we don’t have any indicators to show if self-help books are successful in transforming our lives, so how can we know if they have been any help at all?
a few years ago i remember standing in whats called the self-help or psychology section of a bookstore, pacing up and down wondering which book to take home. i wanted to read Good Self Bad Self by Judy Smith but couldn’t find it anywhere. i’d come across a mention of it in a critical review of Scandal and thought that by reading it, i would master communication skills, feeding my obsession of becoming “a fixer”. i started thinking, self-help books are really what these are, since i don’t need that kind of help, and i can’t seem to find what i’m looking for, why don’t i shuffle towards the fiction section. connecting with literature already changes my life plenty.
this younger version of me didn’t anticipate the freedom you develop gradually as you modify your attitude and expression by carving out “new” roles for yourself in a mix of social expectations.
years later, self-help literature caught up with me. i knew not just any of its books would change what i had come to accept as my reality. with most of them, it’s the same message across the board. “our minds create our experience, therefore we are transformed by changing the way we think.” what these do is raise a conscious awareness of the value in taking responsibility for our circumstances and provide us with coping mechanisms (consciously set goals) that drag us away from previous ways of thinking towards healthier habits that potentially transform our realities. without ignoring the reality of external injustice, it teaches you to make your narrative of self more resilient to acquire a greater sense of personal power, confidence and direction. it’s actually a really good message that’s not always received.
however, the literature that successfully transformed my own thoughts is based on love.
after buying A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, i felt that it would cause a shift. without necessarily looking for transformation, i was curious because i’d seen excerpts (that had me mouthing w-o-w). when i mentioned this feeling to my youngest sister, in fits of giggles she asked, “how can a book change your life Nokuthula? it’s just a book.” i’m not too worried about her confusion, i know it’ll catch up with her too. she’ll stumble upon her appreciation for literature the same way i did. it would be difficult for her not to, when books are her family’s trend. i’m yet to understand people who don’t read. in fact i’m more sympathetic than anything, because i think they might be robbing themselves of… more.
i can’t say i read A Return to Love, i studied it. each time i read a passage i found thought provoking, i underlined it, looked for a scripture reference in my bible, took a screen shot, scribbled down my own thoughts, saved it in my notes, sent quotes to my friends, read passages out loud. everything i could do, i did. i was amazed by the way it explores love from a spiritual view that gives love its wholeness. we start out thinking of love as an idea that expresses our feelings. feelings we presume we have no control over. but to think of love as a feeling ignores the idea that we exercise our will or choice when we shape our feelings. we become careless in how we speak of love, that its meaning can either be nothing or absolutely everything to us. but when we read about love we realise,
“the experience of love is a choice we make, a mental decision to see love as the only real purpose and value in any situation. until we make that choice, we keep striving for results that we think would make us happy. but we’ve all gotten things that we thought would make us happy, only to find that they didn’t. this external searching, looking to anything other than love to complete us and to be the source of our happiness is the meaning of idolatry. money, sex, power, or any other worldly satisfaction offers just temporarily relief for minor existential pain”
we’ve each tasted loves opposition. we’ve felt fear, neglect or disappointment, where love claimed to exist, which was confusing. our confusion is the source of our loveless acts. it’s our lack of understanding that explains our difficulty in loving. with self help literature focusing on our minds as a seat for learning, in one way or another we find ourselves reverting to former patterns. one morning we wake up with a heightened sense of “blah” feeling bent out of shape. but whats different is this time we’re smarter, so we talk openly about our sophistication. “i know this feeling, its because i …” i myself have become quite good at talking about my weaknesses. i’ll paint a pretty picture if you ask me to. my mind embraces self-help tips (positive affirmations) quite easily so i didn’t need another book to change my mind. i needed a change of heart. A Return to Love was the source of that change.