A friend posted an article on Facebook titled ‘Don’t bother with the self-help obsession – it won’t make you happy’ (written by Hattie Garlick). Being curious because of who I am and the services that I offer to others I read it through. At first I was a little miffed at some of the subject matter and then I took a step back and considered my emotional response to this article.

And the upshot is that I agree with aspects and have an alternative perspective on others. And I know this and am at a level of human becoming to respond to it constructively, precisely because of the on-going journey I am on in growing as a person … some may even say I am deeply within the ‘self-help’ process.

Some may even say that as a transformational coach and learning leader I am instrumental in other people’s ‘self-help’ journeys. And they are right. I am proud about the service I offer to others and am deeply thrilled when my clients leap into who they are at their essence, make significant transformations personally, professionally and socially to move forward into a joyfulness that sustains them through the challenges that life throws at them.

So here is my take on the 7 points made in the article that is based on a book released by a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkmann:

  1. He says ‘cut out your naval gazing’, I say ‘work with latest neuroscience research and learn to align all your multiple intelligences in making your decisions’. Svend quotes Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, whose research showed the gut feelings often led us to unhelpful decisions. The article declines to point out that the research is more than 15 years old or that neuroscience was at it’s infancy at the time. We know so much more about how our inner selves work now and are also clear that there is so much more to learn … understanding our inner workings is the latest frontier. As a minimum we should be listening to our strongest desires (heart brain), creatively making meaning of them (head brain) and consulting our risk, security, and action centre that is also where our self identity sits … our gut brain. Increasing evidence shows that decisions made where all three of our brains align are more likely to be right for us in our own now. To learn more I recommend exploring the work of Grant Soosalu & Marvin Oka in the book ‘mBraining – using your multiple brains to do cool stuff‘.
  2. He says ‘focus on the negative in your life’, I say ‘acknowledge that life has dark times and choose to find something beautiful every day regardless as you progress through them into new light-filled times’. I agree that there are times that objectively are ‘negative’. I’ve been through some incredibly dark times in my own life. However, I came to realise that it was my choice how I experienced those times. And I always chose to find something beautiful in every day. Even if it was as small as the tiny perfect veins in a leaf or as majestic as a stunning sunset. At least one moment a day was focused on the fact that beauty and goodness is all around. I agree that ‘just thinking positive’ is no way to cure someone from dying or to save your house. However … we are all going to die … sooner or later. That is a fact of life. And knowing that my piece of string is likely to be shorter than most, having learnt the lesson repeatedly in no way to take those who are important to me for granted, I choose to make the most of the time people have now. To love, laugh and live with them as much as it is feasible. And to grieve them deeply and honourably once they have gone. To understand more I point you towards another leading academic, Yannick Jacob who is exploring what he calls ‘Bouyant Existentalism‘ – where he shares insights on how people may choose to float atop the waves of life.
  3. He says ‘put on your “NO” hat’, I say ‘I concur’. As someone who is always pursuing my curiosity wherever it leads me (I call people like me ‘Hummingbirds’) I am always pursuing new interests, new directions and taking up new challenges. However, I have learnt to take time when they arise and to assess whether the newest shiny thing adds to my world or may actually be a nicely disguised ‘destruct button’. I have learnt to use ‘no’ as a positive statement. One where I am in control of who and how I am in the world. We each have different levels at which we embrace change. Hummingbirds are naturally open to new experiences, it is one of our inherent strengths. However, we also need to be discerning in what we pursue. Our lives are richer for it. For those who are at the other end of the spectrum , where they are much more likely to automatically say ‘no’, they need to become more positively discerning in saying ‘yes’ and stretching their comfort zones. Their life will be richer for it.
  4. He says ‘suppress your feelings’, I say ‘allow your feelings to be real with those in your trusted circles’. For those who have known me well for a long time you will understand that for me to express my feelings was a hard won deeply personal journey. However, I agree that emoting at all times is inappropriate at best and incredibly unhelpful for you and others at worst. I also find it interesting that the term ’emotional economy’ is used here. Most of those who I follow in this space are clear that being vulnerable and open about your feelings is something best served cold. In other words, at the time you are experiencing the deep emotion you only connect at this level with the select trusted few. Only when you have lived through the experience and had time to process what you have learnt from the experience do you share this with the wider audience. That allows other people to learn from what you’ve experienced in a way that is empathetic and avoids emotional manipulation. 
  5. He says ‘sack your coach’, I say ‘assess the integrity and results of coaches before hiring an array of them now’. Svend states that we are caught in a culture that ensures we are never satisfied with who we are and where we are now. And that we are encouraged by coaches who say that we need to be ‘constantly and never-endingly improving’. I understand where he is coming from here. However, I have also observed significant shifts in the way that coaches of integrity are working with clients now. Increasingly coaches are working with people to learn to appreciate themselves for who they are now, to be grateful for what they do have and to unpack all that they have learnt from both the fabulous and the challenging experiences in their lives so that they have a deep acceptance of how far they have come. And yes, coaches do still focus on where people are going in their lives … because that is inherent to human becoming. We are hardwired to be innovating, creating and improving. However, coaches of integrity empower people to do this for meaningful reasons rather than ‘because this is what I “should” be doing’. As to the range of coaches … different coaches have different strengths. I have a variety of people who coach me through different aspects of my life. Through the work I do with them I am empowering myself to stay real, open my eyes to my blind spots and create options for me to consider the world in different ways. I specifically provide this service to other Hummingbirds.
  6. He says ‘read a novel – not a self-help book or biography’, I say ‘read whatever you can get your hands on!’ Okay, so am revealing the fact that reading and breathing are pretty much the same thing to me in this one. And the point Svend makes that good novels are ‘more consoling’ because they deal with the complex messiness of life is a good one. However, the kind of books I read in the non-fiction world also showcase the fascinating complexities of life. We are once again back to discerning choices in which books you choose to read.
  7. He says ‘dwell on the past’, I say ‘learn from & celebrate your past for creating the person you are today, live fully in your present and create your future with optimism that is rooted in all of who you are’. Svend speaks of people becoming more rooted in who they are and where they have come from because it gives them security. I get this for sure. At the darkest personal time in my life I was living in the UK and decided I needed to return to NZ to reconnect with my people and my land. I did that for 2 months and was ready to come back to my messy, complicated life in the UK to grow a renewed reinvigorated life here. I absolutely own that all of who I am and where I am going is rooted in the experiences and contexts of my personal history. I truly love that living fully is about appreciatively being in my present. And taking baby steps as a I create the lifestyle and future I dream of through my own hard work, connections and collaborative choices.

After reading all this I am curious as to your thoughts and experiences with personal growth?