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Should Self-Help Products Carry a Warning Label?

 My take-away from Jack Canfield’s “How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.”

Principle 9: Success Leaves Clues

Duplicating Success
Antoinne Julien on Unsplash


I don’t want to antagonize the self-help gods. There are enough of them and their fans around to shut me out with infinite wisdom and echoes of such. And, I think they are, fundamentally, good for society. With “People Tweak” as the site brand, I can’t really be too far off. From dabbling in self-help. But should self-help products come with a warning?

Fundamentally, self-help gurus are good for the human race. The race to success. Whatever that means to whoever chasing the whatever. How more motivational can it be than having a person who had won the race, with gold medals straining his neck, urging you on, wearing the designer outfit you salivate over, cruising next to you in a cabriolet. To be affirmation specific, he is wearing a dark blue Hugo Boss, driving a red Porsche 911 cabriolet. (Right hand up; I don’t pretend to be intimate with a Hugo Boss or a Porsche. The only Boss I had was a Japan made spectacle frame. No Hugo, just Boss. The brand was so damn big on both temples of the frame that I developed a certain self- consciousness. Very soon, it became one of my “used to love” stuff.  The closest thing I own to a Porsche is my circa 2009 Peugeot 407. Someone said the gear system was Porsche designed. It feels so good that I do not want to validate. I do not want the goodness to go away.)

The only thing probably wrong with the picture is that he won the gold medals from the race to helping people like you win your race, and not winning them from the race you are in. Nothing wrong! It is also an honest race to success. Whatever it means to the whoever chasing the whatever. In the frenetic, sometimes spirit sapping race to success, the one dishing out inspiration and hope must be the hero. He or she is! If the race to find success is a gold rush, the self-help guru is selling the excavating tools.

Self-help keeps me up. I have, on many occasions in my life relied on the spring of self-help to bounce back. I am for self- help. If it’s sprinkling hope and injecting inspiration, vaccinating the “amateur” (ala Steven Pressfield) against the malady of self-destructive thoughts.

Duplicating Success
TiWi on Unsplash
I am critical of gurus peddling obsession. Get it or you are not good enough. Get it at all cost. You must die trying.

More than reading self-help and renovating my life with little tweaks, I like writing self-help.  Writing is winning. Writing is self-help.

Mark Schaefer said blogging (writing) saved his life. His life was dissolving bitterly. He was hit where it hurt most, a divorce which he lost everyone he loved to growing financial burdens and onset of physical difficulties. Of course, Schaeffer is now a successful digital marketing expert. To the thousand of followers, he is an icon. A rock star. The health experience he reaped from writing blogs got me listening for a second time in one sitting.

Schaefer suffered from high blood pressure. He was taking his blood pressure regularly. His sharing of what he discovered burst the joy fountain in my head. Schaefer found that he enjoyed a good blood pressure level when he was writing.

I share the same sense of calming when writing. It’s like I have entered a new realm. Like in meditation. Focused without the effort of focusing. Thinking without any sense of force. With slow-mo fireworks type bursts of joy when the right word rolls out the right moment.

Every now and then, I “see” sharp lips in talking motion. Side view. Left side of my brain. (Science says it should be the right brain.) I am a man but those are lady lips. The Muse? Or too much of Steven Pressfield.

When a guy praises Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” on the stage, you know he has gone through a lot. Mark Schaefer’s speech on self-help wowed me more than any self-help guru can. Simply, because he is not a self-help guru.

I like some self-help gurus. Not all. Some. But if you ask me to name those in fad, I struggle after five. Robert Greene. I appreciate the detailedness of his work. The thoroughness of the research he takes on to distil the practical wisdom for his books. He works hard for the money. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen for the Chicken Soup franchise. Then you have Brian Tracy, the frog eater. Robust Tony Robbins, the self-help rock star.

With self-help as with anything in life, I am inclined to the paced approach. I wish I could sit at Steven Pressfield’s feet to be blessed by his knowledge and wisdom. Although, he is not exclusively in self-help. The ideal state for me is to sit at Pressfield’s feet every other day and spend the rest of my time taking in Seth Godin. And he is a marketing guy. Now Mark Shaefer comes to play. I have gone through many of his interviews and a few videos. I like his style and I think he is true to his audience. After what he had gone through and for what he has achieved, he is a master of practical self- help.

Of the evergreen self-help gurus, I can roll a few off my tongue. Napoleon Hill. Dale Carnegie. Earl Nightingale. Norman Vincent Peale. Zig Ziglar. Robert Schuller. Bob Procter. Denis Waitley. Maxwell Maltz. Og Mandino, the 70’s Steven Pressfield. Or is Steven Pressfield the new Og Mandino?

From naming the names, it’s obvious I have been into self-help for a long time. Since the 70’s when a co-worker lured me into an insurance agent training program. I was hooked on the premise that one can enhance human potential. I was sold on the promise that I can better the condition life started me with. When I was a little boy, I thought that only deities and luck can pull me out of the poor condition. After a dosing of the ancient self-help icons and hit by “Nothing Can Stop Us Now,” I became confident that we could take things into our own hands.

Much as I have gained and grown from a regular diet of self-helpism, my heat meter raises a point or more, when a guru claims that success in life can be [absolutely] duplicated; you can reverse engineer success, just copy and paste. Simply, because you can’t.   

Even if you use the same strategy, follow a strict approach and execute in a similar fashion tactically, there are variables too powerful to mute. You are not your idol. Your thinking and decision-making style and ability are based on what you have learned [experienced], are learning [experiencing] and the life you have lived. Your circumstance is different. The people around you are different. Each person has some influence on you, positively or negatively. Each person around you is another complex variable.

Add that to what you’re exposed to, from what you read and the other means information consumption, it’s a stretch to even imagine that you will see things and choose things exactly like your idol.

Throw in your belief system, you will realize the normality of differences. Both of you may even go to the same church or temple, there will still be nuances in your beliefs. Your belief system will be honed by the people you grow into with such family, friends and mates. Even if your idol shares the same cast, the transactions and interactions will still be different. We engage differently when we translate the response differently.

Yes, Copy Exactly is a viable business strategy. This applies to the parameters, processes and materials used. You can duplicate a successful business process. Even seemingly more effective, a predator company can buy success through acquisition. Even then, long term success is not guaranteed. The fortune of the acquired company depends on their response to changes in the market place such as in environment, technology and consumer behavior.

On the individual or small group level, you can certainly copy the success of another. In the way things are done, especially those which can be articulated and observed.

 There are certainly many truths in “Principle 9: Success Leaves Clues” from Jack Canfield’s “How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.” This is one of them; “It doesn’t matter whether it’s losing weight, running a marathon, starting a business, becoming financially independent, triumphing over breast cancer, hosting the perfect dinner party-someone has already done it and left clues in the form of books, manuals, audio and video programs, university classes, online courses, seminars and workshops.”

“If you want to retire a millionaire, for instance, there are hundreds of books, ranging from The Automatic Millionaire, and workshops ranging from Harv Eker’s “Millionaire Mind” to Marshall Thurber and D.C. Cordova’s “Money and You.” There are resources on how to make millions investing in real estate, investing in stocks, starting your own business, becoming a supersalesperson, and even marketing on the Internet.”

The first impression, when you go through this after the precedent 103 pages, is that Canfield promises that you will be minted into a new millionaire if you read those books and capitalize on the get-rich sure resources. But he does not. He merely tells you what you know. He merely tells you something you cannot disagree because it’s the truth. He merely says, if you want to retire a millionaire, there are books and resources you can learn from.

And if you want a better relationship, he recommends John Gray’s “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” or to take Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks’ online course, “The Conscious Relationship.” You can’t go wrong with those actions. He can’t go wrong with those recommendations. Notice Canfield says better relationship; not perfect relationship or a blissful relationship. You can also achieve a better relationship by simply listening more than you talk, talk in an assuring tone, be more patient or just smile more.

Duplicating Success
Eiliv Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

The construct of these recommendations may lead us to mislead ourselves interpreting that we can reach the ideal state. We may assume that by reading the books by Eker, Thurber and Cordova, we can walk into a millionaire’s club and if we buy from Gray and Hendricks, we can have a blissful relationship. Should self-help products come with a warning?

Perhaps the warning should balance the endorsements. Caveat: “It is not guaranteed that following the recommendations from this product will lead to the results you desire. Endorsements are personal opinions. You may not get the same experience.”

Making things sound easy encourages people to give it a go. “Better yet, just a phone call away are people who’ve already successfully done what you want to do and who are available as teachers, facilitators, mentors, advisors, coaches and consultants.” True. There are eight oceans full of coaches waiting for your calls, who are sure their systems will work.  Help me. I have been trying to find a coach who takes nothing down and 30% of my future earnings. If I am a sure success with the coaching, why not take a bet on me?

Easy is good but this moves my heat meter a bit; “When you take advantage of this information, you’ll discover that life is simply a connect the dots game, and all the dots have already been identified and organized by somebody else. All you have to do is follow the blueprint, use the system, or work the program that they provide.” I would like to see a qualifier after “All you have to do…” “All you have to do to achieve the success you seek is to follow the blueprint…” “All you have to do to become a millionaire is to follow the blueprint…” Then, I am sure self-help products need a warning.

Canfield relates a story about the make-up artist who’ve wanted to open her beauty salon but don’t know how. The author suggested that the make-up artist takes a salon owner to lunch and ask how she had opened her salon.  “You can do that?” the make-up artist exclaimed. What the author suggested is a brilliant idea. It is a simple, direct and effective approach but it can only form in the mind of a confident person.

For the rest of us, the author is right; “It never occurs to us.” The other reasons listed for not taking advantage of available resources or asking for advice are:

It is inconvenient. We have to take time from our daily distractions to go to the bookstore, library or local college. We are not willing to be distracted from our distractions.

We are afraid of rejection. By others. If you feel this way, you are normal. Most people feel that way. When you think a bit, you have no choice. It’s either you face a possible, non-fatal rejection from others, or you face a more damning self-rejection. Rejecting your own right to pursue success.

Heidi Grant, a social psychologist thinks she has a method to improve your chances of getting a “yes” when you ask for help. We’ll keep the best for later.

Canfield also surmises that “connecting the dots in a new way would mean change. And like all yet to be successful folks, we are uncomfortable with change. Connecting the dots also mean hard work. Hard work is hard on most folks.

To close Principle 9, Jack Canfield teaches three ways to get instant success kung-fu:

1.  Seek out a teacher, coach, mentor; a manual, book, or audio program; or an Internet resource to help you achieve one of your major goals.

2.  Seek out someone who has already done what you want to do, and ask the person if you can interview him or her for a half hour on how you should best proceed.

3.  Ask someone if you can shadow them for a day and watch them work. Or offer to be a volunteer, assistant, or intern for someone you think you can learn from.

No. 1 suggests another reason people do not take advantage of available experience and expertise of success gurus. Affordability. Especially, if the person in need of training lives in less affluent geographies. Most coaches and professional mentors reside in affluent geographies. As we are yet to be successful, we do not want to be less successful, at least not with our meager available resources. Nothing down and 30%. Any takers?

What I have stated above is not backed by science. It is backed by common cents. The following science backed finding on why people hesitate to ask for help is offered by social psychologist, Heidi Grant from her TED Talk; “We all, to some extent, suffer from something that psychologists call “the illusion of transparency”-basically, the mistaken belief that our thoughts and our feelings and our needs are really obvious to other people. This is not true, but we believe it.”  In a simple sentence; we expect people to ask us to ask them.

Grant offers a three-rule method to get a “Yes” for what you ask:

1.   Be very, very specific about the help you want and why. If your request is vague, the asked do not what you want and how to successfully help you. Nobody wants to give bad help. [ I take it that people would rather not help than giving bad help.]

2.   Avoid disclaimers, apologies and bribes. She offers some examples for the first two mistakes. “I really hate bothering you with this…” “I’m so, so sorry that I have to ask you for this…” “If I have any way of doing this, I would not ask for your help…”

She explains further about the bribes. In a relationship, whether it is with co-workers or friends, she says, it is natural that people help each other. Offering payments and incentives makes it feels like transaction instead of a relationship. This type of interaction creates distancing and diminishes people’s desire to help. She further adds that it is okay to offer a spontaneous gift as a reward after the service.

3.   Do not ask for help through email or text. Email and test are impersonal. It feels less awkward for you to ask and less awkward for the asked to say no. Ask for help in person. Research shows that you are 30 times more likely to get a yes in person than making a request through email. The best alternative if you could not have the face time is to use the phone.

After the help is given, Grant urges that we make that follow up call, not just to thank the giver but to let him/her/them know how the help had helped. Obviously, this will put you in better stead for future requests.

Asking those who have been successful before you, provides you the advantage of “instant experience” performing toward your goals.  It shortens the time and reduces the cost needed to reach your target. You will gain similar advantage by reading a book, watch a video, listen to a podcast or attending training. So, go ahead, don’t ask hold. Practice Grant’s rules and be the ask king.

Duplicating Success
Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Gurus sell hope and
inspiration, the fuel you need to keep digging for success. However, I would be apprehensive if a guru, through his books and other self-help products, proclaims that you can achieve the same results by executing to the blue-print provided.


Self-help is not a lost cause. While you may not exact the results as promised, you will improve many living skills such as thinking, planning and engaging. I foresee more effective results in the next decade when self-help is boosted by AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ER (Extended Reality), the magic basket of digital wizardry that includes AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality). In a not-too-distant future, we will be rubbing shoulders with the almost-Gates, the almost-Bezos, the almost-Musk, and you might be one yourself!

Back to current reality in geekspeak, “You can’t copy and paste success in life.” When the AI+ER magic happens, we may want a different warning for self-help products: “Warning! You risk achieving everything you wish for but it might not be as cool as you thought it could be.”

Thanks for reading this post. I don’t carry the illusion of transparency. I need your help. Please recommend this site to at least 10 of your friends. I will be grateful and will work harder.

Credit: Heidi Grant Ted Talk: "How to Ask for Help-and Get a "Yes."

Duplicating Success
Juliana Piza on Unsplash

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