Friday, July 02, 2010

The trouble with self-help. Or, why the James Rays of the world do even more damage than you realized. Part 2.

Read part 1.

that you really ought to be taller than you are, and I kept it up night and day, how would you feel about that? If I forced you to read book after book that stressed the cardinal importance of height and inundated you with alleged height-building skills (emphasizing on each and every page how vital it is that you internalize and apply those skills), wouldn't all of that have the corollary effect of undermining your contentment with whatever height you are now? If I then coerced you into depleting what's left of your savings in these financially trying times in order to pay $9695 to attend some much-ballyhooed retreat where that messagebecome a height-seeking warrior!is delivered nonstop with fever-pitch intensity, wouldn't you feel especially obliged to act on that message, to not rest until you'd added a few of those all-important inches?

By this point, you know where I'm going. And I know what you're thinking:
Come on, Steve. Your height is your height. You can't do much about it. Happiness and fulfillment are different.

Is that so.

There are several ways to respond to that.

1. If you've been with us on SHAMblog for any length of time, you know that I'm a determinist. Thus, to people like me, your happiness is precisely the same as your height: You're going to end up where you end up. You can't "grow any happier" than you were ever going to be, just as you can't grow any taller. And as a side note, I've never understood why that's such a depressing notion to so many people. In the present case, for example, in no way does it imply that you're going to be unhappy; maybe your destiny is to be ecstatic 98 percent of the time. Besides, you don't know where you're going to end up in life, and as you go through your daily routine, it's going to seem as if you're constantly making decisions, weighing one option against the other (even though the script for each and every one of those decisions is already written, as is, of course, the outcome). So what's really the difference?

2. Then there's the science on the matter. Admittedly, as I discovered during the research for my forthcoming article on happiness for Skeptic, the knowledge base in this area is frustratingly thin. But the knowledge we do have, or think we have, suggests that even if all of life isn't predetermined as above, happiness to a large extent is. Increasingly the chronic absence of happiness
depressionreveals itself as a matter of pure chemistry: the balance of, and interplay between, the trace amounts of serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin and other chemicals roiling around in your nervous system. On top of that are certain emotional predispositions and "response loops" that, again increasingly, appear to be hard-wired. And as I think I noted last time, studies of twins clearly suggest a very strong genetic component to happiness.

3. And then there's plain old common sense. Assume for the purpose of this exercise that I'm wrong about determinism, and we're fully imbued with free will and therefore bear unabridged responsibility for "choosing happiness," as the bumper sticker puts it. Can you really do that if external circumstances declare an all-out vendetta against you? If you lose your job, lose your loved ones, lose your house to the recession or Hurricane Katrina...or let's say you live in some Somali ghetto where, no matter how much freedom of choice you have, there isn't that much to choose from. Is it realistic to think that the vast majority of us who weren't born into charmed circumstances can simply rearrange our lives to provide the optimal fulfillment we seek? Or, alternatively, that we can just will ourselves to "be OK with" the crappy life we've got? Even the great Marty Seligman, unquestioned father of latter-day Happyism and as strong an advocate as there is for grabbing your happiness by the horns, concedes that some portion of the circumstances that will conspire to determine your personal level of happiness is entirely out of your control. (I believe the figure he quesstimates is 25 percent. Didn't have time to check today.)

So what's your point, Steve? That life sucks and we're all doomed? Gee, thank you for sharing. Nice blog you got here...

No. My point is quite the opposite, actually. My point is that by hyping unrealistic idealism, wherein disciples are led to believe they have (or should have) far more control over their lives than they in fact do, the gurus of SHAMland perform a great and crippling disservice. We might call this the Oprah Effect; here, for the sake of expediency, I'll quote from my book, page 249:

Rising expectations are not always a good thing and can even backfire. In fact, this is one obvious interpretation of a small study October 2003. The study, based on a random telephone survey of 1,015 households, concluded that 5 percent of the country's adult populationsome 9 million peoplefeel so much daily stress that they can no longer cope. Fully half of those surveyed said they were fans of The Oprah Winfrey Show. The study therefore assumed a relationship between stress and watching Oprah. Now, even if the study is statistically valid, the mere fact that Oprah viewers may feel more stress that nonviewers does not mean that Oprah causes the stress. Perhaps her show simply attracts people with high levels of existing stress. But one can't help wondering if Oprah's can-do message* is having an effect she did not foresee: To wit, if you make people believe they have full control over their lives, and then their lives don't get better (or even get worse), how could that not throw the synapses into turmoil? Thinking in such terms, one begins to see the importance of realism and being shielded from false hope; one begins to see the downside of being uplifted.
That graph was one of those leaps of logic that some readers so disliked in SHAM. But does it not stand to reason? I go back to my question about height: If I made you feel that it was within your power to be taller—if I really convinced you of that—after a while, wouldn't you get pretty damn frustrated with yourself? You'd begin to feel like a loser. Dammit, why isn't this working! I'm fully empowered, and I'm using all of the strategies that Steve taught me! I should be MUCH taller by now, with all the time, energy and emotion I'm putting into this! I submit that it works the same way for most followers of SHAM liturgy.

I could be wrong, but I don't think a person can be always "on"—striving, thriving, blah blah blah—yet also be happy and thoroughly content. I don't even think such a person can be "OK." Constant striving, constant overreaching (because your reach must exceed your grasp, right?) is incompatible with the nature of happiness.

Most readers of this blog, being sane, recognize that boundless, LoA-style Empowerment does not (and cannot) work as advertised. On the other hand, those who (a) have bought in and yet (b) aren't where they want to be in life, factually and/or emotionally, must face an inescapable conclusion: Since the law of attraction stipulates that they will get whatever they strive for, well, that must mean they simply haven't been striving hard enough. Or they've been unwittingly sabotaging themselves (or striving for the wrong things). Ergo, on top of getting shorted in life, they're now cosmic failures, to boot!

So it is that even when the gurus aren't killing you in sweat lodges, they're subtly killing your exactly the same way I'd eventually drive you mad by forcing you to go out day after day and learn to dunk a basketball when you're 5-3 and your name isn't Muggsy Bogues.

* Oprah, of course, is the queen of Empowerment.


Clint Cora, Speaker/Author said...

There's nothing wrong with education and motivation but yes, self help on it's own will end up as 'shelf help' if no real action is implemented.

Lena Phoenix said...

They're also doing an excellent job of getting you addicted to the unnatural emotional high of the workshop experience. "Normal" life will never be able to compare with the pressure-cooker intensity of those artificially orchestrated events, thus reinforcing the idea that you need more work, and more workshops. I think it's a particularly insidious form of drug dealing.

Wayne S. said...

Hi Steve, I'd like to say that this piece you wrote resonates a lot with me. I've always eschewed the extremes of emotion such as deliriously happy or depressingly sad. What's wrong with being content?

It seems that all this striving for greatness in the self help industry is just a measure of how desperately insecure people really are at times. The phenomenon of the self help industry actually having a negative effect on the individual was noted in a 2002 BBC documentary called the "Century of Self".

In the third segment they stated that all the excessive introspection of people through groups such as est, Esalen, Eckankar etc. had the unintended side effect of creating a generation of narcissistic, immature and insecure people. I.e. the "me" generation

Steve Salerno said...

Wayne: I don't think you've joined us before, at least not by name. Thanks for stopping by.

Lena: Very good point. And I don't think it's unrelated to all the cynicism expressed in this forum (and elsewhere) along the lines of, "Jesus, what the hell was wrong with those people? You'd have to be an idiot to do what those folks in Sedona did...!" Not necessarily. You can be riding the high of the experience, as you put it, or merely swept along with the mass psychology of the moment, whether it's a true high or not. That's why these group settings are so potentially dangerous.

mojo said...

All of this reminds me of what someone once called the "Stockdale Paradox". When Admiral Stockdale was a POW for seven-plus years, he noted that the men who tended not to survive were those who kept chanting "We're gonna be out by Christmas! We're gonna be out by Easter!" etc., etc. His theory was that these people were avoiding the reality of their situation by indulging in fantasies, and then lost faith and died of the proverbial "broken heart" when their expectations were not met.

Stockdale pointed out that there was a big difference between THAT behavior and the less rah-rah concept of quietly holding on to one's ultimate goal as a long term ideal, while simultaneously confronting and dealing with an often brutal present reality.

Perhaps serendipitously, just a week or so ago the Dalai Lama published a message of support to the UK's armed forces that includes the following paragraph:

"Naturally, there are some times when we need to take what on the surface appears to be harsh or tough action, but if our motivation is good our action is actually non-violent in nature. On the other hand if we use sweet words and gestures to deceive, exploit and take advantage of others, our conduct may appear agreeable, while we are actually engaged in quite unacceptable violence."

The full text can be found here:

Stever Robbins said...

An essay I read long ago by Pema Chodron called "The Wisdom of No Escape" really hammered this point home with me. She pointed out that when we accept there's an external world and that we are where we are, it's really very freeing in some ways.

I've found this to be very true in my life. Just this week I was investigating a possible business and for various reasons concluded that the business would never work as a business. Oddly, that was extremely liberating! Now, instead of trying to make it work, I can simply accept that it's a hobby and not a business and go have fun with it, without the pressure of needing to succeed.

This isn't limited to the psychological self-help industry, either. As a self-employed consultant and speaker, I've been bombarded with classes and offerings as to how I can improve my marketing and write great sales letters and market market market market market.

Well, guess what? I suck a marketing. It requires a mindset that I just don't have, even if I intellectually understand how to do it. Relentless expectation by the rest of the profession that having the right info will magically make me a successful marketer is hogwash. For years I felt like crap because I couldn't get motivated to monitor my web hits and send out test sells and carefully analyze my sales letters word by word. shudder.

Now that I've embraced the fact that I hate all those tasks, I'm looking for someone who really loves the marketing activities and we can partner and each do what we do best.

Tyro said...

Love the comments by Stever & mojo, they echo much of what I was thinking.

I disagree slightly with Steve in that I do think that we can consciously make changes in our lives which will make us happier overall, however I do agree that the positive thinking movement and the simplistic stuff shovelled by Oprah isn't merely futile but, as Steve argued, making things worse. These quick-fix, "just be happy", "stay positive" movements appear to create unrealistic expectations while at the same time pushing blame on you for not achieving them. The anecdotal reports in "Bright Sided" about people being struck with cancer and then being told that their natural fears, insecurities and depression was causing them to get worse was heartbreaking, talk about kicking them when they're down.

I think the corollary to showing ways (like this) which make people less happy is that there are ways in which people can make themselves more happy. If, as Stever Robbins said, fixating on unrealistic deadlines and setting almost delusional hopes on a future that is out of your control can lead people to depression or suicide then perhaps accepting one's circumstances and selecting goals which one can control is a path to happiness (or at least contentment). But, just like losing weight is a well-understood but slow and difficult path of lifestyle change, so too is the path to greater happiness. The people hyping The One True Diet (which inevitably leads to yo-yoing weight and dissatisfaction) have always drowned out the voices which talk about exercise and balanced meals (where's the money in that?). Perhaps no surprise that those selling useless quick-fix solutions to self-help will drown out the more realistic but more difficult voices talking about genuine change.

And you're right, while I don't agree that happiness is as fixed as height, the unrealistic goals, the self-blame and snake-oil cures are just as likely to make you taller as happier. In painful irony, much of the positivity movement may actually make people less happy, like buying a penis enlarger which actually makes men impotent.

Steve Salerno said...

Based on some of the comments here, I still think that people misunderstand the nature of determinism, at least as I see it. When I say that happiness is as fixed as height, I don't mean that you're stuck at the level of happiness you're at now. I mean that at any given moment, your happiness is as fixed as your height is. In other words, at that moment, you had to be precisely that happy--no more, no less--just as you had to be precisely that height. There is nothing you could have done to change the happiness you experience at that point in time.

Nor does determinism imply that you will always be precisely as happy or unhappy as you are this moment, or that it's futile to try to make changes in your life. It simply means that whether or not you think you're "choosing" a new path or arriving at different viewpoints about what will or won't make you happy, those were always the paths and viewpoints you were predestined to be on/arrive at anyway. In other words, none of us has any escape from the determined reality that is in the cards for us, say, at 4:09 p.m. on December 11, 2018. We will all be exactly where we must be. The factors that will produce that outcome are already in play (and have been in play literally since the beginning of time, as I see it). So whatever "new paths" we may take or "changes" we may make between now and then were also preordained. However--since we have no way of knowing what those factors are--we might as well go on acting as if we're making a difference in our own lives, and "attempt to be happier," even though the point is already moot.

Karl said...

An interesting topic. The topic of happiness is one that has been well researched and documented by people not of the Pollyanna "The Secret" school of self-development. And some of the people that have researched and documented the subject have, IMHO, something valuable to teach us.

I'm reading "The How of Happiness" by Sonja Lyubmirsky (a Professor of Psychology) in which she reveals 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics ie it is our happiness setpoint. 10% is determined by out life circumstances. But the other 40% is within our ability to control through what we do in our lives and how we think.

The book mentions 12 activities scientifically proven to increase levels of happiness such as expressing gratitude (Number1), cultivating optimism, avoiding overthinking and social comparison, and practising acts of kindness

I think that these activities when pursued deliberately result in what people would define as happiness. But even when these activities are not pursued deliberately happiness would still ensue.

I think that it is possible to be happy in spite of one's circumstances. I have heard speeches by the Dali Lama and Viktor Frankl both of whom suggest the idea of happiness being intrinsically linked to a sense of purpose.

RevRon's Rants said...

I can agree that the situations in which we find ourselves is beyond our control. To that limited extent, the determinism thing works for me. However (and you knew there would be a however, since we've been here before), I cannot accept that our reaction to those circumstances is also predetermined and beyond our control.

IMO, we can choose to rail angrily against unpleasant circumstances, or accept them pragmatically as challenges to be faced and overcome. We can choose to deny that circumstances affect us, and paint a faux smile across our faces while we seethe or scream inside, or weep when we feel sad, then move beyond the sadness and do what we can to make matters better.

When I taught classes at a Unity church, I saw plenty of painted-on smiles, typically on sad and desperate people. I also saw others whom, faced with the most horrible experiences life has to offer, were able to emerge from profound sadness and find a peace that fairly shone.

Again, IMO, those are the choices we have. There is no salve that will instantly cure anguish or turn it into joy. However, just because there's no *instant* remedy does not mean that there is *no* remedy, except perhaps to those who *believe* there is none.

Duff said...

This article contains several different arguments, some of which I agree with and others which I have some questions about.

I do think much of self-help fits your metaphor of trying to grow taller. Yet much self-help is also acceptance-based! Scan through the titles at Borders and you'll find lots of books on how to accept your body just the way it is, how to love yourself, how to get out of depression by thinking clearly and accepting things, etc. So in fact, this article itself constitutes self-help.

I do think there is evidence for a "happiness set point" in terms of positive affect. Some people are just more cheery and bubbly and others more cynical and skeptical. This can be changed to some small extent, but really it's not worth doing too much with.

Then there is optimism/pessimism, which is about thinking, not necessarily affect or mood, but with some relationship to affect. Habits of thought can be changed moreso in my opinion than baseline mood, and it is a very useful thing for someone who has consistently pessimistic repetitive thought patterns (i.e. self-focused rumination) to learn to think in more flexible, optimistic ways. It is also useful for people who are very overconfident to think more cautiously, but this rarely makes for a popular self-help book!

Optimism is not exactly positive "The Secret" thinking however. Your recent blog post about comparative gratitude ("it could be worse!") is a form of optimism in my opinion. Pessimism is thinking "it WILL be worse" without evidence--the kind of thinking depressed people are habitually engaged in.

Personally I think depression should be considered independently of happiness, even though the two seem to be in binary opposition. The aim of treating depression should NOT be to induce ecstatic happiness--this is called bipolar depression! The aim should be to bring someone up to ordinary unhappiness, with the ability to cope with life's struggles.

Reducing depression to brain chemistry is a bad idea in my opinion because it dehumanizes and leads to ineffective drug solutions. I think SSRI's and other drugs have been so overprescribed as to make us far more helpless than Self-Help. On the other hand, these drugs can be very useful for those who have severe depression as part of an overall strategy for recovery.

There are also aspects of the mind that I do think one can grow endlessly in--clarity, concentration, and compassion for instance, which are the basis for Buddhist meditation practices. What exactly that means to develop in these qualities, and how "happy" one becomes is an open question....

p.s. I loved your part in the Mind Games episode--an excellent addition to a great program.

Steve Salerno said...

Duff: Thanks for your contribution, here. And also for the kind words about Mind Games. We didn't exactly clean up in the ratings, but I take pride in being part of an important project, especially given that it was network TV.

Karl said...

I tried to watch the program but was told that since I live outside the USA I couldn't. Can you sneak it onto youtube?

Steve Salerno said...

Karl, ah geez, I don't think I'd do that, even if I was sure I knew how (and I'm not). Relationships with networks are very delicate things and must be nurtured carefully. But once a few weeks/months go by, I'm sure someone else will do it for me; either that or ABC will relax its grip on the piece.

Cosmic Connie said...

Maybe ABC's news division should establish a YouTube channel, or do *something* to allow viewers outside the US to see this important show. After all, the US doesn't have a monopoly on SHAM-ish stuff. People in the UK and Down Under are vulnerable too. (Remember where The Secret was born, after all...)

How 'bout it, ABC?

Cosmic Connie said...

Regarding the most recent comments: It occurred to me that since Disney is the parent company of ABC, and Disney is known to be pretty picky about copyrights, the folks in charge at ABC's news division probably are not at liberty to upload the Mind Games episode without going through a big process. But I'm still hoping that the conglomerate that owns the rights to the material will see fit to make it available internationally.

Elizabeth said...

My goodness... I've just watched Primetime and am kinda speechless.

It is a chilling example of greed without limits: we have a (very large) bunch of fairly intelligent and well-off people, who are not happy with the level of wealth they've achieved and still want more. They feel entitled to more.

But this is a particularly pernicious kind of greed, because it extends to "spirituality" (quotes on purpose), which makes these folks greedy for unusual and exotic experiences that, in their minds, pass for "enlightenment."

It's pathetically sad -- and peculiarly American, I must add.

Your comments there are spot on, Steve.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: I read comments like this (yours) and I realize how much the blog has missed your insight and sagacity. Thanks for reappearing here.

You've hit on an element--I dare say, a key element--that no one has really emphasized: that a lot of these "clients," if you want to call them that, aren't exactly hurting to begin with. Naturally shows like Mind Games will highlight the guy who went into hock to attend the Sedona event and can no longer pay his bills as a result, but I don't think he's the "average" Ray disciple; it strikes me that the bulk of the clientele are people who are already pampered and privileged, at least to a greater degree than the average Joe or Jane...and yet they still want more. And even if they don't want more in some material sense, they'd rather indulge themselves on this touchy-feely crap than even think of doing something other-directed. At a certain point/status in life, isn't it a tad unseemly to still be thinking/talking about how far you have to travel on your "personal journey"? Maybe it's time to accept that you're already pretty well self-actualized (compared to most) and just live your freakin' life?

Elizabeth said...

Maybe it's time to accept that you're already pretty well self-actualized (compared to most) and just live your freakin' life?

Not that I'm an expert, Steve, but I'd guess that therein lies the enlightenment -- or its beginning -- for all of us, including Ray's disciples.

It's ironic how their fate indeed illustrates the "law of attraction," or "karma," or whatever one would call it: these people are shown directly that their insatiable pursuit of material success and narcissistic "enlightenment" (= entitlement) leads to disappointment, pain, and even loss of life. If that's not a clear enough lesson, then I don't know what is.

And yet they still vow to continue on their deluded path, either with Ray or other "leaders," dreaming of that Mercedes, McMansion, and/or Oscar, without which their lives feel empty, or at least unfulfilled.

A part of me thinks, without malice, that these people get exactly what they deserve -- after all, they keep asking for it.

It's "the secret," alright.

Cosmic Connie said...

I'm very glad to see you back here too, Elizabeth. We've missed ya.

I'm reminded once again of the constant quest for "more" and "better" -- a quest that characterizes not just New-Wage/SHAM culture but our culture as a whole (though it's getting increasingly difficult to separate New-Wage/SHAM from our culture as a whole). Once again I feel the need to cite Joe Vitale's Maui pal who said, "I'm totally satisfied, I just want more." That's supposed to be an admirable sentiment, apparently.

The longing for more expensive cars and larger McMansions is portrayed by New-Wagers as something akin to divine discontent. In the New-Wage view, to NOT "want more" (and more, and more, and more) is to be, at the very least, an underachiever, and/or to be suffering from poor self-esteem or a feeling that you don't deserve all the good things in life. So even if you think your life is pretty good, the New-Wage gurus would have you believe that it's not good enough. And if you think it *is* good enough... well, hey, "good enough" isn't nearly good enough.

As for me, I still get giddy over the fact that we live in a house that has a real garage that Ron can use as a workshop, and that I finally have a real laundry room, and that I can go out my door any time I want and hang around real live horses. I imagine the goo-roos would have me believe that I have set my sights way too low.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, Steve and Connie. I've been otherwise occupied lately, so much so that I have little to no time for blogging (today is an exception).

I still get giddy over the fact that we live in a house that has a real garage that Ron can use as a workshop, and that I finally have a real laundry room, and that I can go out my door any time I want and hang around real live horses.

You're such an underachiever, Connie. ;)

BTW, WV is weedu. There are several playful word associations I can see here. :)

Cosmic Connie said...

Mere hours after quoting Joe V's Maui friend, I came across this new vid (shot during JV's recent whirlwind tour of Poland):

OMG. Did I attract that?

As for the intellectual level of the discussion in that video...well, eat your heart out, SHAMbloggers. If you think *we're* deep, wait till you see how Joe cleverly uses his cigar to illustrate the open-mindedness of LOA/Secret believers.

Of course it's entirely possible that both gentlemen in the vid were a little snockered. Then again, these are the same kinds of statements we hear from New-Wage gurus and their followers all the time.

Elizabeth said...

Connie, wait... JV has made it to Poland?!

We're doomed. There is no hope.

And OMG is right. This brilliant cigar maneuver took my breath away. That's, like, really... creative. Or sumthin'.

But the best part was the self-affirming agreement between JV and the Polish JV-wannabe that the statement so frequently made by the millionaires who attend their seminars,

I'm totally satisfied with my life, I just want more!

is the most beautiful thing they have ever heard.

It's prompted me to utter a decidedly less beautiful statement of my own, but I'll keep it to myself.

On a related note, I checked out Andrzej Batko, the JV companion in the clip. He is a psychologist by training, practitioner of NLP, and a director of a large NLP center and training program. His employees and co-workers have similar educational backgrounds in respectable fields, and they all represent a new wave of Polish psychology (or one of its branches), which is focused on maximizing profits of the rapidly growing capitalist class in Poland. They base their work on American organizational psychology, but borrow heavily from (American) gurus of the unlimited prosperity and selfish-help (thanks, Duff).

On Batko's website, there is an explicit disavowal of the (loosely translated) "mindset of poverty" and, not surprisingly, many vague but optimistic reassurances that participating in Batko's et al. programs will lead to wealth and growth (i.e., more wealth).

For an old Polish expat, this is an interesting cultural phenomenon to witness (and, on a personal level, a disturbing one). It illustrates a brave new world where the survival of the fittest (= slickest) rules like never before.

Steve Salerno said...

Other statements in the same vein:

I'm perfectly satisfied with my appearance; I just wish I were prettier.

I'm totally at peace in life. I just wish I were more content.

Thank you for that absolutely perfect meal. Next time I hope you can do a little better...

And so on.

Elizabeth said...

Keep'em coming, Steve, and you'll have the full list of deadly sins. ;)

Curiously (or not), those are the very sins that fuel the selfish-help business, as my inner collapsed Catholic is obliged to notice.

Now, this, below, is apropos painful lessons one could (if one were so inclined) learn from motivational retreats and other such lovely occasions:

ROME (Reuters) – A "motivation day" organized by one of Italy's biggest real estate agencies ended in tears and scars when nine staff had to be treated in hospital after walking barefoot on a bed of hot coals.

Alessandro Di Priamo, a former athlete now turned motivational trainer for companies, said the nine salespeople from the Tecnocasa agency had suffered light burns and none were seriously hurt.

"Firewalking helps people overcome their fears, seek new challenges and understand that most of what they see as their limits are self-inflicted," Di Priamo told Reuters.

He said the hotel near Rome where the exercise was held used the wrong kind of wood and some artificial coal without him knowing.

"I have done this job for 12 years with thousands of people and never had a problem. I myself walked first on that bed of burning coals and didn't feel anything -- in fact that same evening I went for a 16 km run," he said.


Cosmic Connie said...

Oh, Eliz, this was Mr. Fire's third trip to Poland. On his previous trip, thanks to his NLP buddy, he discovered the Polish Secret to Prosperity -- a painting of an old Jewish man counting coins. (This followed close on the heels of his Russian Wish Dolly launch.) Here's the link:

But here's a better link:

Re your subsequent comment: An alert reader had sent me a link to the Italy firewalking story too. Sad stuff, really. The July 6 Guardian story I read cited the "motivational" leader as stressing that "only" eight of between 40 and 50 participants had been hurt. I guess the toll went up to nine. But still... that's "only" nine.

Shades of Joe V's buddy Pat O'Bryan, who wrote last December in a post he titled "The Self-Help Kool-Aid Acid Test":

"Several people died in [James Ray's] sweat lodge.

"Yes, it's tragic. However, it's also perplexing.

"I've participated in sweat lodge ceremonies. I didn't die. I found it invigorating.

"James Ray has included sweat lodge ceremonies in other events and nobody died.

"Several people popped out of the sweat lodge at Ray's event feeling great..."

Selfish-help, indeed.

Elizabeth said...

Third trip?! Why??

Oh Connie, that's the end of the world as I know it. (OK, almost.) This nonsense spreads faster than swine flu, and apparently there are no vaccines available. (Reason and common sense don't count. No, really, they don't.)

I've followed your links (a tough call) and found this JV's summary of his most recent Polish experience:

I just returned from my third visit to Poland. I love the country. The people are warm, generous, loving and lovable.

Alright, so far, so good.

But... What's that he says?

They are into the Law of Attraction, the movie The Secret, and of course The Secret to Attracting Money.

Nooooo!!! O.M.G...

Is it really true? The Polish people I know would laugh their... ankles off if told about The Secret and its vicinity, and other magic money-making schemes.

Then again, somebody over there keeps inviting him, going to his talks, buying his crap, etc. Go figure.


But I won't worry my little head about it. Instead, I'll try to wrap my mind around JV's concept of Beyond Zero Limits.

I mean, huh? There is a beyond beyond zero? Something beyond no limits? (And how can nothing have something beyond it to begin with?)

My head hurts! It's one of those "But what's outside of the Universe?" questions. Thankfully, JV has an answer to it, and it is -- you guessed it! -- advanced ho’oponopono.


Sigh no.2.

RevRon's Rants said...

I've got an idea for instant self-actualization. It's based upon an Eastern European-based technique that's been in practice for over a century, despite negative press coverage of literally every event. A full 84% of devotees realized no ill effects whatsoever, with most claiming a state of instantaneous euphoria upon completion. Even among the paltry 16% whose experience has been so broadly derided by the media, there have been no actual complaints, though some family and friends have chimed in with the negative press reports, no doubt driven by jealousy or a desire for fame or fortune at the practice's expense.

Workshop leaders tend to be very discrete as a result of the negative connotations created by the media, but you can find details, including methodology and required technology by Googling "Russian roulette."

Best jump on the bandwagon now, before another wave of haters derides you for your decision.

Anonymous said...

If everything is already determined, and no one makes any decisions that alter their course (unless *that* was predetermined), what might be the point of exposing/critiquing SHAM? If the script is already written, then what possible effect could a counterpoint/expose have? Those three people were "scheduled" to die in AZ, and JAR was "supposed" to push things too far. People who are ripped off by SHAM are supposed to be ripped off, and conversly *not* supposed to consider or act on the criticism.

Am I misunderstanding determinisim?


Steve Salerno said...

Anon 11:50, in a word, yes. I've covered this in previous posts and comments, but I'll try to expand on that a bit tomorrow. I concede that I represent the minority viewpoint in this area.

Anonymous said...

Steve, thanks. I'd love to hear more. I did run through a few of your previous posts, to try to understand what you're saying. I'm intrigued.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, here's the most succinct explanation I think I can give. Forget about humans for a moment. Think about trees (because in the determinist scheme of things, humans have as much ultimate control over their lives as a tree has over its). If, after a bad storm, we see a tree hovering precariously over someone's house, we're going to do everything we can to try to prop it up (if, that is, we don't actually want to cut it down. And by the way, for the purposes of this analogy, assume it's 100 years ago and there's no Department of Public Works to call or whatever). Now, in so doing, we are part of the deterministic landscape--our actions are fed into the giant processor that determines the outcome of any given scenario. In the end, that tree is going to do what it does: It's either going to remain standing, or fall over on its own one day, or blow down in the next storm. And, again, the efforts we took to prop up that tree are part of the equation. (Was our repair work good enough? Did enough of us get involved? And that too was predetermined: Are we caring, neighborly people to begin with? Do we have the right materials to work with? Are we the kinds of people who do a job with great diligence, or do we tend to rush through it? Etc. All of which is beyond our control.) So even though we know going in that there's a chance that tree may fall someday despite our best efforts, we still make an attempt to fix the problem. Right?

Same thing with my book and this blog. My book and blog have now become part of the landscape that effects whether or not people are as susceptible to the scammers. But my book and blog were themselves predetermined--I had no choice but to write SHAM and launch this blog, because that was my destiny--so it's all part of the grand cosmic picture.

I don't know if that helps at all--and it's a dramatically oversimplified explanation--but it's the best I can do on a busy Monday.

Steve Salerno said...

Or let me throw another one at ya: Suppose we decide to cut the tree down, and during some horrific "accident" (since in determinism there are no accidents) someone is killed. That person was killed because the tree started to keel over. The tree started to keel over because of the weather. But it couldn't have keeled over in the first place if someone didn't plant it--which means that the person who was killed, was killed, in part, by the person who planted the tree. And on and on...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Steve. This is going to require more mulling over (maybe for years!). I'll read your other posts about it and pay more attention in the future when you refer to it.

Elizabeth said...

Rejoice, all ye faithful (i.e., Steve et al. ;): there is a sequel to The Secret coming out!

NEW YORK — The author of "The Secret" now wants to share "The Power."

Atria Books announced Tuesday that Rhonda Byrne's follow-up to her pop culture phenomenon that sold millions of copies comes out next month. "The Power," like "The Secret," is a guide to positive thinking, how "everyone is meant to have an amazing life."

Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, plans a first printing of 2 million copies.

But wait... I thought Rhonda B. already wanted to share the power with The Secret, no?

Hm. I obviously don't understand the whole Secret-thingie, but it seems to me that if it (The Secret-thingie) were such an ultimate and condensed expression of All Universal Wisdom, there would be no need for a sequel, right? Especially one titled The Power?

Cuz -- and forgive my cynical ponderings -- it kinda suggests that the original Secret may have lacked in power (god help us!).

It also implies that The Secret is imperfect and incomplete -- and thus it is no The-Capital-S-Secret (or maybe even no secret at all, gasp!)

Could it be that it's simply time to replenish Ms. Byrne's savings...? (shuddering at my own cynicism -- eh, naw, not really)

WV: bulturt (the initial title for The Power; however, the publisher rejected it as somewhat less marketable)

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Yes, I added that sparkling newsbreak to the sidebar's Slime Blotter feature early yesterday. I think this falls under that sarcastic rubric Esquire uses here and there in its "annual achievement awards" issue: "One more reason to go on living." As I emailed Miguel (my ABC producer) yesterday, if this new book does indeed vindicate Atria's announced first printing of 2 million copies, I'll lose that much more sympathy for the patsies...uh, I mean patrons of the New Age. Every day I evolve increasingly to the hard-hearted position that goes, in essence, "They get what they deserve." This isn't 2005 anymore. With the waves of negative coverage of self-help/the New Age that have flooded into the mainstream since SHAM was published, it's hard to imagine that anyone can still be a babe-in-the-woods these days; in particular, look at all the bad press The Secret and its purveyors have "attracted," especially since Sedona. So if Americans are still buying what Rhonda's selling, or ordering Joe Vitale's Russian dolly stickers, or making plans to attend James Ray's next gig if and when he gets this nasty business behind him, it may be time to simply throw our hands in the air and write such people off as incurable fools.

Lena Phoenix said...

I think you might be overestimating the power of the mass media to reach these people, Steve. Living deep in the heart of New-Age central, I can tell you that plenty of people here had no idea what happened in Sedona until I told them. They're certainly not going to watch mainstream television (all that negativity? C'mon!), and any news that might make it through their highly filtered information networks is going to be heavily distorted to support their pre-existing beliefs.

So I'm afraid there are always going to be babes-in-the-woods. There was already plenty of negative information out there about LGAT's when I did my first one at the tender age of 17, but all I heard was how it was going to change my life from the boy I was in love with. I had to get burned repeatedly before it occurred to me to look for a dissenting point of view.

Until critical thinking becomes a widely taught and established skill in this country, I don't see the landscape changing all that much. Even if Byrne's new book tanks, 20 years from now, some hopeful kid is going to find a copy of The Secret in a used bookstore (well, presuming used bookstores still exist, anyway) and it will start all over again.

Steve Salerno said...

LP: That comment is as succinct (and spot-on) an enunciation of the essential problem as any I've read/heard. And on reflection, I suppose you're right about the MSM-aversion and the filtering mechanisms. Thanks for weighing in, Lena.

jamesfell said...

I don’t know much about the genetic component of happiness, but I’ve personally found there to be a significant situational aspect.

Admittedly, I work in the motivation business. Before you start hating, I’m a fitness writer and a lot of my columns have to do with the motivational aspect of getting in shape. However, I don’t eschew the teachings of Robbins and his ilk; my book actually eviscerates him rather thoroughly. Instead, I teach scientific motivational concepts developed by researchers such as Bandura, Azjen, Prochaska and Skinner.

I don’t ever think about my happiness, I just focus on accomplishment. I used to be fat, in debt, and flunking out of school, and this made me unhappy. Through years of relentless toil I can now see my abs when I look in the mirror, and this makes me happy. I can look at my house and know that it’s all mine (shared with my wife, of course) , and this makes me happy. I can go into my office and see the three degrees hanging on the wall, and this makes me happy.

Yesterday I received an email from an editor at a large US newspaper saying she loved my writing and wanted me to send her article ideas. This made me very happy.

This morning my daughter said I was the best daddy ever, and this also made me very happy.

For me, the secret to happiness is not to think about it, but to just engage in those things that ultimately bring happiness. For me, this comes through focusing on developing those innate skills natural selection gifted me, and taking comfort that I’m good at a couple of things. I know I’ll never be able to play guitar like Alex Lifeson, but I can compose a sentence about how much he rocks.

And this makes me happy.

Best regards,

James S. Fell

Elizabeth said...

20 years from now, some hopeful kid is going to find a copy of The Secret in a used bookstore (well, presuming used bookstores still exist, anyway) and it will start all over again.

How prescient, Lena! (Though, in 20 years, the old wave will still be present, I think.)

But, imagine, it's 2210, civilization as we know it was almost wiped out (catastrophic global warming, massive oil spills, nuclear war -- pick your poison). There are only a few surviving outposts of human communities around the globe, doing their best to make it in the harsh conditions.

Word is that in one little underground cave, somewhere in (say) Montana, there is a stash of those things people called books -- kinda like the Internet (remember that?) made of trees.

So Jarred, a hungry and enterprising young man from a neighboring cave-dwelling, sets out to explore the mysterious place -- and yes, you guessed it -- comes upon "The Secret."

Yada, yada, yada, one thing leads to another, and, a couple centuries later, if you are not a member of The Holy Jarred's Church of The Secret, you risk extermination for yourself and your family. So sign up now! It's free! (but failing to join can have decidedly unpleasant consequences).

P.S. I propose Nicholas Cage to play older Jarred, if we must make that movie.