Have YOU ever heard of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” written by Steven Covey? Or ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ written by Robert Greene? Or “How to Win Friends and Influence People” written by Dale Carnegie? And what about ‘The Power of Habits’ written by Charles Duhigg? Well, these are a few infamous titles written by a few notable figures in the self-help bookshelves, and a few examples of self-help books I have accumulated so far into the quarantine. I know, it’s quite a rigorous reading these past few months considering I would never have turned a page in a few months if I were to be reading “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s stone”. These self-help books were EXTREMELY tempting to me, and I believe they would be the same for you. For instance, these books help you to see through your incompetence and lack of talents, and magnify the number of struggles and pains you have gone through to get to where you are right now. See how much you desire those things, and how much you have gone through to get them. And if I were to approach you, ‘This is a secret to the most successful businessman to ever trod the earth, and the only thing you need to be as successful is five simple and easy steps. Invest in this book for $45, and you will be taking home a hundred million dollars in the next five years’.
I believe you would totally buy it because it sounds especially promising with the circumstances you are in right now; a pandemic world where we are prone to poverty, injustice, and discrimination. And if you are not tempted to read, self-help comes in many ways from video platforms to audio podcasts to online remote learning courses, and interestingly, they also come with social media such as Instagram and Facebook. On a side note, for all we know about social media is the fact that despite it’s being utilized for good, its negative feedback on our society overwhelmed its benefits; by polarizing people, by propagating lies, by misleading people into buying a product, by spreading fear and exploiting people’s mental illnesses and insecurities…etc.
For the record, the self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry with the diverse markets of books, CDs/DVDs, audiobooks, infomercials, motivational speakers, public seminars, workshops, retreats, webinars, holistic institutes, personal coaching, apps, Internet courses, training organizations and many more. This fact only describes how we are willing to spend for improvement in our professional and personal life, but also particularly, how much our vulnerability has been taken advantage of.
Ouch but that’s the truth, and I have to break to you, that includes some TEDTalks as well.
Thesis: Not a single cent is needed for you to acquire productivity and your path toward success. It only demands time. There are no universally accepted laws that fit you and the situation you are in. The key is within you, cut through all the arbitrary steps, and experience the painful path toward success.
AND I believed you could have possibly walked into the same pit, it’s because I did the same mistake. I sold myself to the book. I remembered being described as ‘very conceptual and not very grounded with the reality which I took personally. Well it was nice of him to not put it blatantly, ‘on normal days I am delusional and at my best days, I am confused’. But the perquisite of the so-called ‘delusional’ human being that I am is that I get to be doubtful and needlessly cautious when it comes to approaching a problem in life.
And here is my story with the self-help industry.
Ever since the start of this academic year, I was experiencing the all-time high of my career as a student. A new year, a new me. At the start of August, the time before school started, I was recommended to embark on the path to success by preparing my mentality for clearance, resolution, and commitment. I did all I could to ensure that I have a clear value, approachable goals toward success, and especially, thorough and well-thought-out plans about the future. At the time, I was able to micro-manage each second of my life; waking up at 4 AM in the morning to exercise and read books; after a light breakfast, I would continue to practice a little mindfulness by listening to podcasts about self-improvement; as for lunch, it’s my biggest meal of the day, and so I could eat to full; at 3 PM I would start to fit into a pair of jogging pants or sport wears, and I would start jogging and lifting weights.
For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of accomplishment and complete control. I have been able to lose weight which also shed my insecurity. I have been able to make friends with people I never have the courage to engage in conversation with, additionally, I have been able to have proper teamwork with people I never wanted to confront. I remembered all the blissful moments I had at our dormitory at school. Life felt so perfect. Until…
The February break was supposedly a little moment away from the Liger family, a moment to recover our relationship with our individual family. But due to the March outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, the break has been extended far past comfort. You see, as a person, I am also described as ‘energetic and optimistic…but quite reliant on the energy of people around me’, which I also took personally, they are just saying I am hypocritical. But the perquisite of being quite extroverted is that I will be best productive when I am around people. Due to the current situation, the government and the Ministry of Education had put a pause on schools across the country. Although there seems to be a conflicting atmosphere among Cambodian students about the current situation regarding closing school, Liger students know that remote learning will only get harder as day pass by because we are on the brink of ending grade 10, and in case you might not be familiar with Liger, our credit systems demand the most of the last 3 academic years, slacking off is detrimental to my credits thereby it’s not an option for me if I want to reach somewhere desirable.
A month into the quarantine of the March outbreak, the class has already been running back onto its track, we were doing a remote online class of course. I was starting to notice an intrinsic reaction with the incoming works that were toppling on my desk into an array of mountains. But why would I be giving up? I will look weak. FYI(For your information) In the program here at Liger, while doing our essential classes(Math, Physics, English Literacy, Khmer Literacy), we are also assigned to a variety of school projects that encourages to create impact or change Cambodia in a certain aspect, we called these seven-weeks projects —Exploration. Additionally, to go above and beyond the norms, you could also sign up for remote independent learning or extracurricular activities for elective credits.
And I was having multiple of those extracurricular activities as well a particularly HUGE and time-consuming exploration to topple it up. As time progressed my situation had gotten worse, physically and mentally I was starting to get exhausted from telling myself to keep on going with my routines while having to manage that many workloads. Although the situation was progressively grim day by day, I was not willing to give up. Reminding myself to be aware of all the muscle and strength I have gained, as well as the productivity and the improvement in my ability to focus; I was in a dilemma. A book, or multiple books actually, told me to be happy when I am doing something, so I could be productive. BUT same the book also told me to spend time wisely and get ahead of the herd. In fact, you can see this contradiction everywhere nowadays, from the popular YouTube channels to great advice given from online programs, and most importantly, even the books under the same author have contradictions in their advice. However puzzled I was, I continued on with my works while maintaining the self-help improvements.
On one eventful evening, my mom received a call from the school about an ambiguous online program under the topic of psychology, which she later inform me saying that the course will need an additional fee as a part of it is already under the Liger budget. My reaction was unsurprisingly excited about this online program which is also another window of opportunity to earn credits, additionally, they had ensured me to give advice on productivity as well as insights into the intrinsic human behaviors that will forever change my habits. And so, I happily accepted the opportunity and signed up for the program.
After subscribing to the program, it turned out to be a self-paced online course called EmpowerU where the assigned instructor only reminds us to do the lessons that are up to date. At first, I was optimistic about the situation even though there was tons of work already, but as the course progressed I started to get bugged by the content of the lessons. The contents seem to be treating the matter of the situation I am in right now as if it was a 2+2 arithmetics, additionally, the questions they have conducted seem a little too dull-witted which I choose to summarize in this picture.
And this has kick-started my search to unearth the truth about self-help.
Now have you realized a pattern that I used in my speech above? Did you notice I have intentionally portrayed myself as a sensitive and self-absorbed who refuse to take the words as it is? If you are nodding right now, that’s the miracle of our brains. What about your assumption about how I have grown to be the person depicted in this speech?
As you can probably tell by now, human loves to be in order. Of course the order I am talking about is the pattern in life. When facing problems in the world, the human brain has the tendency to be on the lookout for patterns that we could make sense of, because we are greatly unease by the sense of losing control and incompatibility. As you were listening to my speech, you might have begun to note down my words unconsciously, and eventually, you have concluded a pattern about my behavior. And then you might even begin to questions all the unspeakable things I have grown up from. In just a few minutes, you might have already sketched out a plan on how to interact with me, which you might or might not have perceived as a threat, all the way from the past behavior to the future steps.
But what does that have anything to do with the self-help industry? Why am I spending so much time on this nonsense?
Well, thank you for holding on to the speech for this long. For more than a year of listening to advice from the self-help media(i.e. Books and online courses), and I too, had begun to notice a particular pattern. Whether they be a book or an online course, they would start off the contents of their products with either COMPLETELY SCIENTIFIC psychological facts or a piece of a philosophical concept. WHY? It’s attractive. When you began to empathize with the person in the book, you noticed all the emotions that were reflected back, and basically, you started to BELIEVE. All the pains, all the blissful moments, and all other moments. They do not have to be accurate. They just have to be realistic, and by selling these depictions of realistic moments that could be in contradiction or arbitrary to the subject matter, they have sowed a seed of belief and hope for success in you. You started to see a pattern, a sense of control over the painful life. THAT is also where the problems lie. After getting hooked up to the perfect illusion of self-control and discipline, they could start to put in NONSENSE for the volume so they could be selling their products to earn grands. And that concludes my story with the self-help industry; losing a hundred buck on a scam self-help online course and spent an unretrievable amount of time reading books and sufferings from the negative aftermaths. Throughout this process, I have been heavily impacted by the failures and came out of them with a renewed mindset and view of the world.
I realized that to be productive and be set on a path toward success, demands time on learning the meaning and concepts by having an actual experience on the subject matter. It doesn’t necessarily require any cost to acquire self-improvement, it only requires an adventurous view of the world. Be doubtful about what is being taught, and be comfortable with losing control. There is a ‘self’ in the ‘self-help’, so why are you admitting to OTHER’s works? It has to come from within.