Sunday, July 29, 2012

Monday Blogcrawl

I wonder why I can't stick to any particular schedule. I am brilliant at dreaming them up, but when it comes to actually sticking to them,  then forget it. Please send me suggestions and solutions :-) Until then, here's a week of what's happening in self-help:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reading Success Literature

Success is such a bold word, and one which is traditionally associated with the literature of self-help. The great magazine of the self-help movement is called Success, and it is a quality which perhaps best describes the way we all want to be seen this world: as successful people. Those approaching life with an attitude of self-development often choose to see the human journey as a series of successes, opting to maintain "an attitude of grattude" which triumphs at even the smallest gains. Success, so the self-help books tell us, is its own reward. And it seems as though this conviction has been a part of Western culture since antiquity. As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius put it:

"Forward, as occasion offers. Never look round to see whether any shall note it... Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle."

So, here are a few books from my collection that specifically address success:

The Truth About Success and Motivation by Dr. Bob Montgomery - This 80s book by a Melbourne doctor is quite charming and gruff, and one of the few self-help books with a uniquely Australian voice. Dr. Bob thinks that being assertive might be the key to success.

50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowden - The ultimate collection of books specifically about success, Butler-Bowden provides detailed precis of 50 of the best, providing an invaluable reading guide. In it he included the Chinese classic, Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

Your Success in Five Years or Less by Anita Bell - Another Australian, Anita Bell defines success in terms of real-estate investment culminating in financial independence. In it she describes how she bought her first block of land at the tender age of 16. Quite an amazing lady.

Authentic Success by Robert Holden - I heard Holden speak last year at the Hay House I Can Do It conference in Sydney and he was thoroughly charming. He's kind of cheating a bit here - he is asking the reader to re-define success so as to be able to live a calmer, more balanced life.

Character is Capital by Judy Hilkey - This is a fascinating academic study of the "success manuals" that were sold door to door in nineteenth century America. Hilkey tells us that these early success writers created in their texts a vision of a deeply polarised world which gave birth to a great anxiety about moving up in the world.

The Success Principles by Jack Canfield - Canfield is of course the man behind the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise, and this enormous book is jam packed with practices and ideas that he claims will guarantee success. I  have actually read this book a few times, principally because it is well writen and constructed, and those ideas that I have actually put into place (shamefully few) actually seem to work. Canfield tells us that we should create our To Do lists the night before, just before we go to bed. This way we can start the day running, ticking off the items as we work toward our goals.

Success is Not an Accident by Tommy Newberry - Newberry says we need to write down really compelling goals in order to be successful. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New Self-Help Books in July

I really do have to be bringing my thesis to a close some day soon, but that doesn't mean I am going to stop reading self-help books. Au contraire. Here is my latest pile, almost none of which are destined for inclusion in my dissertation. But I couldn't resist. From the top:

Happiness is Here and Now by V. Vajiramedhi - I bought this one in Thailand. It is a collection of questions and answers with a Thai Buddhist monk, packaged as self-help lifestyle advice. Quite good.

Meta-Secret: The Next Level by Mel Gill - No idea what this one is, but it is such an obvious cash in on The Secret franchise that I had to get it. Another purchase from Bangkok. 

Change Your View, Change Your Life by Ven. Acarya Thoon Khippapanyo - More Thai Buddhism packaged as self-help.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeannette Winterson - OK, I know this one is memoir, but I have been interested in how it is being presented as a kind of anti-self-help book..

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley - This guy is really interesting, and I have been following him on-line for a while.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill - Of course I have read this one over and over again - it is one of the principle reference points for my dissertation. But the two 70s paperback versions I own are literally falling apart, so I snapped up this nice hardcover version when I saw it on sale.

Break Through Pain by Shinzen Young - Purely for personal reasons.

High Mysticism by Emma Curtis Hopkins - The uninitiated might be asking why a book of this title is included in self-help, but Hopkins is very much the grandmother of the self-help movement, and until now I have only read one of her books (they are exceedingly difficult to get).  She was an associate of Mary Baker Eddy and called The Mother of New Thought.

This is How by Augusten Burroughs - Another very strange new release by a mainstream author who is trying to present (I think) some distilled self-help wisdom.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo - Didn't Oprah have something to do with this?

Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki - I have been wanting to read this for about a year and finally I got a copy. Guy Kawasaki rocks.

Fell's Official Know-It-All Guide to Writing Bestsellers by Stanley J. Corwin - I'll let you know if it works.

The Prosperous Heart by The Prosperous Heart & Emma Lively - Cameron is, of course, the creative genius behind The Artist's Way. I always like to keep up with her work. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stop Saying You're Fine by Mel Robbins

I first encountered Mel Robbins when I heard an interview with her on the CD that accompanies Success Magazine, and I resolved then and there to buy her book.

Of course, that resolve quickly faded, but when I was strolling through Kinokuniya at the Suria mall in Kuala Lumpur I saw a big pile of the book and I grabbed a copy. I then spent the next few days absolutely enthralled. I couldn't put the book down, and spent 4 days at a beach resort in Langkawi poring over its pages and taking copious notes. I am still working with the book, and though it has managed to make me feel enormously guilty (I will never look at the "Snooze" button in the same way again!), it has also caused me to assess some of my goals and life situations much more realistically.

The premise of the book is really a very old fashioned kind of tough-love - stop telling yourself that everything is hunky-dory. Your life is crap and the sooner you come to terms with the fact, the better suituated you will be to improve things. I must admit that it was a message I probably needed to hear just about now, when I have a whole pile of obligations but have been taking a very cavalier attitude towards them.

Robbins asks her readers to assess the excuses they use to stop themselves doing things. She is also expressing an idea I am beginning to encounter more and more in the newer self-help literature - don't trust your feelings. In fact, an almost guaranteed recipe for success is to act contrary to your feelings, because for must of us our feelings will always want us to give up and stop doing unpleasant things. Robbins says that his is exactly the point at which we should snap into action - the moment we don't want to do it should be the very moment we start. Only that way will we get done the things in life that need getting done to make sure we are successful.

Mel Robbins is in some ways negating the standard arguents of New Thought that permeate most self-help, making this book somewhat counter-cultural. She says that unless we are being completely realistic about our faults, shortcomings and failures, we are doomed to keep repeating them. Positive thinking and hoping for the best do not get things done - the only people who ever succeed in changing their lives for the better are those who frankly examine the areas in which they are failing and set about doing something about them.

Part of the charm - and the wisdom - of the book is that it's not about being perfect. Instead it is about being brave enough to have a go and resilient enough to deal with mistakes, messes and unexpected defeats. She gives the example of yoga clases - kids love them because the poses make them fall over and flop sideways and just generally lose their decorum. Adults fear them for precisely the same reasons, and approach the exercises with a grim-faced quest for perfection. If we are to truly enjoy ur lives and stretch ourselves (metaphorically) as much as we possibly can, then we need to be prepared to look like idiots in the name of experimentation.

Just as we are trapped by material conditions, we are perhaps even more trapped by the mental conditions that have emerged over a lifetime. We are caught in habits and routines which, while sometimes helpful and soothing, can also be destructive and suffocating. Robbins' ultimate call is for us to break free of the shackles of familiarity and try to live differently and see just what exactly we might become:

"Breaking out of a routine creates a "butterfly effect" in your life. You change one little thing about your day and it can set off an entire chain reaction. Every new element that you introduce into your life becomes a clue to help you create a new direction. Every new direction is a pivot poin in your life and a lever against inertia. Breaking out of a routine is not a brute-force exercise. You just need to wake up and notice."