I remember a lesson from the very first self-help book I ever read.
It said that when someone says or does something hurtful, it’s like they’re handing you a knife and asking you to stab yourself with it.
The idea was that you could choose to just drop the knife and walk away unharmed.
In other words, you could choose not to be hurt.
Putting Self-Help Advice Into Practice
This concept made such an impression on me that I still remember it more than 30 years later.
All I had to do was to figure out how to drop that knife – not stab myself with other people’s ill intentions.
It seemed ingenious to me. I resolved to put it into action.
And that’s where I ran into a problem.
I understood what I was supposed to do: Not take the knife when someone offered me one through their words or behavior.
But for some reason, even though I knew what to do, I couldn’t quite do it.
I continued to be hurt by the same kinds of things that had hurt me before I’d read the book.
It never occurred to me that the book might be wrong. It seemed so obviously right.
I figured it was me. I just couldn’t let the knife drop.
I was letting it pierce me.
Question Everything You Read
I was reasonably intelligent, motivated and I understood exactly what I was supposed to do.
So why didn’t it work for me?
I think the book was wrong.
It was wrong to ask me to try to control my feelings by controlling my thoughts.
“This is just a knife, and I’m not going to stab myself with it” is a thought.
Rejection, on the other hand, is a feeling.
You can’t control one with the other.
Everyone thinks you should be able to, because hundreds of books and articles have said so. We tell each other, and ourselves, “Just don’t let it get to you.”
We are true believers.
But books, and the people who write them (including myself), can be wrong.
Not only can you not control your feelings with your thoughts – prove me wrong if you can – but why even try?
All you need to control to get along in society is your behavior.
And that’s easy … as long as you don’t explode from all those feelings you “should” have been controlling all these years.
When you read a self-help book and it doesn’t work for you, it’s because either
- you didn’t take the advice
- you took the advice but didn’t do it correctly, or
- the advice is wrong.
Millions of people who read self-help and don’t get results assume that #2 is the best explanation. They know it wasn’t #1 because they took the advice.
They don’t even consider #3.
It’s time to seriously question any self-help advice you get – from me included.