, at least socially, pleasant and welcoming of me. They assumed I was as good as they and that I was able to take care of myself (they weren’t going to treat me to lunch just because they had more money).

Money cant buy poverty sticker
Waking up, I combined elements of this dream sequence with last night’s falling asleep mantra (which was “no criticism, only understanding”), I can see that the rich were all very interested in their lives and in understanding more about their lives; they were wasting no time being critical of my lower status. So, I learn that rich people, whether they have money or not, are focused on learning more, not on criticism.

We may think that rich people can indulge themselves to learn anything they want because they don’t have to work a nine-to-five job, but that thought is not really wise or understanding; it is critical of rich people. It is being jealous and envious of those that have more choices, more time, more access, more connections, more education, etc.

The truth is that we can all spend more time on understanding and less on being critical; this will enrich our lives. And where we nine-to-fivers learn isn’t where the resource-rich learn. So we have an opportunity here the rich do not have. It’s kind of like the humorous bumper sticker that proclaims “I have something money can’t buy: poverty.”

I want to make it clear that when I am talking about being critical, I don’t mean a well-thought out or researched critique. I mean being critical of others in a general and in knee-jerk fashion, thoughtless of others and ignorant of the details.

For example, I see a lot of older people get very critical of the younger set and wishing for more of the simple pleasures, less stressful times, etc. But this just being thoughtlessly and egoically critical for the sake of one-sided complaining; it’s not for the improvement of or a good outcome for all involved.

Here’s a personal and current example: Recently, I became quite critical of one of my school instructors. I got so wrapped up in it that I talked to the Dean and had serious thoughts of quitting school. By being critical without understanding the details, my bad feelings extended to other people at school, including other students. The Dean’s counsel didn’t help much. I started a list of things wrong with the school so I could justify my decision to be critical and angry. Within a few weeks, I was talking and complaining to a different instructor who heard me out, but also explained a school policy that the “dreaded” instructor was limited by and that had embarrassed him. I had a choice then to let my “nemesis” off the hook and to look at the level of criticism I was embracing. It’s so easy to criticize when we don’t know all the nuances of the situation.

Being critical like this is not unlike a spreading disease. But this disease is one I can stop. I can nip it in the bud because I can choose understanding over being critical. And if I don’t understand the specific situation, at least I understand the cure.

Tonight I will again do my mantra as I go to sleep: phrase one with inhale, phrase two with exhale. “No criticism. Only Understanding.” “No criticism. Only Understanding.” “No criticism. Only Understanding.”

Then, if I can wipe the grin off my face that comes from being committed to understanding, and thus discovering a truer reality, I will be able to sleep.

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Dan Brown’s Inferno

What a delightful read! The Inferno blends the worlds of Art, Historical Inquiry, Travel, Architecture and Literature with the sciences of computerized tracking systems and Genetics.the-inferno-cover What it raised for me, particularly for this blog, is the issue of overpopulation. A lot of people are resistant to the idea of life extension due to the associated fears of overpopulation. They wonder how can we continue to feed, house and medically attend to the needs of exponentially rising numbers of people on the planet, especially seniors that are already overburdening the medical system? Wouldn’t increased human longevity just enhance the likelihood of Nature creating a plague in its own defense?

Well, in my opinion, here’s the best way to control population growth: education. People in democratic countries with easy access to higher education have fewer births; countries that give women the opportunities to get a graduate education (and therefore, land important careers) have fewer births, and people with adequate education to avoid disease are less of a burden on any medical system. It’s all about education, particularly the kind that raises consciousness and awareness, encourages intellectual curiosity and demonstrates how love and cooperation improve the mental, emotional and physical health of all concerned.

I have often chuckled at the bumper sticker that says, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” education vs ignoranceIgnorance is really what keeps people in the dark about whether or not to have children. Ignorance also keeps societies stuck on the idea that life extension (longevity) is going to hurt the planet. Really, isn’t one of the main reasons we have children is so we can vicariously enjoy them doing what we could not do? But with education, good health, fair economics and political freedom, we can do for ourselves what we would want for our children.

The Inferno isn’t a plague of disease; it’s a plague of dark emotions and a closed mind. I have referred earlier in this blog to the HIND factor that keeps us stuck in a hurting place: Hate, Ignorance, Neediness and Denial. HIND keeps us beHIND. It is dark and, like a proverbial Hell, almost impossible from which to extricate ourselves on our own strength. But with public education and free college level courses on the Internet, education is spreading. (Coursera, Khan Academy and elsewhere.)

I see that the darkness is slipping away due to increased availability of education and information. Traditions that kept people mentally blind are being exposed and tossed aside. And false education (government propaganda, big business media, religious myths, superstitions, etc.) is giving way to the light of truth. With computers virtually everywhere, we are learning to think beyond the confines of our own safety zones by using logic, comparison, and broad-scope intelligence.

We don’t really have to worry about overpopulation as much as we need to worry about losing the educated and wise ones that can help us see our future (like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and let go of our dark past. We need our educated old ones; and we, ourselves, need to live long enough to become wise. Then, with us as a more intelligent species, Nature’s course and our course don’t have to go to war.

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Serious or Curious about Life

I am curious about some of the responses I get to my July 17th post that there is no hard evidence that life is serious. “In fact, not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the argument that life is serious…”

Living COLA

Living COLA


*“Well, isn’t illness serious?” (The response of a nurse.)
*“Finding out that a loved one cheated on you is serious.” (I am betting this person experienced the pain of infidelity.)
*“Losing a job is real serious.” (Perhaps a politician’s response, but it could be a hard-working person, living hand-to-mouth.)
*“I’d say death is serious,” say the masses. (There’s pun possibilities there.)

Why do we find these things serious? Perhaps because we treat all relationships as serious. Or because we made vows to a lover. Or we made promises to pay our bills. Or because sickness compromises our ability to make good… But except for actual death, all of these issues that seem serious (illness, infidelity, unemployment) are not life-serious; they are “game-changers” or “life-changers” or “difficult challenges,” but they usually don’t bring us to the end of life. End of life is serious on many levels.

What makes me curious is the way that we quickly reach for reasons, supported by the most dire examples, of why life is serious, as if to say that if there is no hard evidence that life is serious, then life, our job, our relationship, or our health has no meaning.

What? Life must be serious to be meaningful? I challenge that idea because what happens in real life is we take tremendously small challenges and make them out as if they are serious life-changing episodes in order for our lives (jobs, relationships, health) to have “meaning.”

Meaning doesn’t really come from seriousness. Meaning comes from knowing who we are and where we are going. In order to know who we are, we must be curious, open, loving and aware. I call those living COLA. Curiosity allows us to get more information before we deem something serious. Openness allows us to accept what we do not otherwise consider. (Such as this blog post.) Love brings a situation close to our breast. Awareness allows us to see and hear more than we sensed before.

Living COLA will get rid of the syndrome of excessive seriousness. Living COLA feels good, too. And because one ingredient is curiosity, it is slow to label passing circumstances as serious; first, it’s curious.

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Perfect Love Came First

When it first occurred to me how important to Life Love, Understanding and Gratitude are, I determined that those three energies were not just the place we are meant to go and to be, but that Love, Understanding and Gratitude were also where we came from. I still think that’s true.pink rose petals Image © Joao Estevao Andrade De Freitas

I think that we will make tremendous progress toward living in an enlightened society if we all know, or act as if, we belong first to Love, Understanding and Gratitude.

But here’s slightly different perspective that doesn’t require us to believe we came from a place where we are all perfected as Love, Understanding and Gratitude.

Let’s say that we all believed we came from the heart of Perfect Love. Let’s say that Perfect Love made us so that we could appreciate Perfect Love and grow in understanding of Love.

That’s not a stretch. Any major faith could agree to that. Just take the words “Perfect Love” and insert the name of the worshipped Deity.

I believe that if we were to believe that we came from such Love and made it our purpose to grow in understanding of it over our lifetime and simultaneously grow in gratitude/ appreciation of this life, and this love, one more thing would happen: we would all blossom into our own version of loveliness, as it were, covering the world with lilacs, bluebells, poppies, roses, carnations, orchids…

Let’s dream of this; it is our future if we will so claim it.

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3 Rules of Life

Elephant Journal published a great quote I’d like to share. It has to do with what really matters. Knowing what matters makes it easier to stay focused and to make a difference.
Written on a headstone: In fact, not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the argument that life is serious, though it is often hard and even terrible. And saying that, I am prompted to add what follows out of it: that since everything ends badly for us, in the inescapable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time; and that the second rule of life is to hurt as few people as possible in the course of doing so. There is not third rule.  Brendan Gill

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