So, I’ll start by saying self-help is great. It’s full of anytime, anywhere methods that improve your life, and it gives you tools you can use yourself. What’s not fantastic about that?
When it comes to implementing concepts is where things might get a bit weird. I’ve noticed this is where people will start saying certain concepts are garbage: when they’re implementing something that actually does have merit, they’re just not aware of all the details.
At best, it’s frustrating. At worst, this can send you off on unproductive tangents, which is then frustrating enough you might give up.
Here are three widespread self-help concept that are likely to be tripping you up somehow:
1. Be in the Now.
First of all, this is genuinely a good idea. Being present in the moment allows you to connect with people more deeply, be more productive, and appears to be one of the biggest causes of happiness.
So why am I saying this concept is tripping you up?
This isn’t what your mind naturally does. Your mind will naturally project into a future it thinks is likely, take data from there, revisit the present moment, then go back to the past, take data from there, and then make decisions accordingly.
This is quite a sensible way for your mind to work: it’s actually pretty smart to learn from the past and apply this knowledge to what’s likely to happen in the future.
The side effect, and the reason people tell you to not go into the past or future, is that it often makes you to stew over things that happened in the past and worry about the future. Neither of which is productive.
Mindfulness is a great way to stay in the present. But it takes time to build up the habit. If you’re going the mindfulness route, be patient and give yourself time to build that muscle.
There are also other techniques, like Emotional Freedom Techniques, and Future Visioning (a hypnotherapy method I learned in my coaching certification) that work in harmony with this fact about your mind.
If you use Future Visioning to mentally connect to a bright future, you naturally feel better and think more positively without really needing to try.
If you use EFT to release any feelings attached to past events, you stop stewing on them when your mind automatically visits the past for information on how things work. If you use EFT to release fear around the future, you can think logically about what’s likely to happen without getting sidetracked by stress and worry.
So give yourself time to develop mindfulness, because it can take a while. Or, work in harmony with how your mind works and spend time connecting to bright futures and releasing emotions from the past.
2. Just Think Positive.
Again, this is fundamentally a good idea. If you are genuinely thinking positive you’ll feel more energy, be less stressed, and feel more motivated.
You also might start noticing that reality occasionally seems to bend to accommodate your desires. More on that in a future post.
The tricky part is, we’re often kidding ourselves and not really believing the positive things we’re saying.
This is especially true if we’re saying positive words about things that are really important to us. Like our finances. Or career progress. Or marriages.
If something’s really important to you, it’s often very emotionally charged and this can actually make it harder for positive thinking to work.
There are two approaches you can take to solve this.
The first is to just go there. Go head first and dive fully into all of the negative awful things that might be lurking somewhere in your mind as you tap the EFT points.
You need to be tapping the EFT points as you go there if you’re taking that route. It will release it from your system and you’ll naturally think more positively. If you’re not willing to tap the points it’s not a good idea: you’d just be reinforcing the neural pathways that are part of the negative thinking.
The second is to stop trying to do it all at once. Just notice what you actually think of a situation, or what you actually feel. Do you think something is a little bit bullsh*tty? Do you think something probably works for some people, but not you?
Just start with what you actually think, and find a thought or two that feel a bit better. It doesn’t matter if the new thought looks positive to someone else. If it feels better to you, it’s better and it’s benefitting you.
In short: acknowledge that it’s totally normal to think negative sometimes. Notice where you’re doing it, then do something to think somewhat less negative.
Please don’t demand that you think positive all the time. It’s not realistic and it’s bound to backfire.
3. There are Negative and Positive Emotions.
This belief isn’t really stated explicitly. But you can see it when people talk about what to do with negative emotions and how to feel more positive emotions.
There definitely are emotions that feel better and others that feel worse, but this is very relative and context-dependent, and you can’t really label any of them as good or bad either way. More on that in a future post.
One of the reasons why I think this is NOT a good basis to start from is it just makes things more of a mess.
Example: Some unfair crappy thing happens to someone at work, and she feels angry about it.
First of all, this is not necessarily bad. Anger can be empowering.
Let’s say she’s labelled anger as a negative emotion. Now she’s angry, and also feels shame about feeling anger. And guilt that she didn’t feel something more positive than anger.
So she’s feeling more unpleasant emotions AND simultaneously squishing all of them down because they’re inappropriate, unspiritual, not empowered, whatever.
The anger that could have been a doorway to empowerment has now had guilt and shame dumped on top of it, and then been stuffed into a metaphoric little bottle with those two.
Even if in this case the anger was not empowering, if this woman had a way to process her anger before it triggered guilt and shame as well, is that not a simpler, tidier situation to deal with?
In this example, the anger-triggering happened at work, which is not necessarily the best place to freely express and process your feelings. So bottling them until the end of the day is actually a decent idea.
The problem is we tend to not go back and process things ever.
And they build and build, and then eventually we have hair-trigger tempers, road rage, needless fights with friends and spouses, way too much money spent on wine, health problems, and/or sudden inexplicable emotional breakdowns.
So do try to take time out to process things. The rest of your life will work better.
And not as many things will trigger you at work.
There are a couple ways to do this. One way is to simply feel the feelings. Just lean into them and feel them full-force until they’re done.
If you can do this, kudos to you. I have a terribly hard time with this approach.
The other approach is, you guessed it, EFT! Think about the person or thing that pissed you off, that you feel guilty about, or that’s made you think for a moment that you might be a terrible person. Pay attention to how you feel in your body and tap through the points. Over and over, until you’ve noticed your body feels better.
This actually really doesn’t take that long. Generally around 10 minutes of this will shift things enough that you notice.
It’s also very helpful to start reminding yourself that emotions are your body’s feedback about what’s going on in your mind. They’re not indicators of your worth as a human being. J