I walked into a bookshop a few weeks ago and headed towards the self-help section. I didn’t go straight there, even though from the outset that was my intention. I guess I still feel a little awkward about it, about this urge I have to read self-help books. By browsing through the self-help section I am admitting out loud that I need help, that I could be better than I am, and that I am in some way flawed, and in need of fixing. And yes those things are partly true-
I do need help. I need help to manage pain and discomfort, I need help to sort out my stuff- both the material and the immaterial, I need help to relax and reminders to be gentle with myself.
And, I could be a better. I would like to be a more productive and motivated person who lives every day to the fullest. I would like to be calmer, kinder and more confident.
And, I am flawed. I of course, get things wrong, I can be a harsh critic of myself and others and, I drink more alcohol and eat more sugar than I would like too.
But I don’t know that any of that needs fixing – even as I am I am ok really, but I will continue to aim to be more.
And that is where the books come in- they tap in to this desire I have to improve myself. I look to others to give me a way to do it. And judging by the sheer number of self-help books on the shelves in our bookshops and libraries plenty of other people feel this also.
I enjoy reading their pages, spruiking wise, wonderful, inspirational, irreverent, and earnest thoughts and ideas. Words, all words written by others. Words that I learn from, words that remind me, words I can relate too. And if I am honest about it, words that I hope will help me to be more me, braver, bolder, more creative, calmer or happier.
I have wondered however, if it has gotten out of hand. I feel like I collect self-help books like other people collect, um, fad diets, Instagram followers or Facebook likes or I don’t know, other things too. Anyway, the point is that I have read a lot of them. In the last year I have read books on being happy, being kind, Mindfulness, introversion, organisation, tiding up and not giving a giving a F**k. There have been books about eating better, living with pain, managing fatigue, being productive and being yourself. And, as I walked through the bookshop and made passing glances at some of the other shelves, on my way to the self-help section I started to wonder what this was all about.
I know why I read them. I read them because I can see the ways that I would like to change, I read them because they spark something in me and, I feel like I am getting closer to something that I want by reading them. But I rarely, with the exception perhaps of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tiding Up, enact all of the steps or strategies laid out by the author. I always will get something from them, but the truth is that mostly what I read are just variations on the same theme- usually about living honestly according to your values and beliefs. And, not worrying too much about what others think. Each book I read, adds more to the list of things to implement, ideas to integrate, understanding to embody and, knowledge to act upon. But often before the dust on one book even settles, and sometimes before I have even finished it, I am scoping out the next self- help fix. I move on as if through a succession of short term relationships and one night stands without really taking the time to see if feelings might even develop, and without implementing or enacting the wisdom or lessons I have just consumed. I consume self-help books, I might live little bits of them, but really I just read one and then move on.
So I as I stood in the bookshop I thought about setting myself a challenge- to not read any more / or at least any new self-help books for three months. I first thought I would try it for a year, but then started to worry about missing out on the next big thing/ small thing/ un-thing, or over/ or under thing so I think three months is a better time frame to aim for. Except I decided of course I would start this once I finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and possibly the couple of books I had on hold at the library.
But then without even thinking about it I found myself at the airport book shop on New Year’s day with a new one in my hands. The second book by Sarah Knight, ‘Get your Sh*t Together’. I read her first book The Magic Art of Not giving a F**k during the year and now this one I am reading because I really do want to feel a bit more like I have my sh*t together. I yearn to be well organised and efficient and to remember to put deodorant on every day.
But before even reading this latest purchase, or the two books I’ve just picked up from the library- I realise that I already possess many of the qualities I am seeking. Perhaps I just lack trust in my capacity to embody them, or perhaps I have too high expectations, or it could be that by reading the books I feel like I am doing more to change than I actually am. So I have decided to trust myself and my knowing a bit more, and I have going to see just how well I can be the kind of help I am seeking. To do this I am going to try to write my own self-help book. Just to see. And maybe I will be surprised by just how helpful I can be.