Sometimes It Helps

At the start of the 21st century, “the self-improvement industry, inclusive of books, seminars, audio and video products, and personal coaching, [was] said to constitute a 2.48-billion dollars-a-year industry”  in the United States alone. By 2006, research firm Marketdata estimated the “self-improvement” market in the U.S. as worth more than $9 billion — including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivation-speaker seminars, the personal coaching market, weight-loss and stress-management programs. Marketdata projected that the total market size would grow to over $11 billion by 2008. In 2012 Laura Vanderkam wrote of a turnover of 12 billion dollars. In 2013 Kathryn Schulz examined “an $11 billion industry”. Wikipedia

Here is Kathryn Schulz in the New York magazine explaining why good intentions and lots of positive motivation may NOT create the self-help solutions we want to achieve. There may be really profound, inexplicable, and irresistible forces working against us as we attempt to maintain resolutions about diet and exercise… or anything else. Click the underlined link, read the article and take heart.

It’s easy to understand why we want to be different….  What’s harder to understand is why transforming ourselves is so difficult. Changing other people is notoriously hard; the prevailing wisdom on that one is Don’t hold your breath. But it’s not obvious why changing oneself should present any difficulty at all. And yet, demonstrably, it does.

….Let us call it the master theory of self-help. It goes like this: Somewhere below or above or beyond the part of you that is struggling with weight loss or procrastination or whatever your particular problem might be, there is another part of you that is immune to that problem and capable of solving it for the rest of you. In other words, this master theory is fundamentally dualist. It posits, at a minimum, two selves: one that needs a kick in the ass and one that is capable of kicking.

This model of selfhood is intuitively appealing, not least because it describes an all-too-familiar experience. As I began by saying, all of us struggle to keep faith with our plans and goals, and all of us can envision better selves more readily than we can be them. Indeed, the reason we go to the self-help section in the first place is that some part of us wants to do something that some other part resists…

She brings up some very interesting ideas about mind/body dualism and the 12 Steps Program. I particularly liked her conclusion:

Life is an uncontrolled experiment: confounded, confounding, and, above all, completely impossible to replicate—tragically so, and wonderfully so. I try to remind myself of that as often as I can. Sometimes it helps.

The video from the Carol Burnet show is funny, but also somewhat sad. Many of us try, try, again, without any promise or proof of success in our self-development schemes.

I will think of Carol and Kathryn as I reluctantly stagger through several months of dietary deprivation and of frustrating unnatural  activity.

This year I will try once again to restore my tired body to the health and vigor I remember from forty years ago.  NOT perfect… never was, never wanted to be… but at least better.

We have been brain washed by that $11 billion industry to believe that anything is possible and failure is our own fault. This year I will try again, but hopefully be less hard on myself with the inevitable results. Thank you, Kathryn Schulz, for giving me a credible excuse!

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