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How to Stand Firm in a Runaway World

A manifesto

Are you buying one self-help book after another without really becoming happy? Do you fall for mindfulness one month and positive psychology the next? Are you constantly seeking self-improvement through therapy or life-coaching? If so you are likely addicted to personal development and in need of anti-self-help. The following seven-step guide can help you stand firm and resist the self-improvement craze of our times:

1. Cut out the navel-gazing: The more you gaze lovingly at your navel, the worse you will feel. Doctors call it the health paradox – the more help patients receive, the more they self-diagnose, the worse they feel. Most self-help gurus will urge you to base decisions on your gut feelings. Don’t. It’s not a good idea (especially after a vindaloo).

2. Focus on the negative in your life: We have been told to be positive for decades, but it doesn’t help. It’s often better to be a sourpuss than a happy-clappy type. And there are often plenty of good reasons for grumpiness, too. Everybody grows old, falls ill and, in the end, they die. If you spend time thinking about your own vulnerability and mortality every day, you’ll appreciate life more.

3. Put on your No hat: Saying “I don’t want to do that” conveys strength and integrity. Only robots always say yes. For example, if you’re at a performance and development review and your line manager wants you to take a “personal development” course, just decline politely. Tell him you’d prefer to introduce a “cake day” at work.

4. Suppress your feelings: If you’re always bubbly and positive, other people may suspect that your constant enthusiasm is a bit false. And if you’re incapable of putting a lid on your anger, they’ll treat you like an unruly child. Adults should choose dignity over authenticity.

5. Sack your coach: Coaching and therapy have become ubiquitous development tools in our accelerating culture. A coach is supposed to help you find the answers within yourself and realise your full potential. But this is so wide of the mark. Consider sacking your coach and making friends with him or her instead. Perhaps buy the coach a ticket to a museum, and ask what lessons life has to offer if you direct your gaze outward instead of inward.

6. Read a novel – not a self-help book: Self-help books always top the bestseller lists, but often reinforce the idea that life is something we control. Ultimately, they leave you despondent at your failure to realise their myriad promises of happiness, wealth and health. Novels, on the other hand, enable you to understand human life as complex and unmanageable.

7. Dwell on the past: If you think things are bad now, just remember that they can always get worse. And probably will. The past, on the other hand, has a tendency to become lighter and brighter, the further it fades into the distance. When someone presents plans for innovation and “visions” for the future, tell them that everything was better in the old days. Explain to them that the idea of constant “progress” is only a few hundred years old – and is, in fact, destructive. Practise repeating yourself. Look for role models who have put down roots. Insist on the right to stand still. And read future posts of this blog if you want to learn more about anti-self-help.

Svend Brinkmann
Source: Svend Brinkmann


Brinkmann, S. (2017). Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze. Cambridge: Polity Press.

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