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Self-Help Psychology 101

In hopes of giving you a better understanding of the philosophical foundation at Balanced Achievement, we have created a ‘Balanced Achievement 101’ series that reviews the various components that merge together to form our teaching ideology. In each article (links can be found at the bottom of this page) we outline the given topic, discuss important historical information, and examine key educational concepts that are relevant to the teachings at Balanced Achievement. In this article, we explore the field of personal development in Self-Help Psychology 101.

Self-Help Psychology 101:

It is estimated that, within the United States, the self-help psychology industry annually generates around 10 billion dollars. Personal coaching, motivational speakers, weight-loss programs, books, and a number of other training options join together to form the basis for an industry that is rarely affected by economic downturns. The industry, which is largely known for the books that come from it, is also one of the best-selling literary genres in the world.

Otherwise referred to as personal development, self-improvement, or personal growth, self-help psychology offers individuals opportunities to improve themselves in every facet of life. Modern-day leaders of the industry come from all walks of life and share a variety of tools, strategies, and stories that can be used to empower and improve our everyday lives.

In the majority of the Western world, there is an ardent fixation on the continual process of self-improvement, and the information that comes from the, otherwise dubbed, field of Popular Psychology guides us toward higher levels of fulfillment and life satisfaction. Individuals are able to get clear about what they want in life, shift their mindsets from one fear to determination, and find the motivation needed to take the actions that will produce their desired outcomes.

Self-Help Psychology Founder Napoleon HillOver the past 50 years, the self-help industry has seen a continuous boom in popularity, but the field’s roots can be traced back long before. Individuals such as Confucius, Aristotle, and Plato were interested in helping the common man improve their life and should be considered the true founders of self-help psychology. In the United States, however, the roots of the modern-day personal development industry can be found much more recently, and we can pinpoint 3 important books that helped solidify self-help psychology as a bonafide industry: It was in 1909 when Wallace D. Wattles published “The Science of Getting Rich,” 1936 when Dale Carnegie published “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and 1937 when Napoleon Hill published “Think and Grow Rich.”

Oprah Winfrey is carrying the torch for the personal development field.The popularity of these titles was the catalyst for the next wave of new and innovative thinkers to build upon the ideas of these authors and advance the field. Earl Nightingale, Norman Vincent Peale, and Zig Ziglar were three of the most influential leaders who helped carried the torch into modern times. Now, leaders such as Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, and Jack Canfield carry on this tradition and inspire us through every evolving mode of communication.

The world of self-help psychology has never been as vibrant and diverse as it is today. This is easy to see as you look at the multitude of experts who specialize in teaching us the secrets of success in every area of life. When we adhere to the lessons of these individuals, who come with a variety of personal and occupational backgrounds, our abilities to achieve our desired outcomes, across every life area, greatly improve. This diversity, combined with the accessibility of the internet, has created an informational renaissance of sorts and we are the beneficiaries.

We will look at how the information found in self-help psychology is integrated into the Balanced Achievement philosophical framework shortly, but before we get there let’s explore two important components of self-help psychology: 1.) The various life dimensions found within the industry. 2.) A number of important tools and strategies are regularly taught by experts within the field.

Self-Help Psychology Across Every Area of Life:

As the personal development industry has continued its evolution since the writings of Wallace, Carnegie, and Hill, we have seen new and passionate leaders take a more focused approach to their teachings. Today, we have individuals who focus their attention on the four areas of life that on regularly discussed here at Balanced Achievement: Personal & Intellectual, Relationships & Communication, Health & Fitness, and Financial & Career.

To do justice to the world of self-help psychology, and these more specific personal development subcategories, it may only be suiting to hear from the experts ourselves. To do this, we will use another new and extremely useful tool that individuals can use to improve themselves as people. In the following sections, we will briefly describe the 4 areas of life that are discussed at Balanced Achievement and provide video clips from some of these leaders as they present on the Ted Talks stage.

Personal & Intellectual:

Clearly, the hardest to define personal development life area is the subcategory of ‘Personal & Intellectual.’ It is easy to see how improvements in the other life areas, discussed at Balanced Achievement, will improve your personal well-being, but without first developing the mindset to improve yourself, one will remain stuck in neutral. Leaders who represent the life area of ‘Personal & Intellectual’ are focused on getting individuals to take responsibility for their own life, which will allow them to improve their circumstances throughout the other life dimension.

Mental processes, motivation, self-control, and overcoming fear are some of the most important components of the personal and intellectual subcategory. Leaders such as Tony Robbins and Daniel Goldman focus their teachings on internal mental processes and can serve as good examples. The duo strives to teach individuals how their brains work and give them strategies to overcome restrictive mental processes such as limiting beliefs, absent-mindedness, and negative emotional responses. In this 2006 Ted Talk titled “Why We Do What We Do,” Robbins discusses how the use of our decision-making power to cultivate emotions is the prime factor in determining the levels of fulfillment we experience:

Relationships & Communication:

One of the most popular self-help psychology subcategories can be described as ‘Relationships & Communication.’ Individuals in the Western world seem to have an obsession with love and will use the information found within the Relationships & Communication subcategory if they are pursuing their soulmate, trying to repair a broken relationship, or getting back into the dating scene after a divorce. There are many important concepts that have their focus in this life area including the Law of Attraction, which has gained worldwide popularity and is a main teaching point of relationship coaches around the globe. Love, however, is not the only important idea found within the subcategory. Individuals also have the opportunity to improve their overall well-being by advancing their communication and speaking skills.

The work of Dale Carnegie, the fore founder of interpersonal communication education, has led to new and exciting tools and strategies for individuals to improve their likability and live their lives with a more dynamic presence. One of the current, and unquestioned, leaders of the ‘Relationships & Communication’ subcategory is Brene Brown, who focuses on shame and vulnerability. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Brown was told that she could connect more deeply with others by embracing her vulnerability. The message was so powerful that she now researches and studies these concepts. In this 2012 Ted Talk, titled “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brown discusses how people who feel a connection with others do so because of their beliefs, compassion, and vulnerability:

Financial & Career:

Much can be said about the American drive for career success and material riches. For many, ideas about big houses, fancy cars, and expensive vacations is what drive them to improve themselves personally. To accommodate this cultural drive, the leaders of the Financial & Career subcategory share helpful insights, tools, and strategies that can take individuals’ financial and career success to new heights. The Financial & Career teachings are so important to our culture that they are often recognized under their own but connected title of Professional Development.

There are numerous ways to use the insights from financial experts to improve your financial well-being. Some of the more important notable areas are financial management, investment strategies, career advancement, and entrepreneurship. One of the leaders in this area of personal development is Seth Godin who specializes in marketing, entrepreneurial management, and marketing. In this 2003 Ted Talk, titled “How to Get Ideas to Spread,” Godin discusses how old mass marketing strategies are out of date and that in order to spread our ideas, we have to focus our marketing efforts on the people who care about a product or idea:

Health & Fitness:

It seems like every few years there is a new diet or fitness routine that creates a massive amount of buzz and captures the attention of America as a whole. For example, in 1982 Jane Fonda started the aerobics movement, in 1992 we were enticed to give the Atkins diet a try, in 2003 we were intrigued by the South Beach Diet, and more recently we have seen yoga, weight Watchers, and anti-sugar movements shape the way we live our lives. The leaders of the health & fitness industry are constantly finding new innovative approaches to help us stay in shape and live life with a balanced diet.

I’m sure you have heard of Dr. Oz, Sanjay Gupta, and others discussing the benefits of particular foods and lifestyle choices, and the messages of these experts are all geared toward our sustained health. It is widely understood that a primarily vegetarian diet is best for us regardless of our race, ethnicity, age, or sex, yet for many it is hard for us to make the commitment to a meatless life. In this 2010 Ted Talks presentation, Graham Hill, author of the popular book ‘Weekday Vegetarian‘ and founder of TreeHugger.com, discusses how, and why, we shouldn’t look at the vegetarian lifestyle as an all-or-nothing proposition:

Common Personal Development Strategies:

Each of these self-help psychology subcategories comes with different strategies that can help you turn your dreams into reality. While the advice that you will receive at a seminar dedicated to investment strategies seems completely unconnected to the information that is found in a book centered around the diet concepts of individuals living in The Blue Zones, there are actually much greater similarities than one would imagine. Whether you are looking for that special someone, trying to scale the corporate ladder, or working out to lose a little extra weight, there is an overarching personal development strategy that we all follow. Let’s look at 3 of the most important components of this strategy, which is used throughout the self-help industry.

  • Vision: A popular inspirational saying in the United States is “Turn your dreams into reality” but unless we have dreams, our reality can remain marred by unsatisfactory feelings. Much of the motivational strategies that are found throughout the personal development teachings are centered around the idea of creating a concrete vision for oneself. Through inner exploration and mental activities, that have been developed in the field, individuals can take the first step towards success and happiness by clearly envisioning their desired life. By using tools such as vision statements and inventory assessments, we can bring about our deepest desires and determine a clear vision for ourselves.
  • The Path to Fulfillment: After an individual has determined what they want their life to look like, the next step they would want to take would be to specifically define their goals and create an action plan to achieve those things. We are told that when we lay out a plan of action, to turn our dreams into reality, we are given the map needed to find the treasures of happiness and fulfillment. One of the most commonly used goal-setting strategies in self-help psychology is ‘S.M.A.R.T. Goals,’ which is an acronym used to describe the process of creating goals that work. The acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
  • Shaping Our Expectations: Unfortunately, success is not guaranteed to individuals who have a vision and a well-thought-out action plan. For many, the process of achieving can be a frustrating and trying process that doesn’t bring them the joy that they believed was insured to them as they read the new hot self-help book. Having a vision and determining concrete steps to turn that vision into your reality is a great place to start, but internal limitations, such as self-doubt and self-criticism, often prohibit us from reaching our desired destination. To help us overcome our limiting beliefs and the inevitable setbacks that are part of the achievement process, leaders of the self-help industry suggest a variety of exercises, techniques, and practices. It is largely believed that our expectations shape our reality, so in order to manifest our desires, we need to wholeheartedly believe that our outcomes will inevitably manifest in reality. Two of the most commonly taught ways that can help us change our beliefs and reshape our expectations for success are incantations and visualization. Incantations are short positive sayings that when repeated on a regular basis and are said to replace old limiting beliefs at the subconscious level of our mind. The process of visualization is centered around using our creative mental resources to create mental images of our life after we have achieved our desires. It is believed that when we focus our attention on these images, we will naturally gravitate toward those things.

Self-Help Psychology at Balanced Achievement:

The world of self-help psychology, which is largely built around ideas found in the humanistic psychological perspective, can offer us invaluable information and tools that can take us to where we want to go. The diversity of the field can give us specific and relevant information to find balanced success, happiness, and fulfillment across every area of life. Many of the practices and strategies that are found in this field are promoted and regularly discussed here at Balanced Achievement, however, we do believe that there are a number of problems with the approaches that are found in the personal development landscape.

For example, It often makes happiness and fulfillment a destination rather than a process, and it also can cause us to relinquish our basic right to be happy and fulfilled to things that reside outside of ourselves (money, status, relationships, and material goods). Even though these problems exist, we believe that with the right mindset and knowledge, the strategies found in self-help psychology can help to add great fulfillment to our lives. Here are 2 ways that Self-Help Psychology factors into the Balanced Achievement philosophical approach:

Take 100% Responsibility for Life:

It is our belief that unless one takes complete responsibility for themselves and their current circumstances, they will never be able to reach the levels of fulfillment that they desire. In Western societies, adult individuals are unwilling to take responsibility for where they are in life. Many of us like to blame others and outer circumstances for the areas of our life that we are not satisfied. If we want to find true success and happiness, we must stop bestowing our problems, disagreement, and setback on others and outer circumstances. In the words of self-help legend Brain Tracy:

You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”

The field of self-help psychology puts great emphasis on embracing personal responsibility for one’s life and current circumstances and the idea is woven deep within the fabric of the Balanced Achievement teachings.

Focus on The Process & Live in The Present:

Earlier we discussed how there are a number of issues with the personal development industry. Because the teachings are so goal-focused, it is easy for individuals to become victims of feelings of frustration and anxiety. All too often individuals believe that they will be happy when X happens, and sadly when X comes they still don’t feel satisfied. While we believe that it is important for each of us to have goals and a vision for our future, it is imperative that we do not let our happiness be dependent on the achievement of these things. Working towards an objective is obviously a beneficial thing, but we do ourselves a great disservice when we allow our feelings and emotional states to be determined by our progression toward a goal.

It is important for us to cultivate the belief that the never-ending process of self-improvement is good enough, the day before us is good enough, and our circumstances are good enough. By keeping the Buddhist idea of impermanence in our minds as we pursue our goals is a great way to relinquish our need for things to be different and embrace things as they are. It is also important to realize that success, fulfillment, and happiness are a process that is worked at every single day and not a destination.


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