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I will come right out and say it: I am a huge fan of the self-help movement. I can honestly say that many of my very best breakthroughs were aided by self-help books, videos, and speakers. I have also been aware of much of the journalism against the self-help movement. When I read criticism regarding the self-help movement or against a specific self-help teacher or book, I am always sour-faced. The critics are often from very fancy schools and writing for very fancy publications, and yet, they have a stunningly poor understanding of the self-help movement and how long its history is or how prestigious some of its most important figures are. Take Benjamin Franklin: everyone remembers him as being a founding father, inventor, and diplomat, but how many know he was also a great self-help author? The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and The Poor Man’s Almanac are two of my favorite books, and both were written intentionally as self-help books. There are even charts and graphs that he shares showing how he charts his progress in his personal development of virtue, and it is clear in the way he writes on the subject of personal development that he intentionally means to teach the reader a good path to a great life. The books are brimming with advice, parables, and lessons learned.
One could go on and on regarding the superstars of the self-help movement. Take Socrates (especially as remembered and recorded by his friend and historian Xenophon), it turns out besides using logic and continual questioning to reach the truth, Socrates also spoke on diet, sex, friendship, and many other aspects of living—and always with a mind to teach how to live the best and most noble life possible. Proverbs and The Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament are clearly self-help books.
The modern self-help movement is also with its own rich history from the nineteenth-century essays of Emerson to Carnegie’s 1930’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, and then to the more current recognizable style of Napoleon Hill, Bob Proctor, and Jim Rohn. Jim Rohn was the early mentor and teacher to none other than Tony Robbins. While Oprah did provide a long slew of self-help giants: Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Oz to name a few, without a doubt Tony Robbins reigns supreme not only for his business accomplishment in the self-help field but also for pushing the sector out of the business convention or frying pan of most literary critics into the ‘respectable’ public commons.
Beyond arguing the prestigious and ancient history of self-help, I really would like to champion the self-help genre of teaching, writing, and speaking. I can genuinely say some of my most effective and cherished lifetime habits have been directly imported from a self-help book, video, sound recording, or live speaking. I religiously write thank you notes: Coach Yourself to Success by Talane Miedaner (note: the book looks very square and a little cheesy, however, it is one of the best self-help books I’ve ever read). I always begin a project by clearly and precisely writing down my goals: Tony Robbins. Without a doubt, one of Tony’s biggest admonitions is to write down your goals. Again, write down your goals as clearly and precisely as you can. Understanding that people will always show you who they are: Maya Angelou (while being interviewed by Oprah). Maya Angelou spoke adamantly that people always show and tell you who they are. The problem is that a lot of the time we tend to see people either how we want them or expect them to be—which may fall very short or be very inflated than who they actually are. If on the second date the man says that he does not believe in monogamy, do not say to yourself that he only feels that now…and think that somehow, he will change for you…only to be heartbroken when you find out he has three other girlfriends. This lesson from the great departed Maya Angelou has brought a lot of peace into my life. Really listen and pay attention to people! They are telling you exactly who they are.
YouTube has become an incredible resource for finding self-help. It can be a great way to check out different teachers and ideas aiming at everything from business success, relationship success, or ways to seek happiness and fulfillment. Recently, I have discovered a new self-help guru Simon Sinek. He reminds me a lot of Tony Robbins in that his philosophy could be applied to business, relationships, or personal issues. He has a much more modern tone—especially in his handling of social media, cell phones, and technology and how these things are negatively impacting our ability to bond with each other and build healthy relationships—which he believes are crucial at any human endeavor from a business, to the military, to marriage. I’ve spent the past week cruising through YouTube checking out his videos, and I like him and feel very excited to share him with you guys. He is loosely termed ‘The Why Guy’ as it was his ‘Why’ TEDx talk in Seattle that got him on the map. It is an incredible story—especially if you see the 2009 video. The quality of the production was on the poor side, there were only around 50 people in the audience, and yet it became viral, prompting TED.com to put it up on their website. It now stands as the second highest viewed talk in Ted talk history. Below is the famous video that made Simon Sinek famous. Do not be put off by the initial crudeness of the video—his teaching will hook you in, and then definitely check out his stuff on YouTube. I found his talks enormously informative.