Self Help for the Helpless

20 01 2016

I couldn’t pull off that look – even now. One day though. I’m on a 6 step plan now.

I am a reticent self-helper. I am not one to take in a program and follow it to the letter of the law. I have tried a few times but it becomes too programmatic for me and too prescribed.

I need self-help for the self-helpless. 

Recently, I was forwarded a 10 day program from a friend and since it was the New Year, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I am (supposed to be) on Day 6. I have tried listening to this 10 day course by Jack Canfield. Emphasis on the word “tried”. You may know him from his Principals of Success series or more likely, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series that propelled him to international fame. His personal story is compelling but I cannot help but feel like I am being programmed when listening or viewing his videos/audio recordings. I know that if he is not hurting anyone and people are benefiting from his programs, what harm is there?

Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am having trouble overcoming my natural comedic tendency to be cynical (or parody what I am witnessing). Why is it that I have so much trouble being that guy? You know, the one that carries with him the 5 things he is working on, or the change he wants to become or equations like E+R=O (Event plus Response equals Outcome)?

I mean, I get it. I do. There are lots of nuggets of learnings in self-help books and programs and if you are one of the lucky ones where it has changed things profoundly for you or even luckier where you are able to turn these into programs worth millions of dollars, then good for you. But there is a part of me that feels a little like these are preying on people who will always be constantly searching for the wrong thing.

There is no harm in organizing thoughts, behaviors, goals and actions in a way that can make you more successful, however you may define “success” (which is a whole other issue of discussion as this is so often associated with money only). However, each individual comes into these programs from a different set point. If you are not self-aware, or somewhat confident in who you are, your strengths, weaknesses, etc. – no amount of goal setting, daily rituals, action plans and self-improvement milestones is going to account for what might be a fundamental lack of human skill sets that are required to both make progress and, more importantly, deal with failure so that you can move on.

These types of things seem to always be lightly touched upon. For example, Canfield espouses the importance of not blaming others and changing these behaviors by filling out a worksheet listing out 5 things we blame others or situations for and then what a more positive approach to those situations might be. That’s great! But, c’mon – talk about oversimplification. These are ingrained, and in many accounts, culturally institutionalized behaviors that require more than a list, a reminder and a pat on the back. I feel like this type of thing lets down many people when they do not achieve nor receive the type of response they require. 

I can’t help but wonder if a lot of this program is geared toward not only taking responsibility for one own’s life but also to provide a response to those who pay big bucks for these seminars and end up disillusioned or disappointed. I mean, let’s play this through. Someone pays a pretty penny for a 3 day seminar and a year or two year later, is no better off. One of Canfield’s lesson is that the response to the event dictates the outcomes. Is this perhaps a subtle way of saying that it is all on the attendee as his/her response was not adequate enough to elicit the sought after outcome? Perhaps. See where that comedic cynicism comes in, now?

I’m not a hater, just a truth seeker. Canfield’s programs have supposedly worked tremendously for thousands who have followed them. I am simply sensitive to the promise of motivational programs to provide us with the skills it takes to make the change we are seeking. The tools? Sure. The skills? That takes a lot more work. It’s the difference between understanding music theory and actually practicing it and for me, anyway, this nuance is sorely lacking or at a minimum, glossed over.

Then again, I am the self-helpless. Maybe I just haven’t found the right program.

Until next time,


Fear of Flying

18 01 2015


I’m big on metaphors – to the dismay a lot of times of my kids, colleagues and generally anyone with a pulse. I think it’s because it is one of the ways in which I can process things that are meaningful to me objectively. If the metaphor literally has nothing to do with my topic but the meaning does, (hence the purpose of a metaphor), it’s just more clear cut to me. I don’t know; I’m weird.

I was listening to an NPR Fresh Air Podcast with Terri Gross with author Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, daughter of  self-help author who, herself, is a skeptic of self help. She happened to talk about her own personal fear of flying, which luckily is not something I have. As she was describing her fear and those of others in a “self-help” class she took, I kept thinking: “why am I not more afraid of flying”? It’s simple. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that things, more than likely, will work out. The plane will take off and it will land and everything including and between those two moments are completely out of my control (even if I get to sit in the exit row). Basically, I allowed my rationale thoughts to take on a bit more importance than my irrational thoughts.

It just so happens that I was listening to this podcast this morning on my way home from NYC on the train. Every single moment from last night through getting back to my house was a potential cause of anxiety: trying new material out at the comedy show, figuring out the subway from Brooklyn to Union to Penn to NJ Transit while slipping on Montrose to the subway station and navigating driving on roads from the train station back home that were to be icy.

As I listened to this podcast and thought about flying, it just hit me that if I could learn to apply the same mental state I have to flying to my life, that would probably not be a bad thing. It is really the same. For the most part, there is very little we really have control over.

This concept has served me well every time I have applied it – every single time. I just have not applied it very often. It is not something that comes naturally to me at all.

A friend and well known comedian gave me some great advice late last year as I am always looking to get better. He said what is holding me back is just myself and that if I could trust the process once I am doing stand-up, it will free me up and take me to the next level. It has. I had to (and still have to) give up the fear, relinquish control and trust that things will, one way or the other, work out.  I tried this again last night and it was great and freeing. Some stuff hit, some didn’t. Most of it was awkward and a bit uncomfortable but 100% true and liberating.

And it wasn’t all about the performance either. But more on that in a future blog.

If you’re “afraid to fly”, remember there are a lot more people in place to catch you than you might have thought.

Until next time,


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