Recently I watched a video that reignited my frustration with most of the advice in the self-help world. It also reminded me why I now choose to work and coach people in a way that flies in the face of traditional self-help.
The source of my frustration
When I was fifteen, I realized that there was a term for the feelings of chronic low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, and general sadness that I often felt: depression.
I addressed this realization by employing the most powerful tool of our modern age–the Google search. I Googled away, looking for advice, perspectives, and strategies on how to feel better.
I discovered all kinds of stuff. Positive affirmations in the mirror. Visualizing success. Reprogramming negative beliefs. Moral and ethical codes to live by. The Secret. The law of attraction. Dating and attraction. New age spirituality. And so on.
Most of it was crap. Some of it was genuine.
It took several more years for me to understand what separates the crap from the genuine.
The crap was short-sighted. It was a band-aid. It didn’t go deep. It was based on the premise that you are actually flawed, but can definitely improve yourself. (You just have to buy their book or course.)
But the common denominator in all of the genuine material out there was that its premise is the exact opposite. You actually are not flawed. Your true nature is perfectly whole–you’re complete. Everyone is, without exception.
Hearing this message was like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room, or jumping into a lake on a scorching summer day. I knew I was home. Something about it just resonated in my core. It felt right. (That’s how truth feels.)
In college I had the chance to learn more about this. I studied Eastern religions like Zen, Hinduism, and Daoism, which all shared the notion of basic completeness. I learned that we are infinite drops from an infinite sea. That there is innate intelligence in us, and when we align with it, we emanate peace and wisdom. We just forget we can do this.
It was a dramatic journey of frustration and triumph. But it left me with a sour taste in my mouth about most personal development strategies out there. They play into people’s insecurities. They prolong the suffering of those who are looking for a way to feel better. It’s a well-meaning deception, and it gets me pissed off.
Back to today
So imagine how I felt when I opened an email this weekend from a coaching community that I like and respect with a video preaching this exact brand of false self-improvement.
The video was about how to become a better communicator. I’m pretty sure it contained a list of steps to take. I’m not sure, because I stopped watching after the first.
Step one: Be Confident.
OK, sure, I thought. Confidence is important for communication.
The narrator’s opening pitch was that confidence is important for being a great communicator. He asked, “but how can you be confident if you’re NOT a great communicator?”
Uh oh. My BS radar perked up.
He goes on to list the reasons why having confidence when you speak to individuals or groups is crucial–you can speak with conviction and own what you say. Moreover, a lack of confidence is painfully obvious–lack of eye contact, poor body language, a weak handshake.
And finally, his closing statement. “Even if you aren’t quite there yet, [these strategies] will make you appear a much stronger communicator than you are.”
I couldn’t watch any more.
You might be reading this thinking, what’s the big deal? I don’t see what’s so bad about that.
Well, thankfully, my BS radar is finely honed. Let me explain.
His opening statement was that you might truly be a sh*tty communicator, but if you just do a few simple things to appear confident, it’ll fix the problem.
After years of education at BSU, I can now propose an alternate theory. (Except it’s not a theory, it’s just true.)
Let’s start with a different premise: confidence is your natural state. It’s who you are by default. And when you’re in touch with your innate confidence, and not thinking your way out of it, effective communication isn’t an issue. It just happens automatically, because we are more effective when speaking from a quiet mind and peaceful heart. That doesn’t mean there aren’t skills you can learn, and that you won’t get better with practice. But instead of proposing a few band-aid solutions, let’s address the heart of the matter. It makes more sense to me to have people discover and embody their innate confidence, rather than try a few superficial solutions to have them temporarily seem confident. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish…. you know where I’m going with this.
The narrator’s original sentiment is then echoed in his closing statement. Even if you actually suck at communicating, following my tips will at least give you the appearance of not sucking.
Ironically, what HE is communicating is that you probably aren’t very good at communicating, deep down. What I know to be true is the exact opposite.
We have peace, wisdom, and happiness inside us. They are as innate gifts by the simple grace of being alive and human. That part of us is who we really are. It’s always with us. We just learn to act like it isn’t, and then we believe that.
Remember how it felt to be a kid? The world had so much wonder. Little things made us content. It’s kind of like this:
We learned how to walk because the natural intelligence embedded in us just leads us to do it. We didn’t worry about how many times we’d fall down. And we didn’t need to take a course or struggle to do it.
That simplicity is still in us. We are sometimes lucky enough to have days like that as adults. Call it being in the zone, in flow, what have you. You feel good for no reason. Recall now the last time this happened with you. Social interactions come easily, and there’s an underlying feeling of basic peace. If you’re crazy like me, after that you think, damn, how did I do that? I need to figure out the exact conditions that made it possible and reverse engineer them so I can have it more. But the funny thing is that those days cannot be willed into existence because they don’t come from us. They are life coming through us. The best thing we can do is get ourselves out of our own ways.
What this all translates to in the self-help world is this: the crap advice implies that we need something outside of us to get where we want to be. The good advice reminds us that what we need is already inside of us.
The crap advice tells us we need to learn something new. The good advice tells us we need to remember something ancient.
The crap advice tells us we need to get somewhere. The good advice tells us we’re already there.
Calming down again
It may sound like I have a vendetta against the poor narrator of that video. But really, I still like and respect him. It was meant to be a quick energizer, not the profoundest of life’s wisdom. And his advice might even temporarily help some people.
However, this is why I’m passionate about coaching. If someone is new to the world of self-improvement, it may look like his premise–that we’re not whole already–is right. They’ll try his strategies and eventually be disappointed if they’re looking for something deeper, more true. That was me, for a long time. I want nothing more than to save people the goose chase and give them the best news in the world. Everything you’re looking for is already yours. It’s just a matter of remembering it.
Have you ever experienced frustration with the world of traditional self-help? I would love to hear about your experience. Drop a comment below. If this article spoke to you, subscribe for more here, and share it with someone else to whom it might speak. And if you’d like, sign up for a free session with me and we can go deeper into this conversation.