Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Self-Help Review 13: The Secret

Self-Help Review:
The Secret
By Rhonda Byrne
2006

In 1956 a man named Earl Nightingale recorded a "pep talk" for the sales staff at the insurance agency that he owned to listen to. He gave this talk to them many times, but as he was leaving for a vacation they still wanted to hear his inspiring message in his absence. After giving copies of this recording to his staff, a certain staff member named Lloyd Conant came to Nightingale with a business proposition. The recording was so good and touched the staff so much that money could be made by selling copies of it to the public. Conant suggested that the two get some funds together, sell the record, and form a company. Nightingale agreed, and the recording went on to become the first spoken recording to ever reach gold status and sell over a million copies. With this recording, they would become the world's largest produces and publishers of Self-Help audio programs, and anyone with even a passing interest in Self-Help will be familiar with the unavoidable "Nightingale-Conant" company name. So what was so goddamn great about this pep talk? In it, Nightingale let the listener in on a little secret that he discovered. The strange thing was, that this "secret" has been mentioned in every single religious text that he read, and the wisest men who ever walked the Earth had some knowledge of it. Thus it was titled "The Strangest Secret." What was this secret? It was simply: "you become what you think about."

This recording was a huge success when it came out, but the thing is, Nightingale was really just going over old shit. He acknowledged that, but he was able to simplify it to a single sentence and describe it in such a dumbed-down way that any schmuck off the street could get it. That was part of the appeal. The biggest appeal of it was that it was one record with a relatively short running time, and it could thus be popped on the turntable for repeated listening's whenever someone needed a boost of inspiration. This was much more convenient than going through all the books that came out 50 years earlier, and which delivered the same exact message. Even the short "As A Man Thinketh" couldn't compete with a record, and there was the added bonus that people forget things alarmingly fast, especially trendy, New Age bullshit things.

Fast-forward to 2006, and an Australian broad named Rhonda Byrne who's hit hard times. She's working in the TV industry, and is given the book "The Science Of Getting Rich" by Wallace Wattles by her daughter as a gift. As a way of "Getting Rich," she takes the philosophy of the book, simplifies it, and then travels to the U.S. to find those in the Self-Help industry who she can film talking about this "secret knowledge" that she discovered. Everyone hammers away at the point that this secret is the most powerful force in the universe, and all the greatest minds in history knew about it. These minds included Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein, and Plato. Because those she filmed also knew of the secret, people such as John Gray and Jack Canfield (of the "Mars and Venus" and "Chicken Soup" books, respectively) assume that their shimmering minds can sit comfortably alongside those above-mentioned geniuses. What is this secret which all the geniuses of the world have known? "The Law Of Attraction" or, put another way, "you become what you think about."

The film version of "The Secret" has been a huge success, and all of the benefits of Nightingale's "The Strangest Secret" are present for this film, because now people can simply pop a DVD in the player and have their enlightenment delivered to them in an hour with quick editing, pretty pictures, and an atmospheric soundtrack with a hint of techno. I have not seen the film, but I did watch a few minutes of it on YouTube, and I must say, I was impressed. More than a few critics have mentioned "The Da Vinci Code" as a source of inspiration for it, and the images used do look like Byrne was shamelessly capitalizing on the success of that book and film to give shape to her own. You see ancient men running around with scrolls in their hands, frantically trying to keep The Secret a secret, and the music and editing are very well done. However, I did not watch the entire film, nor do I intend to. This is a book review, and therefore I will focus on what was in the book version, which is, admittedly, the lesser version.

Desperately trying to capture the sexiness of the film, the book takes on the same ancient feel, with pages that contain images that look like they came from the notebooks of Renaissance artists in the background. Also, the film apparently relied heavily on other people talking about The Secret, and half of the book is made up of other people's quotations, to the extent that Byrne's name on the cover is misleading. It would more rightly say "Rhonda Byrne, Editor," since her job in this affair was quoting other people and summarizing what was just said. Each chapter, regardless of how mind-numbingly simple it is, ends with a summary highlighting key points. Her and her "Secret" crew tried really hard to make the film into a decent book. My opinion is that Byrne's place is in TV and she should keep her fucking hands out of the book business. Some things probably work better on the screen, and that is definitely the case with "The Secret." As a book, this is probably one of the most embarrassingly idiotic pieces of shit I've ever willingly finished.

Rhonda Byrne proves beyond any doubt that you can truly have nothing new to offer the world and still rake in millions of dollars by saying it, as long as you make it look pretty and have a large team of douche bags serve as your "evidence." This is a book that assumes that the reader is a complete idiot, and it's tone is reminiscent of a local preschool Storytime Program, albeit one taught by that crazy New Age bitch who smells like cat food and incense and scares the shit out of the kids. Over and over in this book you are told to think happy thoughts...or else. I'm not joking. Byrne and her team of douche-y specialists constantly remind the reader that if there's something bad in their lives, guess what? They brought it on. Do you have cancer? Oops! That's your fault, homie. Lose your job? Oops! You should have been thinking "thoughts of abundance," because your "thoughts of loss" caused you to lose your job. Were your wife and child stabbed to death by a religious fanatic acting in the name of God? Oops! That was YOUR fault. Sorry to break it to you. This insulting idea in effect blames every single 9/11 victim for the attacks, since they were all operating on the same wavelength, and blames Jews for the Holocaust, which, really, people have been doing for years now anyway.

There are sections devoted to money, relationships, health, and The World, and the "secret" to all of them is to wish for the best and act on impulse. The book doesn't tell you that you have to really DO anything to get what you want. You just send your wish off to the universe and it will unfailingly send you your desires. However, you have to put everything in the positive, since the universe doesn't recognize negatives. Sound familiar? It should...it's affirmations yet again, those whorey old staples of Self-Help writing. There's a twist to these affirmations though, and it's that the dumb asses that Byrne quotes in her book talk about people recovering from cancer and rejuvenating internal organs all with their minds, with little or no help from medicine. Considering how popular this book is, this is a dangerous idea, since there are already people skipping medical attention due to financial reasons and because they hate going to doctors. With "The Secret," these people can now comfortably avoid going to the doctor and sit at home, imagining themselves as being free of sickness, while the disease grows to such an extent that you can see it through their tightly-bundled bodies. I can also imagine a few New Age retards imagining that they don't have genital warts, gonorrhea, or AIDS, and suckering a few impressionable morons into having unprotected sex with them because as long as they imagine their bodies as being clean and free of disease, they won't catch it. By the time this fad passes, their mangled genitals will be a reminder of how idiotic this idea is when given more than a minute of thought.

All of this is not to say that The Law Of Attraction as a way of living your life can't have some benefits. It can add to your life, but not in the extraordinarily shallow way that the book promotes. Adjusting your filters to look on the "sunny side" of things is always preferable to wallowing in misery, but certain unavoidable facts about life are not so easily ignored and must be dealt with, regardless of how bleak they are. Wars are waged, people die, and natural disasters strike without warning, and no amount of positive thinking can change the laws of nature or the basic, violent instincts of man. Regardless of what the Self-Help industry would like us to believe, the human species is hard-wired for violence, anger, and jealousy, and the only thing we can do is work on controlling it. That's all we can do, try to control it, because it will never be eliminated. Nature saw fit to give us these instincts, and they override happy ideals like The Law Of Attraction. The book promotes never actually thinking of these things at all, which is impossible because we are bound by our nature to think these thoughts on occasion. In what is perhaps the biggest fucking lie in this entire book, Michael Bernard Beckwith claims that it has been "scientifically proven that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought." First off, how the fuck do you measure that for it to be "scientifically proven"? Second, the fastest way to prove that this is a lie is to see just how quickly a friendship that has taken years to build can be destroyed by spending a bit of time outlining all of their faults and why others should hate them for it. You can quite easily demolish a life-long friendship in one hour. Or how about cheating on someone who you've been with for years? It's one action, one negative thought, and it snowballs over and flattens years of positive thoughts and emotions. Negativity always trumps positivity, and the final proof of that is that we all end up dead...a "negative." Sorry Byrne. Even though you go as far as to say that we are all "Gods" (I'm not making that up), your theory is shit because Gods aren't supposed to die. That's a mortal thang.

There is one thing that bears mentioning though, and it's this: Rhonda Byrne was a complete fucking nobody before "The Secret" came out. She is indeed a very talented woman, and she has done a very slick job with both her film and her book. She got on all of the big shows, and people everywhere want her products. Her "philosophy" is the same shit you'd pick up in any Self-Help book, but sent all the way to perhaps it's ultimate extreme, which is that you literally have to do nothing except think about what you want, and you'll get it. This flies in the face of everything Americans have been taught ever since the founding of this country, and the fact that in this age everyone is so eager for a piece of it is a frightening sign of things to come. Sit on your ass, think happy thoughts, and the world is yours. It's a simplification of a simplification of ancient philosophy that everyone with a passing interest in religion has known about for centuries. Regardless of how much me, or anyone else in this country bashes the book, it does stand as a shining example of what The American Dream has become. In the future, when the offspring of the offspring of our offspring's offspring dig through the past to find out what exemplified our whole-hearted embracing of laziness, this book will stand as a most valuable document indeed. A cultural phenomenon, created by a nobody. The fact that this happened might be Byrne's final proof that "The Secret" is legit.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Self-Help Review 12: Kevin Trudeau's Mega Memory

Self-Help Review:
Kevin Trudeau's Mega Memory
1995
By Kevin Trudeau

Before reviewing this book, allow me to poison the well a little: Kevin Trudeau is a convicted con man, and nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is horseshit. I do not pretend to know as much about the guy as a lot of his critics do, but what I have learned is pretty damning. Trudeau is not, as his book claims, "The World's Foremost Authority On Memory," and he has never participated in the World Memory Championships, to the best of my knowledge. There is a large, world-wide memory community, and Trudeau is not involved in it. His fake-ass "American Memory Institute" does not have an official website and doesn't even seem to be currently operating, and it appears that he has stopped doing memory seminars and has given up promoting his memory products, with the exception of selling his books and audio programs. As it stands, and this may be simply because I've yet to review an Anthony Robbins product, Trudeau stands as the most hated person I've ever reviewed a book by. In short, the man's a fucking twat, and there is absolutely no reason for you to believe a word he says.

But does this product work?

Ugh. As much as I hate to give this little bitch any kind of business...yes, it does work. It works very, very well, which is something that his critics refuse to admit. While reading up on Trudeau I found a bunch of message boards filled with angry consumers who have purchased his products and have taken to bitching about them. One story involves a mother purchasing the audio program package and listening to it with her son in an attempt to improve his memory and grades. Apparently she felt embarrassed because it wasn't working as well as she wanted it to, and her son said "It looks like you've been had." Now, considering Trudeau's reputation and how justifiable many people's anger towards the man might be, I have a hard time believing that anyone listening to/reading this program would not be able to improve their memory. It just smacks of laziness and insane expectations on the consumer's part. Yes, Trudeau pushes this product with some ridiculous claims (claims which barred him from selling this product on infomercials), but as with any new skill, if you put in zero effort, guess what you're gonna get back? NOTHING.

What exactly is in this book? It's the same peg systems, association, location, linking, and card memorization tricks that have been around for decades...centuries, even. The difference is that this time, these old-as-dirt techniques are given a twist: Trudeau takes credit for creating them. In fact, there is a lot of recycled information in this product, and zero reference to where it came from. One idea is the Johari Window, which shows how learning goes from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to conscious competence, to unconscious competence. Trudeau takes this and calls it "The Four Steps to a Mega Memory." There is also a foreign language word learning tip that Trudeau outright steals from the classic Harry Lorayne & Jerry Lucas book, "The Memory Book." The problem is, unless you're a student of memory and are familiar with the classics in this field, you will more than likely think that Trudeau actually did create these techniques.

Now, if you are completely unfamiliar with how a book can improve your memory, there are certain ideas that all memory books seem to contain. One is that you will remember something better if you have a vivid image attached to it, and that you will remember things in a certain order if you create an action linking each vivid image together. A quick example...I recently took to memorizing some random-ass books on a shelf in order. Somewhere near the middle I linked Charles Dickens' "Hard Times" to Stendhal's "The Red and the Black" My image was a newspaper (the LA Times) with a gigantic erection. I linked it to an Indian sucking on the head of it's cock while it was being fucked in the ass by a black guy. That was my way of connecting "Hard Times" to "The Red and the Black," and even though the images in memory books aren't as disgusting, this is EXACTLY how they work. By the way, if I wanted to remember the author's names, I would just add more information to each image. For "Hard Times" it's ready-made...after all, it was written by DICKens. For "The Red and the Black," I could just imagine the two of them fucking in a puddle of water filled with garbage, sludge, etc. It would be DIRTY WATER, which happens to be a hit song by The Standells, who's name would bring to my mind Stendhal.

The next major trick is the use of locations. With this trick you take a room, pick five unique objects in it, and choose four separate rooms to do this in. Once you have the rooms and objects down, in order to memorize lists and key words for speeches, you just have to create a vivid image for each word or idea and "peg" it onto each item in the room in the order that you want. As you move through each room you will remember the order in which you listed the words or ideas. This can be done very quickly once you get the hang of it, and eventually you'll be able to just rattle the shit off without having to think of the rooms. This is very helpful with speeches and other shit where the order of ideas is key.

The hardest idea for people to wrap their brains around is the use of a phonetic number list. In order to memorize telephone numbers, credit card numbers, or just any long-ass number, you just convert each number into a specific phonetic sound, create a word with it, and then put them together as either combined images or a sentence. It works like this:

0 = s/z
1 = t/d
2 = n
3 = m
4 = r
5 = l
6 = sh/ch/j
7 = k/g
8 = f/v
9 = p/b

If you want to remember 27, for example, Trudeau suggests thinking of the word "neck." For 49, "ruby." Now, I have used this system before with some success, when I learned it from the Lorayne/Lucas book. For longer numbers, though, it might take some work, and I think that the DOMINIC system, developed by World Memory Champion Dominic O'Brien might work much, better. With this system you associate look-alike images to single digit numbers, and for longer numbers you break them into two and associate a person with them. I'm not going to go into the specifics of his system, but ask me next time you see me and maybe I'll tell you. The problem with the phonetic system is that for very long numbers, it might not be as desirable as it appears. Check out the sentence I came up with last night when trying to commit the first 50 digits of pi to memory by turning them into sounds, then words:

Matt Rydell, punch Liam, love. Pukey Pam Gnome, very chonch, rim my fuming gobbles. No fever! To pug, dish bum pop. My kill, 'tis!

=

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510

Yeah. So I either need to develop this skill better, or drop it and use a different one. Trudeau spends a ton of pages teaching you phonetic number words from 1 - 100, but the dipshit forgot entirely to give you a word for "0." Fucking jackass. I also spotted several occasions when he quizzes you on a number, and gives you the wrong fucking word as the answer. The worst part is that this retard apparently doesn't even know the system that well himself. For number 93 he gives you the word "palm." If he took care to read his own fucking book, he'd realize that "palm" actually gives you the number 953, not 93, because YOU PRONOUNCE THE "L" IN PALM.

There are techniques for remembering names, important dates, learning vocabulary by breaking it into smaller words and giving them odd associations, and how to memorize a deck of cards. His techniques on how to do all these things work great, but like I said, they aren't his methods. The only thing that I give this book credit for is clarifying for me a trick on how to tell the day of the week that a certain event happened on at any point in history. It's a long-ass series of switching months and centuries into numbers, using multiples of 7, and all this other shit, but the two times that I tried it out it worked. So numbnuts gets a brownie point for teaching me a neat trick that I had a difficult time understanding from a different memory product.

There is also a special chapter telling you how the brain works when memorizing things, or when trying to remember. He gives you page after page of medical advice, warns you of memory-damaging diseases, and tells you what kinds of vitamins you should take to sharpen your memory. This advice may or may not have any truth to it, but I obviously suggest looking into other sources for this kind of information, since getting health advice from Kevin Trudeau is like getting dating advice from a rapist.

The question most people will ask is, "By using Mega Memory, will I have a Mega Memory?" Your memory will improve, and since Trudeau talks to you in the book like you're in a special ed class, you should have no problem learning all the tricks and applying them. The problem lies in the mistakes that are scattered throughout the book, the way the later chapters are poorly organized, and the fact that by buying this product you're giving your money to a con man. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this product is that because it works so well, some people will be suckered into buying his other products because, "if this one works...maybe his other stuff works, too." Trudeau has other questionable products available, such as a math, speed reading, and weight loss plan, and I recommend that you buy none of them. I suggest also that you skip this book and read "The Memory Book" or listen to Dominic O'Brien's "Quantum Memory Power" CD set. There are a ton of memory products out there, and everything Trudeau teaches you in Mega Memory is available in these other books Furthermore, people like Harry Lorayne, Dominic O'Brien, Tony Buzan, and Scott Hagwood all are involved in the "memory community" and have a lot of worthwhile products available that give you the same advice, but from people who ALWAYS use it, and don't have it as just one "wing" in a series of products.

A warning: By using memory products, you can't just use them for a month, stop, and then a year later bitch that they didn't work. No, they did and DO work, you just didn't do the work of maintaining the skill. It's like working out for a month and stopping, and then bitching a year later that you're a fatass because exercise doesn't work. You have to create a habit of doing something constantly if you want to own the skill. If it's hard for you and you don't want to go through the effort, then you're doomed to always have a shit memory, and no book will ever help you. All memory books can offer you something, and if you must read this book, order if from your library and get it for free. You really don't want to be giving your money to this guy. Trudeau can kiss my ass.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Self-Help Review 11: The Official Guide To Success

Self-Help Review:
The Official Guide To Success
1982
By Tom Hopkins

Here's an idea: Find someone who hates Self-Help or Success literature, and take them to a bookstore. While there, ask them "Why do you hate these books so much?" and I am willing to bet that all they would have to do to state their case is grab a copy of Tom Hopkins' "The Official Guide To Success" and show you the picture on the cover, and that would explain it all. They wouldn't even need to crack it open, but if they did it would further hammer their point home. The only other title in the genre that I can think of that so epitomizes everything "bad," "dumb," and "cheesy" about these books just with the image on the cover is Wayne Dyer's "Inspiration, Your Ultimate Calling." So what's on the cover to this book that makes it so stomach-turning? It's a picture of Hopkins dressed in a suit, leaning against a shiny new car, with one hand in his pocket and the other running along the hood, flashing a smile like he just fucked your wife while you were working at your pathetic shit job and made her swallow his cum after pulling it out of her long-neglected snatch. He looks like that asshole you knew in high school, the one who you so badly wanted to fail in life, but he just kept making more money while you stuck to go-nowhere work, your only consolation being the thought, "At least I'm real. At least I'm not a money-hungry fake like he is."

How did Hopkins make his money? Here's more that will piss you off: He was a salesman. In fact, his most famous book is "How To Master The Art Of Selling," which is an essential textbook for those getting started in sales. Hopkins is all about money, and he makes no apologies for that. In a listing of priorities you should set when making goals, he unabashedly puts Money at the top of the list, followed by Health, then Family, then Personal Accomplishments, and lastly, shocking even to me, Status Symbols as the fifth. It was written in 1982, but it so perfectly encapsulates everything that people hate about the Reagan years that it's required reading for both angry, punk rock liberals as well as neo cons who would happily lick the mold out from the wrinkles in Reagan's shriveled dick if he were still alive.

The book is called "The Official Guide To Success," and one has to wonder how the fuck this is "official" since the only qualifications Hopkins has for writing it is that he has a lot of money and owns a fancy new car. That said, there is a lot of good advice in this book, as long as you have an open mind to it and are willing to overlook some of the blatantly money hungry and coldhearted aspects of it. While his tips on goal setting are valuable and eye-opening (his advice on planning your life twenty years into the future is a nice twist that I haven't read before), his social advice is downright frightening. I understand his point in dropping negative friends who are exceedingly pessimistic, but it doesn't seem right to me because anyone you become friends with is going to have moments of sadness, moments of depression, and moments of pessimism, and "dropping" them when they hit those low points is going to really fuck with your conscience later on. Answering a cry for help from someone you love might actually prevent a suicide, and while being with frowny people does bring you down, you can deal with that by limiting contact and trying to "catch them at their best" instead of cutting the contact entirely. Plus, if they ever tell you that you'll fail in your endeavors or that you shouldn't waste your time shooting for a goal, you can easily tell them to "fuck off" and just not talk about that aspect of your life with them. There's a reason why people become friends, and if talking about certain topics brings up ugly sides to the friendship, then stop talking about them.

Hopkins' hero is Norman Vincent Peale, the author of "The Power Of Positive Thinking," and there is a ton of positive thinking tips in this book. According to Hopkins, if you aren't thinking positive thoughts, then you're thinking negative thoughts, and there is no middle ground. I would assume that there are "neutral" thoughts, but Hopkins swears that there aren't. The book is composed of 82 tips, with nearly all of them ending in "Self-Instructions," which are merely affirmations that you are recommended to write on a 3 x 5 card and repeat to yourself three times a day. Some of these affirmations will not work, since they are in the negative, an example being "I don't let negative ideas enter my head." By the way, it just occurred to me that I should mention the book on affirmations, "What To Say When You Talk To Yourself," but instead of constantly mentioning it I should just re-read the fucker and review it this month.

Probably the most valuable information in this book is Hopkins' observation that we can't help but achieve certain goals, but our thoughts determine what it is exactly that we achieve. Hopkins uses two examples; one of a temporarily broke tycoon trying to acquire another fortune, and an alcoholic. A drunk, for example, will set a specific goal: To obtain more liquor and get fucked up. He goes out and makes that goal a reality. The same is true of all fuck-ups and failures. Why does this happen? According to Hopkins, "They'll both (alcoholics and temporarily-broke tycoons) reach their goals. Why? Because their self-instructions not only allow them to, they require them to." This means that the messages that they constantly send themselves in their minds ("I gotta get another bottle or I'll die," "If I don't get some pussy tonight I'm gonna go nuts," "I'll fail if I try that") create a drive towards the realization of their goal. To fix defective thinking, we need to constantly send our minds the correct messages in order to achieve a better goal, by means of using those 3 x 5 cards that I mentioned earlier. If affirmations aren't your thing, go fuck yourself. He also says that you should never complete one goal without having another in mind, because there is a phenomenon where people who work their entire lives to achieve a goal finally do and afterwards feel that they have nothing to live for. Very interesting. My own goal is to have a billion dollars, then to create and own a city. As you can see, I'll be busy for a long, long time, and it'll be a while before I need to come up with newer goals.

Hopkins also has something he calls "The Golden Dozen," and he ain't talkin' 'bout eggs here. It's twelve words which he says will change your life forever, as long as you keep them posted in places where you'll constantly see them. What are these words?

"I Must Do The Most Productive Thing Possible At Every Given Moment."

He follows that with these four steps, which made me laugh my ass off for some reason:

1) Tell yourself "I must do the most productive thing possible at every given moment."
2) Decide what the most productive thing is.
3) Do it.
4) When you've pushed that thing as far forward as you can right now, go back to step 1 and start over.

Possibly because he realizes how ridiculous this idea will seem to the reader, he mentions that sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to rest, or to leave something alone for awhile. For some reason I have a hard time seeing a guy like Hopkins being content to just "kick it," unless he was showing off his car, of course.

More good advice offered in this book is Hopkins' "Simple Method," which means taking time every night to make a list of the six most important things that you'll need to do the following day. You rank them 1 - 6 in order of importance, and if you don't know what the most important thing you'll need to do will be, Hopkins suggests that it's probably the thing that you least want to do. Instead of avoiding doing things, Hopkins says you should do them immediately, and the more uncomfortable or irritating it is, the sooner you should do it. It's such an obvious tip, but I think that that's the value in it. Sometimes something can be so obvious and so blatantly right in front of us that we look past it. Anything on your list that you are unable to do that day you should carry over to the next day and make it a priority when you put together your next list. It's an ongoing habit, and a damn good one I think.

There are a lot of good ideas in this book, but my favorite tip is on how to deal with anger. It's no surprise that exercise will help you sweat away stress, anger, sadness, and other negative emotions, but Hopkins puts a neat spin on it. He recommends not playing a competitive sport with someone, because your anger will probably throw off your game, you'll get stressed out, and you'll be in even worse shape if you end up losing, so all the benefits from the exercise will be lost. Instead of doing that, exercise by yourself. There's a paragraph in this section that is so good, that I'm going to quote the majority of it:

"If you're not in good physical condition, be careful while you're sweating your anger away. Instead of running your anger off, walk it off, pound a pillow, or kick something (not someone) that's soft. If you're in great shape, let your anger out with impact exercise. Have a practice session by yourself in a handball or racquetball court and slam the ball around until whatever is bothering you has lost it's sharp edge."

Ah fuck it...here's some more:

"The best impact exercise of all is the heavy punching bag. Many gyms have both heavy and light punching bags. Avoid the light bag when you're working off anger--it'll only add to your frustration. Keep smacking the heavy bag--you can't miss it--and very soon your anger will vanish. One word of caution--don't imagine that you're punching whoever made you angry as you work on the bag--you might throw a punch at that person the next time you see him."

The book ends with a rather long list of recommended books which have helped Hopkins achieve his success. His own book, "How To Master The Art Of Selling" is obviously on the list, but hey, this self-promotion didn't seem nearly as cheap to me as what I saw in "Who Moved My Cheese?," and there are a lot of titles here that I've been meaning to read, and will read, for future reviews.

So, is "The Official Guide To Success" another damn fine read? It isn't nearly as good as "The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People" or "Feeling Good," but it does give you a lot of information that can be useful if you've already taken care of your emotional issues and are ready to start gettin' paid. I'm sure that there are better books out there written with more flair than this one, but I have to give it up for someone who doesn't pussyfoot around their own drive for cash and success. One thing though...this book probably has more typos than any other Self-Help book I've read so far. I have no idea why that is, since this came after he had already released a best selling book, and I imagine he should have been able to afford a halfway decent editor to smooth it out. Also, it's a rather dull listing of tips, without the grandiose proclamations that usually start off Self-Help books, and it ends with a whimper instead of busting an inspirational nut all over your face. Whereas most Self-Help books end with final words that encourage you to get moving, this book just kinda...ends. That said, if you can't get over the idea of that smirking, chubby fuck on the cover giving you advice, you probably won't lose anything by not reading it. I liked it though, and I suppose I can recommend it to a few people. However, if you're not all about getting paid, proceed with caution.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Self-Help Review 10: Who Moved My Cheese?

Self-Help Review:
Who Moved My Cheese?
1998
By Spencer Johnson, M.D.

I have noticed during the past couple of months that Self-Help and Success literature tend to follow certain formulas. One thing that nearly every Self-Help book I've ever read has done is tell little stories, usually from the lives of great or successful people, pick out the specifics of how these people succeeded, then give you the distilled wisdom from these stories. Even the highly technical "Feeling Good" is loaded with stories, and I am going to state right here that I understand the value in them. A dry tip is completely worthless unless you spice it up with an example, and the better a story is the more valuable the book is to your own success. However, as the final blurb in the first Spiderman comic once said, "With great power comes great responsibility," and if you're going to make a point with a story, it better damn well be a GOOD story. The trap that a lot of Self-Help books fall into is that they are written by people who are unable to tell a halfway decent story, and you can almost hear their ligaments tear from how far they have to stretch a metaphor.

I mention this because there is some great advice in Spencer Johnson's book, "Who Moved My Cheese?" The problem lies in the fact that this advice is dressed up in one of the lamest stories I have ever read in my entire life, and as my friends know, I do A LOT of reading. The story is all about dealing with change, and it involves four characters, two of them are mice and two are "littlepeople." The mice are named "Sniff" and "Scurry," and one of them sniffs out changes and the other scurries without hesitation. The littlepeople are named "Hem" and "Haw," and one of them hates change and wants things to stay as they are, and the other, um, laughs. The live in a maze, and everyday they go through it, trying to find cheese. One day they all somehow stumble into "Cheese Station C," which contains a shitload of cheese. Both the mice and the littlepeople eat the cheese, but the littlepeople decide to move their homes closer to the cheese, and begin to see it as their cheese. They start slowing down, and go about life assuming that the cheese is going to be there forever.

All this time they ignore the fact that the cheese is getting smaller, and one day, when they go to Cheese Station C, they discover that the cheese is gone. The mice take off into the maze and begin a search for new cheese, but the littlepeople stay in Cheese Station C and bitch about how shitty their life is, because some inconsiderate prick moved their cheese. They sit and wait for it to come back, and after awhile Haw begins to wonder if maybe they should go back into the maze to look for more cheese. Hem argues violently with Haw, because he is sure that the cheese will come back. After several pages of the littlepeople feeling hungry and sad, Haw starts to laugh at their misfortune, and decides "It's MAZE time!" and goes back into the maze to search for new cheese.

To make a short story shorter, he finds Cheese Station N, which is where the mice have been kicking it for awhile now. The cheese at this station is even bigger than they had at Cheese Station C, and Haw says "Hooray for change!" Will Hem ever get off his ass and find Cheese Station N??? The book leaves us wondering about that, but I assume that Hem stayed at the station and ended up writhing on the floor, his stomach shriveling up into a hardened ball until he died in snarling fits of dry, bloody vomiting.

I was unsatisfied with the conclusion of this short story, and I wondered what happened next. From the evidence I got in this story, I assume that Hem and Haw were gay lovers, and that Haw quickly got over the loss of his long-time romantic partner, since change was now his "thing". Eventually a woman named "Hee" stumbles into the station, and Haw decides to take her as a replacement, since he is now addicted to change. He tries to fuck Hee in the ass, since he is used to having anal with Hem, but Hee guides Haw's prick into her vagina, and after ejaculating inside of her she becomes pregnant. They have a baby boy and name him "Hum." Eventually the cheese runs out and the mice leave again. Haw, in love with change, leaves Hee and Hum abandoned at Cheese Station N. Years pass, and since they have no food Hee begins to slice off pieces of her own flesh to feed Hum a little while longer until Haw comes home. After Hee dies of starvation Hum cannibalizes her, then dies two months later.

Haw finds Cheese Station Q along with the mice, and because change is now his driving passion in life he decides to give up human pussy and takes it upon himself to start fucking the mice. The mice happen to be girl mice, and they give birth to mutant micepeople, who scream a garbled combination of English and mouse-talk. Horrified with his offspring, Haw murders the two micepeople and then takes his own life after realizing what he has done. The mice, being mice, are indifferent.

The "Cheese" story is wrapped around another story, this one involving a High School Reunion. The reunion story serves two purposes: One, it has characters talking about how profound the Cheese story is and how much it has changed their lives, and Two, it adds more pages to this book so you don't feel completely gypped by paying $20 for a book that you can read in half an hour. The reunion story is so obviously a second thought by the author that I honestly feel like my time was completely wasted by it, and I wish that I could find Johnson so I could demand back the time that I pissed away reading it.

What are the lessons of this book? Here they are:

Change Happens: They Keep Moving The Cheese.

Anticipate Change: Get Ready For The Cheese To Move.

Monitor Change: Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old.

Adapt To Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese.

Change: Move With The Cheese.

Enjoy Change!: Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again & Again: They Keep Moving The Cheese.

By the way, every single one of the above lessons appear here exactly as they appeared in the book. There is no possible way that I could make them any more ridiculous or absurd than they already are.

Books like this are why people hate the Self-Help and Success genres. I could sit here for months and try to come up with the lamest Self-Help parody imaginable, and it still couldn't top this book. It's a fucking parody of itself, yet it tells you with a straight face how life-changing it is. The worst thing about it is that the advice in this book is actually good and should be taken to heart. You should be prepared to face change, and you should keep an optimistic view about it. There are sections in the story where it succeeds in sending that point across, but it doesn't change the fact that THIS IS A STUPID STORY, made worse by the way the author continuously pats himself on the back for delivering such powerful lessons to you. It also contains the most shameless marketing I've seen in a book. The characters in the story talk about how everyone needs to hear this story, the writer of the foreword to the book talks about how he gave copies of it to everyone in his business and how you should too, and in the back there's a handy order form so you can easily send away for as many copies of the book as you'd like, so you can give them away as gifts. I guess it worked, though, since this piece of shit was a NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER.

I'd also like to say that the title of this book is possibly the worst part of it. Yes, a character (Hem) actually yells "Who Moved My Cheese?," and both Hem and Haw think that the cheese was actually moved. The reason why the idea of "moving cheese" doesn't work is because the cheese was never moved...it was eaten. The cheese was devoured, and you can't "move with the cheese" if it is being eaten, digested, and shit out. "They" don't keep "moving the cheese," because the other cheese is different, and when you find it, it gets eaten, digested, and shit out, too. It's not the same cheese at all, so it wasn't moved, and if something isn't moved, YOU CAN'T FUCKING MOVE WITH IT.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good fable just as much as the next person. I have heard the "Acres Of Diamonds" story and found it just delightful. I have read many different inspirational stories, and a lot of them are cute, entertaining, and profound. What I don't like is cheap marketing, inflated self-importance, and shitty storytelling, especially if it's all wrapped up in the same package. Johnson knew what he was doing with this book, and some of the characters in his "reunion" story even poke fun at how corny the story is. But some things are unforgivable. Fuck this book, fuck Johnson, and fuck the assholes who made it a bestseller. I'll take The Poky Little Puppy over this steaming pile of rat-shit any day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Self-Help Review 9: The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

Self-Help Review:
The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
1989
By Stephen R. Covey

The Mormon Church's greatest gift to mankind? Well, besides Jesus Jammies and the delightful Book Of Mormon, I would have to answer that query in the affirmative. This book has sold over 15 million copies, making it a staple in the homes of many Mormons and non-Mormons looking to better their lives through a restoration of The Character Ethic. In fact, the back cover to my paperback edition of this book has quotes by such notables as Warren Bennis, M. Scott Peck, Norman Vincent Peale, and Anthony Robbins. If you're unfamiliar with Self-Help literature, those first few names will mean nothing to you. If you're familiar with the film "Shallow Hal" and infomercials, you've probably heard of the last guy mentioned. Can The Character Ethic be restored? Stephen R. Covey, a bad-ass Mormon who looks like he can crack open walnuts with his balls, seems to think it can.

What the hell is the Character Ethic? According to Covey, for about the first 150 years after 1776 in the United States, Self-Help literature was based on character, and building yourself up to be an all-around good person. Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is mentioned as being a prime example of this type of literature, and I'll be reviewing that at some point, as I hope it will contain hints on how to nail a large number of French women. However, after World War I, the focus shifted to what Covey calls the Personality Ethic. This is the world of "How To Win Friends And Influence People," "The Power Of Positive Thinking," and books that give you tips and tricks on how to master your people skills and have a positive mental attitude. Covey saw this literature as quick-fix solutions that left people feeling empty because they were only pretending to like other people and pretending to be happy. The answer, Covey proposes, is to go back to that earlier way of thinking, and build up a solid character. The people skills and positive attitude will naturally follow, but the bitch of it is that it will take time.

The most important thing we have to do is make what Covey calls a "paradigm shift." This is the idea that every person has their own internal "map" of how they view the world, and in order to change we need to change the map. An example he uses is how a person sees the following picture:



In the book he has three different versions of this picture. Two of them showcase certain parts which make it appear more like either the young woman or the old lady, and the third is this one, which contains enough vagueness to make both look perfectly valid. What Covey did was break a class into two groups and gave each group a different version of this picture, which they were to look at for ten seconds. He then gathered the pictures and projected the one above to the class, and each group fought over what it was a picture of, even though both groups were right. Covey says that we go through life doing this with everyday experiences. When we argue with someone, usually we are both "right," but because the other person's paradigm is different from your's, you can't understand how they can possibly see things the way that they do. In order to make a paradigm shift, we need to make the attempt to see things in a different way, and the seven habits in this book all constitute paradigm shifts.

Throughout the book Covey mentions something called P/PC balance. The P stands for Production and the PC stands for Production Capability. He uses the story of the goose that lays golden eggs as an example of this, and says that if we don't take care of the "goose," we will no longer get "golden eggs." Yeah, I thought it was kind of stupid, too, but you come across A LOT of these cheesy metaphors in Self-Help books.

The habits are divided up into two sections, with a "ring" wrapping around them. The first three are "private victories," which make you switch from being a dependant person to being an independent person. The second three are "public victories," which make you switch from being independent to interdependent, which makes you a much more effective person both socially and on the job. That ring that I mentioned is the last habit, which constitutes a renewal of the previous six. Pretty fancy shit there. It was much more clever than just a lazy dumping down of suggestions.

On with the habits!

Habit 1: Be Proactive.

I'm going to state right here that out of all of the habits in this book, this is my favorite. Not that the other habits are crap, but I just liked this one a lot. What it means is that between stimulus and response, we have the power to choose. We don't have to automatically default to a response. If something happens to us, we can choose how to see it, what relevance we give it, what meaning it has for us, etc. The example used by Covey is that of Victor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was sent to a concentration camp along with his wife during the Holocaust. His wife and both of his parents were killed in different concentration camps, and Frankl was left with nothing in his life but his mind. During this time he used his mind to imagine giving lectures on what he experienced during the Holocaust, and while imprisoned he decided to use this experience to give his life meaning. He observed how other prisoners reacted to their situation, and when he was finally freed after the war he wrote "Man's Search For Meaning," which analyzed his experiences in the camp and introduced his theory of logotherapy.

Nothing I have gone through or hopefully will ever go through could ever be as bad as that, and regardless of what comes up in life, everyone has the ability to choose their responses. Being proactive means responding to situations or creating situations in your "circle of influence" that move you closer to your goals in life. It boils down to taking responsibility, not bitching about what others are doing without doing anything about it, keeping commitments, and not judging people. Being reactive means playing the victim and letting circumstances dictate what happens to you, bitching about how unfair the world is, and how everyone else is at fault for your problems. By the way, the circle of influence that I mentioned is anything which you have direct control over. The circle of concern is what wraps around your circle of influence, and contains everything that you have no control over. As you become more proactive your circle of influence enlarges and fills up more of your circle of concern until, eventually, the number of things in your circle of concern are either minimal or nonexistent. Wishful thinking you say? Well, if you're gonna be a negative Nancy, you might as well just stop reading this review and do something else.

Habit 2: Begin With The End In Mind.

At the beginning of this chapter Covey wants you to visualize your own funeral, and imagine what your spouse, your family, your coworkers, and your friends are saying about you, and what you would want them to say. When I first did this I imagined a dialog like the one Dave Chappelle had in his stand up act:

"You know Roland shit himself when he died?"
"Yeah, I know. He went out crying like a little bitch."

The point of this exercise is to get you to realize what it is that you want out of life, what things are most important to you. Once you write down your "eulogy," you then start working on it and create a personal mission statement. These are your core values that you never deviate from, since this is what your life is going to be all about. Every accomplishment you have builds on this, and ultimately this is what you will be known for. This habit gives you the principals you need to become a leader, since all leaders need a destination or final endpoint. Not a bad habit, and the funeral visual gives it a delicious Gothic feel that readers of Anne Rice novels should appreciate.

Habit 3: Put First Things First.

This is the management habit. The focus of this habit is a decidedly less-sexy visual of a Time Management Matrix, with four quadrants. Quadrant I is all of the urgent shit that comes into our lives, the things that are important and require immediate action. Quadrant II contains the important things, like building on our principals, planning, taking care of ourselves, etc., which are important but not immediately pressing. Quadrant III contains unimportant pseudo-urgent bullshit, like certain meetings, certain calls, and "popular activities." I have no idea what these activities are, but they are frequently mistaken for Quadrant I urgencies. Quadrant IV is nothing but pure bullshit time-wasters, like reading blogs, watching reruns of "Friends," and spending several hours on the phone talking about why The Dils were much more punk rock than Fear. Obviously Covey places all of his focus on Quadrant II as being the most important, and according to Covey the time spent in Quadrants III and IV can be used in Quadrant II, and by spending more time doing those activities it prevents some of the urgencies which occur in Quadrant I. If this habit seems boring to you, trust me, it was boring trying to explain it. There's nothing which makes my penis softer than discussions about time management.

After these three habits the idea of an emotional bank account is mentioned. The idea is that we make "deposits" and "withdrawals" with people, depending on how we treat them. If we continue making deposits by keeping commitments, understanding the person, showing integrity, apologizing sincerely when making an error (making a withdrawal), clarifying expectations, and attending to the little things, then the person will trust us and be more willing to work with us when we come to a disagreement. The emotional bank account must be in "good standing" for the next three habits to work.

Habit 4: Think Win/Win.

This is the first of the Public Victory habits, and seems pretty self-explanatory. Win/Win is different from compromise because the underlying feeling in a compromise is that neither party is getting entirely what they wanted, so they both kind of win. Win/Win ensures that both people get what they want and possibly more. There are other kinds of outcomes mentioned, which include:

Win/Lose, where you get what you want and the other person doesn't, insuring that they hate your guts for it.

Lose/Win, where you act like the passive little pussy who just lets people walk all over you, thus making sure that you resent them and let all that anger build up and effect everyone else in your crappy little life.

Lose/Lose, where both people get nothing and hate each other.

Win, where you get what you want and don't give a rat's ass about what the other person gets, if anything at all.

Win/Win or No Deal, where you agree that unless the two parties agree to a Win/Win outcome, both can walk away with no hard feelings. It sounds good on paper, but I question how well this works out in the real world.

So yeah. Win/Win isn't that hard to wrap your mind around, so I'll move on.

Habit 5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.

This habit stresses the importance of empathy. This ability was mentioned in the book "Feeling Good" as being a powerful weapon to disarm people, and I can't argue with that. Empathy is knowing a person's position or feelings as well or even better than they do. This means really listening to them and not "reading your autobiography" to them, as Covey puts it. What this means is that when people come to you with their problems you say something like, "I remember when something like that happened to me...this is what I did to take care of it," or "When I was your age this used to help me out.," or "When your mother didn't swallow I did this..." That seems like a good idea, but the other person doesn't care about your experiences because they have no relevance to what is going on in their life. If someone asks you for advice, or wants to know what you've done in the past when dealing with a similar situation, then by all means tell them. But try to keep from telling people your life story when they come to you with problems. Most of the time they just feel like shit and need to talk to someone who can understand where they're coming from, and that's it.

In business, you absolutely must know where the other person is coming from if you're going to deal with them, and Covey says that when you talk to them make sure you take notes, ask for clarification, and then tell them after the fact what you think they want, so that you're sure beyond a doubt that you know. After you're clear about their wants, then you can tell them what you want.

Habit 6: Synergize.

This habit was not explained as clearly as what I would have liked, but it just means that when two people with opposite paradigms work together, they can reach an outcome that neither expected but which is much better than either could have come up with independently. It's about feeding on the differences and using a new way of seeing things as a way to get something better for both parties. It's more business-type shit (this book has A LOT of that), but it can work with families and friendships as well. I guess this is why I tend to date people who "don't do clubs."

Habit 7: Sharpen The Saw.

What this means is that after you have murdered your opponent, you must have a sharp instrument to hack the body to pieces for convenient disposal.

OK, maybe not. It just means taking care of the four main areas of your life. Those are the physical, social/emotional, spiritual, and mental. How do you do this? Exercise, be there for your friends/coworkers, meditate n' shit, and read. This is a very simplistic way of putting it, but I don't feel like telling you how to live your life, especially since you've done jack shit for me recently.

Covey mentions habit 7 as "taking care of the goose," because God knows we can't let a lame metaphor sit for too long. Even the name "sharpen the saw" has to do with a dorky little story about a man sawing down a tree with a dull saw, but won't stop to sharpen it because he's too busy sawing. Covey loves that kind of shit, but so do most Self-Help writers.

This book is not a quick-fix to your problems, and Covey mentions that over and over. While some people say it takes around 21 days to create a new habit, what they probably mean is shit like jerking off or waking up at a certain hour. I can't help but think that the habits in this book will take much longer than three weeks to sink into the subconscious level where we automatically act in this way, but that's not a reason to avoid giving it a shot. Covey comes across as a likeable guy, and not an over-excited twat like Anthony Robbins or a condescending know-it-all holier-than-thou egocentric cocksucker like Wayne Dyer. We get a lot of Covey's "autobiography" in this book, and I would have liked him to have paid special attention to habit 5 so he would have known that the reader doesn't give a fuck about how his wife's preference for Frigidaire products negatively affected their marriage for years. As for myself, the habits I'm working on include becoming a multi-orgasmic male, deepening my relationship with Jesus Christ, improving my speaking voice, cooking quality meals, writing more often, working out to get all buff, and having at least one solid BM per day. Only writing, working out, and Jesus were mentioned in this book, so tread with caution.

One final note: Some say that there are certain Mormon ideas in this book, but I didn't spot them. That means that either I'm really shitty at spotting Mormon ideas, or that some people hate Mormons so much that they don't want anyone to read anything a Mormon has ever written, so they will just make shit up. I don't agree with the Mormon stance against gay people, but I do agree that Joseph Smith was a divine man who spoke directly to God and delivered his work transcribed from golden plates. I also agree that Mormon women are probably crazy in bed, not because they're repressed, but because under that milky-white surface there's GOT to be a wild sexpot hiding. So if you have some kind of weird bullshit stance against Mormons, then don't read this book. Not because it won't help you, but because I don't want you to get any kind of help, because you're an ignorant asshole and deserve to live a miserable, crappy life.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Self-Help Review 8: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy

Self-Help Review:
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
1980
By David D. Burns, M.D.

There is a sense among some people that, when it comes to certain ideas involving our personal and emotional lives, the older way of doing things is better. I remember watching "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" and having the scene with Ted being analysed by Sigmund Freud sticking in my head. I thought, and I'm sure a ton of other people thought, "Wouldn't it be fucking awesome to be analysed by Freud?" Well, now I know that no, it sure as fuck WOULDN'T be "awesome" to be analysed by Freud, for the same reason that it wouldn't be awesome to have Henry Ford work on my Toyota. The field of psychology is still pretty new, and there is always rapid progress being made in it, from gimmicky, scientifically unproven techniques such as Neurolinguistic Programing (made famous by Anthony Robbins) to Cognitive Therapy, the technique taught in the book "Feeling Good." For Freud, if someone truly believed that they were a worthless, fucked-up piece of shit with no real reason to live, then "he must surely be right in some way." This way of thinking among therapists has thankfully disappeared, and Cognitive Therapy seems to be the best approach to fighting depression that I have yet seen.

Cognitive Therapy deals with the idea that thoughts control our moods, and not the other way around. This means that depression does not come before depressing thoughts, and even though you may not be able to control your emotions, you sure as fuck can control your thoughts, talk back to them, challenge them, and change them. By changing the way you think about a situation, it follows that your emotions will then change as well. When I first read that I thought that while it did make sense, there had to be certain situations which would prove that this idea was horseshit. To my surprise, Burns answered every single one of my criticisms, addressed them directly, and made me a believer.

There is a sample test early in the book to monitor what level of depression you're at. If you are even slightly depressed, it is recommended that you read the book, because depression, unless actively fought against, will not just "go away" on it's own. This is because thoughts create mood, and a low-level of depression is a sign that the patient has at least some cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion is an error in thinking which causes depression, and every one of them can be proven false. There are ten listed in the book, and it is necessary that you memorize all of them so that you can immediately spot one once it shows up. Here they are, almost exactly how they appear in the book, but with my typical asshole examples included:

1. All Or Nothing Thinking: If you are working on something and it doesn't come out perfect, then you judge it to be a complete failure. "There's a typo on my otherwise flawless research paper. I therefore will probably flunk and deserve to be shot."

2. Overgeneralization: One negative event happens, and suddenly it is yet another part of a never-ending pattern of defeat. "I forgot to give him back his ten cents in change! I ALWAYS FUCK UP SOMEHOW!!!"

3. Mental Filter: You take a single negative detail and focus on it exclusively, ignoring any positive details and letting the negative color everything else. "My dick has an odd curve. It's ugly. No woman would ever want to fuck me. I'm disgusting. I'll always be alone and I can't bear the loneliness, so I might as well kill myself."

4. Disqualifying the Positive: Rejecting positive experiences by insisting they "don't count," so you can maintain your low self-image.
Her: "You got me so wet last night."
Him: "Anyone who isn't a complete retard could have done that. I'm nothing special."

5. Jumping to Conclusions: Making a negative assumption with no real facts to back it up. There are two examples of this one:
a. Mind Reading: You assume someone is thinking negatively of you, and don't bother to ask if there's a problem. "That homeless guy didn't smile back at me. I must be so horrible not even a bum would be my friend."
b. The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that something will turn out badly, and convince yourself that it's a fact. "I will definitely shit in my pants if I tell my boss that I need to take the weekend off."

6. Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating the importance of things you fuck up on or shrinking the things you do right. "I had a booger hanging out of my nose...everyone in the club is going to think of me as the booger guy and now I'll never get a girlfriend" or "Everyone says my peach cobbler's are great, but they're just being nice. I know they really taste like possum asshole's coated in sugar." Also goes by the delightful name "The Binocular Trick."

7. Emotional Reasoning: Thinking that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are. "I feel like crap, therefore I AM crap."

8. Should Statements: Using "should," "must," or "ought" statements to try to motivate yourself. In reality, they are just a form of self-punishment. "I should stop eating so much pie. The fact that I don't makes me worthless."

9. Labeling and Mislabeling: An extreme form of overgeneralization. It's using a label such as "loser" or "fuck-up" as an estimation of your total self-worth, rather than addressing the actual error or mistake that took place. "I dropped her burger on the floor...I'm shit."

10. Personalization: Seeing yourself as the cause of some negative external event that you were not responsible for. "I asked her to pick up some stamps and she didn't. I'm a horrible friend who she obviously has no respect for."

The book suggests becoming as familiar with these distortions as possible, since being able to quickly and easily bust one out everytime you start thinking stupid shit will give you a powerful tool to pull you back into the real world. These are especially helpful if you decide to use some of the recommended charts and diagrams in the book, such as the "Daily Record Of Dysfunctional Thoughts", where you list something that bothers you, say how angry/sad it makes you on a scale of 0-100%, write down what thoughts automatically popped into your head when it happened, list whatever distortions are in those thoughts, write out a rational response to your automatic thoughts, then record your final degree of anger/sadness. Needless to say, this is some powerful shit, and psychologists using cognitive therapy recommend it to patients they are treating, along with a lot of the other techniques listed in this book.

The book is over 700 pages long, and there is a lot to digest. The most eye-opening section for me was the Prevention and Personal Growth section, where you take a 35 question test to pinpoint certain areas in your life which need work, and there are chapters dedicated to five of the seven areas specified. They are Approval, Love, Achievement, Perfectionism, Entitlement, Omnipotence, and Autonomy. The test shows just how much you depend on other's approval, love, etc., and how independent you are. There are no chapters dedicated to the Omnipotence and Autonomy sections, presumably because being deficient in either of these isn't as pressing as being a perfectionist or walking around feeling like you are entitled to certain things. What really opened my eyes was the analysis of people who are perfectionists. Perfectionists are basically setting themselves up to constantly be losers, since perfection does not exist. Even the most seemingly flawless and perfect thing in the world can be improved in some way, so by demanding perfection you are guaranteeing failure in everything you attempt.

Another thing which is addressed is the idea of "realistic depressions." Burns makes it very clear that sadness and depression are not the same thing, and that sadness is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction to certain events in our lives. Depression is NOT normal, not safe, and needs to be immediately taken care of. There is an interesting section regarding a dying woman suffering from depression. Even though there was no cure in sight for her sickness, and she would definitely die a painful death, her depression came from a cognitive distortion, and not the reality of her situation. Shockingly, her depression was cured and she lived out the remaining six months of her life freed from it. Reading that made all of the problems in my life seem excruciatingly petty, and if someone who knows they are going to die can be cured from depression, then I have no doubt in my mind that anyone can.

I have often entertained the thought of "If I could go back and tell myself something," or "If I could go back and give myself something," what would it be? I have come to the conclusion that my life is exactly the way it is supposed to be, however, one thing which certainly would have made my life easer would have been reading this book when I started that awkward transition from child to teenager. Since I wouldn't have had the patience at that time to actually read the book, I would also give myself the threat that if I didn't read it, I would have my balls shot off with a shotgun at the end of the month. Most Self-Help books are cheesy, slogan-filled pseudo-science which only pumps you up and leaves you stranded. This book actually has the research to back it up, and it stands as probably the only book that I have ever considered buying multiple copies of to give to certain friends and family members of mine. It's that good.

There is a sequel to this book, called "The Feeling Good Handbook." From what I've seen it's a larger book crammed with tests, charts, and other shit that you can fill out to solve your problems on your own. I may or may not read it, but the very nature of it seems to make a review pointless. Both of these books, by the way, came at the top of a study to determine whether or not Self-Help books actually worked. This kind of therapy has a name...it's called "Bibliotherapy," and since I like being independent and have a strong personal loathing of therapists, I feel that I should promote this. Anyhow, "Feeling Good" was the number one recommended book by therapists to their patients to help them cure their depression faster. This, in combination with one-on-one Cognitive Therapy and antidepressants, has had amazing results.

Finally, a confession. I did not read the last chapter. Sorry. It is just a list of every single antidepressant drug on the market at the time of the book's writing, and the author states that it is intended as a reference, not as a straight-through reading. I fucking hate pills and have no intention of ever taking an antidepressant, so I had no problem in skipping it.

A very interesting thing happened to me as I was finishing this book. I began to realize that there were real cures for a lot of shit that goes through people's heads. When someone finally has a dump truck come in to scoop away the mountains of bullshit piling up in their heads, what comes next? After thinking about it for half an hour it hit me that we will never reach an endpoint in our personal development. No matter how many of our problems we take care of, and no matter how many goals we achieve, there is always further to go. We will never, ever reach a point where we can stop and say "I have arrived." When that thought sunk in I was filled with the kind of excitement I can only compare to when I knew I was about to finally get some head after a long dry spell. Since the only endpoint we have in our lives is death, and since everything on our way there is just part of the "path," it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be bothered by a lot of obstacles and setbacks on our way there. I can be great in a lot of things, but all of it is just practice. Everything we do is just a backstage rehearsal before death. I find absolutely nothing morbid about that. The only thing that took me down off of the high I experienced from that realization was when I had to deal with more crap at work, and that just reminded me that I still have a long way to go.

As if I have not made it clear enough, I recommend this book. Even if you're not a frowny son-of-a-bitch, it is still a fascinating psychology book with loads of interesting stuff to make your intellectual penis hard. It gives the reader a glimpse into the world of therapists, their relationships with their patients, the kind of stress they go through, and just how lazy a lot of them can be when they have the authority to simply write a prescription for an antidepressant. It does not make the bold, retarded statements like "there is never a reason for anger" like I've read in other books, and takes a hard, realistic stance when it comes to happiness and how to attain it. Psychology has come a long way since Freud, and there is finally proof that no matter how fucked up your life is, it is never entirely hopeless. The book hammers that point home, is well-written, and keeps you interested while helping you get your shit together. It's just a damn good read.

Too bad the title kind of sucks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Self-Help Review 7: Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway

Self-Help Review:
Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway
1987
By Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.

In our evolution from hairy apes to slightly less hairy apes, fear was one of our main tools for survival. If something shot out of the lake, or if some other cocksucker ape chucked a bone at us, it was our automatic response of fear that got us to move quickly and instinctually away from danger. Our sense of fear helped us know intuitively if we were in a dangerous area, and kept us extra-alert to the environment for potential dangers. There are books such as "The Gift Of Fear" which show how it benefits us today to feel a strong sense of fear, and that if we feel weird about someone to trust that intuition. However, fear is also a paralyzing force which blocks us from experiencing life and taking risks, and people often stop themselves from taking risks due to unrealistic fears about the outcome. This usually has more to do with self-esteem issues and a shitty outlook on life than with any real dangers involved. In "Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway" Susan Jeffers lays out a convincing argument that fear is still a gift, but that we have been using it in the wrong way.

Fear is a persistent force in our lives, and no matter what we do or how much we accomplish, it will never go away. There is no way to get rid of a survival mechanism, and to do so would put us at an incredibly disadvantage in life. Besides, everyone, no matter how confidently they go about their lives, experiences fear. When fear is looked at from the point of view of doing or experiencing, and not from life-or-death threats, it almost always indicates an area of personal growth. When you're afraid of doing something, it usually means that you are doing the unfamiliar, and by doing the unfamiliar you increase you knowledge and grow as a person. This is why you feel fear; because you are stepping out of your personal boundary and testing the unknown. According to Jeffers, at the bottom of every fear is the belief "I can't handle it!" But the fact of the matter is, unless it's a truly life-or-death situation, we CAN handle it, we just choose to avoid the potential pain because it makes us uncomfortable.

The book lists five "truths" about fear, and here they are:

1. The fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow.
2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out...and do it.
3. The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out...and do it.
4. Not only are you going to experience fear whenever you're on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.
5. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.

The book contains a ton of exercises, techniques, affirmations, and advice on how to deal with fear and become a happier person. The best part is the "pain-to-power" vocabulary list, which lists words or phrases that we use which keep us feeling a sense of dread and helplessness, and alternatives which make us feel stronger. Much of what we say directly transmits the message "You're a loser" to your subconscious mind, which then takes this information and validates it. Your subconscious mind is not a filter, and will take whatever information you give it and act on it. If you ask yourself why you're such a lousy piece of shit, you can be sure that you will receive a flood of answers. If you ask yourself why you're such a sexy motherfucker, you will also receive a flood of answers, though your inner "Chatterbox" will more than likely try to intercept. Words such as "should" or "can't" always carry the baggage of helplessness, and while it will be hard to stop using them, it is for your own good that you try. The replacements recommended for those two words are "could" and "won't," just so you know.

I mentioned the inner "Chatterbox," and should (goddamn it!) elaborate on it. The inner Chatterbox is the voice in your head which goes on and on, doubting your abilities, examining every aspect of a situation, seeking out the negative, over-analyzing trivial utterances, etc. It's the voice that asks "Why haven't they called me? Does that mean my interview went poorly? I knew I should have prepared better. I answered all those questions wrong. Either that, or I dressed shitty. No, wait, it's not that, it's because I kept looking at the floor. No, wait, I didn't make eye contact. Or did I make too much eye contact? I'm such a piece of shit. If the phone rings, I'm not going to answer it."...when three days have passed since you interviewed for a job and have not received a phone call yet. This voice will never go away, but it can be drowned out by taking on a positive, "Pollyanna" attitude. This takes a shitload of work, and you will default to the negative if you stop working on it, but that's life for you.

The idea of having a Pollyanna attitude might seem unrealistic, but Jeffers points out a study that 90% of what we fear is going to happen, doesn't. This means that having a "realistic" negative attitude means only being correct 10% of the time. The difficulty with positive thinking is defaulting to the negative, but Jeffers likens developing a positive attitude to working out a muscle or keeping a sharp mind. If you stop working out or studying, all of the benefits will start to deteriorate, meaning that anything worthwhile in life takes constant work. This is a slap in the face to lazy people, but the most depressed son-of-a-bitch I'd ever met just sat around their house doing jack shit all day, so it makes perfect sense to me.

Another idea that I liked was that of a no-lose decision. No matter what happens in life, we gain something from it. By playing the victim and bitching about how shitty life is to us, we get the secondary pay-offs of sympathy and people giving us attention, but these pay-offs will eventually wear off and people will get sick of being around you. The victim attitude is a hold-over from when we were infants and depended on our parents to run to us and give us attention and love when we cried. It's amazing how this can carry over into adulthood, and the key to maturity is recognizing it and doing away with it. By recognizing that you benefit from any decision you make, even if it doesn't go the way you wanted it to, you take responsibility for your life and aren't leaving your future to chance. Taking responsibility is probably the single most important thing a person can do in their life, and no matter how often it's repeated in these fucking books that I'm reading, I will never tire of hearing it because it is THAT important.

Finally, I will mention her idea of saying "yes" to the universe, because right now this is of particular importance to me. No matter what life throws at you, it is a must that you nod your head and say "yes" to it, because by denying what happens you will fall back into negative thoughts and a pity-me attitude. Those who know me know that this past weekend something really fucking bad happened, and that damn near everything in my household is going through some kind of change now. More than ever, I am forced to be more adult, more mature, and more responsible than possibly at any other point in my life. Would I have preferred circumstances to be different? By all means, yes. But nothing can be changed about what has already happened, and I accept it. Despite how exceedingly shitty this situation is, there is a lot of good in it, and there is a possibility that in time, everyone involved will be better off than they were before. That's about as personal as I'm going to get on this review.

The book ends with a section on the "Higher Self," and it can either be God or whatever the hell else you think a "Higher Self" can be. It didn't make all that much sense to me, and it seemed more like an endorsement of meditation and shutting up the Chatterbox, but I liked the idea of doing guided visualization to get images from the subconscious, and forgetting problems because the subconscious will come up with the solution without being forced. This is part of the basis for intuition, and Jeffers recommends reading books on being able to better develop your intuition. If you're not all that up on spiritual shit, you probably won't like this part of the book, but I still think you should read it because there is some good information in it.

The idea that fear will never go away will probably disappoint people who come to this book hoping to kill their fear, and Jeffers understands that some readers will not be too thrilled about that. However, the advice in this book was much better than I expected, and it is a valuable resource in the field of Getting Over Your Inner Bullshit. It can be fluffy at times, but overall it is a really good book that should be read by anyone who's too scared to take action in their lives. Love your fear, goddamn it! It hurts a little at first, but after a few thrusts you'll learn to enjoy it.