The first step of dealing with an addiction is admitting one has an addiction, right? If that is the case, I am going to declare right now I have an addiction to reading self-help books, watching self-help videos, and listening to self-help podcasts. When this started is unclear, but my suspicions take me back to my freshman year in high school when a friend gave me a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People as a Break-a-Leg gift for my first role in a high school play.
Over the decades, that book has been joined by a many, many more. In fact, one of my exes once said, “You read more self-help books than anyone else I have ever met or ever known.” My ex later suggested I needed a therapist. More than likely, the push for that was unrelated to my reading, watching, and listening addiction, but then again, I don’t know that for sure.
In fact, more than likely, these New Year’s Resolutions I have been pursuing for the last three years are somehow tied to my self-help reading, watching, and listening addiction.
As a step towards breaking this addiction, I figured it would be a good idea to list 10 of my favorite things (in no particular order) I have learned over the years from books, podcasts, and articles that have helped guide my path and will be taking me to Phase III.
- “[T]he last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” From Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning is often on those top ten list of books that can change a person’s life. It is easy to understand why. There are so many amazing points Frankl makes, and the images he paints in the first half can stay with a person for a lifetime. The second half on logotherapy even provides a person with the three ways one can discover meaning ( (1) By creating a work or doing a deed; (2) By experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering). One of the many excellent points, though, is simply it is our power and only our power to choose our attitude towards a situation. Everything else can be taken away from a person, but this alone never can unless we let someone do so. So many times, I remind myself of this, and it is amazing how that can shape everything else in my life.
- “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” – a quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
When Lynzie gave me this book so many years ago, she handed me a gold mine of information to learn. One of the key parts of Carnegie’s advice is to take an interest in others. Rather than talk solely about oneself, ask questions and get the other person talking. However, that alone is not enough; one should always take a genuine interest in the other person. After all, just as my mother and Emerson pointed out, every person one ever encounters, regardless of who that person is and how you meet that person, could change a person’s life. It simply takes listening for that to happen.
So many things I have learned have not come from these self-help books but rather through conversations. And some of those people have been very unlikely conversation partners. For an example, a random conversation that happened while I waited for a Melbourne tram still haunts my memory today. This disheveled lady approached me as I stood there and simply asked, “Are you going to change the world, or are you going to be like everyone else?” My immediate response was an empty one. When the tram arrived, I rushed to the front section while she went for the back. Rethinking my answer, I went back to talk to her and ask her some questions. When she started calling me “Helen” with her then acting we were old friends, I began to question her sanity, but still her question that day and our encounter left me with much to learn.
- “We are all in search of feeling more connected to reality—to other people, the times we live in, the natural world, our character, and our own uniqueness. Our culture increasingly tends to separate us from these realities in various ways. We indulge in drugs or alcohol, or engage in dangerous sports or risky behavior, just to wake ourselves up from the sleep of our daily existence and feel a heightened sense of connection to reality. In the end, however, the most satisfying and powerful way to feel this connection is through creative activity. Engaged in the creative process we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, Masters of the small reality we create. In doing this work, we are in fact creating ourselves.” From Robert Greene’s Mastery
Greene speaks the truth (at least he does in my eyes). There really is something about creating anything at all that can make a person feel alive. Watching as my characters came alive in my novel was fascinating and invigorating. That same little high even comes from putting together some IKEA furniture. This is probably why so many people love to cook (despite the what people may think and the whole New Recipe Sunday thing, I am not one of them). There is a product at the end of the end they can enjoy. Needless to say, the key thing really is about taking an active approach to life rather than a passive one. Rather than watching TV or Netflix for hours on end, one can feel so much better afterwards by having something he/she created to show for that time spent. Or at least that is the case for me. Plus, this ties back to one of the ways one can experience meaning according to Frankl.
- “It seems the Rational Decision-Maker in the procrastinator’s brain is coexisting with a pet—the Instant Gratification Monkey.” From Tim Urban, Wait But Why’s “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate”
Procrastination and I are old friends. In fact, our relationship goes back farther than when Carnegie’s book came into my life. After reading tons of articles and self-help books, I still battle it. While I still procrastinate, Urban’s creation of the Instant Gratification Monkey changed everything by giving me a visual. Even right now, the Instant Gratification Monkey is telling me to write this post rather than work on my huge project due on Sunday. Plus, visualizing the little guy gets me one step closer to domesticating him (in theory). Then when a large project is due and I am doing something else (like writing a blog post about an addiction to self-help books when I should be working on a project for one of my grad classes), I know full well I am skipping around in the Dark Playground as the monkey and I wait for the Panic Monster to get us back to work (I think the Panic Monster is visiting tomorrow rather than today, so it’s all good).
- “Dissatisfied single people should actually consider themselves in a neutral, fairly hopeful position, compared to what their situation could be. A single person who would like to find a great relationship is one step away from it, with their to-do list reading, “1) Find a great relationship.” People in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, are threeleaps away, with a to-do list of “1) Go through a soul-crushing break-up. 2) Emotionally recover. 3) Find a great relationship.” Not as bad when you look at it that way, right?” from Tim Urban, Wait But Why’s “How to Find a Life Partner”
Easily, one of my favorite blogs would be WaitButWhy.com. It has changed my perspective on so many things. In fact, the majority of this list could come from there with my referencing the posts on friendships, Elon Musk, Horizontal History, and why Gen Y Yuppies are unhappy. However, if I had to choose the two that changed my life the most, it would be “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate” (and its Part II) and “How to Pick a Life Partner” (and its Part II). It’s spot on, and it reinforces the reason why to avoid getting in a relationship that doesn’t have a positive future.The excellent drawings captured right from the beginning my last serious relationship (with the ex who thought I needed therapy). While we may have started off well, the majority of the relationship had us on that bottom step with our fighting often. It wasn’t pretty, and truth be told, I am scared to death of ever getting into a situation like that again. However, the blog reinforced the fact my single status has me one step away from something great rather than several extremely hard steps between my life partner and where I am. My ex was also in the same place for a while after our break until a step up led to finding a soul mate. Needless to say, I am very happy about that, for they can have the great relationship we never could have had. And now I find myself when I go on a date looking for the three key ingredients the blog lists: an epic friendship, a feeling of home, and a determination to be good at marriage. If my date doesn’t pass the Traffic Test, another date isn’t going to happen, and I am going to continue hanging out on the middle of the staircase until I find that person who does.
- “There is a coffee shop around the corner where all of life can change in an instant. A mere moment can change the entire course of history, or maybe just the history for an individual or few. People have a hard time believing that something as simple as a coffee shop can hold such power, but that’s because they don’t sit and observe its magic.” from “Reaching for the Stars” at HighExistence
And a good place to hang out on that middle step would be a coffee shop. Like many on this list, the place and time when I first encountered these passages/works is cemented in memory. “Reaching for the Stars” came to me via an audio recording I had downloaded thanks to a great deal on four audio books from the Daily Knowledge Podcast (RIP) to keep me company on a spring break road trip to New Orleans. My RAV4 traveled down the moonlit Indian Nation Turnpike. Thoughts of a date in Oklahoma City with someone who did not pass the Traffic Test pranced around in my head when one article from HighExistence ended and this one began. Immediately, my attention was grabbed, and I listened to it several more times that late evening before my eventual stop in Paris to get some sleep before continuing the journey.
The power of a coffee shop is mighty to say the least. It is a place where people’s paths can cross and change their future in so many ways (as long as they are not entranced by their phone – click this link to one of my favorite YouTube videos about this very thing). In fact, the dear friend I was on the road trip to see I met at a coffee shop my first time in New Orleans when I became the Boy Who Ran and he became the Boy Who Waited (another story for another time. I will just say it launched an epic life-changing friendship with a guy, who happens to have even been in an Academy Award-winning film, ). Over the course of my life, that power has happened again and again, and really when it comes down to it, that power of a coffee shop is all about putting oneself out there. Rather than hanging out at home, going through a drive thru, or hiding behind a phone or headphones, one needs not to be an island and be out there in the world. Smile and see what happens when a simple connection turns out to be part of the fates’ design.
That power can extend to community happenings like Third Thursday in Hutch, theatre productions, concerts, art galleries, public transport, and the such. However, I am not sure if it is ever so strong as it is in a coffee shop. This may be one of the reasons why I think the Midwest needs more 24-hour nifty coffee shops. Perhaps that would help Wichita, Kansas, get off the list of being one of the two worst places for dating in the United States that Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg talks about in his great book, Modern Romance. Keep in mind – it would only be a start, for it does take that courage to put away the safety crutch called a smartphone and strike up that conversation, which a person must do in the first 5 seconds he/she gets the impulse according to a great TED-X Talk by Mel Robbins.
- “Every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change it. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. We’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon, as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier. But our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed.” From Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work” at ted.com
Achor’s TED Talk was one of the first I ever watched, and to this day, it remains one of my favorite. Both his passion and his subject are fantastic and attention-grabbing. The points he makes are also key components to positive psychology and have changed my life and the life of others in so many ways. His TED Talk is a staple in my honors success seminar/college orientation class, and his equally great book, The Happiness Advantage, has been both the book for the Honors Book Club and the HCC Common Book Club. One of my friends and I also greet each other every time we see one another with one item of beauty and one thing for which we are grateful. This is just the iceberg too.So many points of his that are backed in research can lead a person to changing the focus of attention and life. The quotation captured here is one that I have tried to integrate into my life. Rather than go for the “I will be happy when . . .,” it is “I am happy now as I think of all of the great things in my world (like the fantastic local coffee shop a five-minute walk from my house where I am currently typing these words). So often we focus on the destination when it should be about the great things taking place with each step. Then when something wonderful does happen (winning an award, getting through an extremely hard task, accomplishing a New Year’s Resolution, finishing a draft of novel, crossing off an item on a To Do List (I am with Richard Branson about these by the way), etc.), human nature seems to shift to what’s next rather than being happy along the process rather than thinking it is only at the end when that occurs. Even at the hardest times, there are great things to appreciate, and it is important not to lose sight of them.
- #6. The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You
#5. The Hippies Were Wrong
#4. What You Produce Does Not Have to Make Money, But It Does Have to Benefit People
#3. You Hate Yourself Because You Don’t Do Anything
#2. What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do
#1. Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement
from David Wong’s “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” at Cracked
First, this list of 6 items is posted right past my work computer on the dry erase board behind my standing desk made from a couple IKEA tables. Second, if cursing offends you, it is best to skip this blog. A lot of foul language is used, but the points made are spot on, and I can easily see why this continues to be a favorite among many. Plus, Wong’s simply changing the year to keep this up to date makes me smile, and each of these points carries a lot of weight. One of many good points is about killing excuses or otherwise they will kill you. Time and again, I hear excuses being used for some reason or another. I have caught myself doing the same, but the moment I do, I remember this great article and either accept reality or start to change my reality to do what I need to get done rather than simply be all talk and no action. And now it is to the point that excuses simply make me cringe, and I am not so good about staying quiet when someone tosses one at me as more people are finding out, but that is probably part of some other transformation taking place right now too (yep, that was a segue to the next selection).
- “Daniel and I give a specific example of this that a lot of men (and women) do. A guy really likes a girl, and thinks if he’s really nice to her and goes out of his way to do things for her she’ll eventually see how great he is and want to be with him. So he creates an expectation attached to the effort and energy he gives his friendship with a girl, and when she doesn’t respond by liking him, sleeping with him or dating him, he feels disappointed or even angry with her. It’s what we at The Art of Charm call a “covert contract” and it does no one any good.” From “Daniel Munro – How to Stop People Pleasing” (Episode 358) of The Art of Charm’s podcast with AJ and Jordan Harbinger
I’ve listened to quite a few podcasts from The Art of Charm, and many of them are excellent with guest after guest offering some great thought-provoking advice. However, when Daniel Munro and Jordan Harbinger started talking about “covert contract” from Glover’s No More Mr. Nice Guy, I paused on my weight bench, stared at the ceiling in what used to be my home office but now personal gym, and blurted out loud, “I do that.” And yep, they are exactly right; it doesn’t do anyone any good. This can be one of the trappings of a nice guy of going far and beyond to try to help out another. I have come to the point to realize it is really pretty idiotic to do this, and if I should take that idiotic step, I should never be disappointed or even a little bit angry when I ultimately get thrown off to the side, which pretty much has happened every time.This, though, gets to my ongoing goal of being a good guy rather than a nice guy. I recently had a two-month relationship. I idiotically fell once again into the role of a nice guy, and my dear friend Kim called me out on it as I explained to her the pathetic break-up conversation. She was spot on too, and that two-month relationship and the brief romantic fling right before were what I needed on so many different levels to finally get my act together when it comes to romance. I vowed then and there in that hallway where Kim and I stood it was time to let the covert-contract-using and second-guessing nice guy die and a more confident good guy emerge from the ashes. It is taking some work to do the rewiring, but it’s happening.
- “This book is Phase 1, and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to read and put off taking action until your life gets ‘less busy.’ The truth is that there is never a better time to start then right now. I can promise you that ‘eventually’ never happens, and that ‘someday’ never comes.” from Steve Kamb, Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story.
And this now comes to the latest self-help book that just accompanied me along some of my life journey. Kamb’s use of gamification theory helped change things up from the other books I have read. The concepts of leveling up really can serve as a good visual. During my morning jogs, I imagine getting points added to my score as I keep one step moving in front of the other (while my recent eating a lot of peanut butter with honey and milk chocolate chips take away many of those points). One of many things I really liked about Kamb was his calling out all of those people like me who are addicted to reading these self-help books, watching videos, and listening to podcasts but never actually applying the ideas. The other day a conversation wrapping up a recent Art of Manliness podcast by host Brett McKay and Ramit Sethi talked about how a person can completely change his/her life in 72 hours. What one must do is what Kamb says in the first 28 pages: learn ideas in Phase I and then quickly try out things by applying those ideas during Phase II so one can eventually reach the goals and destination in Phase III. So often, I have been stuck in Phase I. Although I knew this before, somehow Kamb’s example using South Park’s Underpants Gnomes really got to me finally to take action by putting all of these ideas into motion and start living life in Phase II so I can get to my Phase III.
The list could easily continue with my going on about the importance of morning rituals, choosing friends wisely, mini-habits, creator/victim language, Alan Watt’s thoughts on Choice, and so on, but it really shouldn’t. Will this now help me step away from my addiction of self-help books, videos, and podcasts? We will see.
More than likely the self-help books, videos, articles, and podcasts are still going to be around, but the plan is to further diversify my reading, watching, and listening by throwing in more fiction, biographies, autobiographies, and non-fiction works about anything and everything. The key is all of these things I will encounter will not be directly about improving myself. However, just as Emerson pointed out, everyone, and everything for that matter, has something that we can learn. One just has to pay attention. After all, The Great Gatsby played a massive role in my life after my return to the States from Australia. Plus, Elon Musk’s excellent biography that I listened to in December shifted my world as well.
Now paying attention to Kamb and all of these other great writers who have impacted my life and never have known it, it is time for me to take some action, finally find my footing with 2016/life, and make the most out of this amazing journey ahead of me.