John Leonard an audience of one.

About Projects Now Archive

self help

Many many months ago, I jotted down a note to myself to write about the phrase ‘I’m addicted to self help, and everyone is a dealer’. I stand by that phrase, by the way; in fact, I quite like it. I am addicted to self help - after all, who isn’t constantly trying to improve themselves - but equally matched with that desire for self improvement or self help, depending on what is trying to be fixed or completed, is a huge raft of people and companies who will be only too happy to sell you the cure to all your ills.

Sadly, they are unable to cure my desire for long sentences and semicolons. That needs me to commit to an editor. (Not happening).

My desire for self improvement has been around for quite some time, but it’s only in the last ten or so years that I really hopped on the bandwagon. It started, as many of these addictions do, with Getting Things Done by David Allen. That book is crack for those who look to inject a bit of efficiency into their lives, and once read cannot be un-read. You will be better for reading it, I promise.

As time moved on, I took advantage of many an airport and service station book store and stocked up on as many books as I could find on anything that ailed me - often not realised until I read the cover and discovered the malady that had lain uncured. At it’s peak, I managed to consume an awful lot of these books every month - I still remember the three foot high pile of them at home, most of which were only partly read.

The main issue with these books is that they are often focused around a single subject or point to make. Want to get better at something? Repeat a single phrase or action over and over until you get better at it. Pick the next phrase and move on. Practice makes perfect. Losing weight is moving around and eating less. Being productive is about stopping endless and pointless web surfing and instead spending time doing stuff to improve yourself (not reading books about it). Being better at something is invariably about not doing other things, relentlessly practicing, and keeping going even through the hard stuff.

There. I’ve virtually written a book myself. As I was saying, the single subject makes it difficult to write a book without continually repeating different variants of the same theme and this gets very tiring when condensed into book form. Procrastination ones were always the worst - jokes aside, I believe that I never actually managed to finish a procrastination book. Let’s face it, the heart of procrastination is that the practitioners of such a dread habit are unable to concentrate on something that helps them and if it gets hard to do, it gets dropped. Yet for some reason every book I read on procrastination was multiple hundreds of pages long.

As time went on, I gradually saw these books for what they were - some helped, if considered carefully (GTD was one), but most were rubbish peddled by snake oil salesmen. To this day, I am still slightly addicted to self help books, but I spend a lot more time considering if they will actually help me before I buy them, and I never buy books from airport or service station bookshops any more.