I have read or listened to a large number of self-help books, podcasts, and articles.
The topics have included wealth-management and creation, mindfulness, relationships, Ikigai, Law of Attraction, habits, time-management, psychology, meditation, Buddhism, and other notions that can be applied to self-care in self-help.
Some are by well-known figures like Tony Robbins, Wallace Waddles, Deepak Chopra, Echart Tolle, Jen Sincero, Stephen Covey, etc. Then, there have been less well-known but equally excellent writers like Ayodeji Awosika, Jessica Wildfire, Darius Foroux, Shannon Ashley, and numerous others I have encountered on Medium.
While some of the big names have made a lot of money off what they sell, with a few exceptions, they often have too narrow a focus. Some of them neglect the necessary balance achieved with the practice of mindfulness.
That balance is very much the key to self-help. Without applying feeling and action to thought, you haven’t enough power to move whatever tangible or intangible you would desire to.
It’s very hard to help yourself if your focus is wholly on thought and neglecting feelings and actions.
Mindfulness is not thought alone. It is consciousness, awareness in the here-and-now of thought, plus feeling and the intent of action. That triumvirate opens you to gaining influence and control over your headspace/mindset/psyche.
Practicing mindfulness is not some magic bullet cure-all. When you practice mindfulness, what you are doing is making a conscious effort to be aware of what is going on inside your head.
There is nobody in your head but you. Nobody can think or feel for you. There is nobody who can know the intent of actions you choose to take — or not — but you. Often, however, this gets neglected — and instead of working from your conscious mind, you allow thoughts, feelings, and actions in your subconscious do the driving.
What’s the difference? Your subconscious mind is made up of beliefs, ideas, concepts, thoughts, and feelings both old and new. Everything you experience, all the news you read, every conversation you have that just “happens” along the way of any given day plants seeds in your subconscious mind. It doesn’t take long for the crops of those seeds to start to grow.
There are no filters in the subconscious mind. Unchecked, your thoughts and feelings can get utterly focused on something that, consciously, you’d prefer not to focus on. That, in turn, can lead to depression based on old thoughts, feelings, and past actions rooted in your subconscious mind.
Likewise, that can lead to anxiety based on thoughts, feelings, and intended actions of the present and future. The subconscious is a complex, multifaceted repository of data past, present, and potential.
Practicing mindfulness opens you up to explore, recognize, and potentially clear-out useless crap inside your subconscious. Thought is insufficient for that — you need feeling and action, too.
Being empathetic towards yourself
Have you ever done something that left you mad? Not mad at another person or inanimate object, but mad at yourself?
For example — about a month ago I went shopping. As I was turning into a space to park my car, I heard a horrid sound as my right-front end connected with a concrete pillar.
Maybe I should have stopped, reversed, and re-angled the turn. But I didn’t — and I parked the car. When I got out to look — a nice, ugly mark marred my car’s previously perfect exterior.
I was displeased with myself over allowing that to happen. I felt angry. Now, a month later, every time I see that scrape I get angry with myself about it all over again.
Yes, it’s a flash moment, and it quickly passes. Yet it remains. That feeling — when it hits — causes me to be unkind to myself.
Idiot, I think. Why did you do that? This is why you can’t have nice things. Because you always mar them.
If I let that go on, it won’t be long before I reach, see, this is why you suck at everything. You have more evidence of what a failure you are. You ruin it all.
That’s not nice, right? And this is ME thinking to MYSELF. That lack of empathy towards another would be unacceptable, right? So how come I can feel that towards my person?
How does this tie into self-help? Because in my experience, much of self-help is about cleaning up old subconscious beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that are in the way of your present life.
Hence, if you cannot be empathetic about such things, changing them becomes quite the uphill struggle.
Clearing out the brain-cellar
Holding onto mistakes, failures, and the results of old decisions is a subconscious matter. Practicing mindfulness and being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions here-and-now allow you to shine a light into a dark cellar.
That, in turn, will help you not to trip over them — and to clearly see them so that you can clean them out. Which, when all is said and done, is the point of self-help. It is doing the work to clean out that disused brain-cellar of information, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and unused junk.
If Sherlock Holmes’ “brain-attic” is where one stores useless information, then the brain-cellar I write of is where you store old emotion. That’s where the stinging rejection from the long-ago lover still lives; where the unjust firing from the job has claws dug in; and long-forgotten beliefs instilled in you by your grandparents in your childhood created your unintentional present racism.
Working with a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist is generally meant to go digging around that cellar. Self-help is when you do it on your own.
What you will find in there is often disconcerting. You uncover things you are less-than fond of. And this is where a lot of the self-help gurus neglect to go.
The feelings this stirs up will likely be complicated. But when you find something that makes you feel bad about yourself — to release it and move past it you need empathy.
Just like having empathy for the plight of others, empathy for your own experience is a necessity. If you can’t empathize with yourself — you can’t help yourself. Self-help, as such, loses all meaning without that empathy.
Helping yourself means dealing with thought, feeling, and action
It’s all well-and-good to apply positive thinking to your life. Focusing on the now, bringing the things you desire in the future into your present mind, and treating them as if they are already in existence is certainly a part of conscious reality creation.
But like mindfulness, conscious reality is made-up of thought, feeling, and action.
Without empathy, kindness, and compassion FOR YOURSELF, creating anything you desire is difficult at best — if not outright impossible. Why? Because odds are that lack of empathy, kindness, and compassion for yourself is the surface result of a deeper issue. Dislike of yourself.
Sure, you might be able to point to specifics you dislike physically, emotionally, and mentally. But the overall sense of self is not something that should be ignored.
Much of the self-help material out in the world often misses this. It gets very “rah-rah positivity” while ignoring or only paying lip-service to the emotional underbelly. But lacking empathy, kindness, and compassion in yourself for yourself stalls your process.
I have struggled with this most of my life. I have felt inadequate, unworthy — and undeserving. There was a lack of empathy for myself that has been the cause of emotional and mental paralysis, as well as self-sabotage and my fears.
Self-help needs to address empathy. Kindness, compassion, and empathy for yourself are all necessary aspects of self-help — because without them you can’t help yourself. When you dig up all the junk long-forgotten in the brain-cellar, emotion will be a part of it.
Without empathy for yourself, your process will be stalled because you can’t just ignore what you find. It has to be dealt with. That requires kindness, empathy, and compassion.
You are not who you were
One reason I am a practitioner of self-help is because I have put a lot of work into becoming who I am now. But it’s impossible for me not to look back at who I was without cringing.
I did things I am not proud of. There were people I treated poorly in one way or another I wish I’d treated differently. Poor choices I made long ago still have echoes that haunt me. Deep in my brain-cellar, some of the roots — though pulled long ago — remain.
But I am not who I was. Consciously, I have put in a lot of time and effort to change the less-desirable traits I possess to better myself on multiple levels.
However, acknowledging that, I still need to maintain empathy for the person I used to be. Hating my old self is still hating me. That serves nobody.
Self-help is a positive action. But the process cannot just be done with thought alone. You need to be conscious of the feelings — both old and new — to help take the best actions to foment the change you desire. Empathy, compassion, and kindness for who you were let you be who you ARE in the now completely.
The past teaches us many things — but is over and done. You get to make new choices and decisions every single day. Self-help is all about making better choices and decisions in the present by reconciling with the past in order to create a more ideal future.
Self-help is about being empowered. Mindfulness — conscious awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and actions — opens you to use your empowerment to take life where you desire it to go. Empathy, kindness, and compassion for who you were clear a path for you to be who you are.
Being conscious of who you are now and practicing empathy towards yourself is the gateway to any given path to be who you would choose to be.
That gateway is an open road of potential and possibility. It will not be without challenges — but you can take them head-on. You are worthy and deserving of living a life that you would choose for yourself.
Empathy in your self-help practice makes handling any future challenges come from a place of tremendous strength and fortitude. When all is said and done, isn’t that why you practice self-help in the first place?
Know that you are worthy and deserving of using mindfulness to find and/or create the reality in which you desire to live. When all is said and done our thoughts, feelings, and actions matter, as does using empathy towards yourself while practicing self-help.