Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of trend in self-help based articles. You may recognize it as well. Their titles advertise something along these lines: “X# Easy Steps to Being Happy” or “X# Quick Steps to Enlightenment” and even “X# Steps to Finding, Taming and Riding Your Inner Rainbow-Sparkle Unicorn” (Go ahead gentlemen and admit it, we all read the article. There’s no shame in acknowledging it.)
The popularity of these titles is not at all surprising. We are an instant gratification focused society in which “Open 24x7x365” is now standard operating procedure. Instantly shop, locate, buy, research, fall in love, break up, become famous, interact, connect, disconnect… a.k.a “thank you internet for getting us to this place.”
Let’s be honest, we’re all friends here. How many times have you sat down to simply compose an email and three hours and 54 websites later wondered “goodness gracious… what happened to the time… however did it get so late?” (Consciously inwardly speaking to ourselves in a tone of total bewilderment with a twinge of Victorian innocence added for emphasis.) We sit down fully intending to quickly write our email and our attention spans are pulled off to a website showing the latest celebrity gossip scandal like a 2 year old tasting an ice cream sundae for the first time. So when we see or hear something that “guarantees results”, is “easy” and “quick”, who’s not to indulge?
Side-note: I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here… (and I believe that term might be a little outdated, so let me put it in to millennial-hipster speak… I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s hedonistic party in the middle of the desert where burning sacrificial effigies is normal… and, on that note, I do have to wonder if people who show up dressed ‘normally’ at these events are considered fringe? The whole thing seems very confusing honestly.) Apologies, it appears I became a bit distracted, haven’t I.
Right. So I know the writers of these “easy step” articles have the best of intentions in mind and some of these “steps” are absolutely valid and kudos to them for wanting to share and help. It just seems that they often lack some objectivity and compassion on the part of the intended readers when they are presented in this manner.
The challenge which I have seen and experienced myself is that people will try these things out, don’t experience the ‘guaranteed’ results, then start to feel bad about themselves and think themselves broken, hopeless, inadequate or not worthy of being a rainbow-sparkle unicorn. I hear this frequently in meditation classes and workshops I teach. (Not the unicorn part, I don’t teach that class… yet.) New participants had seen pictures in glossy magazines of people meditating with blissed out looks on their faces, they hear how wonderful and beneficial it is via various media outlets, then they sit down and struggle tirelessly to quiet their minds via whichever technique and become quickly discouraged. That or they show up deep in mental crisis mode believing that a meditation class is going to be the Oprah to all of their immediate inner turmoil. (And, yes, in case you were questioning, I just used Oprah as a verb.)
As I mentioned earlier, I agree that many of these tips put forward are valid. However, the challenge seems to be that the writers fail to reinforce the necessity of having an evolving practice and that results such as they mention take time and effort. From what I’ve seen and experienced, it can be tremendously difficult to snap out of one state of mind and into another unless you have an adequate amount of control over your mind already, something that comes with diligent practice.
So I’d like to propose the following concepts to keep in mind when approaching these “easy” mental solutions put forth from the media:
- Practice Makes Better: While what is proposed by the authors may be valid, oftentimes these steps or solutions need to be practiced with some amount of regularity in order to see results. They may help to a minor degree initially, however I caution against believing you will ‘snap out of it’ completely. This attitude often leads to feelings of disappointment and self-deprecation.
- If it Were Easy Then…: If attaining these states of mind is as easy as they are being put forth by the writers and editors, why would you ever leave those states of mind in the first place? If it were easy to be happy, why would you ever be anything but happy? We go through innumerable states of mind throughout the day, not to mention over the course of just an hour sometimes, due to an innumerable set of conditions. Unless you have some semblance of control and understanding about why you are residing in the states of mind you are in, you are going to continue to uncontrollably shift in and out of them. However, with diligent practice you can learn to continuously consciously control your state of mind… “Hello Mindfulness? It’s Desperation calling again.”
- One Size Does Not Fits All: The ‘steps’ proposed by the authors will work sometimes, in some situations, for some people. There is no one size fits all solution; a silver bullet that eliminates negative states and providing a cornucopia of bliss. Much of it has to do with your state of mind at the specific moment and your association to the conditions inherent in that moment.
- Cautiously Optimistic: When reading these articles and trying out the suggestions, if they don’t resonate with you, then don’t believe there’s something wrong with you because you don’t experience the “guaranteed” results. Again, there is no silver bullet. However, it never hurts to try something new while being cautiously optimistic about the outcome. You won’t know if you don’t try. And if it does help to a minor degree, then perhaps it is worthwhile to explore in more depth. Perhaps with practice, exploration and customization, it will provide major comfort.
- Be Realistic: I must reiterate. If you try it and it doesn’t yield the implied immediate results, don’t think there’s something wrong with you. Be honest with yourself about what you believe the outcome and results look like before you try it. If you are in a tremendously challenging state of mind, it will probably take some time to dig yourself out of it; it’s rarely instantaneous. Being aware that you are in that state of mind and consciously working to get yourself out of it is the first step. But know that it will take time. Oftentimes it depends on how deeply embedded you are in that difficult state of mind in the first place.
So I appeal to the writers and editors of these articles, please exercise caution with the use of definitives in your writing and headlines. Absolutes like “guaranteed”, “will”, “easy” can be tricky or misleading. They may give people false hope or result in making them feel worse than when they started, which is actually a dis-service to others. I recommend speaking in ‘-ers’ (happier, easier, calmer, peaceful-er).
Readers, I recommend approaching these articles with cautious optimism. If what’s being put forward works, then great! Add it to your toolbox. If not, keep looking. Also know that if it works now, there’s not guarantee it will work for you in the future since you won’t be exactly the same then as you are now. Understand that no two journeys and paths are identical. How could they be? Each person’s inner rainbow sparkle unicorn is as unique as they are themselves. Glitter on!