Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why rant against self-help gurus?

What reason do I have to rant against self-help gurus and personal development systems such as NLP, etc.? After all, live and let live, as the saying goes.

Because I believe in change. Because I believe in personal development. I have seen it, in my own life, in many regards. I have also seen myself struggle and be frustrated, time and time again. And in some important areas of my life, I am not ashamed to say, I have still not managed to succeed.

At first, the frustration came from the silly idea that I can never change, that I have to live with unacceptable and arbitrary limitations.

Later on, another form of frustration came from the idea that I bloody well can change, but I have no clue how. I learned all the concepts, and I had some promising initial results, but a lot of it didn't seem to stick. I repeatedly fell off the wagon, and the old habits came through again and again. At any given time, the system seemed flawless; or, well, at least that was what I was trying to believe. What I desperately needed to believe. The system was so logical, so obviously beneficial, and a lot of people swore by it.

If that sounds very religious to you, then I agree: It is indeed religious. It is what religions do, at their core. It is why I reject religion, among other things.

All those systems, be it NLP or the systemic approach, positive psychology, mindfulness-based therapy, nonviolent communication, buddhism, etc. etc. - they all have their merits. They all have some truth hidden within. But as a whole, the only thing they do is block your development.

You cannot have a one-size-fits-all system of personal development. Humans are just too disparate. Our genetics, our history, our personality vary so much that it is extremely hard to derive common general principles.

For example, almost every communication trainer will teach you that you should avoid the negative. The reasoning is that the brain cannot really process a no: "Don't think of a pink elephant." Yes we did think about a pink elephant...

Consider a support team in an IT business. They tell customers, among other things, "Please do not hesitate to call us when you encounter any additional problems." Every self-respecting communication trainer will bang their head against the next wall, and then replace this with "Please feel free to call us in the unlikely event of another challenge."

However, on the other hand, there is also the concept of an "away-from" motivation. The idea is that some people are motivated more by negatives than positives. Seems pretty obvious, given that humans are very, very good at anticipating danger and running away from it.

But... how can both ideas be true at the same time? If some people are motivated by "away-from", then it's pretty much possible that they are actually the majority, in which case it would be much better to keep the original phrasing. Assuming we actually want them to call, of course.

Now, if even this very basic cornerstone of communication is more like a guessing game than anything else, then what about the more intricate points? How on earth is a "six-step reframing" supposed to work for all clients? I can attest that it never worked for me. No, I did not do it wrong.

Why do I rant? Because I suspect that all those nifty methods and systems and strategies only create frustration in the majority of practitioners. And then they come back for more and lose more time and money to the guru. And then, at some point, they get frustrated or simply run out of money, and then they give up on their original dreams and goals. And that is such a big shame, such an awful and despicable loss of human potential and happiness.

Because, as I said above, I believe that change is indeed possible, if you set your mind to it. Not without putting in the hours, and your best creative effort, and probably some lengthy talks with people who did affect change in their own lives. Not to coach you. Not to run a few patterns on you. But to share their own personal experience, so that you can develop your very own coaching system.

But of course, this will rarely ever happen. The universal systems will thrive, and people will put their money there. Well, duh... it is all in the name of good intentions, religious freedom, and making money no matter what. So, all things considered, all is good, I guess.


  1. Man, well said, you should write a book or something and tell more people about this system.

    1. Mwahaha! :-)

      Seriousl, though, I might consider trying to pass on my experiences at some point in the future. Provided I am certain, by that time, that I actually have something useful to say. And if I do, I will either do it in the form of a free e-book, or find a way to make sure it's not a rip-off. I honestly don't think that those guys are doing themselves a lot of good in the long run, money aside.