The notion that the self can be helped is one of this century’s greatest idea. But is self-help really doing the good it is meant to?
We wake up to a deluge of positive quotes forwarded on WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The ’10 ways to smile/be happy/get rid of negativity’ articles, books have us thinking it’s only natural to have our Perfect Face Forward on a daily basis, or, we have failed.
The culture of ‘howtoisms’ has taken over our mindspace. Life coach and author Sarah Alexander believes the self-help industry has not delivered its promises. She says, “Although the movement has become a booming industry, the overall value of self-help remains worryingly unproven.” Unrealistic lessons like: Attract the life you want, don’t stop believing in miracles etc. are leaving people breathless for more miracles on a daily basis in their lives. In short, self-help fatigue has set in.
Svend Brinkmann, professor of psychology at the Aalborg University, Denmark, believes we need to lower our expectations to be happy. In his book, Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, he says, “We are preoccupied with individualism and quick- fix solutions. We believe if we follow these steps, things will be fine. We constantly self-blame, then we want constant self-improvement and self-help. Our culture is all about acquiring new competencies; the mentality of ‘we’re never good enough’ is very powerful.”
In short, we are striving for thinner, cleverer, better versions of ourselves. And by doing this, we set ourselves up to failure. Says Yogesh Chaabria, life coach and author of The Happionaire Way, says, “A deluge of positive messaging on a daily basis is the new ritual. These messages affect our subconscious because most are about the undying hope of miracles in our daily lives. But life doesn’t work that way. Permanence and happiness are oxymorons, and hence, the constant pressure to be positive has a very negative impact.”
Self-help author Utkarsh Rai is tired of Whatsapp groups that are “full of gyaan”. “People tend to confuse happiness with entertainment. We need to get a realistic hold of life instead of these popcorn images we have in our head, mostly screaming of entitlement – the right to have a rocking life on a daily basis.”
In the ’80s, when talk show host Oprah Winfrey created a self-help landscape, people were elated. The idea sold out like hot cakes. “But these days, there’s too much information flowing in. There’s unsolicitated advice from apps, which bug us all,” says Amandeep Kaur, a life coach and Winfrey’s student. The Digital Revolution has given us most things in excess. We are realising now that too much of a good thing can demotivate us. Kaur adds, “Growth is not an easy, happy process. It gets painful before we begin to feel content. That’s not something shared by a majority of leaders in this industry because the concept of hard work doesn’t sell.”
That however doesn’t mean self-help as a concept is bad; it’s our expectations and quick-fix answers that need to be looked into. The fatigue that set in hasn’t come from striving to be an improved version of ourselves; it’s rather a result of waiting impatiently for it to happen on its own.
Which is why author Sanil Sachar has a radical opinion. He says, “We need to be left alone in the wild at times. Our benchmarks should be challenging and far-fetched, just so we constantly keep going forward and understand the struggle involved. Important answers about life can’t be found at the click of a button that our mind has gotten used to.”