Taking a break from self-help

Door Patrick Verheij

It started around the year 2000, when I picked up a copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. That book dragged me into personal development and into more self-help books, articles and trainings.

It brought me a lot. I managed to change myself in many ways. For the better. I got rid of bad habits, bad influences. I gained skills and strengths and trust.

It also cost me a lot. Time. Ego. Darn, it cost me a lot of ego. The whole damn trip also caused me a lot of suffering. Whenever I became aware of another piece of pathetic behaviour (or so I branded it), I almost wailed in shame and regret of the hurt I had caused to both myself and others while practicing it. And then there were the experiments to get rid of it or to change it into something more useful. And there were failures. Soooo many failures. Or “lessons”, as we should name them. Yes, that’s what we learn from self-help books. And rightly so. Because if you lose the light on a self-help trip, dark things occur.

Now I write about this whole self-help journey in the past tense, which is nonsense of course because I will not cease to develop myself. Instead, I will cease to read any more self-help books for a while.

My reason for abandoning the self-help genre is mostly because I tend to skim through such books these days, finding no meaningful new information. Just affirmations of what I already know (know, not necessarily practice). I even tend to abuse myself by reading self-help books as a form of procrastrination. For all means, reading about what you already know and feeling great about it is easy, isn’t it?

Instead, I will focus on learning more skills and deepening existing skills. I already selected some nice programming courses. It has been too long ago since I practiced that valuable skill.

Nevertheless I wish to share with you three essential lessons I learned from self-help books. Three lessons, among many, that resonate with me the most:

A. I am 100% responsible for whatever happens to me

On a specific day in my career, several years ago now, I chose this principe to guide me through a very difficult time. I chose not to complain but take positive action because that would be the only sensible way forward for me. I even printed a chapter from Jack Canfield’s “How to get from where you Are to where you want to Be” about this principle and put it in my pocket. Ready to retrieve and re-read it whenever I needed it.

This one principle saves me over and over again.

B. I am probably wrong

Although I speak with certainty, I am never sure. I am certain about my experiences. I am certain about my beliefs, my insights. My advice is always sound. But I am never sure. Nobody can be one hundred percent sure about anything except when we practice exact science. And even then.

I always remind myself that I can never be sure that I am right. That I can never predict the exact impact of my actions and my advice to others in the kind of work that I do. And even though sometimes my certainty seems to border arrogance, I force myself to be humble about what I know and preach.

This principle helps me to keep an open mind. It forces me to keep listening to others and to be aware of my surroundings. It expects me to experiment: inspect and adapt.

Kudos to Mark Manson for being very clear about this principle in his great book “The subtle art of not giving a F”.

C. People want to feel important.

Dale Carnegie’s book “How to win friends and influence people” is old. It was published in 1936. Nevertheless, it is my number 1 recommended book for anyone to read. Every single principle in the book should be taught by parents, teachers, politicians, and journalists.

For me “people want to feel important” is a constant reminder that, whatever I say to someone, he or she is processing it in their own way after it has passed though their filters. Then they are busy making sense of it using their own experiences, beliefs, values, doubts, and so on.

Even more so, I myself am continuously busy making sense of someone else’s verbal gifts trying to feel important all along. And then it’s just a matter of being aware of that to ensure an honest connection is made and a real conversation is happening. Easy peasy, isn’t it? 😉

Final thoughts

I’d love to hear about the principles that resonate most for you, whether it be the ones above or different ones. I’d be glad to make an exception and read that instead of another self-help book. For a while at least.


Patrick Verheij

06 59 443 447

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