[By: Martin Grunburg]
Well, here we go again! If you’re in the self-help/personal development industry long enough, you can’t escape the pain of hundreds, if not thousands, of well-meaning bloggers and “coaches” who are eager to pass along some inspiration in the form of a quick sound-bite. But chances are good they haven’t thought through these clichés too well themselves before regurgitating them.
So, for your entertainment, here are my Top Five Worst Self Help Clichés. (Counting down from least painful to most painful.)
#1) “You create your reality.”
The short answer is, NO you don’t. You do NOT create your reality. You are a co-creator. “Life” happens to us (accidents, earthquakes, recessions, environmental consequences), and then within that context we have the capacity to create our reality. The cliché that actually applies nicely here is that we can and should “control the controllables” (our thinking/mindset/attitude/speech/actions) within a world of chaos AND order.
#2) “You are where you are because that is exactly where you want to be.”
I used to fall for this one — thinking there is a level of truth to this because I could justify one particular circumstance or another. Then many years ago I read Zig Ziglar’s great work See You at the Top, which shared a story about him on a road trip. He ended up far off course in a town he definitely did NOT want to be in. He goes on to reveal that what threw him way off course was faulty instructions!
The truth is this applies everywhere, not just on a road trip gone awry. Poor guidance (instructions) is essentially the implementation of bad strategy… which often yields poor results. And, come to think of it, at least part of the reason I’m writing this post — the intent is to keep you from bad guidance and poor strategy as you set out to achieve your goals!
My personal experience (having had a great deal of frustration early on with goal achievement) is a perfect example of this. No matter how badly I wanted new and better results in my life, my strategy was poor. The guidance I was following was SMART goals. Devising a better strategy — ultimately, The Habit Factor — helped me to put my focus and attention upon developing the core, related habits that would help me reach my goals. This alone dramatically improved my results and ultimately those of tens of thousands (likely more) around the world!
So, as cute and seemingly innocuous as the sound bite is, “You are where you are because that is where you want to be,” unfortunately, it may actually be reaffirming a person’s poor self-image even though they are truly making a valid effort to BREAKTHROUGH!
Strategy matters (a lot). The Habit Factor (nearly 10 years later) has proven itself as a much more effective and efficient goal achievement methodology/strategy. Unfortunately, SMART goals (and many others) never even mentioned the importance of habit development and alignment.
#3) “You MUST follow your bliss and passion.”
Oh, if I had a nickel … “Just follow your bliss.”
I got it wrong in my podcast on the same topic when referencing Mike Rowe as the guy from CNN’s Dirty Jobs — apparently it’s on the Discovery Channel. Mike also has a great video (at bottom of this post) about how foolish it is to pass up an opportunity.
As a graduate (1990) with a degree in art, all I wanted to do was paint, sculpt or do graphic design for an advertising agency. My father’s advice at the time was painful. “You know, Mart, you’re pretty good with computers.” This was at a time when there was a growing groundswell of computer use — a veritable tsunami of personal computer sales was on the horizon — and computer stores were popping up everywhere.
He sent me an advertisement cut out of the paper: A computer superstore was coming to San Diego. “I think you should check this out.”
How insulting it was to one of the world’s next great artists! I thought, NO WAY — me? A computer sales guy?
Ultimately, he convinced me to just check it out. I did, and they hired me on the spot as their Macintosh Specialist (I was the only one). Within about 18 months, I’d go on to meet (at the store) my future partners/investors and we’d open a kids’ computer camp.
Now, had I been exclusive to the idea of following my passion and bliss — stubborn, set on driving my art — chances are good that The Habit Factor doesn’t exist, my kids’ computer camp didn’t exist, and (just realizing this now) my wife and kids aren’t in my life, as I met her via the kids’ computer camp (a story for another day).
Had I not participated in the groundswell of a booming PC industry and surfed the opportunity right under my feet, it’s hard to say what would have become of me. There is little doubt, though, that my life would be very different.
So, rather than follow your bliss and passion, I submit this advice instead: Create a path where your bliss and passions intersect with service and an opportunity to solve a problem.
Tied for #3: You are PERFECT just the way you are!
This is painful. Look, if every result in your life (health, happiness, peace of mind, mental well being, financial well being, social and spiritual well being) is at a 10 on a scale of 1-10, then absolutely YOU ARE PERFECT! No need to change.
From my experience — and I’ve both led and participated in dozens of personal development workshops —nobody has every dimension of their life completely dialed in. Nobody’s list has fully optimized 10s across the board, particularly at the same point in time for every dimension.
Does that mean you should beat yourself up? No! Be kind to yourself.
Recall, though, Socrates uttered this statement 2000+ years ago: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Think of it this way. If you are perfect, you are stagnating — not growing — actually dying.
However, if you are assessing your strengths and weaknesses and challenging yourself to BEcome better — developing new habits and skills as well as setting new goals for yourself — you are growing!
So, let’s restate it like this: “You are perfect and imperfect.” (All at the same time.)
#4) There are NO accidents
Much of this is actually covered in #1 above. But it’s painful nonetheless. Trust me when I tell you that NOBODY is telling the mother and father of the schoolgirl who was killed by a drunk driver in the middle of the day that there are no accidents. Again, chaos precedes order and order precedes chaos. Yin and yang. It’s BOTH. There are accidents and there is order.
#5) You must take massive action to achieve your goals!
This one is uber-painful because it originates from Tony Robbins, and taken within his context, he’s absolutely correct. He’s referring to the massive leap — for instance, the massive action might just be a decision. And, when it comes to decisions, his point is that a real decision exists when it is backed by action.
When he says “you must take massive action to achieve your goal,” he’s suggesting that you take that leap — send that email, call that girl, sign up for the marathon. Those are examples of massive action.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is that bloggers worldwide and social media posters cling to the literal interpretation of this idea and regurgitate it!
They literally think you must take massive action. As in YOU MUST TAKE ONE BIG STEP to achieve a goal!
However, goal achievement is NOT as much about massive action as it is about small, consistent actions over time (habits!). Confucius says it best: “The man who moves mountains begins by carrying small stones.”
If my goal is to write a book, the way it is going to get done is by writing consistently, developing the writing habit. However, if I tried to write a book in ONE BIG MASSIVE ACTION (sitting), it would likely be a terribly unsuccessful endeavor, if not entirely unfruitful. However massive my action might be, the book isn’t going to be completed.
So what’s the harm in this advice?
Thinking you “MUST’ take “MASSIVE ACTION” to accomplish your goals is a) incorrect in the literal sense and b) actually frightens most people from even attempting to achieve a goal.
How Dichotomous Thinking Is Behind ALL the Pain
The fallacy isn’t so much with the well-meaning self-help advice. The problem is the dichotomous thinking these clichés engender and stem from. It doesn’t have to be ONE way OR the other. It doesn’t have to be either/or. We create our reality AND we don’t create our reality. It’s both.
You have to move fast AND slow. Be patient AND impatient. Take massive action AND small consistent actions over time, etc.
My biggest problem with these self-help clichés stems from people’s inability to appreciate and recognize duality, largely because we grow up in a dichotomous environment (Democrat OR Republican, right OR wrong, my way OR your way, fast OR slow).
Where is the AND?
Almost always, particularly in the self-help arena, the real solution lies among a subtle blend of BOTH.
I explore this concept in great depth in The Pressure Paradox as well as a number of different blog posts.
Til next time friends!
Check out these resources:
Habits2Goals Podcast: What Are the Worst Self-Help Clichés?