Six Self-Help Myths that are Killing Your Success

After over twenty years of reading self help books, listening to tapes and podcasts and programs and watching videos until my eyes bled, I can tell you that the same old saws keep popping up in self help.  And not a single one of them does what it’s supposed to.

I’m unimpressed, to say the least, with the fact that self help took my money for years and at the end of it I was every bit as broke as I was when I started.  I had a library of materials that basically all said the same things, each author ripping off the one before.

So I turned my back on all of it and started using only the things I myself had learned along the way, and my fortunes turned around almost immediately.  In the process of earning my wealth I became a self help traitor, someone who is angry about the amount of time and money wasted by self help authors trying to get rich selling the same old crap everyone else has since Orison Swett Marden, another man who meant well but was just as irrelevant then as Tony Robbins is now.

I want to change all that.  I mean every word I say.  I’ve written a book that explores why self help and success lit is utter crap, and what you need to do instead.  You don’t have to want it, you don’t have to set goals, you don’t have to use the law of attraction, you don’t have to do anything except ask the right question and act on the answer.

Here is a list of my six favorite b.s. lines from the endless well of self help blather.

1)  “You’ve Got to Want It” (also known as “Find Your Passion”)

We’ve all heard many stories of success that basically fell into the lap of people who happened to come up with a new product, or who were in the right place at the right time to get the inside track on an investment of one kind or another.  Wanting it is great but it isn’t necessary – sometimes, it never came into the equation at all.  Not turning away from success is vital, but it isn’t the same thing as wanting it.

How many people in your dream career fell into it after their initial plan just didn’t pan out?  I can’t count the number of people I’ve met in life who are “living the dream” – they own beach bars, are realtors in tropical paradises, have fascinating positions in research or academia – who had no idea their life would even take them there, yet they’re successful by anyone’s definition.  They’re happy, they have rewarding lives, and they’re doing something financially rewarding that they enjoy.  Human wants are too fickle and mercurial to expect them to take you anywhere meaningful.  I’d use your wants for material goods, and when it comes to pursuing fulfilling spiritual or emotional quests such as a rewarding and rich marriage or family life, don’t even let that be a “want” – make it a “must”.  But you don’t need money for that.

There are lots of youtube videos from successful people (see shows such as “How I Made my Millions” in which the entrepreneurs describe how success just arrived at their door one day, more often than not from a completely unexpected quarter.  Tony Horton of P90X fame had a passion for acting, not bodybuilding or fitness training.  It was that passion for acting that led him to get himself in good physical shape so that he could secure more roles, and then one day, he happened to make a fitness video.  It’s true that if you do what you love, the money will follow, but you have to know a good thing when you see it.

2)  “Set Goals”

Am I insane, telling you that setting goals is killing your success?  Well, think of this:  How many times have you set a goal, only to never achieve it?  And each time that has happened, you’ve died a little more inside.  Having dreams and goals is important, but not in the way we think.  I’ve already said that our wants change too quickly to rely on them to lead us anywhere meaningful, and goals are often the same way.  I encourage you to set goals, absolutely, but not the way self help lit commonly tells you.

Goals are indeed useful tools.  Yes, you should word them in the present tense, in the positive, use them with emotionally-charged affirmations, all that stuff.  It’s all good.  But I’ve found not only from my own life but from those of successful people that a “goal” to us consists mostly of little more than a Very Clear Idea of what we want to do.  Your average millionaire simply doesn’t have time to plot and plan every single accomplishment, because there are too many out there to pursue.

Have a clear idea of what you want, and recognize when you’re both on and off track towards it.  Know how you’re going to measure your progress, decide which corrections you’re going to make, and play the game as the ref blows the whistle.  Often just having a goal of being in the game is enough to win.  Ask those who have ended up on top simply because nobody else bothered to show up.

3)  “The power of ‘why’ ”

Trying to find out why is taking valuable time and energy away from actually doing the work that will make you a success.  Knowing why you aren’t getting off the couch isn’t necessarily going to change a thing.  Trying to figure out why you overeat or spend all your money only gives you more information about why you’re doing things wrong.  But you want to know how you’re going to do things right, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the opposite of what you’ve done in the past is going to give you the result you want.  We all know why rehab clinics exist – it’s because people keep putting chemicals into their body that they know are harmful.  Okay great, now what?  We need more than “why” to get and keep us in the life we want.

4)  “Visualize your outcome”

Firstly, this annoys me because it’s grammatically incorrect to begin with.  It should read, “Visualize your desired outcome”, but that’s a little nitpicky.  Is this the right time to mention that ‘overwhelm’ is not a noun?

Anyway, self help gurus take a lot of time telling you to visualize how great your life is going to be once your goal is realized.  But that’s completely redundant.

If I’m standing in the back yard with a shovel about to dig the hole where the pond will be for a beautifully-landscaped water feature, I don’t need help visualizing how great it’ll be once it’s done.  I already know it’ll be great when it’s done, that’s why I want it.  What I need is something that will actually help me do the work when it’s too hot out, and when my back hurts, and when the goal seems too far away.  I don’t need help visualizing how awesome it’s going to be when I’m cruising in my new Ferrari, I need help getting out of bed when I’m not feeling well to go in for overtime in order to pay for the thing in the first place.  If I’m trying to lose weight, imagining myself slim when I’m not just frustrates the hell out of me and makes me go and eat cake.

I don’t need help imagining myself slim and rich, I already want that because I already know it’s going to be great.  I need help when I’m trying to decide between a soft drink and a glass of water, because that and a thousand other moments just like it are what’s going to determine what I weigh a month from now.

5)  “Use the ‘Law of Attraction’ ”

Basically, this is prayer.  You set your goal, you visualize achieving it, you open yourself to the abundance of the universe, and the universe provides.

The thing about the Law of Attraction isn’t a question of whether it works, but rather the fact that it does.  However, it receives a lot of justifiably bad press because LoA gurus for the most partly simply don’t understand that the hardest thing about using it is knowing when it has been made manifest in your life.  In this respect most people are abject failures because they haven’t been told what exactly is at work here and what to look for to know when their prayers are answered.

For a quick, concise, accurate and useful explanation of what the Law of Attraction is and how it works, you can turn to well-written books on the subject such as that by Michael Losier, or even better, read the one-page summation in The Right Question.

6)  “Take Massive Action”

What he heck does that even mean?  I kick you out the door and say, “Go get ‘em, tiger!  Take massive action!” and you turn around and say “Well, okay.”  “NO,” I scream, “MASSIVE action!  Think BIG!” and you sound more and more confident each time I scream at you, and then finally you turn around and say, “But what exactly do I do?”  And that’s a darn fine question.

It’s all well and good to say “Take massive action”, but it’s meaningless.  ‘Massive’ is too subjective of a word to be of any use, and ‘action’ needs to be defined.  This is exactly the kind of phrase that gets my blood boiling when it comes to self help and success lit, because it sounds like it has a lot of weight and meaning, but when you ask the person saying it what they’re talking about, the best you’ll get is an answer about how you just need to work harder and longer and ‘smarter’.

You need to act in accordance with where you are now versus where you want to be.  That’s what you need to do.  Ask any dog who has dug under a fence if taking ‘massive’ action would have helped him get any more free than the actions he did take.  Short of renting a backhoe, the dog just simply did what he needed to do to get under the fence, and now he’s off enjoying his day.

He may or may not have been using self help techniques as they’re described above.  He may have been taking ‘massive’ action, or you could say he took ‘appropriate’ action.  Both those words are subjective and therefore not helpful.  He might have kept in mind ‘why’ he wanted to keep digging, and kept his goal in sight, but when his paws started hurting and he got thirsty there was only one question he was answering, I’ll guarantee it.

If you want to dig yourself under that fence and get free, you have to do the same thing.

Self help focuses on a lot of concepts that seem like common sense.  At first blush, all these things sound perfectly logical.  But the way they’re presented in self help lit all too often ignores the most basic, fundamental approaches to using them – and it doesn’t provide the answer you need when you’re trying to get yourself to actually do the work that’s going to determine your future, both deciding and discovering in advance how successful you’re going to be.

Only answering The Right Question will help you do that.

Looking for “why” is a waste of time

Too much time is wasted trying to figure out “why” things are the way they are.  This approach is a luxury, diverting attention and energy away from actually getting positive results.

The idea behind it sounds icily logical – if you know why you became the way you are, then you can fix it.  Knowing what made you broke should, in theory, help to figure out how to correct the problem.  Finding out why things went wrong in the past seems like a logical step towards putting them right in the future.

But we all know people who have said, over and over again, “I know why I’m like this, I just can’t seem to stop”.  People who are aware of why they spend all their money instead of save or invest it, who practice self-destructive behavior due to abuse as a child, or for any of a million reasons persist in taking action that does them no good, all the while in complete possession of the facts.

Not only that, but there are too many situations in life where we can never fully know ‘why’.  So putting too much importance on a factor that might never be known can work against us when we realize that and then don’t know what else to do.

I suggest you transform the problem completely, and forget about ‘why’.  Focus on something you know you can learn, such as ‘when’, or ‘what’.  Go through the journalist’s W5 – When? What? Who? Where? Why? – and leave ‘why’ for last.  You’ll never get there because you’ll have solved the problem by then.  You might ask ‘how’ too, but that’s usually solved by asking ‘what’ or ‘when’ first anyway.

Let me come at this from a slightly different angle so you understand this fully.  I’m going to relate an incident that involved a software designer trying to figure out why there was a problem in a program.

Yevgeny Karasik was asked if he could correct an issue for an online casino.  They had a video camera set up over a roulette wheel, and customers could place bets online by watching the wheel through live video on their computer.  The problem was that sometimes, the video would freeze.  The problem usually happened when a customer double-clicked on the video player before the video had completely loaded.

I don’t keep any records of customer information about who buys The Right Question, because a buyer’s privacy is important to them and therefore important to me, so I don’t know if Karasik has bought my book or not.  But I can tell you that he used the Question in solving that problem.

He saw that there was nothing in the code which would suggest why the player on a customer’s computer would freeze.  It was clean, logically-written code, no problems with it.  So in his own words, “But then it entered my mind that instead of searching for answer to this question (which may never be found) I better forbid clicking on video at the very moment that it appears.”

He had analyzed the code and found no errors.  He determined that the reason why the player might freeze on a customer’s computer was a factor out of his control and might never be known, but he had to solve the problem anyway.  So he turned his attention to when the problem started, not why, and engineered an answer.

He inserted a line of code immediately before the one telling the video to become active which disabled mouse clicks on video, and inserted a line of code after it which enabled the mouse again.  Problem solved.  The code disabled the mouse, loaded the video, and once the video had loaded, enabled mouse clicks on the video again so the player could be used.

Karasik never did find out why, but he solved the problem, got paid, and moved on.  In his own words, “Most real life problems are not solved as stated but first transformed.”

In your own life, you’ve suffered setbacks and problems, and you may have thought it was logical to find out why you turned out the way you are.  I’m telling you, looking for ‘why’ is a waste of time and it is taking attention away from you solving the problem, getting paid, and moving on.  Finding out why doesn’t tell you what you think it does.

Besides, as I stated earlier and as we’ll explore in another article, knowing why things went wrong for you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to fix them.

I spend a lot of time talking about this issue in The Right Question, with examples of how the search for ‘why’ does nothing but derail you and take your energy away from the pursuit of your objective.  Even when the search for motive in a crime is of paramount importance, you can’t find out why by sitting around staring at the ceiling.

In the meantime, if you’re still convinced that looking for ‘why’ is a good use of your time, think about the best way to prove me wrong – download The Right Question, right now, and analyze my logic.  You can use it to solve coding issues as Karasik did, or make your first (or second, or third…) million.