6 Self Help Mantras That Actually Hurt


Sometimes, self-help isn't.

While there are loads of excellent strategies out there for improving yourself and your life in all kinds of different areas, there are a few fairly common self-help mandates that may not work as well as they should. (See also: 10 Mantras That Will Transform Your Life)

Take caution before blindly throwing yourself at new goals like these.

"Get Up Earlier"

It's common to tell people that if they want to improve themselves, they should wake up earlier. This is supposed to give you time to get things done before you have to officially start your day.

However, many Americans don't get enough sleep. And not getting enough sleep causes all sorts of problems. Lack of sleep makes you fat; it can cause illness, and lower test scores and grades.

The obvious answer to getting enough sleep and still waking up earlier is to also go to bed earlier. However, some people have longer circadian rhythms and, therefore, find it almost impossible to sleep early.

Thus, if getting up earlier is going to cost you sleep and going to bed earlier isn't really an option, then rising early could hurt your life more than it improves it. (See also: 13 Benefits of Being a Night Owl)

"Focus on Your Strengths"

It's been said that successful people focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. While I think it is absolutely necessary to know your strengths and to work to develop them, putting all of your energy there can leave you vulnerable.

There's good research that shows how we tend to over-focus on weaknesses, and the push towards refocusing on strength makes sense in light of that. However, while we may not need to focus on these weaknesses, we do need to address them, because some weaknesses can lead us to failure.

Simple awareness can take you far. When you know where you are weak, then it is less likely to sneak up on you. From there, determine whether your weakness is essential, and if you can outsource it. If it's not essential, you don't need to worry about it. If it is essential and can be outsourced, that's a great way to address it. If it's essential and cannot be outsourced, then you will need to take the time to make sure that it is not a liability.

"Meet New People"

Is meeting new people or expanding your network essential for self-improvement? Not necessarily.

Research shows that solitude enhances creativity. People who work alone when generating ideas or making new things tend to be more innovative than those who work in groups. Thus, if enhancing your creativity is part of your self-improvement plan, you might want to pass on forcing yourself to meet new people.

"Improve Your Self-Esteem"

Developing a greater sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, is another common idea when it comes to self improvement. The idea is that, if you take the time to feel better about who you are, you will be happier and more successful.

While this sounds like it should work, it actually tends to feed our egos and make us hungry for more and more esteem. Instead, it seems that focusing on others' needs actually makes us happier and does more good in the world.

In fact, there is no causation between higher self-esteem and being happier, or being a better person. This means that thinking highly of ourselves doesn't improve us or our lives. People with high self-esteem can be as happy (or as unhappy) as those with low self-esteem.

All of this seems to point to the idea that it isn't how we think of ourselves that is important, but how much we think of ourselves. When we think of ourselves a lot, we tend to be less happy than we are when we think about other people first. So the true way to invest in ourselves might be to find people or causes that we care about and invest our time and our hearts there.

"Read More Books"

Another popular method of self-investment involves reading more books. Some people will tell you to focus on self-help books, and others will tell you to read whatever you can get your hands on.

Now, I will be the first person to tell you that I love books. And there's good evidence that reading is good for your health and happiness. However, I know other people who don't like reading. While I don't understand this, there are at least a few of these people who I respect deeply and whose lives have influenced my own, all with very little time spent flipping pages. This seems to indicate that, at the very least, reading is not essential to self-improvement.

If you just start picking up books for the sake of picking them up, then, you won't necessarily improve yourself. So, if reading isn't your thing, why not invest your time doing something scientifically proven to make you happier, instead — like helping others, or working with your hands..

"Embrace Change"

So often those who want to improve themselves are encouraged to welcome change. After all, things WILL change in life, so why make it harder than it has to be?

However, experts are coming to understand that resisting change is part of the overall change process. The path toward eventually accepting change seems to be rejecting it at first. Thus, working to embrace change without first resisting it (and accepting your own resistance) can actually circumvent the entire process, leading you farther from your goal.

In addition, not all change is good. Some change is just bad, like the loss of people who are close to you. Even if good things eventually come out of these situations, that doesn't make the change itself good. To ask yourself to embrace this negative kind of change seems, at least, counterintuitive and, at most, potentially psychologically damaging.

Instead of moving toward embracing change, try managing change instead. This approach accepts that change is almost always painful, at least on some level, and that we need to accept and deal with that pain.

Any other common self-help goals that haven't worked out so well for you or someone you know? Please share in comments!

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