Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Modern trends in self-help and personal improvement

I started reading self-help books sometime during my JC years, quite a while before Robert Kiyosaki incited me to really take possession of my personal financial destiny.

The self-help fare in those days are divided along the lines of the personality ethic books by Dale Carnegie and the character ethic books championed by Stephen Covey. Along the way, Anthony Robbins became a huge motivational superstar and Neuro Linguistics Programming start to take off. I, too, was also swept up by the trend of going really far to read the books written by NLP founder Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

As the effort to wind-down on my summary on Tools for Titans, it might be useful to share some trends I noticed looking at some of the more contemporary trends in self help.

a) Buddha and Confucius - Rise of Eastern Philosophy

Maybe it's because of the economic rise of China, the West has become enamoured with all things Oriental. A module on Confucius has become the third most popular course in Harvard university. There is also this very strange but pervasive trend of successful folks from Silicon Valley who practice some form of meditation reported in Tools for Titans.

I bet you can expect a lot of self-help to channel Buddhism moving forward with one or two works on the fringe which talks about Legalism or Mohism in the future.

b) Return of Stoicism - Resilience becoming a panacea to everyone's problems

You can't emerge from Kinokuniya without seeing quite a few books on Grit or Resilience. Another observation is the rise of Stoic philosophy, which asserts  that you can control how to respond to any stimulus. There is a branch of psychology which grew from this philosophy as well (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

While I don't disagree with the studies, I am curious as to how much should a person "tarhan" before throwing in the towel. Do you really want to stick to reporting to a bad manager when there are better opportunities somewhere else ? Where do you draw the line ?

The problem with resilience is that too little is known of gritty people who have failed in their lives. Do overly resilient end up sticking so hard to an impossible mission that they destroy their lives in the process ? This is an important question to ask when facing raving fans of the Resilience movement.

c) Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

If you have not become sick of Carol Dweck's idea of growth mindset trumping over the fixed mindset, expect this idea to become even more dominant when AI starts destroying white collar jobs and people find that they need to pick up new skills to remain employable.

The basic idea is that our brains are malleable. If we put in the time and effort to do something well, we can grow to become better at it over time. It explains why ordinary students who believe that they can do better can trump gifted students who believe that their talents are fixed.

I expect life coaches to be channeling a variant of this approach to get clients to break out of their comfort zones.

d) Scott Adams - Systems as a superior alternative to goals

The emergence of systems as something superior to goals is a result of the tedium of seeing people proclaim their SMART goals without doing anything substantial to achieve it.

A goal is an outcome but a system has to be acted upon.

Gamification is a system. Exercising in a Gym is a system. Setting aside money to invest for dividends is also a system.

I can imagine many self-help books in the future proposing many systems to assist in areas like personal finance or dieting.

See if you can identify a major trend

My list is definitely not collectively exhaustive. If you can find another general direction within the field of self-improvement, do share with me on this blog.


Unintelligent Nerd said...

Hi Chris,

If Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is Psychology's offshoot of Stoicism, then Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy is Psychology's offshoot of Eastern Philosophy.

The latter hasn't gained much traction here though.

Christopher Ng Wai Chung said...

Unintelligent Nerd,

Wow ! Thanks for sharing.

Maybe all these directions are simply contemporary developments in psychology ?


Unintelligent Nerd said...

Not so much for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. It's been around for ages and it's the go-to therapy of choice for quite a fair bit of practitioners.

Occasionally, you can find training courses on Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy in Singapore. It's fairly rare lah. It has more traction in the US.