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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Ugly Truth Behind The Self Development Industry

It's Not All Just Hype And Excitement


Justin (not his real name) bounced into my office one Monday morning with a completely changed appearance. Gone was the rather scruffy-looking and inconspicuous former manager from the Defence Department and in his place stood Sydney’s answer to Gordon Gekko. He sported a sharp suit and pin-stripe business shirt, shiny new leather brief case, topped off with a pair of eye-popping red braces.

He appeared a changed man too. No longer unsure about his next position or indeed if he would get one, he was imbued with a dauntless zeal to open his own management consulting business and call it ‘Pygmalion Enterprises’ with the banner phrase ‘We do anything for money’. He eagerly showed me how he had spent a sleepless night filling an exercise book with ideas and illustrations and then announced he was going to take out display advertising in the business classified section of the phone book in every state in the country. I became aghast at this point. Just what the hell was going on I said to myself.

What indeed? Why had he suddenly acquired this massive ego trip? Did he have a bi-polar personality disorder? Unlikely, as he had no former episodes of this nature. Then we got to the answer :- “He’d just attended an NLP (that’s ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ to the uninitiated) weekend seminar.” This totally discredited Self Development movement (which co-incidentally is the basis of Tony Robbins’ doctrines) is designed to imbue participants with almost boundless self worth and a sense they can 'conquer the world'. And here was my very own brush with what it can do.

Poor Old Justin Thought He Was Gordon Gekko

So, what do you think happened to poor old Justin? Did he indeed launch a successful national management consulting practice based on nothing more than running an ad in the phone book?…….Unfortunately not. He stopped coming to my outplacement counselling sessions, but was seen by a fellow participant wandering about a local shopping mall during the day, looking more dishevelled than ever. You see, not only was he depressed and unemployed, but he had commuted his guaranteed lifetime pension as a lump sum and had spent a reasonable amount of it on this failed venture. Just another victim of the $10 billion a year (in the US alone) Self Development industry.

Want more of this reality check material? Try these :-

  1. Rebekah Lawrence, after attending the Turning Point seminar, has a "psychotic episode” and kills herself though she had no history of mental illness;
  2. Lesley Grogan adopts the training of Marianne Williamson ("A Return to Love") and becomes so confused about her identity that she uproots her life and abandons her family;
  3. Michael Scinto attends the ManKind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure and becomes so appalled by the sexualized peer pressure and psychological abuse that he kills himself.
  4. This is not to mention the three people who died and the 20+ people who were injured in James Ray’s Sedona sweat lodge and many, many others.

The Three People Killed In The 2009 Sedona Sweat Lodge Incident

Getting the message? Just Google <self development is dangerous> if you don’t. It’s chock full of misery stories. These hyped-up large group presentations, in prices ranging from $500-00 one day workshops to Robbin’s $5995-00 Date With Destiny seminar, might have some satisfied customers (after all, if you pays your money you’ve got to feel it was worth it), but it has way more potential for personal harm or just a general lack of satisfaction with your own life (which is only alleviated by buying into the next book/tape/seminar). If you don’t believe me try reading SHAM (stands for Self Help and Actualisation Movement)  : How The Self Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steve Salerno Crown Publishing Group, 2005. He should know, he was a former insider - a self-help book editor.

He says :- “Extensive market surveys revealed that the most likely customer for a book on any given self help topic was someone who had bought a similar book within the preceding eighteen months.”  The irony of ‘the eighteen-month rule’ for this genre, Salerno says, is this: "If what we sold worked, one would expect lives to improve. One would not expect people to need further help from us--at least not in that same problem area, and certainly not time and time again."

Now let’s visit the murky world that underpins the self help movement. Let’s go to the fancy and very scientific sounding term - ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’. This was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California in the 1970’s. It claims a connection between neurological processes (‘neuro’), language (‘linguistic‘) and learned behavioural patterns (ie. learned by ‘programming’). In other words if you can “model” the skills of exceptional people, then they can be learned by anyone (ie. as long as you learn it by attending one of their fee-paying seminars). Not only that, but you can use it to treat phobias, depression, allergies, the common cold etc. etc. Oh yes, I almost forgot the truth in a wave of faux-enthusiasm - it is also rejected as a failed pseudo-science, that contains numerous factual errors and doesn’t support the results asserted by Bandler and Grinder.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Certainly Sounds Scientific

Bandler and Grinder openly boast of being unqualified in a science discipline, although they do hold psychology degrees (saying that this is, in fact, beneficial). They proceed to pinch ideas from many prominent academics (like the well-known linguist Noam Chomsky) and misapply it to their own ends. See articles such as ‘Not-so Linguistic Programming’ by Karen Stollznow. Tony Robbins trained under John Grinder and began his career as a teacher of NLP. In his book Unlimited Power 1986, he asserts that by using NLP :- “anyone can become successful at almost anything.” Look the stark reality is that the whole industry is based on little more than failed pseudo-science and quackery.

This isn’t just me asserting this. Try this :- “ A systematic review of experimental studies by Sturt et al (2012) concluded that "there is little evidence that NLP interventions improve health-related outcomes."  In his review of NLP, Stephen Briers writes, "NLP is not really a cohesive therapy but a ragbag of different techniques without a particularly clear theoretical basis...[and its] evidence base is virtually non-existent." Eisner writes, "NLP appears to be a superficial and gimmicky approach to dealing with mental health problems. Unfortunately, NLP appears to be the first in a long line of mass marketing seminars that purport to virtually cure any mental appears that NLP has no empirical or scientific support as to the underlying tenets of its theory or clinical effectiveness. What remains is a mass-marketed serving of psychobabble (you know, in other words ‘rubbish‘)." I mean how can these dudes lie straight in bed at night? Unfortunately I imagine that they sleep very soundly on their expensive bedding in the surrounds of their luxury homes….

"Anyone can become successful at almost anything" !? Oh yeah? Many will beg to differ.

This brings me to own story about the Self Development book industry. When I completed my first book Life Cycles (2008), I naively thought it best belonged in the Self Development category. I spoke with an agent, who had been associated with The Secret (then a best seller) and sent her several chapters. She said it was interesting, but wasn’t presented like a typical Self Development book ie. no exercises at the end of the chapters and no specific advice on how to improve your life. I took this feedback seriously and even included a chapter in The Life Cycles Revolution on the “10 Ways To Use Life Cycles In Your Life”. I had my book read by one of the major international publishing houses (through a networking contact, they usually don’t let this happen). I was told my book was fascinating and well written, but that they wouldn’t publish it, because it wasn’t ‘Self Help’ enough. I now wear these rejections as a badge of honour. The simple truth is they’re right Life Cycles is NOT like Self Help.

You want to know why? Well it’s because I don’t offer any panaceas for people’s lives. The sad truth is change is difficult - very difficult - in whatever sphere of activity you look at and the more water under the bridge of life (so to speak), then the harder it may be to effect real change. Why do I make this seemingly dismal assessment (after all the news is full of stories of momentous deeds and successful decisions to change one habits)? It’s because I study whole lives (often just after people have died) and what do I find consistently? I find the patterns of a lifetime are well ingrained in most cases. Not always, I grant you, and that certainly means you should try and swim upstream if you can. But it’s not easy.

The second and even more powerful reason, that Life Cycles has nothing to do with the Self Development industry, is money. The Self Development industry focuses to a large extent on promising you a better life and that usually means getting richer. To do this you have to pay them rather exorbitant amounts of money to buy their books/tapes/seminars etc. Participants should really question just who is getting richer; them or the demagogues who lead them. Just Google <Tony Robbins Sued Over Franchise Fees> to get the real picture. Why the big boys even sue each other :- try <“Robbins Sued For $2 Million By NLP Inventors Bandler and Grinder Over Ownership”>. It’s avaricious and unseemly at the top isn’t it?

I give my research to a small web audience freely and I occasionally do live presentations, but I’m not in this to suddenly become rich. You see the value of what I have uncovered is not just measured in commercial terms.  I keep doing what I do every day, because I acknowledge getting any new idea/philosophy understood is difficult - very difficult. It will take time, patience, diligence and a willingness to tolerate ambiguity (ie. as I encounter an indifferent response I learn to ignore it). Still I have a very long term perspective and part of the process is showing how easy it is to be blinded by false advertising and slick marketing campaigns, that seek to demand your attention.

Do yourselves a BIG favour - DON’T SUPPORT THE SELF HELP INDUSTRY! Don’t buy the books and listen to the tapes and pay way too much to attend the expensive seminars. Instead as you wake up each day, make a promise to yourself that whatever it is you seek to do in life, you will do some activity towards it this very day. Only you and you alone can set this in motion. This folks is real SELF DEVELOPMENT and it’s FREE. 

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