Change. Whether you call it self-help, personal transformation, growth, or just plain change, it is a goal to which virtually everyone aspires. Gaining self-esteem, losing weight, improving relationships, achieving success, getting rich, or finding happiness are just a few of the ways in which people the world over want to alter their lives. Our ability to achieve these goals depends on whether we can change the way we think, feel, and behave in ways that will encourage the pursuit of those goals. Without change, as the old Texas adage goes, “If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done, then all you’ll ever get is all you ever got.”
Yet is there anything that we devote more time, effort, and money to than attempting to achieve that elusive goal? And is there anything that we pursue with such vigor and yet with such poor results than the quest for change?
Thankfully, there are a lot of people out there more than willing to help you change, for a small price, of course. Did you know that self-help is a $10 billion-a-year industry? As the late and great comedian George Carlin riffs in one of his stand-up routines, “I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
What does the size of the self-help industry say about change? For one, no one has found The Secret or The Answer (titles, I should note, of two best-selling personal-transformation books); people are still looking for honest-to-goodness ways to change. And, let’s be really frank here, as George Carlin has also observed, “If you’re reading it in a book, folks, it ain’t self-help. It’s help.” But help is okay too as long as it actually, well, helps.
Unfortunately, change has gotten a bad rap because of the self-help industry; it has become a parody of itself and many of its leading proponents, such as Dr. Phil and Anthony Robbins, have truly “jumped the shark.” Watching self-help gurus on TV is like watching a Saturday Night Live skit of self-help gurus on TV.
Numerous articles have been written about the disingenuousness and downright dishonesty of self-help gurus and their services and products (just do a web search of “self-help industry” and see for yourself). We hear the outrageous promises of fast and easy change that simply affirm the well-known saying often attributed to P. T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” We hear claims cloaked in scientific language (e.g., the Law of Attraction offered in The Secret is, according to its author Rhonda Byrnes, a natural law as real as gravity). We hear the sardonic commentary that the only people who are being helped are the gurus who are making millions off of gullible buyers of self-help books, podcasts, and DVDs.
You might say to me, “I really do want to change and I really want to be one of those people who actually changes, but it’s the how to change that’s the mystery!” Well, despite the protestations of Rhonda Byrnes, there really is no mystery. Change is simple. You decide what you want to change, you find a strategy that will facilitate the change, and then you commit yourself to making that change.
Change, however, is not easy. In fact, it is downright difficult. That’s why most people don’t change and why the self-help industry is so robust; no one has offered a way for those millions upon millions of self-help consumers to make the changes they want. If someone had actually found the answer to the question, “How do people change?,” there would be no self-help industry, just one very rich person.
People are willing to plunk down $23.95 for a book or $15.95 for a DVD that promises that its method is really — no, I mean really — the one that will help them change. What’s a few bucks for the possibility — whatever the improbability — of finding that pot of gold at the end of the “I can change my life” rainbow? Of course, when that book, podcast, or DVD doesn’t produce the desired change, another self-help product comes along that promises to do the trick. And as long as the price is right, people will continue to line the pockets of the self-help industry in perpetuity. To do otherwise would be to admit defeat and be labeled a loser in our aspirational, “I can have everything I want without any effort” culture. Such an admission would mean a life-long sentence of not being successful, happy, rich, slim, or loved. And that is just plain unacceptable.
There are many obstacles that stand in the way of change, ranging from emotional baggage and ingrained habits to an environment that reinforces the status quo and is hostile to change. And, contrary to the assertions of just about every self-help book that has ever been written, change takes incredible commitment, time, energy, and effort. Someone might be able to show you the way, but you have to make the journey yourself.
So if you’re looking for a quick and easy path to change from any self-help book, podcast, or DVD that promises you instant and effortless change, put it back on the shelf or return it to Amazon. I can assure you that you’re wasting your money and time.
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