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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 optional.

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 wrong.

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 right time.

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 it last.

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 coach (accountability).

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.

Read other articles and learn more about Floyd Wickman.

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