I love self-help.

I love it as a concept, I love it as a physical, tangible reality of subliminal tapes and mail-order DVDs and weekend seminars, and I love the earnestness of the gargantuan industry that surrounds the idea your bootstraps are not only a handy way of tying your shoes, they’re also the very first rung on the ladder to happiness. I love books with relentlessly upbeat titles and smiling, tanned people on the front cover, packed with page after page of advice and instruction on how to turn a life around in the space of a few focused months of consistent, applied effort.

I have, on my bookshelves, a collection of some of the best-known (and some of the least-known) self-help texts of the last fifty years. I have Tony Robbins’s Unlimited Power, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, and Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. To my right The Millionaire Course stands neatly alongside The 80/20 Principle, The Richest Man in Babylon and The 48 Laws of Power to the other side. I have early works on conscious neural re-structuring (Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics, 1960), a selection of the highest-regarded books ever written on business productivity (David Allen’s Getting Things Done, 2002), and, of course, the most famous books on the Law of Attraction to grace the set of The Oprah Winfrey Show (Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, 2006).

Most of them have fat chapters of content dedicated to a) the art of being spiritually fulfilled and b) making so much money you could hit Justin Bieber with your solid gold Rolls Royce and still comfortably cover the tens of millions he’ll subsequently sue you for in lost tour earnings.

Of course, the books are careful to point out, by far and away the more important element of the two is reaching inner peace. Attaining the kind of wealth that only the greatest of European kings could dream of is merely a by-product of walking the road to enlightenment, a bonus en route to Nirvana.

Many of these titles promise a total reinvention of the person reading, if the principles set out within are followed closely and completely. They claim that reading, understanding, and implementing the teachings found on their pages can completely change and revolutionise the entire life of anyone, anywhere, from any walk of life and in any state of personal despair or existential disarray. Somehow, once the last page is turned, a cosmic switch will flip. Troubles and difficulties will melt away. Blank but entirely valid cheques will swoop from the sky and into your hands with the unerring accuracy of homing pigeons, international supermodels looking for a life partner will have car trouble right outside your door, and the neighbour two doors down who borrowed your lawnmower and never gave it back will be eaten by a giant catfish.

And all of this could be entirely true, but I have no way of knowing, because I have never, ever, ever, not even once, put into practice any of the lessons these books have to impart.

Nor do I know anyone who has.

Despite the fact that the independent research firm Marketdata Enterprises listed the worth of the self-help market in the USA in 2008 alone at 11 billion dollars.

I can’t remember the last time I had a billion dollars, let alone eleven.

With that much cash movement in terms of sales, you’d think the law of averages would dictate someone would have categorically confirmed or denied the validity of the market by now.

*

Usually, at the mention of the term ‘self-help’, people turn up their noses. They scoff and sneer and roll their eyes and say ‘Jesus, seriously? Come on, man, everyone knows that stuff doesn’t work. It’s magic beans and sucker cola, and you’re paying good money to buy it like a chump and take it home like an idiot, you fool.’ They say that the only way to get rich with a self-help book is to write one; that all the gurus and guides and teachers who claim to have the answer to that great question of human existence – how can I be happy? – no matter how twinkly-eyed or caftan-wearing they might be, are parasites and vultures living off the wallets of the gullible and the sincere.

However.

I don’t know one single person who has tried to implement a self-help book, guide, or class, and come out the worse for it. Nor do I know one single person who has tried to implement a self-help book, guide, or class, and come out the better, because I don’t know one single person who has ever actually tried to take any of these Seven Lessons or Eight Truths or Four Secrets and give them an open-minded, scientifically-sound road-testing. The efficacy of the material is at this point equivalent to an alligator in the sewers – everyone knows, but no one has first-hand evidence for how they know.

Except for Cousin Frank, who used to work for Pest Control, and who will be missed at family Christmas¹.

So, yes, maybe it is possible to have twenty million dollars just by thinking about it really hard, or at least, I can’t personally prove it’s not.

*

I could be happier. I’m the first person to admit that. I would prefer that many parts of my life were different from the way they are now; without attempting to speak for other people, I don’t believe  I’m alone in this sentiment.

I’d like to live in California; I’d like to have more financial security. I’d like to drive a 1976 Chevy Impala; I’d like a publishing contract. I’d like to feel more passionate about going to the gym and eating right and getting enough sleep and doing more and more exciting things with my time.

For starters.

Which brings me to an interesting question, and it’s a question I believe is worth asking anyone who has ever shelled out twenty-five bucks for a self-help book – if I know I’d like to be at Point B, when I am currently at Point A, and there’s a book that claims to be able to get me from Point A to Point B with a minimum of fuss, why haven’t I read that book and followed through?

The answer, entirely possibly, could be that the book doesn’t work. That it will leave me stuck at Point A, or worse, take me to Point C, where there are spiders, and I’ll be no better, or even worse off.
However, I don’t know that, because I haven’t tried any of the things that book has advocated as steps along the line between Point A, Point B, and Point Z: Unfathomable Wealth and Power, Spiritual Bliss, and Also, Looking Really Great in Designer Clothing.

So, I decided, I would put these things to the test.

But not with just one book.

No, one wouldn’t be nearly enough for my purposes. My mission, I decided, would be to take twelve of the best-selling, best-known self-help authors of all time – the Napoleon Hills, the Jack Canfields, the Tony Robbins and the Wayne Dyers, and apply the lessons of an even dozen, one a month, for a year. Because if just one can revolutionise a life, then twelve would, at least, revolutionise that life twelve times over, and maybe, just maybe, the whole I discovered on the other side would be greater than the sum of its parts.

Also, I would read a book by Phil McGraw.

I would approach the experiment as scientifically as possible – I would map out my progress in as many ways as possible, for the duration of the 12 months, carefully cataloguing everything I’d learned and everything that had changed in terms of my approach to my life, and note down the results. I would dissect the teachings of each book from month to month, spending the first week of the month reading each new book, then the next three weeks putting everything into practice.

And, I decided, it would be important to stack these new behaviour sets, one on top of the other. Rather than just abandoning my new gurus every 31 days, I would apply them all, each and every one, as their turn came around and they were added to the fold.

Change – the art of human change – fascinates me. And there are many people who know more about it than I; whether that’s as a result of professional training, life experience, or just by the fact they’ve gone and done it. And so I’m recruiting them, as interview subjects and guest bloggers, to buttress my own experiences.

And so, with a website launched as of now, Self-Helpless is my new experiment; to see what happens when one man applies the finest self-help technology and know-how the 20th and 21st centuries have to offer, faithfully and to the letter, for 365 days.

Wish a guy luck, yeah?

¹ – Actually, Cousin Frank’s last recorded transmission was ‘Holy God, that’s the biggest damn catfish I’ve ever se-’ and that was it, apart from the screams².

² – Something about a lawnmower.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

73 responses to “With Apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert”

  1. Wow. This is pretty fascinating. I must admit I’ve been an fair-weather hater of the genre for many years now. In my first failed attempt at writing a novel, I included a lampooned version of Anthony Robbins, who walked on hot coals and evangelized ridiculous diets.

    Years later, I watched The Secret as part of an effort to score with a Peruvian girl who claimed it was her all-time favorite movie. To myself, I rolled my eyes the entire time. Though I have to admit, after that one viewing several years ago, I remember most of it quite clearly, and have caught myself repeating some of the key metaphors–sometimes even in the classroom.

    Am I missing something with the Elizabeth Gilbert? How does she fit in?

    • Don’t get me wrong; a lot of the time, just about everyone I know is exactly the same, and believe me, I can sympathise. I’ve never really ascribed to the idea that you can believe your way into a bigger bank account; I think there’s an incredibly key step between ‘Believe’ and ‘Receive’ and it’s called ‘Work’.

      There’s also a giant, carnivorous bird called ‘No guarantees’ that just kinda… swoops around the place.

      But I was taken aback when I thought about where the beliefs I’d encountered about everything to do with self-help came from, and it wasn’t first-hand knowledge, or even second-hand. The whole thing may, in fact, be a giant crock, but that remains yet to be proved as far as my own experience goes.

      And a lot of what core self-help stuff is is really just applied common sense.

      Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love. She went and found herself, spiritually (apparently?) and changed her life. Forgive me if that’s inaccurate, I’m paraphrasing blurbage.

  2. Richard Cox says:

    Ah, Simon, my friend. You are a men among men. A hero to us all. I’m totally wishing you luck.

    Your web site looks great, btw. Hats off to you, sir.

    Also, I own and enjoy the album “I Choose Noise.” Which one(s) have you been listening to?

    • RC! Thanks, amigo. Those are kind words and I appreciate them; isn’t it amazing that we live in a world where I can feel good about myself due to the words of a guy living five thousand miles away who I first became friends with through a keyboard and a screen?

      Thanks! The site looks like it may still have some code bugs to be ironed out, but on the whole, I’m very happy with it.

      I Choose Noise is great. I also really like Morning Sci-Fi, and while I don’t have it yet, I’ve been very heavily YouTubing Disappear Here. These are probably my two favourite tracks from it:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_WZkkAo0NY

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xptIEkCHTZ4

  3. Zara Potts says:

    Dear Brew,
    I am excited for your ‘quest.’ Because this is now how you must refer to your self-helpless ‘journey.’ You, perhaps, are one of the few people I know who doesn’t ‘need’ any self-help – I think you are pretty ‘awesome’ as you are, but hey, if it makes you a gijjion dollars then hooray!!!!
    Nice post, by the way. I really hope this takes off. You are definitely the guy to do justice to the ‘concept.’
    Love,
    Your Brew.

    • Aw, thanks brew!

      Heh. ‘Quest’. That’s so awesomely histrionic. I can’t wait for the next time I meet someone new at a party.

      Cindy: Hey, I’m Cindy, I’m in market data analysis and negotiations, what is it you do?
      Me: I’m on a quest.

      Ha! I’m going to use that.

      I hope it takes off too. Or, at the least, is lots of fun.

      Love back,

      Your Brew Too.

  4. Gregory Messina says:

    A brilliant idea!

    • Well, I mean, I don’t know about ‘inspirational flash of true and undeniable genius,’ but thanks for saying s-

      Oh, uh, I mean, thanks! I was quite pleased with it. And I’d really like to see what happens as a result. Will I be successful? Will I go crazy? All signs point to both.

  5. When I started up Daegu Books I indiscriminately bought hundreds of books to resell. It’s amazing how many of these were self-help, and how quickly they resold… I’ve never actually read one, although I did flick through a couple of them and have a bit of a laugh at the tanned people on the covers with their unreal hair and their bleached teeth.

    Anyway, this is a fascinating venture and you have a great website.

    • It’s insane just how much money gets spend on the self-help sector – while I was coming up with the idea I was doing some very basic online research and seriously, goddamn. So much money. People go nuts for this stuff, and yet, the figure that gets tossed around of how many people then somehow, as soon as they’ve put the book down, have this weird memory erase of every single thing they said they’d do is around the 97% mark (or that’s what I heard a self-help guru say one time).

      And then they hunger once more, and go back and buy more books!

      Just… odd. Maybe the missing step is in the application. I’d be really happy to find out ‘The Secret’ totally works, it’s just people are too lazy to sit and think for ten minutes a day.

      Thanks, amigo. I’m really pleased with how the site came together in terms of design.

      • You’d think if that much money was spent on self-help, we’d all be perfect… That’s a good idea for your website – a perfectometer. You should measure how close to perfect you become with the completion of each book.

        • You’d really, really, really think.

          But honestly, I’m living proof that the concept is remarkably people-proof. It’s like you go out and buy this great cookbook that’s all about making these really healthy, incredibly nutritious, delicious meals, and you think Oh, man, totally. I’m going to make so many of these, and they’re going to taste so good! and then blink, boom, you’re three-quarters through a quarter pounder.

          Perfectometer.

          I freaking love it.

  6. James D. Irwin says:

    I don’t much care for self-help books, as everyone knows that reaching for help is a sign of weakness and marks you out like the sickly, wounded gazelle of Western civilization to be picked off and trampled on by attractive men and women in fashionable clothes on their way to the big bowl of creme fraiche at the top of the ladder.

    Basically, I’m fairly certain you can improve yourself and make yourself happy with a little trial and error. The very existence of self-help books has them there sitting on bookshelves telling people they’re not as happy or good, or as enlightened as they could be.

    Anyway, this endeavour of yours reminds me a little of a man called Dave Gorman who for around six months lived every day of his life according to his horoscope. It was fascinating, and very funny. I’m sure yours will be to… and if not maybe Julia Roberts will play you in a terrible film version of it…

    • Not a gazelle! Oh, that’s one of my least favourite animals to be. They’re so damn… dewy-eyed. Like they’re perpetually four-fifths of the way through a bottle of fine Irish whiskey.

      I do like the idea of a big bowl of creme fraiche, however…

      I have no doubt either, Jim. I think the (supposed) value of the books is eliminating some of the trial and error, and saying ‘Hey! You! Do this, this, and then do this, and you’ll be fine.’ Which is reassuring, on some level.

      Dave Gorman and his friend whose name I’ve forgotten, the Yes Man, are very funny men. And if Julia Roberts plays me in one more film I think I’m going to scream.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Simon,
    When I got to the part where you asked:
    “(W)hy haven’t I read that book and followed through?”
    and answered:
    “The answer, entirely possibly, could be that the book doesn’t work. That it will leave me stuck at Point A, or worse, take me to Point C, where there are spiders, and I’ll be no better, or even worse off.”
    I laughed so hard! I would never read a self-help book, or any book for that matter, if there were the slightest chance there would be spiders at the end!
    I wish you Godspeed, my friend. This is a good idea.

    • Oh, man, do I ever hate spiders. There’s one sitting up on my window right now, like a smug jerk. I’m sure Dietz sent it to harass me. He commands legions of them, you know.

      Heh. Glad it made you laugh, Irene. And thanks for the well-wishes and the kind words. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens. My secret hope is that I turn into Batman somehow. Well, more Bruce Wayne. But also Batman a little.

  8. What a cool concept, Simon. I am genuinely excited to hear about your self-help experiment. I bookmarked your fancy new website, and will be reading about the journey to the center of your own mind. xoxo.

    P.S. I’m glad the lawnmower thief got his catfishy comeuppance. R.I.P. Cousin Frank.

    • Oh, thanks Tawni! It’s an idea that’s had something of a gestation period, and is now ready to rock and roll.

      And it is a little fancy, isn’t it? The designer is a guy from Poland who I found on 99designs. I was really pleased with his work.

      PS – Damn catfish!

  9. Schadenfreude! I mean, alles gute! Which means good luck in German. Forget I said the other.

    But seriously, this is a fantastic idea! Snazzy website as well.

    • Zeitgeist!

      I wish I spoke German. On the weekend I ended up leaving one dinner where I spoke my bad Spanish to a Colombian and going to a party where I spoke my bad Spanish to a Peruvian. Both were kind, and smiled, and nodded politely as I performed the lingual equivalent of stumbling around the room.

      ‘Oh, uh… OH-lah.’

      Thanks, CFH! You’re all right, you know?

  10. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    THE ARTIST’S WAY may not count as self-help, but I did do the whole program in my late 20s. That was not the ONLY thing that helped me get back into writing again. However, I give it lots of credit for getting me to reevaluate what was important and what I needed to do in order to pursue what I wanted. So I guess I did help myself….2005 was the proof.

    Deep down, all we want as human beings is love, peace, and acceptance. The industry would crash to bits instantly if we were able to give this to ourselves and those who share this spinning hunk of rock.

    Good luck, Mr. Simon. May you find what you seek, including that Chevy Impala. XOXO

    • And thank you for both the well-wishes and the recommendation of The Artist’s Way, Miss Ronlyn. The Artist’s Way has been cropping up a bit in my recent research on most-popular self-help books; people have a lot of kind things to say about it.

      Isn’t it odd that the pursuit continues, even with so many books in the market that purport to be the final answer on the subject? I think you’re absolutely right – love, peace, acceptance are three needs that, once filled, would most likely quell the other searches we stack on top of them.

      Oh! Oh, my beautiful dream Chevy…

      🙂

      oxox

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        It’s not odd at all. There is no ONE book–okay, some folks might beg to differ–that gives the answer because we’re all in different places in our lives. People who connect with Dr. Phil might not find anything valuable in Eckhart Tolle. (Like Gloria, I sometimes find myself thinking about THE POWER OF NOW.)

        The journey to self-fulfillment or actualization is more like a patchwork quilt, pieces of this and that gathered along the way. Julia Cameron’s book gave me pointers, but so did Brenda Ueland’s IF YOU WANT TO WRITE, which is really more about life than writing anyway.

        Regarding the car…. You will have to take Mr. Daly on a pimptastic voyage.

        • Wait, wait, surely this can’t be right? There’s no one-size-fits-all, knowledge-toting book that can be applied to any one situation to solve it?

          Well.

          Hello, Market Gap! We’ll be rich, Miss Ronlyn! Richer than rich!

          I think this is one reason why I’ve decided to adopt a number of different texts; precisely because (while there almost certainly will be some overlap) the applicability of each will have their own strengths and weakness.

          And we’re going to ride that Impala all the way to Baton Rouge!

  11. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    This is a great idea, anxious to see how the year pans out.

    I don’t normally do self-help, because I could never stand holding the smiling faces of Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil in my lap. But like your however….there are ideas inside these books that can only help if followed.

    I recently read The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge which is half science and half self-help (probably the maximum dosage of self-help I can handle). Though I haven’t made a concerted effort to work my brain toward some of the solutions, chewing on the interesting ideas about positive thinking and the brain’s renewal has beneficial effects I think. Or I hope, anyway.

    Also, is the phrase “sucker cola” something that people say in general? Because I find it hilarious. Maybe the only real sucker cola is thinking there’s no such thing as helpful advice.

    • Thanks Nat!

      ‘The smiling face of Dr. Phil in my lap’.

      Ye Gods, there’s a t-shirt in there somewhere.

      I’ve got The Brain That Changes Itself up on my shelf; I bought it in a bookstore in LA, Barnes and Noble, I think, that was just fantastic. It was a chain bookstore that completely and totally played to its strengths – giant mezzanine levels, clean lines, giant shelves… I really liked it. And neuroplasticity is a very interesting thing; I’m not sure how much of a role neuroscience will play in this venture but I’d really like it to get a look in somewhere.

      Heh. Sucker cola. I have to say it was invented for the purposes of this article. I like the way it reads: ‘magic beans and sucker cola’. I might try to use it more often.

      “Maybe the only real sucker cola is thinking there’s no such thing as helpful advice.”

      Oh, man. True enough.

  12. Gloria says:

    I, too, have bookmarked your new website. I, too, think this is a killer concept.

    I’d like to say, though, that there are two self-help-ish books that I have read, taken to heart, and practiced. One is called The Power of Now and the other one is The Easy Way to Stop Smoking – and the reason I say I’ve “practiced”‘ them is because what I read in these two books creeps into my thinking all the time, even when I don’t mean for it to. And all that I’ve read has had a positive effect on my thinking and my behavior.

    Good luck with this, Simon. So rad!

    • Would you say it was… totally killer?

      The Power of Now is on my list – around about six months in or so, I think? Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking is a good, good book. I used that too – and then I found me some Maxwell Maltz, who wrote Psycho-Cybernetics, and found a lot of crossover in terms of ideas. Both of them had the notion (accurately, I think) that your perception of self informs a huge amount of what it is you do. So control the image, control the self.

      Hooray!

      Thanks, Gloria!

  13. Seth Pollins says:

    Simon,

    This is a great idea. I’m excited to read about your quest. I, too, have been a fan of some of these books. I do think a lot of people have benefited from these books; and I do think a lot of people have actually followed through on the principles. I, for example, once followed Tony Robbin’s dietary advice to a T for an entire summer. It was a tremendous summer–and I still live by some of the principles. Still, I don’t think anyone’s attempted what you’re attempting. I suspect, in terms of overlapping, that many of the lessons will turn out to be very similar. Don’t you think?

    I used to love Dan Millman and the like, but I do think there are more intensively dramatic books.
    To me, P.D. Ouspenksy is the real deal. James Hillman, too. Reading Gurdjieff can kill you.

    I also consider great novels self-help books. Gatsby, for example, continues to inspire changes in my life.

    Anyway, good luck!

    • Hey Seth!

      Thanks for saying so! And I agree – I think at least some section of the readers would have had to get some kind of result or knowledge-gain from the books, if only in picking up a few new tricks to grease the wheels of daily life.

      I was actually thinking of the Tony Robbins dietary advice as I was driving back from the gym this morning – isn’t that along the lines of not combining certain food groups? Proteins and starches? On the basis that your system breaks them down differently and so could be more efficient doing one job at a time?

      And yes, I think there will probably be some overlap, at least. I know that Robbins took some of his ideas from Maltz, for example (and quite openly references and endorses Maltz’s work), and I think a lot of the core tenets are similar. What I’m most curious about is how the elements of the most difference – workflow management and spirituality, for example, will feed into each and play off each other.

      Which should be read as ‘Workflow management and spirituality. I don’t have any books on workflow spirituality. And that, I believe, is my loss.

      Thanks for the well wishes! When the next Series is fixed, I’ll know who to look to.

  14. Joe Daly says:

    Really looking forward to this, MPB!

    As a confessed fan of “New Agey, Self-Helpy” kinds of books, I know well the culture that surrounds them and the external views of the readers within.

    Like you, I’ve never met anyone who has made a cool billion as a result of such books, but I count as close friends a number of people who have extracted practical nuggets from such titles and applied them with great success.

    I have no doubt that you will be the first to end your year with both total awareness and 12 billion dollars. Super stoked to ride along in the sidecar of your psyche.

    • Thank you kindly, MPB!

      I remember when the first news of The Secret came out and I was explaining it to a friend over a cup of coffee. She thought about it and said ‘You know, I bet it works, it’s just people give up after a day or so.’

      I’ll be so ruefully pleased if it turns out she’s right.

      David Allen, the guy who wrote Getting Things Done, the first book I’ll be using, talks about ‘tricks’, and how many of the most successful people he knows are the ones who have installed the best tricks in their life – for instance, he short-circuits procrastination about working out by putting on his gym gear, and then his brain goes Well, I guess we’re already wearing our gym clothes… .

      And sir, I could imagine no better co-pilot in my psydecar. Victory! Victory and glory!

  15. jmblaine says:

    In a sideways sort of story
    certain agents pressed hard
    for me to write a self-help book
    because that’s where the money is.
    But there was no real honest way for me
    to write it.
    This is one of my very favorite self-help quotes:

    “You can’t save nobody. You can’t even save your own ass.” – Axl Rose

  16. jmblaine says:

    Also, every time I see the name
    Elizabeth Gilbert
    I think they are talking about
    the girl from Little House

  17. Thomas says:

    This sounds like a great idea, Simon. I’ll be following your progress with interest.

    I know what you mean about people turning up their noses at the idea of self help, but then again most of us would like to think we find inspiration to succeed from within, right? Which would be considered “self” help, wouldn’t it? So is the disdain more about the idea of using someone else’s ideas? Hmm…

    • Thanks Thomas!

      There’s a comedian (I forget who), who has a line about how he bought a self-help book and threw it away because he hadn’t written it.

      Heh.

      I think at some point you need to put aside that element of pride and think Well, maybe I’ve been doing things wrong, or even just There are things I could be doing better..

      Of course, with that in mind, you want to get the right book.

      Looking forward to progressing further, Thomas!

  18. Greg Olear says:

    You already know that I LOVE this idea, and can’t wait to see how it plays out.

    The line about the Impala makes me think of Skee-Lo — although I prefer him filtered through Girl Talk:

    I wish I was a little bit taller
    I wish I was a baller
    I wish I had a girl who looked good
    I would call her
    I wish I had a rabbit in a hat
    And a bat
    And a 6-4 Impala.

  19. Hank Cherry says:

    I always wanted more selfish help books. Maybe that’s Phil McGraw’s arena. And I have a cousin Frank too, only he’s a Catholic priest, once thought to be selfless…

    Help me be more selfish…

    The end!

    • I’ll let you know when I’ve read the McGraw. Christ, I can’t believe I agreed with myself to do that.

      Self, we are going to have one hell of a conversation by the time this thing’s done.

      The beginning!

  20. Zoe Brock says:

    God help us all. If you make a squillion dollars you’ll get a hairless cat and a mini version of yourself and start plotting world domination.

    I can already see how this ends.

    Can I have a 1978 gold trans am when you’re rich?

  21. Zoe Brock says:

    cool. then I fully endorse this guest!! go hard son, balls to the wall… and let me know how I can help

  22. J.E. Fishman says:

    You go, Simon! But if these books help you succeed in your quest of living in California, you’ll have to learn to spell ‘behavior’ American-style.

    • Thank you, Mr. Fishman! I’ll also need to work on my zees instead of zeds and, also, instead of esses. Because then I’ll be completely Americanized.

      Oh, and I’ll need to work out how to spell that place at the middle of something. Centre? Center? This is already snowballing into complication.

  23. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Simon, I am stoked for the next twelve months for you. It’ll be fun to watch your site.

    I, too, would like for you to live in California.

    I should mention: If you did live in California, specifically the Venice/Santa Monica area, you’d have no shortage of data on people who live, love and learn the spiritual path by way of self-help. It’s an epidemic. There are a lot of mansions and Audis… That’s a chicken or the egg question. Within one day of living here I was accosted by a stranger with instructions that now is my time to read Conversations With God.

    I am currently on a self-help kick of sorts. Interestingly, I now sing and play guitar every day. I can’t say much else has changed, except that I’ve become a butterfly.

    • Thanks LRC!

      Oh, man, that’s going to be so sweet. Cruising the boulevards in my Impala, stopping at all-night diners, doing burnouts on Kurt Russell’s front lawn… awesome.

      Hmmm. It is a very chicken-and-egg question, and an interesting one. Maybe once you’re freed from the burdens of putting out daily fires you can devote more energy to spirituality, or maybe it’s the other way around.

      Hmmm.

      Congrats on playing and singing ever day. Watch for spiders!

  24. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Simon,

    I think there’s no way on earth I could ever take modern self-help lit seriously, but it occurred to me that it might be a cool extension for your project if you try out some Renaissance self-help, especially the famous courtesy books. The obvious anchor pick is Machiavelli’s _Il Principe_, but there’s also Castaglione’s _Il Cortegiano_ (is there any better way to conquer the world than with sprezzatura? Then there’s Thomas Elyot’s _The Boke named the Governour_.

    If one insists on finding something for the contemporary Westerner, I confess I cannot allow myself anything newer than “The Aesthete,” by Gilbert, from _Patience_. At least that’s advice that can be read entire in 3 minutes 🙂

    It will be fun regardless to watch how you progress in your adventure.

    • I hadn’t even considered such a thing, but what a cool idea! It could be called Old School. Have you heard of A. J. Jacobs? He’s an NY writer who does these kind of lifestyle experiments all the time – one was called The Year of Living Biblically, which featured Jacobs living a year following every single rule in the Bible. No woven cloth for 365 days!

      also: Ha! Well played, Gilbert.

  25. Jessica Blau says:

    I’m sending you wishes of GREAT luck!

    The website looks great! Are you going put the Liz Gilbert TED lecture up there?

  26. I would very much like to make a full time job of finding myself.

    I’m also a little worried I wouldn’t necessarily like who I found… 🙂

    This is exciting, Simon! I’ll definitely be checking in with the page, to see how you’re progressing. Good luck!!

    • Oh, man, I’d sell so many people up the river if I could do this full-time.

      But hey! If you don’t like who you find, just hit them over the head with a shovel and take their place. Can’t be that hard, right?

      … right?

      Thanks, Meghan! For the kind words and the well-wishes both.

  27. pixy says:

    dear simon smithson:

    i only skimmed comments, so this may be a twinsie, but i totally commend your experiment. my question is: does your first guru deal with tv watching? because it’s pretty well documented that you love tv and i don’t know how well tv watching goes with complete self-overhaul. i’m not sayin’ i’m just sayin’. and i totally just said that.

    you’re a bigger man than i for even trying seriously!

    pixy

    • Dear Pixy,

      My hope is that the principles of my first guru, Mr. David Allen of Getting Things Done fame, will perfect my organisation to such levels that whole undiscovered countries of free time will appear on my TV-watching map.

      And thanks!

      Simon

      • pixy says:

        look at you ALREADY being organized! much luck to you on this journey! just don’t let those tan tossers take the pimp right out of you.

  28. Mary Richert says:

    Right on, Simon. I too have a guilty love of self-help books and would love to see someone sincerely try to put their advice to the test. Have you heard of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin? Her’s is sortof a self-help book disguised as immersion journalism or “stunt nonfiction.” As self-help goes, it gives the most practical advice I’ve seen yet, eg: If you don’t like your house, try cleaning it. It’s worth a look. I look forward to observing this as you go!

    • Thanks Mary! I’ve heard of The Happiness Project but haven’t read it – she’s got a website, I think, where you can start your very own Happiness Project. The book did well, I think, and I’m glad for that. It’s a cool idea.

      Thanks for the kind words!

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