So you want to get better, eh? Want to be happier? More productive? Want to give more love, receive more kindness? Want to become more efficient?
Well, look. Your heart is in the right place. It really is. But you are treading on very dangerous territory. You know, self improvement is one of the riskiest behaviors one can engage in. Seriously. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise. We live in a culture surrounded by self-help books, blogs, magazines. We have thrown at us from every direction that we must do this, this, and this, in order to achieve this that or the other. It seems so wonderful. Everyone improving their happiness, becoming more loving, more kind, more just.
Well then let me ask you: why are there still so many self-help books? Why are we not improving? Why are we still lost? If anything, we seem to be going backwards. Getting less happy, getting less loving, becoming more stressed. Uh oh.
Maybe now you are starting to see why I warned you self-improvement was a risky business.
Let us look closer at the concept of “self-help.” See, you must understand: a true self-help book is self-defeating. People would read it once and then no other self-help book would ever be written because nobody would have further need to buy one. Do you see how clear cut this is? This is basic logic. The conclusion is that nobody wants to really write a self-help book, and nobody could and make a profit off of it.
Here is what “self-helpers” do want. They want to manipulate you. They want to rile up your fears and then qualm them without any substantive advice. They tell you one bad story about yourself, and then substitute a new, nicer one. Do you see how all you have gained is a story? Nothing of substance. When you read a self-help book, you are being manipulated. You are being primed like a gas pump, and then ignited with a passion to consume more.
Now I am not necessarily accusing authors of being so malevolent and devious. In fact they may very well fully believe their own rubbish. I am just pointing out the logic, that for any self-help book to become popular, it must by definition be appealing to read; it must leave people wanting more at the end of each chapter; it must say what people want to hear. These are how things become popular. Does popular have anything to do with helping you? Well… no.
You see, here, even more to a point, is what a self-help book delivers. They give you the illusion of progress. You are hypnotized by the idea of improving to the point that you forget reality, which is where the improving in fact must take place. They make you feel you are gaining something you are not gaining. My, how powerful is that ability. Listen here: as long as you feel you are improving, whether you really are or whether you are just walking in circles with a silly hat on, you will be happy to continue on in that direction. Because you want improvement. And you feel you are improving. Makes sense, yea?
But of course, feeling is not the same as improving in reality. This should be evident. Let me tell you why self-help books exist. People want to be fooled. They want to be hypnotized and lied to. Of course they do, it feels great to be! But this is not the same as improvement. You know, the greatest hypnotists always tell us, “you can only be hypnotized if you desire to be; I cannot, hard as I my try, force you to do something you do not want to do.”
So this is the explanation: people are doing what they want. And some want to improve, while others want to be told they are improving. Which one are you. Figure it out for heaven sakes!
Here are some clues to help you: You read the words of others to help yourself, you have been trying to improve for years but have made little progress, you believe you are always approaching a big break, but are always underwhelmed. These are signs you prefer being lied to, to actual improvement. Now let me tell you something most have not: if this is you, don’t worry! There is no shame in this! You have chosen what you want. The only issue there ever was, was that you tricked yourself into believing otherwise. You did not have it clear. You did not know yourself, and this is what caused you to be disappointed when reality did not live up to your expectations. You found that your assumptions about what was going on -- that you were merrily and happily improving -- did not match reality. You became upset not only that you failed to improve, but that you did not understand. Nobody likes to be confused.
And how do we stop being confused? How do we help ourselves. Let’s turn there now, and I must warn you what you are about to read is “the answer.” The end. You have searched god knows how long and it comes to a close right here and right now. You may choose to read more after you finish, you may search more, and that will be your choice. But in order to actually improve yourself (in reality), the remaining words of this essay is all you will ever need.
Remember what it means to be wise: the wise man tells you something you already know, but you just don’t know that you know it yet. You already know this. It’s easy. It’s not rocket science. You just do not yet see really how easy it is. Read carefully, I will equip you with all you need.
Here it is: to improve yourself, you must… improve your self.
I have to be honest that is all you need. And given most people own a dictionary, it’s almost shocking more people do not understand this. While I’m being somewhat facetious, do not mistake that for lack of truth. That really is the answer. The question is why do you not see it as such? And that I can tell you as well. What you suffer from is not an ability to not help yourself. You can do it, you can improve. That is not an issue. Your issue is you don’t want to, and so you’ve decided to believe that you can’t. Now, helping yourself may be very easy or very hard, and so it is not entirely surprising that you may have chosen to believe helping yourself was impossible in favor of actually doing the work. But it is possible. Of course it is. I’m not saying you can do absolutely anything, but you shouldn’t be worried about things you cannot do anyways. You control what is in your power, and you definitely have the power to improve yourself however you wish.
To be crystal clear: you suffer from confusion, not ill-virtue. You cannot help yourself not because it is impossible, but because you do not really want to, and so are buying your half-hearted attempts to pretend to yourself that you are, rather than doing what would need to actually be done to improve yourself. That’s wordy, but give it another read if you have to. It’s a complicated idea, but once you get it you get it. Next comes the cure for confusion (I’ve really thought of everything here, haven’t I?)
You know, the exuberant and supremely wise Tony De Mello often said in his lectures, “Awareness, awareness, awareness.” Well, he said a whole lot more too. (Like, a whole lot more. But we’ll give him a pass just because we like him). But this was truly the crux of his message. It is that simple. Know yourself and you will find what it is you truly desire. Once you have done this, to help yourself get it will be easy. Just do what must be done. Easy.
Let us look one last time at this word, “self-help.” Do you see that word “self”? Right. That’s who is responsible.
I do not mean to offend anybody by my self-righteous language here and throughout. You are human. You are just like everybody else. This, of course, is good news and bad news for you. It means you share the same essence of the meanest criminals and dimwits, but you also are so much closer in capability to history’s greatest geniuses than you know. You are all the same; you are all human. And what do humans tend to do when they receive hard work? They ignore it. Sure they do, it’s easier to ignore it than to do it! Self-improvement is hard work and you cannot rely on anybody else to it for you. Blech, what an ugly message. Of course you would try to escape this, why wouldn’t you? I know I did for many years.
But be aware. Be aware, aware, aware. If you know not of what you do, you may seriously harm yourself. It’s a dangerous business. You wish to be happier, but you do not realize that the same quality which causes your unhappiness also causes some of your most treasured characteristics. Remove the unhappiness and with it goes the rest. Now you are still unhappy because you have lost something you treasured. Pity. Do not be so eager to go slicing and dicing yourself. You are like a blind man with a machete in a public space who thinks he is surrounded by demons.
Settle yourself. Be aware. Open your eyes first and you will know what needs to be done. This is how you help yourself, and before you do this no progress can be made, simply because you know not of what you do or what you are. See how I cannot help you here? I don’t know what you want, and even you don’t know what you want. How can I truly help you? Self help.
Focus. Be aware. That’s the message. Forget self-improvement, it is the term itself which distracts you. Just observe yourself as you are and improvement will come naturally and easily. Remember your problem is not improvement, but confusion. Improvement is easy. Just do it. But untangling the complex web of what you want and why you want it? Why you desire to improve but do not allow yourself to? Why you have mixed up reality and illusion? My, there is a challenge. You want to improve? Untangle that mess. Be aware. You’ll get something real. That’s the problem and now you have the solution.
Go ahead now, help yourself. I’ll be right here waiting.