“If I buy it, then I’ll be motivated to change.” This faulty logic leads to suburban basements filled with dust-collecting treadmills, weight sets, and ab gizmos, cupboards filled with unopened vitamins, backpacks with unopened Moleskine journals, and bookshelves (or Kindles) lined with half-read self-help and business books. A set of free weights certainly can help you to get strong, but buying one won’t give you any more motivation to do what is difficult.
The truth is, it’s much easier to buy something than actually change yourself. Hence why we get self-help as consumerism. Gurus of self-help products regularly contribute to this problem. At the Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” seminar I attended, Robbins encouraged everyone present to give a several hundred dollar deposit for his “Mastery University” series of very expensive seminars, using such twisted financial logic like “if you think you can’t afford it, that’s just your limiting beliefs about money that will keep you poor forever” and encouraging people who didn’t have the money in their checking accounts to write a post-dated check and “find a way” to get the money into their account before the check cleared. (The truth is I know several folks who declared bankruptcy from using this method to attend Robbins’ seminars.) Talking out of the other side of his mouth, Robbins also frequently harps on people who read self-help books and go to seminars but don’t take enough “massive action.” Personal development authors encourage selling with emotional triggers to get impulse buys from customers, yet then turn around and blame the customer for not getting results. Talk about not taking responsibility!
Having thumbed through Tim Ferriss‘ book and read numerous comments on this blog and elsewhere, his 4-Hour Body in the words of the NY Times, “reads as if The New England Journal of Medicine had been hijacked by the editors of the SkyMall catalog.” Discussions online about the book seem to center on which products to buy, whether the PAGG stack, the Philips goLITE (something I’ve been considering myself for fixing my messed up sleep schedule and SAD), kettlebells (something I enjoy exercising with, but purchased and honestly didn’t really use for several years), etc. Even discussion about the various diets in 4HB are about what to consume—whether “slow carbs” or a gallon of milk a day.
Whatever happened to things like, say, discipline as the foundation of self-help?
I got into self-help because I lived with constant, debilitating anxiety as a kid. Nobody could be courageous for me—I literally had to do it myself. I think everyone should be involved with self-help to a degree precisely because there are things one can only do for one’s self—whether assessing one’s level of honesty, expressing one’s emotions authentically, getting sufficient daily exercise, managing one’s personal finances in the way that best fits one’s values, etc. Note that there is no purchase necessary to develop self-discipline, to pursue greater honesty, to manage one’s finances, or even to exercise (you can start with or even go your whole life just with walking, barefoot running, pushups, pullups, situps, bodyweight squats, playing sports, etc.). There are still many self-help consumer goods that tempt me—especially exercise equipment of various kinds—but I know myself well enough now to realize that if I don’t have the discipline first to exercise regularly, buying a heavier kettlebell certainly isn’t going to magically give me that.
One of the major problems with the effectiveness of modern medicine is what doctors call “compliance.” For example, if you have a bacterial infection, chances are penicillin will kill it. But chances are also good that you won’t remember to take all your medicine, thus leaving some little nasties still floating around in your body, waiting to erupt again later, and possibly even becoming immune to antibiotics because you didn’t take the full course of your medicine. Compliance is even worse for things like diabetes that require major lifestyle changes—in the US, non-compliance is 98% for folks with diabetes, and non-compliance is “the principal cause of complications related to diabetes including nerve damage and kidney failure” (source: Wikipedia).
Regardless of what your opinion is of Western allopathic medicine, the fact is that following through is difficult for most people for a variety of reasons: unexpected side-effects of the treatment, cost of prescription medicine, complexity of the regimen, poor trust or communication between patient and health provider, and even simple forgetfulness or other psychological factors. And that’s just for easy things like taking a pill every day. For things like diabetes and hypertension, the lifestyle changes required are so huge for most people they can’t even conceive of doing the basic things required.
Note that this compliance issue also occurs not only with health professionals but also with self-help purchases—whether a set of supplements learned about in a book like The 4-Hour Body, a late night infomercial exercise program, or an overpriced motivational seminar, chances are you’re not likely to follow through with the incredibly difficult path that such purchases require to get the advertised results. There may even be unforeseen side-effects that the sage on the stage somehow neglected to mention during his 4-hour sales pitch. This is why I generally recommend to people that they try something free and foundational first, then and only then think about buying something that might help. For instance, if you’re looking to get in shape, start with three 15-minute walks a week. If you can do that for a month, add 3 sets of pushups from the knees with your walks. Keep that up for a month and then change your breakfast to something like oatmeal and fruit or some hard-boiled eggs with or without the yolks.
This same principle is true of technology that supposedly makes you “more productive” (B.S.—technology amplifies your current habits and tendencies whether productive or distracted by every shiny object on the internet), exercise equipment that supposedly gives you a six-pack (B.S.—visible rectus abdominus muscles come only from low bodyfat percentage, which largely comes from consistently eating healthy and not too much), or techniques that supposedly make sex bigger and better (B.S.—almost everyone agrees that sex is best when intimacy is present, which is the natural result of trust and commitment built over time).
Focus on the fundamentals, the things that require patience and persistence and are basically free or cheap, the things that are ultimately virtues, and then maybe buy something. But know that deep personal change has almost nothing to do with buying the right thing.
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