And how does that make you feel?

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve always had an aversion to self-help books. In a way which panders shamefully to national stereotypes, I used to look at the ‘Mind and Soul’ section of Waterstones and sniff about what a self-indulgent waste of money all this over-analysis was. I can’t remember what, then, made me pick up Psychologies magazine for the first time, but I was obviously impressed because the idea that I should get it again flittered around in my head until, about a year, ago, I relented and wedged it between the yoghurt and pretzel sticks in my shopping basket.

And I’m hooked. Some articles still make me roll my eyes, but in general I find it a triumph of analysing the self without endorsing monologuing about your feelings to every passing Tom, Dick and Harry. Even if the human psyche doesn’t interest you, there are tips to be picked up about how to modify behaviours you know are a problem – being very defensive, for example – or, in the most recent issue, how to improve your time management.

Funnily enough, there is also a regular column which reviews a classic self-help book, and this is how I discovered the genre’s real problem. I’m calling it the pancake problem. Self-help Book Author starts with a really good idea – he’s going to tell people that making lists will help them remember things, and furthermore that seven is the optimum number of things to have on your list, because eight things is too hard and six … well, nothing’s exactly wrong with six, but it’s not The Magic Number, okay? And then he thinks, ‘Hey, I’ll write a book.’ (And, now I don’t mean to be cynical, but he probably finishes that thought with ‘and earn lots of lovely money.’) About half-way through the writing of said book, he realises that one idea probably won’t stretch to three hundred pages, but he’s already got the contract and that money is in sight, so he keeps writing. Thus, what was once a good idea gets stretched and stretched and stretched until it breaks – hence the pancake analogy (we’re just talking about the pancake, folks, not the filling – I love a crepe as much as the next girl). But when the essential idea of the book is condensed into column-size, it’s a dollop of rich, dough-y goodness once more.

Someone tell Rhonda Byrne she should write for Psychologies instead.

Does anyone disagree? Go on, persuade me to read your favourite self-help book.



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