“When people want the impossible, only liars will satisfy them.” -Thomas Sowell
I try dance somewhat delicately* in the realm of “self-helpiness”. I’ve talked about this before with coaching, goals (here, here, here), motivation, and specifically the Greg Admunson Goal Setting seminar, which is still offered a few times a year.
I want to make it clear (again) that Greg seems like an incredibly nice guy who honestly thinks that these types of things work.
But I think this stuff is just horse shit. These things are not empirical. They are not “observable, measurable and repeatable.” They are built on faith. Faith in that if you do them, they will work.
Now there are people like Greg in this industry who I think honestly feel that what they do helps people. But there is the majority of folks in the self-help business that are exactly the same as the politicians that Hayek describes in his chapter “Why the Worst Get On Top” in Road to Serfdom:
Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian leader would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism.
In the world of self-help, where what your trying to sell to people is completely contrary to human nature, the only people that would deceive themselves and others that they should keep it up are the amoral. That’s why the majority of men and women who survive and thrive in this industry are hucksters, frauds, charlatans and thieves.
Whatever their followers do, it’s not good enough. Not happy? Not meeting your goals? Well your thetan has issues that can only be remediated by paying the church of Scientology thousands of dollars to get more training.**
Now there are tricks, superstitions, heuristics, etc, that don’t seem to make sense but can provide some degree of positive change for people. In the immortal words of Crash Davis, “If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you ARE! And you should know that!”
But there’s a tremendous difference in my mind between what Crash describes that is basically “if whatever you are doing works, keep doing it” and the Eckhart Tolle/Tony Robbins/The Secret cabal which is built around pulling vast amounts of wealth from productive people to tell them how they can be more productive so they can pull more wealth from them. Not to mention that these self-help people have never been successful at anything except selling more and more self-help books, seminars, and deadly sweat lodge retreats.***
So what’s the lesson here for me: I sell fitness.
I don’t promise you anything will get better in your life because you train at my gym. If that happens, then terrific, I’m glad for you. But I will NEVER sell you on some life altering, 12-steps to bliss, plan your life goals program.
Two reason for this. First, that hasn’t happened to everyone and therefore is not a “Law”. Second, I don’t think human nature works that way, and I don’t fuck with nature because when I have tried she fucks back hard.
How hard? At least twice.
Ahhh…the 90′s. Who else misses pirate shirts?
*Yes, this is me being delicate.
**Great article on the latest big fallout with Scientology here.
***For some fascinating history on the self-help con game in America, take a look at Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless. Summary essay by the author in WSJ here. Helpful review in Houston Chronicle here. Steve Salerno’s Sham Blog here. Great look at “The Secret” that Oprah Winfrey widely praised and popularized here.