We've all been there: hearing or reading about the latest popular diet (Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean, the list goes on and on) that claims to know just what, when, and how we should eat. At some point, I just feel like rebelling and eating whatever I want.
Or perhaps it's the latest self-help program, full of guidelines for affirmations, prescribed thought, behavior patterns, and so on. These self-help 'experts' seem to say, "This is how I live my life, and if you want to be self-improved, you should do this too." These days, it seems like almost everybody is a coach, telling me how to live my life. I feel like they want to put me in a box just to remind me that I will never measure up and that I am not okay. Enough is enough, and too much has become way too much!
Some of these self-help gurus would do well to listen to the Bob Dylan song All I Really Want to Do: "I ain't lookin' to simplify you, classify you, deny, defy or crucify you." There's got to be a better way.
First and foremost, our relationship with self-help culture has to be healthy. Many self-help guidelines have some value, but we can't leave ourselves and our own nature out of the equation. Guidelines are better viewed as suggestions—and how you feel about those suggestions can make all the difference. So, what we're talking about here is how to have a healthy relationship with the myriad of suggestions bombarding us every day, many of which are contradictory.
There are two things that hinder a healthy relationship with how we relate to self-help:
The self-righteous already have it all figured out. They have their worldview and belief system and are rarely open to change. Whether such rigid belief systems were instilled in childhood or adhered to later in life, self-righteousness hinders personal growth. Self-righteousness has two common forms: Those who believe what they were brought up to believe and that's it; and those who have complete faith in, and are totally identified with, the latest self-help program they pulled off the bookshelf. Either way, it means identifying with one particular program without checking to see if that program is most life supporting in the moment. It also means not being open to taking what works from different diets, health plans, models for self-improvement, etc. It leads to stagnation and narrow vision.
On the other end of the self-help spectrum, we find those who doubt their own feelings and perceptions and frequently feel overwhelmed by every new program they come across. They're constantly convinced they've been doing it wrong and, try as they may, they'll never get it right.
This leads to frequent hopscotching between different self-improvement paradigms. Unsurprisingly, this leads to feeling frustrated when nothing works.
A Healthier Relationship with Guidance
It's all about balancing between the two extremes of self-doubt and self-righteousness. It's important to keep in mind that the people who write those books are just people. All too often, the printed word is seen as coming down from on high. Self-doubters need to read with a bit more skepticism. On the other hand, the self-righteous would do well to have a little bit of humility. Life is about evolution. Evolution means change. To grow, mature, and evolve means to change over time. That is not so easy for those who find self-worth through fixed ideas.
There is no one program or one diet that is right for everybody. We are each unique. Discovering who we truly are is life's journey. We don't just do that with our head, and we don't just do it with our heart. We do that with our entire being. The lifestyle that is right for us doesn't just make sense intellectually. It also feels right. It does not confine or control us. It feeds, supports, and liberates us.