Much like a good looking man, self-help is something I am both attracted to and wary of. I want to believe there is a formula for a better life, but know that there isn’t, just a constant effort of boring, basic stuff: Be kind. Work hard. Eat vegetables. Lie less. I think we all know this, but are allured by the illusion that somehow, someway, we can be the sparkliest versions of ourselves without the constant effort part.

If you’re lucky, your parents probably taught you what you need to know. For that reason, it also fascinates me how self-improvement is no longer a private, implicit part of human life; but a hobby which we pursue as if separate to the lives we lead, something else we need to tick off the list. Be mindful—tick. Green juice—tick. Deep breathing—tick. Personal development has gone from a simple, internal effort to be a good person to a myriad of external, capitalized activity. It can be obnoxious. And exhausting. But in small doses, it can also be really fun.

If you have enough self-awareness to take it with a grain of salt, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional frivolity of self-help. It can give you insights that you most likely already had, but yanks them out of your subconscious with a golden hook, dangling them in front of you like glistening wet truths, thrilling you with the power of your own thoughts (for a day or two, until you forget again). I love going to the self-help section at The Strand and holding such books in my hands; the cool, hard weight of promise in my palm. A recent purchase was The Tools, by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels.


I was lured in by the practical sensibility of a metaphorical toolkit (yeah, I realize how ridiculous I am): 5 tools to help you find courage, creativity and willpower—and inspire you to live life in forward motion. As promised, the book outlines a set of tools in the form of thought processes and behavior to be a better person and get what you want out of life. It gets pretty deep and spiritual in some parts, which lost me a bit, but there were a few sentences that jumped out. Here are some of them.

—The comfort zone is supposed to keep your life safe, but what it really does is keep your life small. 

—Staying present isn’t a state of mystical passivity, it’s an active process that takes effort. 

—When you give away love, you end up with more than you had when you began. 

—The most important opportunities in life come from other people. People give you opportunities because they feel connected to you. 

—We like to think we react to the the world as it is, when really we react to a world that exists in our own minds.

—Positive thinking fails because in real life, positive thoughts don’t have anywhere near the power that negative thoughts do.

—What we need isn’t more resolutions; it’s a way to defeat our impulses right in the moment. That takes willpower.

If you are a self-improvement nerd like me and want to read more, buy it.


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