THE BEST THINGS I LEARNT FROM SELF-HELP BOOKS

Mar­i­anne Power on her year of self-im­prove­ment

Red - - Contents - Help Me! by Mar­i­anne Power (Pi­cador) is out 6th Septem­ber.

In my mid-30s, I found my­self in a slump. On pa­per, things were good – I had a big job, fancy wardrobe and nice friends – but, un­der­neath it all, I was lost. While friends bought their first homes, got mar­ried and started fam­i­lies, I was stuck in the life I’d had since my 20s, drown­ing in a sea of dead­lines, debt and hang­overs. Around this time, I was read­ing a lot of self-help books and, with every book I read, I’d dream of how per­fect life would be if I just got up at 5am to med­i­tate, or re­peated af­fir­ma­tions or re­ally did get out of my com­fort zone. Then, one hun­gover Sun­day, while reread­ing my bat­tered copy of Feel The Fear And Do It Any­way at 3am, I had the idea that I thought would change my life. I would no longer just read self-help, I would do it. I would pick one self-help book a month for a year and fol­low its ad­vice. I would sys­tem­at­i­cally erad­i­cate my every flaw – from money to men – and then, well, life would be per­fect! That was the idea at least. It didn’t work out like that. Here’s what I learnt…

JUST DO IT

I started my year with Feel The Fear And Do It Any­way, which told me to do some­thing that scared me every day. Au­thor Su­san Jef­fers ar­gues that we all wait for the day we feel con­fi­dent and clever enough to do things we want to do but that day never comes – the only way to feel brave is to do the scary thing first. I started small with par­al­lel park­ing and grad­u­ated to jumping out of a plane and stand-up com­edy. It was pet­ri­fy­ing but I dis­cov­ered that life changes the minute you take some sort of ac­tion – big or small.

MONEY IS EMO­TIONAL

Af­ter this high, I chose Money, A Love Story by Kate Northrup. I have

al­ways been use­less with money, but I thought my prob­lem was that I didn’t have enough of it. Turns out that’s not true – you could give me a mil­lion pounds and I’d find a way to lose it. Kate ar­gues that how we han­dle money is a re­flec­tion of how much we value our­selves. We are also in­flu­enced by our child­hood. Kate asks: what’s your first money mem­ory and how does it re­late to where you are to­day? I saw that I have recre­ated the boom-bust life we had grow­ing up and that deep down I be­lieve that, if I had money, peo­ple won’t like me.

DREAMS CAN COME TRUE

There’s no need to work very much, ac­cord­ing to Rhonda Byrne’s The Se­cret, just stick up some pic­tures of your dream house on a vision board and it’ll ap­pear. Even though this idea made me livid, cre­at­ing my board made me re­alise that I’d never al­lowed my­self to dream big be­cause al­low­ing your­self to have dreams opens you up to dis­ap­point­ment. But it’s quite amaz­ing how many of the things I put on my board have come true. I put on a pic­ture of green smooth­ies, a girl do­ing yoga and an­other do­ing a hand­stand – and within two weeks I’d been com­mis­sioned to write an ar­ti­cle about liv­ing off kale for a week and an­other on up­side-down yoga. Co­in­ci­dence? I also added a pic­ture of a book cover to rep­re­sent me writ­ing my first book, and that’s hap­pened, too. I don’t know if that’s The Se­cret or hard work but, ei­ther way, my life has changed.

WE RE­JECT OUR­SELVES

In April, I played a self-help game called Re­jec­tion Ther­apy, which in­volved find­ing ways to be re­jected every day. Jia Jiang’s idea is that our fear of re­jec­tion stops us from go­ing af­ter the things we want in life but, by ac­tively seek­ing it out, we learn that re­jec­tion doesn’t kill us and that peo­ple of­ten say ‘yes’ when you think they’ll say ‘no’. But, God, I hated it. Our sur­vival used to de­pend on be­ing ac­cepted by the group – so while be­ing re­jected won’t kill us, it does still

feel like death. But I per­se­vered and had some beau­ti­ful mo­ments, in­clud­ing the day I chat­ted up a man in a cof­fee shop. In that mo­ment, I re­alised that I had re­jected my­self more than any­body else had.

IT’S TIME TO CARE LESS

My fifth book was a lib­er­a­tion. John C Parkin ar­gues that ‘fuck it’ is the Western ex­pres­sion of the East­ern phi­los­o­phy of ac­cept­ing and let­ting go – and that as soon as we say ‘fuck it’ to wor­ry­ing about our weight, our job or what peo­ple think about us, we re­lax and, as soon as we do, things seem to go our way more than when we’re try­ing to con­trol ev­ery­thing. And I think that’s true.

WE ARE AD­DICTED TO OUR PROB­LEMS

Tony Rob­bins is a 6ft 7in, lantern­jawed, self-im­prove­ment god who wrote Awaken The Gi­ant Within back in 1991. I spent four days with him at Lon­don’s EX­CEL cen­tre, along with 7,000 oth­ers, as he spouted in­for­ma­tion like a sexy ma­chine gun. The one thing that stuck with me is his be­lief that our big­gest ad­dic­tion is not to booze or food or drugs but to our prob­lems. He ar­gues that we think we don’t want prob­lems but ac­tu­ally they fill a need: they make us feel im­por­tant or we use them to con­nect to oth­ers. He says that if you find your­self in the same un­happy sit­u­a­tion time and time again it’s be­cause you are get­ting some­thing out of it. And I agree with him.

PEO­PLE ARE OUR GUARDIAN AN­GELS

Ap­par­ently, 41% of Bri­tish women be­lieve in an­gels, and there is a whole self-help world ded­i­cated to help­ing peo­ple get in touch with their winged friends. I read How To Hear Your An­gels by Doreen Virtue, which ad­vised me to write let­ters to my an­gels and wait for white feath­ers to show me they were present. I had no luck but I did learn that peo­ple are your an­gels. Through­out my crazy year, friends, fam­ily and strangers of­ten man­aged to say the per­fect thing at the per­fect time. I had one con­ver­sa­tion with a taxi driver that I swear came di­rect from God, though I’m not sure I be­lieve in God, ei­ther.

YOU CAN CON­TROL HOW YOU RE­ACT TO ANY­THING

I gave up on habit two of the Seven Habits Of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple, which says it all re­ally. My head was fried from self-help by the time I came to this hefty tome, but there is one story from the book that I think of al­most every day and that’s the ex­am­ple of Vik­tor Frankl. A Holo­caust sur­vivor, Frankl ar­gued that you can’t al­ways con­trol cir­cum­stances, but you can con­trol your re­ac­tion to them and that it’s al­ways pos­si­ble, even in the worst of times, to find mean­ing and kind­ness.

ALL WE HAVE IS NOW

It’s such a cliché. Live for the mo­ment, be mind­ful, blah, blah, blah… Be­fore I read The Power Of Now, this kind of mes­sage would make me roll my eyes but, thanks to Eck­hart Tolle, I get it. He ar­gues that we spend our lives beat­ing our­selves up about the past and wor­ry­ing about the fu­ture, and miss the only thing that is real, which is the right now. He asks: do you have a prob­lem right now? The an­swer is nearly al­ways ‘no’. So ask your­self, do you have a prob­lem right now?

TO MEET MORE MEN, YOU NEED TO MEET MORE MEN

I did not want to do a dat­ing book, but Matthew Hussey’s Get The Guy kept get­ting rec­om­mended to me and I found it sur­pris­ingly prac­ti­cal. He ar­gues that if we are sin­gle, we are so des­per­ate to meet The One we ac­tu­ally meet no one. We have to get out there and prac­tise talk­ing to all mem­bers of the op­po­site sex so that when we meet some­one we like, we don’t panic. So I flirted with the bin men, asked for a date at a busi­ness net­work­ing event… and re­mem­bered that men are hu­mans, too, not the aliens I’ve of­ten seen them as.

THERE IS NO PER­FECT

As my year of self-help came close to end­ing, I started beat­ing my­self up that I was nowhere near the per­fect per­son I wanted to be­come. I was still in debt and a stone heav­ier than I was at the be­gin­ning thanks to say­ing ‘f**k it’ to my diet. Brené Brown’s Dar­ing Greatly made me un­der­stand that there is no such thing as per­fect and that we all feel we’re not good enough and that we will not be loved. She says the only way to be happy is to drop the per­fec­tion­ism and to share our real, vul­ner­a­ble selves with oth­ers. I saw that was true when I stood up in front of a room of strangers dur­ing a ther­apy week and shared all the things I usu­ally kept to my­self. Peo­ple were so kind and, when I lis­tened to them, I re­alised that we are all the same.

LOVE YOUR­SELF

I grew up in a house where lov­ing your­self was big-headed but You Can Heal Your Life ex­plains that you have to love your­self be­fore do­ing any­thing else. And you have to love your­self even if you think you are too fat, or not suc­cess­ful enough or sin­gle. You have to love your­self right now, warts and all. In this way my jour­ney of self-im­prove­ment be­came some­thing else. I did not im­prove my­self, I ac­cepted my­self and then, mir­a­cle of mir­a­cles, learnt to love my­self.

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