Friday, June 21, 2013

I Caught Myself Nodding

Yesterday, I began reading a self-help book at the library. It doesn't matter what it is, I need all the help I can get. Going along, I caught myself nodding in total agreement: "Yes! Yes! Yes!" How is it that I myself didn't come up with these everyday, commonsense understandings of the situation at hand? It'd seem that almost anyone could write such things. The fact that it resonated so much with me, and indeed I was very enthusiastic, means any old idiot could've come up with something as good.

So let's say I have an idea for a great self-help book, "How to Read a Self-Help Book," and want to get it published. Would the publisher say, "That's a great idea, here's the money," or offer me some lame excuse, such as, "The very nature of self-help books, being the easily grasped truths of daily life packaged as grand principles, is that they're already easy enough to read. You feel you're benefiting from them even though they're merely telling you what you already know." ?

OK, if that's their final answer, Screw Them (!), I'll just publish the pointers on my blog ... free of charge. And then I'll stand back and receive the payoff. The only payoff I need is this: If I can help just one person -- just one person -- then I will have helped everyone who reads these posts from start to finish. Which, I hate to say it, is actually me, since not only do I write everything here, I also proofread it a couple times. So it's to my own personal benefit to remind myself of things I already know. For me, that's royalties enough!

Here then are a few of the pointers on "How to Read a Self-Help Book":

There's no need to read every word -- Skim it. You're not reading it for pleasure. But for one of the following reasons: 1) You feel desperate in that area; or, 2) You want to enhance what you already know. The self-help books we read are always about things we already know. But it's true, you can feel desperate. Please don't. Life has its ups and downs. Take a break, a breather, maybe a nap. Work through your problems one by one, the hardest stuff first. Be deliberate and disciplined, maintaining a calm assurance that everything will be all right. Look at it this way: They barely execute mass murderers, you're likely to live through it!

Scan the book before starting -- Is it a lot of everyday illustrations masquerading as profound truth? Do they mention the profundities of the Wizard of Oz on every other page? You already know that. Are their principles based on the great success of Warren Buffett? Skip those pages. Warren Buffett's already bought everything and you're not likely to be in his will. Be very discerning. When you get really good at this, eventually you'll be reading nothing but the cover and the blurbs on the back. But beware of the blurbs on the back. These are usually other self-help writers scratching the back of the author, knowing the author will one day scratch theirs.

Ignore any practical exercises -- Practical exercises, pausing 20 minutes to take stock of your life, and this and that, all that bullshit, are the book equivalent of breaking into groups with strangers at conferences and seminars. No one likes doing it. It's worthless. Plus, it's awkward and uncomfortable, at least the way I do it. It sucks to be elected "scribe," who then has to stand up and tell your group's "findings." There's two basic problems with "findings." 1) It's likely another reporting group will steal your thunder, leaving you floundering and looking stupid, and, 2) The "findings" are always so obvious that you're only wasting time, giving the presenter a break. The presenter, meanwhile, is thinking, "I'm getting paid for this and we just chewed up 20 minutes!"

Perform a sacrificial ritual before reading -- I think this is an obvious pointer. In life, if you're looking for any benefit, you need to give something first. I generally see this point as a mental "putting your inner all on the altar." But if you feel the need to go beyond the mental, you could always enhance it with something more physical. Of course, cutting is always an option (which I do not recommend), or offering a pint of blood extracted from your arm by any accommodating doctor. For something like this, however, I think it's preferable to offer up a sacrificial animal, killed according to religiously pure standards.

Read the bold print -- An author usually puts a few lines of bold print. These are like headers. They more or less sum up what follows. I've even borrowed the technique here. You will do just as well reading every other one. But please, definitely read the one about the sacrificial ritual; it's wild.

Remember the three most important words of self-help: 1) Application, 2) Application, 3) Follow through. You'll never get to your destination without the first step. And the journey of 10,000 miles is best taken by plane. Remember the famous musician Arturo Toscanini? Most people don't, but he was very big at one time. Toscanini knew music like the back of his hand. He could read most of the notes, he knew which instrument was which, and people paid good money to hear his performances. Well, one day someone -- a young aspiring musician -- asked Toscanini how to get to Carnegie Hall. I'll never forget his answer: "Look on Google Maps ... not Apple."

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