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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why Can’t Self-Help Books Fix Us?



Is real change possible – for anything?

Sometimes it seems possible to change an industry, a government, a life – and yet too often it seems so many obstacles stand in front of the reform of one’s ways. If people could simply stop doing what harms them, we wouldn’t have people dying from obesity, we wouldn’t have marriages broken by cheaters, we wouldn’t have people bankrupt from gambling debts, and we wouldn’t have people hurting themselves or one another to the degree that they have. New Year’s Resolutions are all about making commitments to change but what separates one from making an unachievable wish list from one who makes a scorecard of upcoming accomplishments?

Thousands of self-help books are written and published every month and yet the problems they seek to resolve go untreated. We have more information out there about health, addiction, and stress – and yet we have record numbers of overweight people and millions of people who can’t control their actions – and such a failure of restraint leads to death, disability, broken hearts, emptied bank accounts, and broken families.

Why do we behave badly?

We think it won’t catch up to us.
We hope we can change our habits some day.
We believe some cure will come from outside ourselves.
We like what we’re doing – it feels good.
We don’t know of another way.
We don’t believe change is possible.

There are many reasons – excuses – why we do what we do. Maybe we’re just lazy, stupid, or genetically disposed to screw ourselves up. Maybe we are angry, depressed, or lonely and grab whatever alleviates short-term pain even if it has a long-term consequence. Economics, genetics, environment, and other factors no doubt influence our behaviors, but at some point we become adults who can choose to control our destiny. Often, we make no choice at all, and let things just be as they’ve been.

What would it take for people to change their lives? Maybe start with something small, almost inconsequential, and then succeed at making a change. Then build on that success and begin to tackle more significant things. Join a support group. Read motivational books. Avoid loser friends and relatives who weaken your spirit. Or simply substitute one problem with a smaller one.

I have no idea what it takes to make a real change in one’s life but I find hope when I look at my mom. She just turned 73 and is in reasonably good health. Seven and a half years ago, at the age of 65, she was told she had lung cancer.

After 48 years of smoking a pack a day, she quit cold turkey. No patches. No drugs. No gum. No switching to food or some other crutch. She just walked away from it as if it meant nothing, even though it had been her passion for five decades.

I estimate she smoked 350,000 cigarettes – and now none. Amazing. In the time she’s given up her habit, she did not smoke what would’ve been another 50,000 cigarettes.

It turns out she didn’t have cancer. The test was an error and a retest 10 days later showed pink lungs. She was lucky.

She didn’t go back to smoking once she learned she was cancer-free. She had a new lease on life and now serves as an example that people can change and they can control their desires.

So why do self-help books fail us?

-          Some are not well-written or filled with no real strategy other than to change one’s frame of mind or attitude.
-          Some are contradictory about what needs to be done to kick a habit.
-          Books may inspire us, at first, and then reality hits us and life’s challenges win out.
-          Books alone can’t change us permanently – we need coaches, support groups, and good friends to help us.
-          Society needs to change – not just individuals. For instance, if schools serve junk or families only celebrate birthdays and special moments with alcohol and food, how do we expect to encounter good eating habits?

That said, some self-help books are better than others. Anthony Robbins is still my recommended motivator – check his books out. But remember, books can only awaken you, inform you, even inspire you. It’s up to you to change.

Will you make a real change in 2014? If you do, let me know what it takes to succeed. For all the books out there on change, our population is still without resolve and strength. Keep reading – don’t give up. And then master the action and conviction to change.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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