Here's a secret. Much of what you've read about self-help is wrong. Recent scientific research has debunked a majority of the accepted mantras and techniques around self-improvement – leaving the traditional self-help industry reeling.
Myth one: Carpe diem
Living for the moment is time and again suggested as the best path to happiness. But it can lead to hedonism, burn-out and ruin. For a more enduring feel-good factor, remember routine is good for your mental health. It's a delicate spirit-level of balance, but listen to Mae West's wise words and you're onto a winner: "I like restraint – if it doesn't go too far."
Myth two: Positive visualisation
It's the ultimate self-help cliché. In times of stress, calm yourself by visualising a peaceful, deserted island in the sun, drink in hand, not a care in the world. Professor Richard Wiseman writes: “Such mental escapism may … leave you unprepared for the difficulties that crop up on the rocky road to success.” Strengthen your resilience by looking forward to a small weekend activity, rather than an annual exotic holiday.
Myth three: You can't develop or learn charisma
The idea that charisma is innate – even mystical – was exploded by executive coach Olivia Fox Cabane in her book The Charisma Myth last year. She makes charisma an applied science and offers practical exercises to master the art and science of personal magnetism, such as busting the idea that it's down to you to impress others: “Don't try to impress people. Let them impress you, and they will love you for it.”
Myth four: Doing someone a favour will make them like you more
Wiseman asserts through his research that the opposite is, in fact, true. By asking someone to do you a favour, you show faith in them, which in turn increases likeability in the favour-asker. Plus you get a favour done for you: win-win.
Myth five: Think positively by suppressing negative thoughts
Wrong. This is like me asking you not to think of an elephant. What are you thinking of right now? Wiseman says: “Research suggests thought suppression is far more likely to increase, rather than decrease, misery.” Don't obsess over what you're attempting to avoid – address the elephant in the room and move on.
Myth six: Anything is possible, if you just put your mind to it
Sword swallowers and fire-walkers are all very well, but stuntman James Heathers lays the "mind over matter" myth to rest: “Everything that seems impossible contains one fact you don't realise, one secret.” Focus on what you can do well, rather than bluffing your way through what you seemingly can't.
Myth seven: A problem shared is a problem halved
Wiseman's distilled research demonstrates that talking is chaotic and can add to confusion. Rather than telling someone your problem, write it down; it's more systematic. In the workplace, it may also be better to go it alone: “Group brainstorming may fail … because of a phenomenon known as 'social loafing.' A large body of research suggests that, for more than 70 years, group brainstorming may have been … stifling, not stimulating creative juices.”
Myth eight: Concealing your weaknesses and mistakes will make you more successful
“She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those … whose tongue never slipped.” Jane Austen's Anne Elliot (from Persuasion) was onto something. Wiseman's tests prove that those who mention their weaknesses at the beginning of job interviews are more likely to be hired. Similarly, due to the 'pratfall effect' - making mistakes makes you instantly more likeable.
Myth nine: A punching bag is an effective anger-management tool
In Wiseman's tests, those who boxed the crap out of a punch-bag came away angrier after a stressful situation, than those who embraced quiet, calm and humour.
Myth 10: Retail therapy
Retail is unlikely to be therapeutic unless you’re spending the money on people other than yourself. Capitalist society makes us believe we need the latest "must-have" items to make us feel better, but all of Wiseman’s research demonstrates how spending on others – whether gifts or charity donations – has a more proven feel-good effect.
Do you agree or disagree with any of the above?