The Self-help genre

This is a short post describing how we think about the self help genre and our experience with optimizing self improvement with the use of self-help materials. If you have any questions or tips, please leave a message!

When describing Stickman Fridays to people, I always start by saying something like “oh we’re just two friends chatting about stuff we find really interesting”. But when they ask about what we will talk about and I explain I the content, they go “ah, so it’s a self help podcast” or “is it like a motivational podcast?” or “so you’re just gonna talk about getting better at things?”.

Truthfully, the answer is “yes to all” but there is more to be said about it. What I find interesting is that a lot of people become quite skeptical as soon as I mention that the podcast is about self improvement and, to be honest, I don’t blame them. So are we.

I (Kasper) have made quite the personal transformation in the past couple years, both mentally and physically, I’ve lost a lot of weight, kicked some destructive habits and addictions and have heavily increased my personal effectiveness. Self help books like The seven habits of highly effective people and the four agreements have really given me some great insights and have helped me tremendously in achieving my goals but in fact, they did not actually do anything for me.

I started my self improvement journey when I was a depressed 22 year old with a bad attitude and was well below the standard of mental and physical health. Back then I was the type of person that said things like “I don’t read books, books are lame” so I did not look for the self help shelf of my local book store for insight. Eventually I discovered that reading is a wonderful thing and can help greatly in finding the right way to do things. The great advantage of reading to improve yourself is that there is no problem that was not already solved and written about by someone else, as is so eloquently stated by Will Smith in this wonderful award acceptance speech.


The reason I love that speech so much is that it perfectly shows the pitfall of the self help genre: It is nothing without action.

He begins with talking about running and about always working harder then the other guy, and secondly about reading. I’m not sure if he put it in that order purposely but I think it is an important detail. For a lot of people my transformation looks like a success story, it looks like I knew what I was doing and got it right the first time, but behind the scenes I did everything wrong the first couple of tries. When I wanted to lose weight I actually starved myself on the first try, after two months I had lost mostly muscle and felt worse then ever and gained all the fat I lost back with interest. When I started running I had the worst technique imaginable, bouncing up and down, ramming my heels into the concrete and actually injured myself pretty badly. Surely picking up a dieting book or reading about proper running technique would have pointed me in the right direction, but still I am glad I did not. Honestly, I think that if I would have started with reading about getting healthy, I would still be reading and hoping to find the answer. Over-thinking something is not actually doing the work, my first attempts may have been foolish and ineffective, but they were attempts. Looking back at my period of transformation, knowing what I know now, I could have gotten my results A LOT faster if I knew what I was doing, but I doubt if I would have ever got going.

I believe that the human brain is sometimes way too smart for it’s own good. When I finally decided that reading was actually pretty useful, a whole new world opened up to me. I suddenly had all these great tips and insights that I could implement right away, because I already had the momentum of actually doing things. For me personally, taking time to read often means distracting myself from actually doing the work and feeling good about it because I was studying and I told myself it was productive. I sometimes get into that spiral of always looking for more books on the topic I am working on because I fear that there might be a magical insight that I need to have before starting.

Motivation overload

I personally know some people who are stuck in the self help world, they are always looking for a better way, a more inspiring insight or a “more real” guru to help them out, and never actually do things. They seem to blame the fact that they are unsuccessful on the idea that no one has written a self help book that was good enough to help them yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not writing this post to bash the self help genre, as a matter of fact I am writing a book about dieting that fits well within that genre. The point is that I think about 10% of “self improvement time” should be spent studying and the remaining 90% on doing things. When someone asks me for dieting advice I don’t go “well my book will be out soon and it’s full of good info”, instead I go “DROP THE DOUGHNUT AND GO RUN NOW!!” in my best Schwarzenegger voice. Because if you are not willing to actually take the action, the books will not help.

Mindset

Most of the self help stuff I’ve read and listened to so far is mostly about mindset. They are usually motivational books to help you think differently about things, especially about doing stuff. For me, the best self help books out there are the ones that show you that you can change. The big turnaround for me was when I realized that there is no reason to be someone you do not want to be. I used to be stuck in the “it’s just the way I am and I need to live with that” way of thinking but when I escaped that prison, that is when things started to really look up for me. In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success psychologist Carol Dweck uses countless examples to explain why having a “Growth mindset” versus a “fixed mindset” is such an important factor to determine someones chance of success. It basically says that if you believe in constant personal growth, there is no stopping you, but if you believe that you are the person you are and will stay that way, you are bound to live out that sentence.

Side note: You might notice that we like to talk about and engage in bodybuilding, this is not just because we think having big muscles is cool as heck, but also because body builders understand the growth mindset very well. No one was put on the world weighing 220 pounds with 8% body fat and tanned skin, every single person who does bodybuilding has worked their butt off (well on, actually, SQUATS!) to get their results. The willingness to match your goals with the dedication and actual work to reach those goals is the determining factor, I think. 

Finding the balance

When Joshua and I started talking about maybe doing a podcast together, we initially thought of calling it “always getting better” but we just did not like the ring of it. The Stickman part of Stickman Fridays is based on the idea that humans are built to be kind of a basic template that lots of stuff can apply to, a stickman is a very basic but effective design and you can make anything you want out of it, hence our slogan “you can be anything as long as you draw outside the lines”. The Fridays part, by the way, just makes it sound like a cool established thing and also gives us a nice deadline to work with :)

Stickman fridays is not self-help in a sense that we are not trying to tell you how to do stuff. We want to focus on learning and improving in the most optimized and effective way. It is about finding the balance, when I’m learning a new skill I want to know just enough to get started and to be able to self adjust. Most of our article and guides on learning and hacking skills will be about that, about decreasing the startup time of getting something going as much as possible and to work from there. And we are looking for people who want to join us in our journey and share there story so we can learn from you!

 

 

 

 

Author: Kasper vdm

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2 Comments

  1. since i was 17 i have studied self improvement and tried to always improve myself, drifting from book to book from Tony Robbins to Robin Sharma and all in-between. I read carol deck’s book and immediately recognised myself as growth mindset, then a strange thing happened i began to recognise the fixed mindset in much of my thinking. I have recognised the intention of self improvement requires action, but not just reading about it, you have to take a chance and risk something, do something and keep working at it. I would class myself as successful in the mainstream sense of the world, successful career, good salary and all the trappings that go with this but then gaining this insight and this mindset shows me i could be and do so much more.
    i’m not sure where my life will turn now and there is a feeling of dissatisfaction of the way i have been leading my life as a result of my beliefs but i feel as if i’m on the edge of something special……….. i just have to jump and not hold onto what has been comfortable.

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    • Hey Neil, Thanks for your comment! It’s profound and insightful. I guess we always have to keep adjusting our goals and missions in life. Maybe it’s not about reaching the goal but about who you become because of the journey to that goal. I think this goes for anyone who is a student of the self help genre that, as soon as you reach a goal, the itch for setting the next one will come along :)

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