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When Self-Help is No Help

Although self-help principles and concepts can be enormously useful in helping you change your life for the better, I believe there are limits to how much you can achieve using self-help. Granted, you and you alone can do incredible things to improve your life. Nevertheless, you may find that depending solely on your own devices is not always the best path. Self-help can sometimes be wrought with built-in limits.

One limit in the area of mental health involves conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and a host of other challenges. I shutter to think about the number of times I’ve heard and witnessed well-meaning self-help or personal development authors or speakers delve into areas where they lack the proper knowledge or training. I’m sure you’ve heard self-help “gurus” prescribe vacuous success quips and pollyannaish nonsense in situations where professional help would be the best answer.

I’ve had many clients over the years where it was clear to me that some of the issues they were dealing with were not in my wheelhouse or circle of competence. I’m not a doctor nor have I had any kind of medical training, yet clients have asked me about issues that run much deeper than finding your life’s purpose, changing your beliefs, setting goals that are attainable, reaching more financial success, or developing new strategies for your life and business. The list goes on and on, but what if medical guidance is necessary? What if your underlying chemistry is such that no amount of effort on your part is going to fix your problem? Let’s use depression as an example as it comes up frequently.

Depression comes in many forms but let’s just consider two broad categories: (1) situational depression, and (2) clinical depression. As the name states, situational depression is situation based. Something has happened in your life that is a short-term, stress-type issue. Maybe something bad has happened and you need to find a healthy way to process it. Perhaps you need to change the situation or just change the way you think about the situation. Self-help, or a bit of coaching, might be useful in this case. So far, so good.

However, what if your depressed mood doesn’t get better in a few days? What if the situation gets better but your depression continues? It’s possible that you’ve stepped into the world of clinical depression.

Here’s an except from Medical News Today:

“Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

“It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.”

“Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.”

“Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.”

“Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.”

Since the lines between situational and clinical depression can get blurry, I can understand why people can be confused. However, I’ve learned that it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been more than a few days, stop the self-help and go get some professional help. I’ve gone so far as to fire clients that didn’t want to seek professional help if I believed there was even the slightest possibility of clinical depression.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive in this matter because I have a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety. My father battled substance abuse. And I lost one of my brothers, Paul, on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as a result of his mental health issues. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his life several times. He finally decided to declare himself DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) and then refused to take his medications and also refused to eat or drink. Death was more appealing to Paul than the pain of living. So this issue is very real to me.

My own DNA has provided me with more faulty wiring and circuitry than I’d ever care to admit. Have I experienced depression and anxiety to a high degree? Yes. Have I tried to fix it myself? Yes. Has it worked? No. I wouldn’t be writing this blog or doing anything else for that matter if it were not for the ongoing help and support of my amazing family and friends along with some incredible doctors.

Are you experiencing any issues that are out of the reach of the latest self-help book, or a new-to-the-scene motivational speaker, or an exciting life coach? If self-help or pop-psychology isn’t working, I’d say the sooner you get professional help the better. I’m still happy to work with you or help you in any way that I can, but remember that all improvement begins by telling yourself the truth. So how are you doing, and how are you feeling? No, really, how are you feeling? The healing starts with the truth.

No matter what problems you may be facing, there is help available. Maybe a great life coach is all you need to help you see yourself from the outside looking in. Just make sure you choose the right person for your situation. We are all too close to ourselves to really see ourselves as we really are. Shakespeare captured this idea best when he wrote:

“The eye sees not itself but by reflection or of some other means.”

So get the right person to give you both an outside look and an inside look if necessary. Make sure that, if you need a complete inside look, you get the right professional with the best medical training. New discoveries are being made everyday. Never lose sight of help that might be closer than you think with your family and friends. Tell your family and friends how you feel, and always remember to keep the faith. The help you need is available, and it’s within reach.

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The Magic Word

One of my first mentors in personal development, Earl Nightingale, referred to the word “attitude” as both “The Magic Word” and one of the most important words in the English language. As with much of what Earl wrote and talked about, he was right on with this idea.

As a life-long student of success and failure, I’ve found that our attitude is the single greatest factor in determining how we experience life. It’s not an overstatement to say that it’s the strongest force behind the results we achieve.

Your attitude is a mixture of your philosophy of life, your beliefs, your expectations, and your emotions. What you feel and experience in life is primarily coming from your attitude, your outlook on life.

Perhaps attitude can best be defined as a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically in a way that is reflected in a person’s behavior. It’s hard to obtain good or great results in life without a good or great attitude.

How would you rate your attitude? As with all success concepts, attitude is not the only factor involved in what you achieve (or don’t achieve), but it’s right up there at the top.

Consider for a moment the attitudes of the people you’ve been around most of your life. Would you describe the general attitude in your environment both past and present to be poor, good, or great? Think about the attitude of your parents and other relatives as well as all of the people you are around on a daily basis right now. And how about the attitude that you bring to your environment? Would you describe it as poor, good, or great?

When clients tell me about the environment they experience on a daily basis, I often suggest the following method for sorting things out. If your environment, including the people you are currently around, reflects a poor attitude, consider using some strategic disassociation; if your environment is good, but not what you most want in your life, consider limiting the negative associations. If your environment is great, look for ways to expand your association with those people that most inspire you to grow. This is one of those concepts that is deceptively simple, yet all encompassing when it comes to how we experience life.

For the next 30 days, try cultivating a great attitude in all of your dealings with the world. I can promise you that this won’t be easy at first, especially if this isn’t something you have spent a lot of time previously thinking about or working on. However, if you’ll keep at it for a sufficient amount of time, you’ll soon discover that you are developing a new pattern of behavior that will impact every area of your life in ways that you can’t even imagine.

Work on making your attitude better every day and watch as new levels of synchronicity and serendipity come your way. We tend to get out of life what we expect, and our attitude is the key.

Focus your attitude using these two key words: Gratitude and Expectancy. First, be grateful for where you are in life and what you’ve already accomplished. In some ways, you’ve already won the grand prize in life. A scientist would tell you that your appearing on planet earth is beyond calculation or comprehension, especially if you happened to show up in a free country. So you’ve already won the lottery.

Second, expect the best. Cultivate an attitude of hopeful expectation. Work on expecting the best from life and watch how having great expectations leads to having even more to be grateful about.

Finally, commit the following three Earl Nightingale quotes to memory as a way to lock in place this most important idea:

  • “Our attitude toward others determines their attitude toward us.”
  • “We can let circumstances rule us, or we can take charge and rule our lives from within.”
  • “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”

Earl was often referred to as the “Dean of Personal Development.” It’s certainly not hard to see why.

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I Think, Therefore I Am

You’ve undoubtedly heard the well-known idea attributed to Rene Descartes that says “I think, therefore I exist” or “I think, therefore I am.” But what if Decartes’ famous dictum or equation doesn’t provide a complete answer?

The book entitled “Descartes’ Error” by Antonio Damasio takes on Descartes’ famous pronouncement with the idea that our feelings and emotions are much more important than ever imagined. In other words, Damasio believes that it is wrong to think that only minds think. You may want to read that statement again: It is wrong to think that only minds think. What if our feelings and emotions play a key role in the way we think and what if our feelings and emotions are actually at the core of our thinking making them required for rational decision-making? I find his hypothesis extremely fascinating.

It’s always interesting to take something that is considered an undeniable truth and then dig in deeper to see if what we’ve been told, or if what we’ve come to accept or believe, might require more analysis. Antonio Damasio’s book might change the way you think about the mind as well as how you think about thinking itself. What if our feelings and emotions are actually the most important parts of who we are and how we live? What if they are more important than our thoughts and/or what if they somehow guide our thoughts? What if feelings and emotions are actually at the root of our thinking?

I personally believe that a great deal of what we think about comes from the questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. But what if even the questions we ask ourselves are bubbling to the surface based on our feelings and emotions? This is indeed an intriquing area of study.

So if you want to stretch your mind with some interesting concepts and ideas relative to thinking and the mind, I recommend reading “Descartes’ Error.” It might change the way you view yourself and the world around you.

Just for fun, think about this for the next 30 days and see if anything changes in your life:

“I FEEL, THEREFORE I AM.”

It’s more than just a philosophical mind bender. Giving your feelings and emotions more significance might lead you to a completely different life. In fact, what if your feelings and emotions are the most intelligent part of who you are? And what if they are trying to tell you how to live a better life but you’re just not listening?

I was going to end by saying “it’s worth thinking about” but maybe it would be more accurate to say “it’s worth feeling.”