|Beware self-improvement snake-oil.|
A vast apparatus of uplift and solicitude services Americans’ longings for success and happiness. Self-help, positive thinking, actualization, motivation, empowerment: the industry of worldly wisdom whirs on like a perpetual-motion dynamo, powered by the consumers’ insatiable compulsion to have it all and to feel good about themselves, and by the purveyors’ confidence that they, at any rate, can indeed have it all, by turning out swill by the boatload and feeding the cravings of the perennially feckless.With this beautiful passage, Mr. Valiunas reveals a misgiving I've harbored since first starting to explore the science of self-awareness. Specifically, is all self-improvement advice a bunch of mumbo-jumbo?
On the one hand, I've stumbled onto a ton of science that indicates that certain metacognitive skills are critical for performance: self-control, grit, creativity, optimism. In these cases, there is at least a smidge of research suggesting that if you possess these characteristics, life is better. +1.
On the other hand, anyone can spew any advice about anything. And, there are plenty of people who are, including me. Much of the advice hasn't been put to the test. -1.
So, what are we to do? What is the snake-oil and what is the medicine? The scientist in me would argue that we should study the various theories. Whatever methods hold up to rigorous testing can be adopted and the rest discarded. However, the pragmatist in me realizes that there aren't enough scientists to test every opinion on self-improvement.
So, what are we to do, as individuals? Here's where I fall on the matter: I'm an empiricist. I read some scientific tidbit, or digest some philosophic treatise and then I try it on for size. How then do I feel? How then do I perform? I keep my eyes open for feedback on my performance and monitor my emotions. What works, for me, works for me. If I like the way things are moving, I'll keep doing what I'm doing. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
At the heart of this approach, and at the heart of all science, is skepticism. Is it real? Is there proof? Can I see it for myself? The same can be said for self-help information. Is it based on science? Good science? And, does it work for me? We can all be scientists with our own minds. And should.