Why outside self-help advice just can’t compete with your own life’s lessons.
Self-help stuff comes in handy now for those of use who are interested in improving our lives and becoming our best selves. Or at least at first glance.
They’re out there. All packed out beautifully, promising to show us unknown paths that send us straight to the heights of success and a better life. E books, print books, audio books, training, conferences, webinars, workshops, coaches, you name it.
Some of them are extraordinary, some of them are “meh” and some of them are “nope”.
Anywhere we turn our heads, we’re prone to hear “Steps to…” (5 steps in achieving…), “How to’s” (How to build your dream life…), “Stop’s” (You need to stop doing…) and “Start’s” (Start doing this if you want to…).
For me, all this self help industry became confusing since I’ve started to come across pieces of contradictory advice. Some books promote behaviors that other books discourage. Some life coaches teach you principles that other life coaches disapprove. You learn about theories for “life success” that studies contradict.
It’s a jungle out there and that creates a secondary jungle in our heads.
You start with questions like: “What shall I do? (because I could do this and I also could do that)”, “What other book to read that covers this topic completely? (Because this book says this and that book says that)”, “Why isn’t it working for me?” and, unfortunately, end with questions like: “Who am I?”
Meanwhile, our brains are trying to make sense of all the information we’re consuming. They’re stuffed to bursting at the same time we expect them to manufacture solutions to our life situations.
It’s a problem of too many options, too many choices. Self-help advice, though many of it useful, creates in our mind a 360 movie film strip that runs every possible outcome we can image thus making our choices harder.
So, it’s no surprise that we find ourselves in two minds, shilly-shally, almost reaching a point when we’re not longer secure whether we do it “right” or not.
After some years of devouring “How to’s” I felt like I was trying to apply recipes to my life that weren’t a good fit. Like trying to stick a square into a round hole. I felt shallow and helpless at the same time and felt like my identity was dissolving. And that was anything but what I was trying to achieve.
How could my identity dissolve at the same time I was trying to improve my life?
This happened, I figured it out latter, because I was stuffing my mind and soul with other people’s experiences and advice, and not digging to find my own.
I fell into the trap of: “You should be this in order to…”, “You should behave like this in order to…” and kept on molding myself.
This came to an end after getting through some life events that shook me up and out of my personal development fake quest.
So, I put a pause on looking outside for answers and turned my attention to the inside: my life history and my lessons.
I’ve never learned anything more useful than the lessons my own life has taught me, when I was willing to look and see.
Nothing could compete with that. Not a book, not a life coach, not a conference, nothing.
As our days go by, we find ourselves in many different contexts and situations. Some of them are good, some of them are bad and some of them are neutral. But from time to time, there are events that turn into our greatest teachers, if we’re willing to look.
For example, from my own personal experience:
A death event can teach you the importance of showing up because someday it will be too late
A big failure at work can teach you humility
A breakup can teach you the importance of maintaining your independence throughout your relationship.
Moving into another city alone can remind you of all the mental resources you have.
A friend not keeping his promise can teach you that the world doesn’t owe you anything.
Traveling to another country can teach you that traveling is not the answer.
A big achievement in life can teach you the power of focus.
A troubling childhood can teach you resilience for life.
Learning from our own life experiences turns the self-development journey into a more genuine one because it’s so connected to our own being.
Beside these life experiences, there are also other teachers, but they are most subtle and often disguised into “ordinary” life events. It is because they happen more frequent that they’re a great resource for learning and self-improvement:
A conversation with our loved one can teach us intimacy.
Joining a new team for a short period of time can teach us cooperation.
Going to a gathering with people we don’t know can teach us that there’s nothing to be afraid about.
The struggle to save money can teach us discipline.
Morning traffic can teach us emotions management.
A game night with our family can teach us love.
Reaching the peak of a mountain can teach us the power of not giving up.
Shopping for Christmas presents can teach us the power of getting to know others as they are.
Running out of battery life on our phone can teach us the power of letting go.
Decorating our living room can teach us patience.
Writing an article can teach us self-awareness.
In order for us to learn from them, we need to develop the habit of stopping and taking mental pictures as these moments unfold, as our life unfolds.
See them as a journey of self-discovery. Your journey of self-discovery.
Take mental pictures of those moments, exactly like a camera would. Pause the moment in your head and allow yourself 2–3 minutes to reflect on it.
What was this all about?
What have I learned about myself?
What did it trigger in me?
How will that be of use in the future?
Then stock the photo in your memory like you would do it with an album.
This habit of taking mental pictures ensures that you won’t miss anything precious in your life, both in terms of lessons and experience.
I’m not saying that self-help advice out there isn’t useful. I’m drawing attention that we need to consume it with moderation, while at the same time allowing ourselves to learn from our own lives. That is what helped me.
We progress by starting with us, working with us, throughout our own journey.
Try it and see if it makes a difference.
Stop from time to time and take pictures.
By: Irina Achim
Photo: Artist: Steve Long