I’m a Self-Help Traitor (pt. II)

I feel like a self help traitor.  All the familiar faces, the names on the covers of the infinite number of success and self help books I’ve come to know over the years, I feel like they’re looking at me disapprovingly, reproachfully, shaking their heads and saying, “We taught you what you know, and now you’re turning your back on us.”

But I can’t shut up about it.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the success genre of self help is virtually ineffective.  The points in it that get stressed the most are the biggest wastes of time.

You could argue that what made me successful was what I learned in these books and audio programs.  Isn’t using them what led me to the Question?

Emphatically I say no.  No, I can honestly tell you that what I learned from self help books could fit into one question.  And it took twenty years of banging my head against the wall to figure it out.

The Same Traps

I fell into all the same self help traps so many others do.  I remember when Tony Robbins discussed a similar time for him in Personal Power (which I have on cassette, purchased from a classified ad in a newspaper because I couldn’t afford to buy it new) when he was explaining to a friend that he had done everything right and still hadn’t succeeded.  His friend told him that maybe it wasn’t the system that was at fault, maybe Tony wasn’t using it right.  That scene was really important for me.  I still have that program but I don’t refer to it anymore.  It led me down too many paths that led nowhere.

I don’t mean to single Tony Robbins out.  I know that he believes what he says, he does have valuable insights to share, and there’s no doubt he has helped very many people.  He’s made a much bigger fortune than I have from self help (I made mine in a totally different area, and writing TRQ was something I did to share with the world, not to pad my pockets).  I’ve actually never met anybody who has ever become a known name in the self help genre and I probably never will.  But if I do, I know what I’m going to say.

Over the next few articles, I’m going to pick apart the major basic tenets of self help.  To reduce success and self help books down to their basics, they all revolve around a few key ideas:

  • Set goals
  • Find your passion
  • Visualize yourself successful
  • Think about how great it’ll be once you have it
  • Want it like crazy
  • Believe in yourself
  • Find out why you want it
  • Use the Law of Attraction
  • Find or make your motivation

All the above are mentioned to some degree or other in every single self help book I have, and they’re all a waste of your time.  They’re all nice to have, but unless you’re using the Question they’re meaningless.

There is one other idea in those books, that of stepping outside your comfort zone, that not only doesn’t get enough press but is absolutely necessary for success if not basic survival in some cases.  I agree with that idea completely, but by itself it isn’t much help.  If you constantly do push your comfort zone limits, I applaud you, and I hope you’re aware of when you’re doing it and are doing it on purpose.

I’ve already done an article on what I think of looking for “why” you want something, which you could say is Pt. I of this series, so today I’ll look at the common method of setting goals.

What’s wrong with setting goals?

First off, I’d be the first guy in the room to put his hand up when the overhyped brylcreemer at the front of the room asks, “Who here sets goals?”  I do, I do.  And they’re great.  But as anything more than a way to keep me focused?  No.

A goal is a dream with a date marked on the calendar indicating when it’s going to come true.  As such the idea behind a goal is that we are galvanized to take action to make it come true by a certain date, and put our efforts into its achievement.

Setting a goal should be worded in the positive, and in the present tense.  “I have my ____________ by June 1st” or whenever.  “I love enjoying my _________.  It’s mine.”

If you’re new to setting goals, there are tons of articles about it on the internet and in self help books, so I’m not going to go into it any further in regards to the recommended methods of going about it.  I’m good at visualizing things, (which helps immensely with my golf shots by the way) and I suggest you add visualization exercises to your goals whereby you see yourself fully in ownership of the thing, or doing the activity, or whatever it is that you associate to the goal, see yourself having it.

So far so good, right?  Sounds like a basic move everybody should learn.

After All That…

But here’s what I found:  It’s demotivating when you don’t achieve a goal.  In fact it can be downright demoralizing to set your sights on something that doesn’t come to pass.  And when it doesn’t happen, self-doubt sets in.  You end up wondering why you can’t make any of your goals come true.  Why can’t you make the money, lose the weight, buy the car, take the vacation, and win the game?  Didn’t you set it as a goal?  Didn’t you write them down?  Write them in the positive?  Didn’t you go around broadcasting to everybody who would listen that you would be a millionaire by this time?  Should you not have seen it coming, the date on the calendar looming and still no Maserati in the garage?  Didn’t you combine this goal with massive action, the Law of Attraction, knowing why you wanted it, and all that other stuff?

You did?  And you still didn’t reach your goal?

Well, you did remember that goals are elusive, right?  You did take into account the fact that you might have to change horses midstream, change your goal?  You did really expect it to happen, didn’t you?  Because if you didn’t expect it to happen so that you could avoid disappointment just in case it didn’t happen, well, you’re Setting Yourself Up To Fail, and that’s your fault, not self help’s.  Hm, maybe you didn’t “believe in yourself” enough, or weren’t “confident” enough.  You did remember to completely inventory your personality before you even bothered setting out after this cherished dream, so that you’d know if it was in alignment with who you are?  Sounds like a tall order, but what the hey, you weren’t doing anything important anyway, were you?

You did all that, and it STILL didn’t happen?

Uh-oh.  Now what?

You go over what went wrong, if you can stomach it, and if you can’t, you chalk it up to experience and set a “more achievable” goal for next time.  And because you’ve been smacked in the face once already in pursuit of this thing, you’re more cautious the next time out.  And life starts to enter its gentle, floating, barely noticeable feather-in-the-wind-over-many-years downward spiral.

It can be pretty demoralizing to set your sights on a brand new gleaming Thing and honestly believe it’s going to be yours in six months when the rest of your life is a mess and you have no money, and therefore six months comes and goes and you still don’t have that Thing.  Self-doubt taps you on the shoulder and asks what you were thinking.  Don’t you realize the rest of your life makes no sense?  Who are you to set such a lofty goal anyway?  You’re not cut out for that.  Great living is for guys like Jimmy de Garmo, who climbs mountains and rents zoos for private parties, but not you.

If I could find your self-doubt I’d knock its teeth out for you and then take you ziplining in Haiti or to the Sahara for a Bedouin tea, or urban exploring in old Russia, or just sit with you at Starbucks and help you find what makes you smile.  Besides, let me toss this at you, there’s no such thing as “self”-doubt.  Think about it…

Anyway, back to goals.

As obvious as it sounds, as commonsense an idea as it is, there is nothing in goal setting to help us understand how close or how far away that goal is from becoming reality.  Sure, we’re told to adjust our actions accordingly, but what does that mean exactly?  If we’re setting a goal that seems unachievable because it seems so far away, something we’ve never done before, how do we know that what we’re doing will even get us there?

Obviously if you want a $60,000 vehicle in the next six months, you’re going to have to come up with either $60k or something valuable to trade.  You could use the Law of Attraction, but it’s pretty hard to measure your results as the deadline comes near. You know you’ll need $10,000 a month extra if you want to break it down into a monthly goal, but if you’re Max or Caroline from 2 Broke Girls, working at the diner and making cupcakes on the side just isn’t quite going to do it.  Yet.

But to hell with patience.  The self help books said your dreams could only come true if you take massive action, right?  So get out there, champ!  Go out the front door and “take massive action”.

I can see you already, standing on the step with your coat on against the rain, asking, “Um, what action exactly do I take?  I know it should be massive, but James, um…” and now the expression on your face begins to clear as you get to the bottom of the problem, “WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?”

Ah, the problem clarifies.

So far, we’ve been concentrating on the goal.  That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it too often means we’re ignoring ourselves in this equation.  And that is the most dangerous part of it.

What we need is a way to discover and decide in advance how successful we’re going to be.

In my view, self help leaves too much of success up to chance.  I’m a very lucky guy, and I love European casinos for that reason (and also for the extraordinarily diverse clientele), but I sure as hell don’t think it’s luck that got me where I am.  Before I enter into any situation I ask the Question, align the three parts of it, and I know before I ever even begin how far it’s going to take me as a result of my own efforts.  Barring natural disasters and being zapped into an alternate dimension, I’ll have the best idea possible of what the future will hold.

When I fly home and throw my keys on the table after a fun trip somewhere, I know damn well it wasn’t goal setting or the Law of Attraction or knowing “why” I wanted to go that got me there.  Driving home from the airport in my G-Wagen and falling asleep listening to the surf through the linen curtains aren’t experiences that happened because I “found my passion”.

I am where I am because I used the Right Question.  I suffered through heartache, defeat, depression, and poverty.  I did almost two years of therapy.  I took jobs that only a few years before I would have considered beneath me, jobs that tested my emotional stamina every bit as much as my physical endurance.  And I was handed a few great chances in life that I completely wasted because I didn’t see them for what they were.

Hindsight did help me begin to understand that one of the keys in life is knowing a good thing when you see it.

I’m flying high now, not a care in the world.  I feel a kinship with good, sincere, successful people that I didn’t even know was possible.  I accept money because it loves me.  Think of that as the difference between petting the cat for the cat’s sake, and the cat coming to you.  But not because of the hundreds of books I’ve read telling me to believe in myself, set my goals, find my passion, figure out why, and all the other stuff that keeps selling again and again and again because it is virtually ineffective.  It’s because of a few chance conversations and my own synthesis of what I learned.

All of which led me to figure out the most powerful sentence in the world.

Download The Right Question and you can know it too.

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