Do self-help guides really help?

 

Have you ever fallen for the latest self-help guide? They typically promise to solve all your problems and make you great/successful/powerful. All you have to do is follow the steps/formula hidden within. So simple!

However, read enough of them (and trust me, I've read a few!) and you start to notice a pattern. They're all based on the Have – Do – Be model. Let me explain; the guru of this, that or the other will promote his or her new book which, if you buy (have), then you can adopt the latest formula or strategy (do) and become “a better person” (be).

Have-do-be

 
 
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

 
 

Now, I am not against books. I am an avid reader of the latest series. Nor am I against adopting new habits. Discipline is a great virtue. However, the problem with the Have – Do – Be model is that it can block somebody from having the real power to change. How?

Let’s get technical for a minute.

 
This diagram based on the work of Sigmund Freud shows how the levels of self govern the different parts of our behaviour. Change has to work with the levels of self if it is going to stick.

This diagram based on the work of Sigmund Freud shows how the levels of self govern the different parts of our behaviour. Change has to work with the levels of self if it is going to stick.

 

Our conscious mind is where we generate new ideas and process information (have, do). Our subconscious is where we hold our sense of identity (be). For example, I see a book about improving memory that I want to buy (have). I read the book and apply the principles and habits into my daily routine (do). My parents, however, both have failing memory and I believe that I will inevitably lose mine too (be). I now have a conflict between my conscious mind and my subconscious.

Have a guess which part of me will win in the conflict? Yep. Your subconscious mind is in the driving seat.

When my new techniques don’t improve my memory my conscious mind will reason that books and new habits don’t work. I will become discouraged, feel powerless and be further entrenched in my beliefs that my memory is failing (be). If I want to effect lasting change I must consider my subconscious mind. I need to get to know myself. Really know who I am. I have to be prepared to take a deep dive down into my inner motivations and beliefs about myself and the world.

This is the way to adapt who I am (be), so that I can behave in new ways (do) and have the rewards for the choices I have made (have). I have got to invert the process.

Be - Do - Have.

There are many therapeutic practices that help with this wonderfully. And of course there are no quick solutions. Change at a deep level happens slowly.

 
 
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

 
 

How to achieve Subconscious mind change.

These are 4 things to consider if you want to change the way you think at a subconscious level.

Mindfulness.

The art of paying attention is invaluable when it comes to understanding what’s really going on. Come to your life with an open mind. Adopt a non-judgemental attitude towards your behaviour, thoughts and responses. Practise journalling.

Cultivate meaningful friendships.

Choose who you surround yourself with carefully. Some people’s influence will hinder your self awareness, not promote it. Look for people who are at ease with themselves and are highly regarded by others. Practise being vulnerable with people you trust. Ask trusted friends for their perspective on your character and personality. 

 
 
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

 
 

Solitude.

Find solitary activities. Go for a walk on your own. Sit with a coffee in a cafe and soak up the alone time. Take a solitary retreat for a few hours or weekend. Many monastic houses practice hospitality and some also have a rule of silence.

Challenge.

There is nothing like pain and hardship to expose our deepest motivations. If you have an area of great challenge in your life right now, be encouraged because you have the opportunity to learn much. Pay special attention to how to react to stress, conflict, hostility or humiliation. Use mindful reflections after the initial emotions have passed.

 
 

I would love to have a silver bullet for lasting personal change. A button that you lovely readers could push to bring about the change you want. I don’t have one and anyone who offers you one should be avoided. Online gurus who have ‘3 keys for success’, ‘the exact formula’, ‘a proven method’, or secrets of any kind are doing the world of self-help a disservice.

The real power for change is not hidden, nor can it be defined in a 3 point plan. You are the real power for change. Getting to know yourself is a model as old as the earth itself. Over time, with patience and loving kindness, it works!


As a coach I work with clients at a subconscious level with therapeutic tools. In my sessions change happens quickly and the effect is long-lasting.