Reach for success friends … motivate yourself by tracking markers … measure what you can brag about … self-help narcissism.

Self-help advice reflects the beliefs and priorities of the era that spawned it.Illustration by Nishant Choksi

New breakdown of the old thinking that has led to a nation of gullibles whose tradition goes way back to the ideas of success formulas leading to a shopping list of hopes all under the guise of an American Dream.

My first recommended mandatory reading of 2018. Your loss if you don’t but if you don’t, by no means walk around thinking you are smart,  hep and keeping up with the in crowd.

Improving Ourselves to Death:  What the self-help gurus and their critics reveal about our times.

Excerpts:

you’ve made new resolutions for 2018, and the first one is not to make resolutions. Instead, you’re going to “set goals,” in the terminology of the productivity guru Tim Ferriss—preferably ones that are measurable and have timelines, so you can keep track of your success.

Reach for success friends … motivate yourself by tracking markers … measure what you can brag about … self-help narcissism.

Once your goals are in place, it might be smart to design a methodology that will encourage you to accomplish them. Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit,” recommends a three-step self-conditioning process. You want to get to the gym more? Pick a cue (sneakers by the door); choose a reward that will motivate you to act on it (a piece of chocolate); execute. Bravo! You are now Pavlov and his dog.

So what’s the secret for aspiring to POSITIVELY THOUGHT OUT desires for prosperity and success?

In retrospect, “The Secret,” which sold more than twenty million copies worldwide, seems a testament to the predatory optimism that characterized the years leading up to the financial crisis. People dreamed big, and, in a day of easy money, found that their dreams could come true. Then the global economy crashed, and we were shaken violently awake—at least for a time.

This article is a different way of whispering to us that our own new clothes aren’t real … we are still naked.

The desire to achieve and to demonstrate perfection is not simply stressful; it can also be fatal, according to the British journalist Will Storr. His forthcoming book, “Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us” (Overlook), opens, alarmingly, with a chapter on suicide. Storr is disturbed by the prevalence of suicide in the United States and Britain, and blames the horror and shame of failing to meet the sky-high expectations we set for ourselves. He cites surveys that show that adolescent girls are increasingly unhappy with their bodies, and that a growing number of men are suffering from muscle dysmorphia; he interviews psychologists and professors who describe an epidemic of crippling anxiety among university students yoked to the phenomenon of “perfectionist presentation”—the tendency, especially on social media, to make life look like a string of enviable triumphs. Storr confesses that he, too, is dogged by self-loathing and suicidal thoughts. “We’re living in an age of perfectionism, and perfection is the idea that kills,” he writes. “People are suffering and dying under the torture of the fantasy self they’re failing to become.”

Storr’s explanation for how we got into this predicament has three strands. First, there is nature. “Because of the way our brains function, our sense of ‘me’ naturally runs in narrative mode,” he writes; studies show that we are hardwired to see life as a story in which we star. At the same time, he says, we are tribal creatures, evolved during our hunter-gatherer years to value coöperation and, at the same time, to respect hierarchy and covet status—“to get along and get ahead.”

Next comes culture—a trajectory that wends its way from the ancient Greeks, with their idea that humans are rational creatures who must strive in order to fulfill their highest potential, to Christianity, with its doctrine of a sinful self that requires salvation, to Freud, who’s “just a self-hating, sex-afeared, secular reinvention” of the same, and, finally, to the perilous American pursuit of happiness. Storr has conflicted feelings about the American view that the self is fundamentally good, and thus worthy of comfort and satisfaction. On the one hand, it’s a nice change from Christian guilt. On the other, it has “infected” the rest of the world with aspirational narcissism. Storr has harsh words for positive psychology, and for the self-esteem movement. He reserves special scorn for the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, which pioneered the Human Potential Movement back in the nineteen-sixties and has recently gained popularity with the Silicon Valley crowd.

Finally, there’s the economy. Survival in the hypercompetitive, globalized economy, where workers have fewer protections and are more disposable than ever, requires that we try to become faster, smarter, and more creative. (To this list of marketable qualities I’d add one with a softer edge: niceness, which the gig economy and its five-star rating system have made indispensable to everyone from cabdrivers to plumbers.) Anything less than our best won’t cut it.

Read it and weep … then wake up … and don’t look in the mirror with an eye to who you might see behind you watching your reaching for success.

 

Let’s Pretend

6e9af-conformityLet’s Pretend We Don’t Know We Are Pretending
  
Enter with us into an imagined world … one myth among many
Once Upon A Time …
Children born into a Church are in most ways unaware and unwitting conscripts into an environment that is totally and unequivocally one of “let’s pretend.”
Since comparative critical thinking is not one of those innate gifts with which most children are born, those born into active, believing and participating families experience from the get-go a circumstance that – if explained to adult recruits/investigators in an honest, fair and responsible manner – might go something like this.
“Now, Brother Brown, we are here today because we are totally happy, totally satisfied, totally believing in the truths we are preaching. We have mentally moved into the world portrayed by these pretend truths and invite you to do the same.
These truths along with the duties and obligations that we consider legitimate, real and effectual in this pretend world, are what you should come to believe in. To get there we challenge you to suspend your disbelief and assume that everything we teach you is the truth.

We invite you to pretend along with us, go along with us, go along with all our stories, rationales and theologies. As you suspend disbelief, you will become more and more planted in this pretend reality we who are members all share.

If you are faithful, at some point, the disparities, the faulty rationales and theologies and the absolute truths will all be just that … absolutes. You will be so convinced that they are all true, that our drama – yours and mine – is the only true reality, that it will be hard to return back to that original curious state that led to your encounter with us.”


That would be the honest way to proselytize.
But such is too honest for a religious organization, especially one that believes and teaches unreasonable notions about itself. Getting lost in unreasonable religious notions means having lost yourself inside a make-believe world.
Whether born into a Church or converted now with a few years of total participation in  your history, you must pursue and suffer withdrawal pains from your addiction to  a pretended dramatic performance in which you have been recruited and commissioned as a participating actor.
This often becomes more challenging if you have been commissioned a more significant role as an actor of influence on a local, regional or home-office level.
Resisting the demands made by fellow actors also caught within this pretended performance may require nothing less than the resistance required in a Prisoner-of-War circumstance in which one has become entrapped and must endure until release is obtained.
The circumstances of the pretended drama for most religions may be porous and permeable allowing entry and exit easily according to desire and inclination. However, in some organizations, the let’s-pretend devolves in the the rigid, inflexible formalism of religious fundamentalism. Some of the circumstances became buttressed by equally pretended but nonetheless real “rules” and “conditions” that must be met in order for the drama to play itself out to a personally successful conclusion.
When such circumstances exist, fellow actors are empowered to work manipulatively (in many cases as unwitting participants) to keep you engaged in the pretended drama through what amounts mostly to mental and emotional coercion.
One becomes subject to threats, warnings and admonitions that are as pretentious as the entire scenario itself …  unless one has been mentally stampeded to believe that not only is the scenario real, but the threats are real and really legitimate.
Inside the pretended drama, belonging and participation validated by fellow actors’ opinions rise almost to paramount importance. It is only in that venue that theologically-based threats appear to be legitimate. The legitimacy lies mostly with our pretending that there IS a God who would let some mortals eternally course or impede the “progress” of other mortals toward some imaginary bliss.
However, without willing suspension of disbelief, such mortals can not be empowered.
Authorities of the earthly church cannot “do” anything to you physically or eternally. They can only request that the actual head of the church – God – do that … with the expectation that God will do what they request because God is in some way bound to go along with it.
If you believe in that kind of God, then I might say that you have been stampeded too far and for too long. You may now consciously (aware of what you are doing) or unconsciously believe in. 
Given that the genuine and loving Divine Parent ought not let one child abuse another for any personal or authoritative retribution, the Church can only physically restrict its validation of anything formal you accomplish, you say or do inside the walls of the formal and conforming church.
The Church can only enforce its specific earthly organizational “club rules” that are expressed in social ostracism, shunning, disfellowshipment and actual dis-enrolling in the earthly club, i.e. excommunication.
Any God who would actually countenance such congregational behavior and turn that sort of power and influence over to a few mortals at the expense of the rest is not a real God, has ceased to be God and in truth does not exist
… unless one is lost in an imagined reality and willing to pretend that such a god IS real
… in which case one in quiet desperation attempts to live in fear of the imaginary divine tyrant.