The Self-Help Industry

January 6th, 2011

I’m currently pinned to the sofa waiting for the boiler man to show up, which is my excuse for watching Paul McKenna’s “I Can Change Your Life”. The expert self-publicist is currently featuring people with deeper problems – a middle-aged female agrophobic who can’t be alone in the house for more than 10 mins who has 9 kids (well if you don’t get out much..!) Coming up later is a compulsive gambler and a bloke with a flying phobia.  (Update – McKenna: “The good thing about ringing agrophobics is they’re always in”)

I don’t have any deep-rooted problems – I’m reasonably adept at understanding myself and what is rational thinking and what isn’t. Having said that, I’m not some super human, there is room for improvement. People exist who run marathons, are superb musicians and heart-surgeons in their spare time. Good for them.

But while we’re all wise to the wiles of the diet industry, making women (and increasingly, men) feel ugly and fat, there is a whole self-help industry dedicated to making people feel generally not good enough. It fills ranks of shelves in bookshops, and the internet is cluttered with it. Like all advertising, it creates a fear – that we’re not successful enough, fit enough, attractive enough, rich enough, loved enough. Then it promises the solution, but its a mirage. Mostly we will stay as we are, but why? Most would benefit from some improvements, so what stops us? The books say fear, I suspect it’s more laziness. I am incredibly lazy. But it’s more complex than that. Why do I (and again, I’m pretty sure, its not just me) not do things I positively enjoy? What is the psychology behind that?

5 Ways to Improve your Life – Update

January 6th, 2011

So – Epiphany. Have I had one?  I started this blog to help edge myself out of a rut, and relieve my unemployed frustrations. I came up with an arbitrary list of 5, for no better reason than it makes a snappy title, and I’ve been concentrating on those. As a review, they were in precis:

  1. Don’t make New Year’s resolutions.
  2. Stop buying chocolate.
  3. Start a blog
  4. Get a job.
  5. Don’t do things I “should”, instead do things I “want”.

Listed like that, I’ve realised that I ranked them from easy to hard – well aren’t I intrinsically organised! The first is of course very easy – I’m sure I’m not alone in my facility to do nothing.

The second cycles between simple and tricky. I’ve noticed over the years that when I am stressed or unhappy, I buy chocolate. Seriously – I associate buying chocolate with rebellion and comfort, and I’m soothed by having it in the fridge. It can sit there for a week or two, but eventually I’ll eat it, so if I stop buying it… I don’t buy/eat biscuits or cake. Probably alcohol & bread are the main sources of my flab, but I’m not ready to give either of those up. I’ll think about cutting down some point!

The third has been startlingly simple from conception to action. From thinking of the domain name (of which more in a future post) to registering, installing Word Press, choosing a theme and uploading the first post took all of two hours. Geek!

The fourth is an interesting one. I was quite prepared to have 6 months off, but was contacted while I was travelling and had an interview lined within a day of getting back. It all seemed extremely promising until it melted away like an ice-cube in the midday sun, with no real explanation. After that, an extended period of sulking was disguised by a potential opening with a friend’s new business which didn’t come to fruition. The final stimulus was a combination of irritation at signing on and a friend getting a new job at the same time. Of course, starting to job hunt 10 days before Christmas isn’t ideal, but I got one interview in before Christmas and it hasn’t put them off. Another company has also got in touch, but they seem unsure what exactly they want to recruit. But I’m hopeful that something will resolve in the next few weeks.

And finally, the biggie – do the things I want, not the things I should. And within this deceptively simple statement lies the devil of detail. This last six months should have been glorious – lots of free time to do…what? Well, not knowing how long I had to eek out the money, the habit soon arose not to go out so much, in case I spent unnecessary cash, which rapidly degenerated into a swamp of sofa surfing. But if that was what I wanted, what was the problem? Except it wasn’t. And it is around this theme of understanding of and motivation to do that this blog will whine on about.

Five Simple Ways to Improve Your Life

January 5th, 2011
List of Stuff

Pointless Resolutions

Trust me – this post will go right to the top of the search rankings. These lists are hot – everyone wants to use the change of year as impetus to change their miserable, excreable lives, but is it realistic? Depends what’s on your list.

  1. Don’t make any new year’s resolutions. No really, if your life is worth improving, it’s worth improving on a dreary Wednesday in November. If its not worth improving, price up some sausage rolls for the funeral.
  2. Lose weight. This is on everyone’s list. You could throw yourself into some mad diet consisting mainly of courgettes and soya milk, but really, I thought you wanted to improve life? Courgettes improved nobody’s life – I know someone who can attest to this at great length, but here’s an easy step forward – stop buying shit. No crisps in the cupboard, no crisp sandwiches in your gut.
  3. Start a blog. I have read this on other lists, I’ve had it recommended to me, and lo – here I am. Of course it does nothing for any resolution to go to bed at a sensible time, but early days. It gives you something different to think about, and actually, digging your way out of that rut through organising your thoughts is no bad thing.
  4. Get a better, higher paying job. If you want one. You might like the one you’ve got – it may give you plenty of time to sit on t’interweb reading rubbish like this. If, however, you dreamed of more – saving African children from malnourishment, finding a cure for cancer, starring in a hit movie – I have news for you. You will never be Angelina Jolie, ever. No matter how great a percentage of your diet is devoted to courgettes and oily fish. But you can become a slightly better paid office fly, with slightly better benefits than you have now. So do 1 thing more than you do already. If you talk about getting another job, but never check the vacancies, look online. If you look but never apply, read up on how to polish a turd and dig your CV out. Hell, have a liquid lunch to get up the courage and send it off – what’s the worst that can happen?
  5. This one is great, and it’s not even nicked off another blog. It was my personal revelation. ELIMINATE THE WORD “SHOULD” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY. There are things you need to do, and there are things you want to do. If you need to do them, get on with it, stop whining, get them over with. Then there are things you want to do. Allow yourself time to do them. Everything else, well you’ve already identified that you don’t want or need to do it, so why do it?

So there you go, my list of how to improve your life. Of course, I could be any old snake-oil salesman. The proof of its efficaciousness is whether it works, so I will be following this list and reporting back.

New Year Revolutions

January 4th, 2011

The way it's going

Ok, so I’m not there yet. But it won’t be long at this rate. New Year, new efforts, time to make those pointless resolutions. “Pointless?” – the Pollyannas gasp in horror. Yes – pointless. How many people have changed their life as a result of a drunken promise to themselves as they downed the bubbly at midnight on 1/1/xx. Have you?

Massive change requires revolution, and well, us British aren’t that keen on revolutions. We tried it, once. Back in 1649 after a little local unpleasantness, we installed the 17th century equivalent of a teetotal personal trainer as ruler of the country, demoting the fun-loving, hard-living king, and sending him to the big charity shop in the sky. But we kept a spare in the back of the wardrobe, just in case, and in 1660 we dragged out the heir and reinstalled him. Revolutions aren’t us.

But change is possible. We the people now apparently have a say in the running of the country – well, thank God at least the latest Prince Charles doesn’t. There’s plenty of research that New Year resolutions don’t work as this article from the Guardian attests. The linked white paper on how much money people waste promising themselves they will go to the gym is particularly amusing. So I’m not stupid enough to do that.

But the fact remains, I am unemployed and planning far too much of my day around Jeremy Kyle. This must stop. Incrementally. But the repeat of this morning’s episode that I slept through is on in half an hour…

Pollyanna Does Crack

January 4th, 2011

p45 - Tax form for the newly unemployedThat’s what this blog was nearly called. Why? Because I hate Pollyannas – those bloody cheerful types that say “Oh well, look on the bright side..” and blether something about making lemonade out of lemons. Ridiculous, as they are usually the types that make a career out of dodging fruit and veg. Fat and happy? Yeah right.  Lemons go in gin, and you drink gin when you’re pissed off. Everyone knows that – especially me. I’m not a Pollyanna, I’m a realist. Some call me a corrupt, cynical pessimist, but that’s because they are not realists, they are fools.

Nevertheless, life is what you make it, and you can’t escape from yourself, not alive. So skipping the motorway bridge alternative as messy and traumatic for Yorkie munchers, I have decided to investigate the possibility of changing my mental attitude. To understand that, you need to know a bit about me first, and what has driven me to this point. Long, naval-gazing posts about my childhood can wait. The nub of the matter is that for the last 6 months of 2010, I have been unemployed.

It was redundancy, from an industry that is moribund and unlikely to improve. I work in Strategy – therefore this outcome was not unexpected. In fact, it was eagerly anticipated. I travelled for a bit, came home and looked forward to a bit of quality leisure time… which is where it all started to go wrong. It’s not as easy as it looks, you know.