Self-unhelpful Books

Hello. I’m going to talk about self-help because I think January is often a time when we decide we need to help ourselves. After a month of indulgence – because it’s literally freezing cold and we still need to fuel our bodies and find some reason to be happy – in January we decide (or big corporation’s decide, depending on your politics) to lambaste ourselves because we are too {insert basically any trait/characteristic here}.

January is a time of change and renewal, by virtue of our arbitrary calendar system, and also because the days literally stop disappearing and we can once again look forward to a bright future because it turns out the world isn’t actually ending: yet. The fact we choose to celebrate this change by removing all the joy – or – chocolate – from our lives can often make this time of change much less optimistic than it should be. Especially because it is just as frikking cold outside as during the Xmas ‘indulgence’ (also known as: essential nourishment for life), if not colder.

So, given that we’re starving our bodies because we’re too whatever, and also over-exerting our bodies cause we’re too whatever, and it’s also still frikking colder than a nitrogen ice cube’s nipples: we (possibly unsurprisingly) tend to get a bit unhappy this time of year. Who would have thought?!

Now I’m not a certified psychologist but (and serious depression aside because some things are much more complex) a lot of our winter blues is our bodies going ‘hey, hi, hey, nice to meet you I am a prototype that is APPROXIMATELY (I looked it up) 200,000 years old, and I’m interested in keeping the old prototype going for AT LEAST ANOTHER COUPLE HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS THANKS. So if you’re gonna mess about and take away all my food supplies and walk in the same place for sevERal hours watching; The Chase, I am THUrough.’ …So you don’t feel like going out because you don’t have the energy, and you sit at home feeling a bit crap – and lamenting the fact that you’re still too… whatever.

This definitely hits sometime in the week after New Year’s and this is how bleak it is: the 6th of January “has an average of 25 per cent more deaths than the daily average”. This is a genuine article from the Telegraph: which we can obviously trust because well, it’s the Telegraph and, no one has ever been misled by factual statistics have they? Makes you reflect a bit differently, doesn’t it? Less of the I’m too blablabla and more of the ‘I have survived the darkness’ because literally everyone in this room has survived the 6th of January. Round of applause to us all. And if you want to see the image they tastefully used to illustrate the article, click on the article link below:

An absolute barrel of laughs.

Anyway, moving on to another statistic: at this point where people feel like they’re too fat, thin, weak, lazy, tired, pathetic, meaningless, inarticulate, stupid, annoying, cry-y, (i realise a lot of this is perhaps just me…) you are 94% more likely to pick up a self-help book. And I’ve picked up a self-help book so you don’t have to. Actually a couple – it’s called ‘research’ OKAY.

Some more statistical evidence for you, as we get started. The first thing about a self-help book is the ratio of useful to useless information is about zero to whole book. Depending on which one you buy, the quantity of useful information can occasionally tip above zero. The rest is waffle, so there are enough words on paper to convince you to buy a self-help book.

First up, I read ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, subtitled: 7 reasons why you are not worthy.

  • When I say I’ve ‘read’ it. That is perhaps too strong. I have skimmed the ‘look inside’ option on Amazon.
  • And actually here’s an insider tip. You don’t have to read the entire book, because he’s given you all the answers on the contents page. Voila

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then be understood

Habit 6: Synergize

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Some; fairly valid suggestions. Some; confusing business/quasi-religious suggestions. And others; just what? SHARPEN THE SAW!!!!!

Sorted. Well, I hope after that quick read you’re all feeling like you can now be highly effective. It does make you sound like a computer. Or a treatment cream. Which is actually what I aspire to be in life.

Now we’ve got our business lives in order, I think we really ought to sort out our emotions. So I found THIS book to help: Is it me, or is it my adrenals? From the hilarious Marcelle Pick. Now your adrenal glands “are endocrine glands that produce a variety of hormones including adrenaline and the steroids aldosterone and cortisol”. If you check out her book cover you might also notice that she’s written a similarly titled book called ‘Is It Me or My Hormones’. What is the difference? That is a very good question. I’m assuming the adrenal one sold better because it sounds more unintelligibly science-y slash fall-off-your-chair hilarious.

But yes it does sound science-y and, in fact, Marcelle is MSN, OB/GYN NP which must mean: message me about your vagina? no problem. (Message me about a decade ago). Which all means she’s definitely qualified to give you medical advice.

But this IS another thing self-help does, it tries to convince you it’s completely backed up with science. Because it’s much more reassuring to have Science prove that you’re useless. Now Marcelle does talk about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system – and I am by no means a doctor but this all seems to check out. It correlates with my anatomy classes at the HIGHLY scientific Yoga Teacher training course I did a couple of years ago where they told us the names of bones and muscles and how they work together, alongside stuff like, it’s really good for you to drink cow pee and if you sleep with your head facing the north you won’t rest properly because the electromagnetism of the earth will pull the blood into your head. Which sounds potentially legit, but I did find a study at the time that had found no evidence either way. But you can of course take the internet’s advice:

screen shot 2019-01-09 at 15.35.37

“Even if you are not convinced, it is still better to be safe that sorry.”

Anyway adrenals: the parasympathetic nervous system (you may or may not know this already and I am by no means an expert) is linked to your whole fight or flight instinct for basic survival. If there’s a tiger, your body needs glucose & adrenaline & cortisol (a stress hormone) cos if we weren’t a bit stressed about it, we’d already be dead…

Now this becomes a problem when tigers are not tigers any more. Now they are emails, or being late, or watching small children hang inconceivably far over the rail in the upper circle. We get stressed by a million things because if we weren’t bothered about things we wouldn’t survive: if I don’t reply to emails, I lose my job, if I am late, I lose my job, if a child falls off the upper circle, I – I go to jail. But it’s not exactly fighting a tiger. Your body still reacts in the same way though and that can cause problems, getting your adrenal hormones a bit all over the shop.

So explaining and addressing all these issues is legit – and there is a lot of useful stuff in this book that might help expand your knowledge and understanding of the basic principles of how your body works. But then it also says crap that is toooootally ridiculous like recommending herbal supplements to help your energy levels instead of sleep, and cutting all gluten and sugar from your diet – actually she does “believe in moderation” and you should only comply 90% and 10% is up to you, or 4/35 meals per week. If you want something that feels like a special treat, feel free! AS LONG AS YOU DON’T CONSUME ANY GLUTEN OR SUGAR!!!! Great. So no treats then.

Other recommendations: “buy fresh flowers… remember to look at them and perhaps smell them once per hour” – should I set an alarm to remind me? I also like that she assumes you’re able to afford flowers every week. And if you’ve got hayfever? Sorry, you’re stuck with your adrenal problems I’m afraid.

“Smile consciously” because facial expressions can actually produce corresponding feelings. And if you “hate forcing yourself to smile, hold a pencil between your teeth for one or two minutes once or twice a day”… CURED! I also like the idea of having a timer go off and stressing you out every 5 minutes for your self-care.

Now, I’m not saying self-help can’t be helpful but it does often suggest a one-size fits all approach, suggested by someone who is in the privileged position of writing a book. What I AM saying is that we shouldn’t starve and victimise ourselves into wasting money on pseudoscientific books in January, then bullying ourselves with with the ‘treatments’. And maybe we’d be better off reading a biography instead, where you can read about how other people have dealt with things and work out more objectively if it’s a good fit for you.

*this text was originally presented at The Alternative Book Club 09.01.19 and has been edited slightly to fit a written format.

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