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A publication from Medium on personal development.

Self Help

In Forge. More on Medium.

It depends on the type of self-esteem you’re pursuing

Photo: The Good Brigade/Getty Images

I magine there’s a classic movie. It’s called Self-Esteem: First Blood, and it stars James Dean and Marlon Brando. It’s the mid-20th century, post-World War II. Pan across the charred remains of Europe. Show the brave American heroes returning home, buying cheesy houses and making tons and tons of babies.

In the film, we see this: Post-war prosperity made for heady times, more and more people from all walks of life began to buy into the American Dream — the belief that they could be whatever they wanted to be as long as they worked hard and cultivated the qualities…

How to track your routines when the idea of tracking anything fills you with existential dread

Photo: Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

I have never been someone who enjoys organizing, de-cluttering, or doing anything administrative. I am comfortable with some level of chaos and my inclination to impose order on it is fairly selective. I want structure for big projects and tasks (running an organization day-to-day, getting long-term projects with a lot of moving parts done), but I’m ambivalent about the micro stuff.

So while I know that habit tracking helps habits stick, it’s always felt to me like one more administrative thing to do. Even opening an app has been too much of a chore. …

The more we care what others think of us, the harder it is to know ourselves. But self-compassion can help.

Photo by Alex Ivashenko on Unsplash

Depending on who you listen to, I’m a “try-hard,” an imposter, no fun at parties, and could be improving at, well, just about everything, from the way I dress, to the job I do, to wrangling my eyebrows.

All of these are things that have been said about me or to me, but that isn’t the part that sent off alarm bells in my head. What struck me is how often my brain repeats these things back to itself, like it’s studying flashcards for an exam we’re likely to fail. …

🚴‍♂️ Today’s tip: To feel more connected to yourself, go for a bike ride.

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a bike ride, but what we’re trying to say is that engaging in some sort of physical activity might just help center you more than reading yet another self-help book. We love books! But your mother was right: You need some fresh air and exercise every once in a while.

Wellness means dealing with both psyche and physicality,” Mitch Horowitz writes on Medium. “If you bike everywhere — and in nearly every kind of weather — you will not only…

Start planning how to close the ‘open loops’ on your to-do list

Photo: Tom Werner/Getty Images

Of all the self-help books I’ve ever read, the one that’s stuck with me the most — and the one that feels the most newly urgent in this strange time we live in — is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s a book that’s useful for thinking about work and creativity and the paradoxical relationship between organization and imagination. It also has a lot to say about the peculiar sense of stasis or paralysis that many of us currently find ourselves gripped by.

The most important concept in Allen’s book is what he calls the “open loop”: something you intend…

People with mental illness can’t will their way back to happiness

Book and eyeglasses left on a maroon velvet couch.
Book and eyeglasses left on a maroon velvet couch.
Photo: Matthieu Spohn/Getty Images

Their profile photos are gleaming. They’re on an island, or sprawled on a fast car, or clutching a piece of fruit. Every day, their articles crop up on my feed, each one promising betterment. With their clickbait titles and words that barely nick the surface, they want me to believe that they can make me happier, smarter, cuter, thinner, lovable, productive, and possibly a millionaire.

All I need to do is sign up for their newsletter, download their $29.99 eBook, and take their $499 online course.

All I need to do is believe… and click to buy.

They’ll start their…

No one improves themselves in a vacuum

Illustration: Laurie Rollitt

The problem that Kenny Trinh was using self-help to solve was his shyness. The bigger problem was what it turned him into.

Trinh was a self-described “meek and shy” office worker who wanted to become a self-assured CEO type. “I wanted to be the smart, confident person in the room,” Trinh says, but “I was lacking in social skills and I didn’t believe in myself.” Looking for a transformation, he turned to self-help, reading a library of books on leadership and self-esteem. “I read them as if my life depended on it,” he says.

And according to Trinh, the strategy…

After living by the rules of 50 self-help books, this one stuck

Photo: georgeclerk/Getty Images

For three years, I followed all the rules of a different self-help book for two weeks at a time: eating what the books said to eat; talking as the books said to talk; waking, sleeping, decorating, and interacting with my husband according to each book’s doctrine. I was recording it all for a reality-show podcast called By the Book with my friend and co-host, Jolenta Greenberg.

Predictably, some of the guidance we encountered didn’t work at all. Some of the duds were waking up early, dieting, and living by the law of attraction. But some of the principles we picked…

Too many authors preach to those desperate for change, but have never gone through the meat grinder themselves

Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

After college, a lot of my friends moved to New York or D.C. and quickly found the success they were looking for. They became doctors, lawyers, actors, musicians, and artists who actually sold paintings. And over the years, as they continued pushing forward in their careers, they always gave me the same advice:

  • Move to a megalopolis
  • Take an unpaid internship or two
  • Fly to expensive conferences
  • Go out drinking and network
  • Promote yourself at every opportunity

For a while, I listened. But this approach didn’t do much except help me rack up $70,000 in debt, which I’ve slowly paid…

Dale Carnegie and Jo March have more in common than you think

Saorise Ronan as Jo March in Little Women
Saorise Ronan as Jo March in Little Women
Photo: Still from ‘Little Women’

Is it possible to read your way to self-improvement? The gatekeepers of literature as high art have always said no. Books are there to be studied, interpreted, admired, even loved — but not used. They are not there to impart lessons to the reader, to model ways of being. One is not “supposed” to turn to Jane Austen for relationship advice, any more than one should use The Odyssey to plan a sightseeing trip to the Greek islands.

And yet, as Harvard English professor Beth Blum demonstrates in her new book The Self-Help Compulsion, the dividing line between those “ambivalent…


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