Self-Help Doesn’t Work:
Find the Keys to Permanent Change
By Floyd Wickman
There seems to be a self-help program
for just about anything you want to accomplish. Want to lose
weight? There is a whole industry of self-help diet programs, books,
CDs, DVDs and web sites. Want to quit smoking? Want to get fit? Want
to learn a new language? Want to find the perfect mate? Or the
perfect job? Self-help is a multi-billion dollar business. And yet,
most self-help doesn’t work for most people most of the time.
How many people do you know who have
read a book and were able to quit smoking successfully? How many
people do you know who watched a video and have actually lost
weight? Ironically, I went into our local Barnes & Noble bookstore
and asked for the self-help section. The clerk wouldn’t tell me
where to look, saying it might defeat the whole purpose. (Hey, I’m
just razzing you!)
But we do have a very popular spot in
our town, a new franchise, exclusively for women to work out and get
fit. They’ve been open for 4 years and they sell dozens of new
memberships every month, and yet they’ve never had to add more
square footage. Why? Because they know most people aren’t coming
back, are they? And therein lies one of the key reasons why most
self-help doesn’t work for most people most of the time. It is
One of the greatest gifts ever given to
me came from my second boss in real estate. My first boss was a nice
enough guy, with the best of intentions, but he allowed me to fail
for almost a full year before I realized something was horribly
I was fortunate enough to find my
second boss, who told me on day one, “Wickman, if you want to work
here, you will be productive to this level right away. And to make
sure you are, you will do this, this and this.” He removed the
option to fail.
The truth of the matter is, I would
have done anything my first boss made me do until it became a habit.
But too much was left up to me. Don’t get me wrong. I worked hard.
But I wasn’t doing enough of the right things the right way at the
I believe we are drowning in a sea of
information, and yet most people are thirsting for direction.
Whenever you bring new people into an organization, you owe it to
them to give clear, step-by-step direction at the outset. Teach them
how to do what they need to do, make sure they do it, and make sure
they know that you follow up to make sure they do it.
It’s called the “tell” style of
management. As in, my second boss “told” me what to do. Frankly, it
was a relief. Until the right habits are formed, telling is the most
effective style of managing.
A second reason why most self-help
doesn’t work for most people most of the time is that self-help
doesn’t create permanent change. Most of the benefits from
these programs are temporary. Unless the right habits are developed
from the beginning, it is impossible to sustain change.
And most self-help doesn’t cover
everything a person needs to know and learn to create permanent
change. It’s usually incomplete, or partial. There’s usually just
enough to get a quick result, but not the A through Z needed to make
Finally, most self-help doesn’t work
for most people most of the time because it occurs in a vacuum, by
yourself. There’s no accountability, no outside inspection,
no peer pressure.
There’s a very well known weight loss
program, with some high profile celebrity spokespeople, which
actually does get results. Why does this one seem to work when most
others don’t? I think it’s because you have to buy their food
(no option), and weigh in weekly at their clinic, in front of your
So, here’s my advice. If you are
looking to change or improve some aspect of your life, don’t try to
do it all by yourself. Sure, get the books, the CDs, the videos. But
more importantly, get a partner. Get a mentor or coach. Join a group
or team. Better yet, start a group! Don’t sit there waiting for the
phone to ring, or the mail to arrive, with your invitation.
My entire professional life has been
about the value and benefits of people working together for a common
goal, even if that common goal is to insure that each individual in
the group achieves his or her goal. People working together always
get a better result than people working separately as individuals.
Some say that self-help is so popular
because the whole idea resonates with the American ideal of the
rugged individual. “I can do it all by myself!”
But I say nothing could be more
American than working together cooperatively. I look at the original
13 separate colonies, trying to make a go of it on their own, and
struggling. It wasn’t until they decided to join together, and
become the United States, that they were successful.
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