PhD researcher (Blockchain); Mentor @ Hyperledger; Blockchain Developer @ Portuguese Justice
Self-help, motivation, we all need it. But do we need it that much? Are we helping ourselves by others’ capitalization on it?
You know, some things are really hard for me. Resolving IT issues with my laptop is hard, waking up early is hard, and not giving a fuck about what other people think is hard too.
There are also really hard things for me, the ones my subconscious tries to seriously avoid. One of those things is exercising. Exercising is damn hard — especially running.
Nonetheless, sometimes you have to ignore the urges to stay warm at home and just go. I went for a run in Lisbon, almost sunset time, to prepare for a 20 km trail (those uphill-downhill-uphill and so on) which I was sure I would surely regret. In a good mood, and with a work-hard mindset, off I went. As running is quite challenging, focus on the moment is really difficult: your thoughts get randomized and lost, and no matter what you do to focus the breathing, your mind just goes somewhere else. Even after months of training, that kept happening to me.
I eventually started listening to audiobooks, to help me with my focus issue.
"Focusing on somebody’s voice helped to further enjoy the run, and enjoy the physical effort, somehow".
That is a realistic chain of thoughts I might have had during that run. I suddenly reached the peak of the hill and looked at the sunset.
After some minutes of appreciation, I resumed the audiobook. It was not the first audiobook on self-motivation I was consuming. “If you want to learn more about X, get our app on Y”. Bullshit, I screamed. The author resumed, but from that moment on I just hear «Bla bla bla”, as Dracula says in Hotel Transilvania. That’s where you start to notice something’s wrong.
Self-motivation materials are positive: they bring good vibes, some motivation that may be really well hidden, tips about how to behave, how to have relationships, how to have a relationship, how not to have a relationship, how to invest. Everything is perfect and very shinny. Until it isn’t. Until the author’s focus is shifted from trying to help you to try helping himself. Invariably, you get unloaded with unnecessary bullshit. It’s really easy to market yourself if you surprise people with your:
“Enlightened” you: formed by your personality development, accomplishments, incredible routines…
“Dark” side: formed by your addictions, bad choices, personality issues, and so on. Of course that if someone reveals their defects, it’s because they already have moved on.
“Today I will write about how I can’t forgive a person no matter how hard I try” — said no glamorous guru ever.
Surely, some authors may remain genuine all the time, but most do not. Ultimately, it seems to me that “they” start wearing masks, but not like the one above. It’s somehow like in happens at LinkedIn: how many people can you see with the labels “Entrepreneur”, “Speaker”, or “Expert”, although they started no successful company, just talked once at school or have a shallow understanding of what they claim they are experts at, respectively?
As in November 2019, I read about 10 self-help books, mostly to improve some specific parts of my life. They helped me realize that:
Period. Nothing else. Nada. Zero. If I could sum up all those materials, that’s what I would take. Why?
Because what matters, is actually what are you doing. Less talk, more action.
I manage to increase my output tenfold when I just started doing it. I’m not saying that self-help is necessarily bullshitty — although it tends to go there. I’m not saying that all the self gurus are full of sugar, honey, ice & tea, but many of them actually are. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t follow others — but we must think for ourselves. We need to understand what is a good life for us: not necessarily what others sell as a good life. Who can tell what my happiness is? Do I really need money, to travel, and to build infrastructure in Africa to be happy?
Self-help is dangerously biased
Good, unbiased, self-help books rock. I remember Rich Dad, Poor Dad was quite nice, despite its many flaws. Kiyosaki defends that you should actively seek and fight for your goals, and think for yourself.
If I could summarize it I would say “business opportunities are there, so you should go for them, and invest in your education”.
Is this bullshit? Hardly. You need to fight for yourself and stand a position because no else will do it for you. Although the book states a positive message, it gives the feeling that you do not need formal education, as in universities. While it is true that you don’t need to go to university to do whatever you want, you are giving away unique opportunities to leverage your potential.
Think about it: the world is created and idealized not only by philosophers, art people, and business people but also by scientists, who make technological, sociological and economic progress go further. In social countries, like Portugal, for around 5 years and 5000€ (a master-level course), you can position yourself to be an expert in a given area.
An expert that could have counted with the support of experts, entrepreneurs, researchers, professors, and the school community. No wonder that most successful people in the tech and business world have a college degree. Of course, you need to know how to get the most out of college, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Of course, Kiyosaki doesn’t stand for college education: he built up his success without it and without the inherent debt. But not everyone is Kiyosaki. Nobody is Kiyosaki, except Kiyosaki. As you are not Kiyosaki, Kiyosaki’s experience may not apply.
Do you get what I’m trying to convey here?
If there is a 100% effective trigger that gets me writing about this topic is when I see people doing the following:
Fancy guru: *clears throat* “I, almighty person, which have come from nothing, state that you need to consume all my materials in order to be happy and have all success you deserve, although I do not know you. And, by the way, you need to download the apps, give all your money to coaches, pay monthly subscriptions, and join a community of followers who practice rituals and love our mission (aka a cult)!”.
You: Buuuut… I wake up at 10, and my life goes really well. I don’t work 12 hours per day, and…
*Fancy guru interrupts*
Fancy guru: you are doing it wrong. You can only develop yourself and grow through pain. You can only reach your potential if you work a lot! When I was your age I worked 16 hours per day, non-stop. I suffered a lot but eventually, I turned myself into a millionaire.
You: I do not think a normal human should sacrifice so much just to be a little more successful. I would be trading my personal relationships and health for money or a few more publications. It is not worth it.
Fancy guru: I think you should be surrounded by entrepreneurs that are optimistic, and full of energy. Come on, join our club!
Writers, speakers, and also people who want to persuade others often use several logical fallacies: on the previous speech we can see appeal to emotion appeal to authority, appeal to ignorance, hasty generalization, circular argument, and slippery slope, but others such as the bandwagon appeal, straw man, and equivocation are also used. So it is generally a good idea to take everything we are said with a grain of salt. After all, they are business people selling a product.
And it could go on and on. Invariably, you are always wrong, you know nothing about life, and you can’t get better without help. Except that… no. Nobody knows your life better than you. There is no need to insert yourself in shady Ponzi schemes to get to know people that can help you. There is no need for you to sell someone else’s bad products for you to succeed. you can do it without being exploited, and without thinking that it’s fine to do the same to others.
Consuming too much self-help materials probably does not help you, at least in the long run. In a previous article of mine, with a fairly click-baity name, “1337 tips for productivity”, I stated the only one tip you need (spoiler: just start doing it).
Stop wasting your time. Learn things that matter. You can bet on technology, or you can bet on philosophy. Once you find what drives you, invest energy on it. make sure that what you learn will help you shape society in a good way. While knowing how to trade stocks barely helps someone else than you, people who build platforms with 0% commission will help themselves and others. At least that. Make those banks sweat and obligate themselves to serve the customer better.
If I had to sum up my points to people that have no time to read:
Ah, and about that 20 km trail… I was sick for a full week after I finished. But I would do it again. Just because.
Thanks for reading. Now go and do something useful, don’t waste more time on my articles.