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room for improvement: an addiction

For my adult life, I have always been a bit of a self-help junkie. It started in college with M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. From there my self-help spanned widely to nutrition books by Andrew Weil, to Fit For Life, to Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (I am now SO EFFECTIVE. But you've probably already noticed that about me.)

As I’ve grown older, I’m still drawn to this idea that I can be me, only better! Living up to my potential, kinder and gentler, and quite possibly better looking (via helpful reminders to drink more water and wear sunscreen even while driving). Yet I tend to hide these books from others. I’m not sure why I feel embarrassed about them, except that perhaps I’m afraid of what it says about me: After all these years, I’m still striving to become something just beyond my reach – I might be just a paragraph or two away from finally motivating myself to sit down and write a book, breaking down communication barriers with teenage boys, or learning how to be happier with less.

The Internet I’m sorry to say, has only made this frenzied approach to betterment worse. I can listen to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday or self-help audio recordings while making breakfast for the boys and be all new before 8 a.m.!  I subscribe to blogs like Positively Positive, Kris Carr, and even eNews from the pastor who married Shawn and me, only to see them pile up in my inbox; little stressful reminders that I am behind on my improving.

Then I read about cortisol, how stress is accelerating aging and killing us all, which wigs me out. So I learn some helpful breathing exercises on a 4-minute YouTube video which I now occasionally do when I notice my heart racing. I remind myself that I can just delete all of those emails, I can unsubscribe and lounge on the couch and eat chocolate without guilt if I choose to. (Yeah, right.)

So I start skimming my self-help emails, and save the ones that resonate so that I can go back and read them when I have time. When will I have time? I never have time – surely there’s a book or audio recording out there that can help me become more organized, efficient and spacious with my sense of time.

I somehow now know more Life Coaches than ever before, and I am ashamed to admit that I’ve done a Strengths Finder test in the past six months, but can’t for the life of me remember what my strengths  are or how the website advised me to begin capitalizing on them.

Lately I’ve been trying to focus on one little self-help nugget at a time, as becoming a better person is on the verge of overwhelming me. Even with this pared-down approach, I found myself frustrated by my forgetfulness the other day: was I supposed to be working on not judging others, or trying not to gossip? Or were both of those the week before? Then I remembered an ad for luminosity.com that is supposed to help people improve their mental acuity. I could always go there and do some brain-strengthening puzzles or something. (Assuming I actually remember to visit the site.) That same day Shawn commented that I hadn’t used our juicer in weeks (Zip it!), and I keep forgetting to fill out my gratitude journal.

At what point does one become the producer of all of this wisdom, rather than the consumer? And yet what would all these experts do without willing lumps of clay like me waiting for their next message?

I am happy to oblige, but I wonder, is this co-dependency? (If so, thank goodness I have a book in a storage box somewhere on that.)

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Reader Comments (13)

Too funny!!!!

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMom

Super funny! I have always thought that this was the end result of "self help"! More stress, yeah! The only remotely self helpy book I ever tried to read was "what to expect when you are expecting" Apparently you can expect to be calling your doctor every damn time you so much as hiccup. Seriously tho, I think if you are honest with yourself you already know what to do! And remember, none of these "brilliant authors" has ever met you, how do they know what you need. (you certainly don't need to be "more" anything in my book)

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPooknelle

Whoa, I’m missing the humor part. This is real. Our default setting as humans is less than stellar, and nobody in their right mind thinks they don’t need a few changes. There’s a certain frenzy about trying to be better than the self you live with; I understand that one pretty well, having spent a few of my earlier decades there.

That fat yellow Enneagram book is the second-best book I ever found to remind me that no amount of lipstick can change pig lips. I can change my behavior until the cows come home, but the core of me is fundamentally me. Until I face my motives, my crud, my dark side that is inherently part of me, no amount of ‘self-help’ can make a difference. It’s all lipstick and bandaids. We can only go forward when we’re honest enough to face that. And human beings do not have the wisdom, the understanding, the power over ourselves, to fix ourselves. We’re too entrenched in seeing us through our own subjective eyes. (“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”)

I had some important counseling about 20 years ago, and ‘frenetic’ was a word this wise lady used to describe me. I suspect you’re resonating to that word. I don’t want to risk taking over the comment section here, but we’ll be in town next week, and I’m committed to carving out some time together. I’ll share what I learned, lump of clay to fellow lump of clay.

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNice Lady with Dog

For only 4 easy payments of $199.95 (plus supplies. a 12-pack will probably suffice), you can sit in as a casual observer in the first ever offering of "Life Couching(tm) with the Beast", where you can take helpful notes for yourself as you view Life Couch inventor Sexy Beast practice helpful introspective relaxation techniques like:

- Laying on the couch
- Advanced laying on the couch (are pants really necessary)
- Floor repose (advanced Ph.D level relaxation for when the couch seems too far away)
- Not giving n-Sh*ts, where n < 2 (does require low-level math)

Act now and participate in a bonus free session of "You damned kids get off my lawn!" (est. value $49.95) A semi-high activity carb burning session (bring a snack) where we enjoy the adrenaline rush of reviewing some of the younger generation's failings and discuss how fads like "the internets" probably won't catch on.

This is a limited time offer in that I'll shortly lose interest in checking the comments section for this post, so act now!

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSexy Beast

Yeah, and maybe afterward we could take in some of that Life Couching with the Beast! I'll bring the snacks.

February 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNice Lady with Dog

NLWD you made my day with that Pogo quote.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPooknelle

Hey Beast: does bacon come with that offer?

Hey Niece: I think you're perfect just the way you are. (And so's your FavAuntie)

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrotherJohn

Pooknelle, I thought you were too young to know Walt Kelly. I should not be surprised by anything you know, you Renaissance Woman, you!

March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNice Lady with Dog

Wow, well all I can say is, that sure sounds familiar! All of it. I'm always feeling like I must be missing something, because I just can't seem to improve myself to the level of everyone else's improved happy state. So much so that i've found myself to be fairly lost these days. I've read so much and have mentally improved myself into a fairly sad and stuck corner. Now I just need to read a book to help me figure out how to get out. Perhaps the couch and chocolate approach isn't such a bad idea. Throw in some knitting and a good movie and there really isn't much to improve on... For the moment anyway.

March 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

Amen. This is why I'm trying to say FU to the "No pain, no gain" and "Try to get better at what you you suck at (including grammar)" crowd. Oy.

Part of core me will always be the striving, self-improving type, so I can just look at it more gently.

I like this, too.

Her idea of stepping into my power rather than chasing "better" is totally where I'm at, though I'm aware of the layers or irony on this topic.

Happy mediocrity and neurosis! And, as always, love NLWD. "No amount of lipstick can change pig lips." Priceless.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCherilyn

Mom: Am I your daughter, or what?!

Pooknelle: All good points -- and come to think of it, I've never known you to be the self-helpy type. How very freeing that must be. Is there a book on that? (Kidding.)

NLwD: I would love to have clay time with you! (I did finally read the Enneagram book in January and appreciated it immensely, so will return it to your sweet daughter.) I'll have the box ready -- Livingston Cellars or Franzia?

Beast: Oh my gosh -- see how you are? So funny. And I'm so glad I've finally found a mentor who feels the same way about "the internets" as I do. Sign me up! (Shawn could likely co-teach some of the couching segments with you...)

Brother John: Aww, thanks. I'm glad you guys are in my tribe.

Laurie: Isn't it interesting how we can look at others and see their shining awesomeness (and certainly not anything that needs fixing) but we can't peel back the layers and recognize that in ourselves? I don't like feeling stuck, and I'm so sorry you're feeling that way...Sending you a big hug.

Cherilyn: I like that blog post and her shift in perspective -- thanks for sending! (I actually have Danielle LaPorts Fire Starter Sessions book -- it's good :) I also like what you mentioned about looking at all of this improving more gently -- I can tell when I pursue it with that frenetic energy that NLwD was mentioning that I'm not in that place.

March 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterMegan Ault Regnerus

NLWD my Dad had a Walt Kelly book when I was a kid, it was a complete collection of Pogo, if I rember right it was nearly as big as I was. I have been looking for my own copy for years.

March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPooknelle

Oh, that all sounds familiar. And your right, the Internet does not help. Seeing all these people who seem (although probably aren't) living up to their potential is discouraging.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMel

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