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Is the self-help industry causing more harm than good?

STARTING IN the '70s, the self-help movement has become a global phenomenon touching the lives of millions.

A Google search for ‘self-help advice’ now throws-up approximately 24 million pages of free downloads - a mix of YouTube Channels and websites all jostling with each other for attention and promoting their own brands of personal empowerment tips and life-enhancing techniques.

For those seeking self-help advancement from a reputable source, today's modern sales techniques can blur the distinction between the genuine and the fake. Glowing testimonials, name-dropping, YouTube self-promotions and a plethora of other subtle and not-so-subtle sales techniques combine to shift more and more courses and materials. Some people will spend a fortune on a ‘leading light’ because it ‘feels right’, but their gut feeling is likely to have been engineered by some promise to fill a gaping desire - usually, to live that ‘dreamed for’ life.

Given all this hype and branding, one thing is essential to realise: ‘helping the self’ takes years of focused commitment. We all want a quick fix - to be free from pain, a difficult situation, a life challenge. And we want it now. But quick fixes don’t exist. And what most gurus won’t tell you is that personal evolution takes a lifetime of dedication. It requires consistent training of the mind, letting go of the actions and reactions of the personality and aligning with our ‘higher nature’, unfailingly.

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People from various spiritual traditions have indeed attained such an enlightened place - but often by renouncing life and living in a place of solitude that enables them to sustain such a pledge. Most of us are not able to do that. Even a prolonged retreat will not give people the enlightenment they desire.

So, what can we do? Persistently, one step at a time, move towards that liberated place. We do it amidst our 21st century lives of busy-ness, information overload, personal and professional pressures and despite the darkness we witness in the world around us. And we accept that the journey is long-term. The peaks are hard-won and difficult to sustain. Importantly, no guru can do it for us.

So, can self-help really help? The answer lies in our ability to recognise that achieving and acquiring won’t bring long-term happiness. All the positive thinking in the world will not stop bad things from happening in our lives. We have to accept life is often not as we want it to be. And although thinking optimistically has its place, it can prove unhelpful if we focus purely on the life of our dreams and do not face our darkest moments head-on and seek realistic solutions to life’s problems.

True self-help means taking 100% responsibility for yourself. It means recognising that only you are responsible for your mindset, attitudes and behaviours. In truth, the only one who can heal your life is you. To be guided by a coach or mentor with a wealth of experience can be valuable. But all the very best self-help counsellors, training courses, books and DVDs are of scant benefit unless they convey that the answers lie within. And most gurus won't tell you that because it might put them out of business.

Sarah Alexander is a coach and trainer who specialises in working with coaches, consultants and business professionals with a focus on inspiring and empowering others; including sports stars, entrepreneurs and on behalf of companies such as Shell. Her approach is based on the principles set out in her book, Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership. She has also featured in broadsheet newspapers including The Financial Times.

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