Journey of Life

the place formerly known as control your destiny

Self Help Gurus or Marketing Experts?

When I got home from work last Thursday I was  “encouraged” to take an honest look at how I feel my life is at the moment. By that I mean writing with no self censoring, no self lies or justifications for previous actions. No blame or excuses, just honesty and facts without any kind of judgment.

The “encouragement” came in the shape of a thought. A thought telling me to sit down and basically just find a starting point. A place from which to look forward instead of moving blindly in all directions. For a very long time I have wanted to change things but have never really worked out where to start from.

I started and found it difficult to stop. There is no particular order to what has come out so far. Memories from when I was a child, back to present-day, then back to childhood again. Then I somehow got side tracked into the area of self-help and gurus and whether or not it actually works.

The hot topic on the news, at least in the US is the tragic events that occurred at a sweat lodge session in Sedona during James Ray’s “Spiritual Warrior” Seminar. The title itself kind of make alarm bells ring with me as the 2 words, in my mind, don’t belong together. I decided to dig further into this. Not so much the event itself but what made people pay between $9,000 – $10,000 to a guy no one had really heard much about until he was featured in “The Secret”. I am speaking from my own viewpoint here. If he was a well-known “guru” prior to “The Secret” I stand corrected!

I then wondered ; What credibility does he have, other than the popular culture seal of approval, that will make people part with that kind of money. What problem(s) were they hoping to alleviate or what kind of experience were they hoping to have. If they were hoping to alleviate a problem, how much therapy or counselling can $10,000 buy you?

I am not here to pass judgment on James Ray, it is the industry as a whole I want to question. To be precise I want to question the validity of what these self-proclaimed experts and gurus teach. What qualifications and experiences do they have that gives them the right to label themselves experts in this field? How many of them actually have a real doctorate degree? A lot of them seem to use the “Dr” title! Is this what gives them their credibility? Or is just our perception?
More importantly, why did I believe that everything I read would propel me to great heights where problems simply could not exist?
The answer to that question for me lies with the field in which these gurus really are experts; Marketing!
In order to get an idea of how I viewed this self-help stuff in the past, I had a read through old journals and old posts on here and as much as I hate to admit this; I was astonished to see the naivety with which I was absorbing this information!

The interesting thing is that the self-help guru can’t really lose out because they have a safety valve in terms of validity.
To give you an example, one book suggested that in order to feel better about myself I should affirm to myself a certain phrase. I did as instructed and continued to do so for months and months. Did it work? Well, this is where the safety valve comes in, because there is absolutely no way of measuring it. The only way it can ever be measured is if I had the facility to live a dual existence in which I could compare how I felt after I had followed the instructions for a given set of time with how I felt had I not followed the instructions for the same amount of time.
Compared to how I was a few years ago, I feel better in myself I feel more confident in my abilities, I feel less afraid of saying what is on my mind even if that results in conflicting opinions of others. Normally I would credit positive improvement to whatever book or programme I was following at that time but now I am thinking that other factors had a part to play. If, however, it didn’t work or I didn’t experience any improvement, did I draw the conclusion that the material was rubbish? No, I put it down to the fact that I must have done it wrong, safety valve has kicked in again!

I was having a conversation with a friend the other night about some of this and she raised a very interesting question. If their knowledge and expertise is written into a book, why the need to keep churning out book after book covering pretty much the same stuff? I know of a particular couple of gurus who have released in excess of 20 books saying pretty much the same thing.

I am not here to start a crusade against the whole self-help industry nor do I suggest that they are all a bunch of excellent marketers with only financial gain in mind. I know there is excellent high quality material available. Material that offers real and honest help and opportunity for growth.
But it may be worth remembering that the self-help industry is a multi billion dollar industry. In 2008 it grossed $11.3 billion in US alone. Personally I have no problem with people making money, quite the opposite.
What I do have a problem with is how a selection of individuals in this industry prey on people desperate for a quick fix to whatever problem they have, who will buy into whatever the “experts” are selling because it gives them a sense of hope, (I am talking about me here) at least until they realise that the quick fix promised on the packaging failed to deliver on its promise. Leaving one (well, me) confused as to why it didn’t work when it so clearly worked for the “expert” who wrote it as well as the hundreds of happy customers who were conveniently kind enough to write a testimonial.

I also think that there’s an element of transference operating here. Again I am speaking from personal experience where I would get drawn in to the point where whatever Guru I was following at the time could say or do nothing wrong!
If, at the sweat lodge session, people had exercised a measure of common sense, how many of them would have stayed in the sweat lodge as opposed to leave in the interest of personal safety? I also questioned if I would have exercised common sense and questioned the methods adopted by the guru or would I have conformed to the sheep mentality and followed the majority? I fear the honest answer would have been the latter!

I have left out specific books and authors (except of course James Ray, whose material I have never read or followed) purely because, what I think has worked for me may not work for you and vice versa. The only other one mentioned of course is “The Secret”, which in my view is the worst load of nonsense ever written, the sole purpose of which was to line the pockets of Rhonda Byrne, who in the space of approximately 3 weeks became an expert in the so-called “Law of Attraction” on the basis of Wallace D Wattle’s The Science of Getting Rich. The worst part of the secret is the fact that I believed in the concept when I first read it!! And I cringe when I think about how I walked around like a complete fucking moron repeatedly saying some mantra while cosmically ordering things from the ever so generous catalogue of the universe. By the way their delivery service need some work!! Or maybe I just did it wrong again!!

I could write an entire blog about my views of “The Secret” but in the interest of reader safety I won’t. If reading or watching “The Secret” helped you, disregard anything I have said.
There is, however, an excellent article on it HERE (Scroll down a little bit to get to the article)
Statistically there is something like 3,000 new self-help titles being released every year, which begs the question; How much of it is quality based on real experiences as opposed to just another marketing exercise?
Another worrying fact is that anyone can write a self-help book under the pretence of it being expert advice often derived from ancient wisdom or whatever fancy metaphor you want to add to it to make it sell!
In fact one doesn’t even have to write the book. There are places available online where you can buy pretty much any type of ebook along with rights to rebrand it as your own work!

As I have mentioned before, I know there is real quality material available out there and it can be found if one applies some common sense filtering before buying the quick fix! Why it took me so long to learn is no longer important!


18 responses to “Self Help Gurus or Marketing Experts?

  1. viv66 October 26, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    A former colleague of mine(who is now something in the NA spirituality area) told me that her father used to write health self help guides. Now, as he was actually a GP, you might think he had a handle on it. She had been appalled by the guff her father had produced with conflicting advice and downright dangerous stuff even. So even having a REAL qualification isn’t guarantee that the product worth looking at.
    Nigel found something for you this morning I must transcribe…
    talk soon!

  2. J October 26, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Yep that is quite worrying!!
    I am intrigued at what Nigel has found for me!! Has he recovered from the man flu yet??

  3. viv66 October 26, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    I’ll post it tomorrow.
    he’s still rough though!

  4. J October 26, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Send him my wishes of a speedy recovery

  5. Papa October 27, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Personally, I have no use for self-help gurus or guru wannabees. The best any of us can do is to talk about what we think, feel, intuit or sense. We can tell our own story KNOWING that no two stories will ever be the same as each of us is unique. In my blog posts, I hope that I don’t come off as some sort of self-help expert. Truth is, I have yet to meet one human who is put together so well. As one individuates, it becomes more about presence, about allowing the ripples and resonances of simply being oneself mingle with the presences of others. Anything else is inauthentic.

    Thanks, J., for letting me vent. Keep asking questions. After all, it is about living questions and not the answers.

    • J October 27, 2009 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks Robert.

      Let me start by saying that I have never found your writing to come across as some sort of self help expert. Your words are real words and presented with honesty. Learning from real people is what has helped me wake to the exploitation adopted by these gurus. Like I have said before, reading your posts and others too has taught me more than any of these fakes ever could.

      As far as venting is concerned, please consider this an open invitation to vent as often as you feel like!

  6. viv66 October 27, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Excellent article from the link; and this was a good article too!

  7. viv66 October 27, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Just to say I put the piece Nigel thought you’d like up on my blog.
    Hope today was good!

  8. J October 27, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks Viv,

    I love the piece on your blog. Please say thank you to Nigel.
    Today was good. Will tell you about it when we speak next.


  9. Brynn October 28, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Shoo, quite a lot of emotion expressed in this article. Forgive my ignorance, but I have no idea what happened at the ‘sweat lodge’. What I can say is that desperate people do desperate things, and that is the sad thing about proclaimed self-help guru’s, they prey on desperate people. I will never understand how a ‘sweat lodge’ can be beneficial, it just seems ludicrous.
    As for ‘The Secret’, it worked wonders for me, it introduced me to a whole new way of thinking. It only touched the surface when it comes to creating the life you really want, if you want to get to the really weird and wonderful, watch ‘What the BLEEP do we know?’, the rabbit hole goes as deep as you care to crawl…
    As for the credentials thing, having a degree means nothing, Mike Dooley has no formal training and I find his wisdom truly inspiring. Many, many years ago no-one had a degree in anything, back in the days before organized oppression, before we became slaves to the ‘industrial revolution’.
    In my opinion you either believe in a universal consciousness or you don’t, and we all believe in what works for us, and some people like tequila and others like aloe vera, it’s what makes our world so interesting.
    Great post J, can’t wait for more comments…

    • J October 29, 2009 at 12:11 am

      The exploitation of desperate people is one of the points I wanted to make along with the fact that the self help industry allows anyone to call themselves an expert with no way of checking their background, skills or credibility. In fact, I could decide to pick bits from everything I have read, rewrite it and publish it with the promise that anyone reading it will transform their lives providing they follow all of the instructions.
      As far as the James Ray sweat lodge incident is concerned, google it. It makes some interesting reading.
      I agree that having a degree doesn’t guarantee quality nor do I suggest that only people with degrees should be allowed to write this stuff. The problem I have is when “Dr” is used purely as a way of gaining credibility in the public eye and unfortunately a number of them are doing exactly that!

      As I said in the post I deliberately left out specific titles as people have different experiences. However, I think The Secret is more harmful than helpful and that it was nothing more than a very clever marketing exercise that worked tremendously well. Does Rhonda Byrne practice what she preaches? Based on what I have read about her conduct before writing this post, I somehow doubt it.

      I appreciate you have had positive experiences from it and I am not trying to take that away from you. We are all unique and I for one respect that.

      Hope you are enjoying or enjoyed (in case it is over) your break and got to spend some quality time with your family.

      • Brynn October 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm

        After much contemplation I feel I need to share some thoughts. There will always be three sides to a story, your side, my side and the truth.
        I believe Rhonda Byrne had good intentions for creating “The Secret” and she got wealthy at the same time, good for her, I wish I had thought of it. As for all those people trashing her, what are their motives?
        I’m not defending Rhonda, I don’t know her well enough. But I will defend the whole principal. Gossip is a terrible thing, it can destroy peoples lives, and who knows the truth, the media circus churns out so much misinformation these days it’s ridiculous. The only agenda they have is to sell their stories to as many people as possible.
        As for the number of books saying the same thing, Louise Hay explained it in a way that made sense to me. You can have ten people saying the same thing, but in a slightly different way, and you will only understand it from one of them, and then you’ll wonder why the other nine didn’t explain it that way in the first place. It’s just the way our minds work….
        Lastly, if you are looking for reasons why something isn’t working for you, then that’s what you’ll find, guaranteed. The reason I believe the ‘Law of Attraction’ works, I took a long hard look at my life and was brutally honest with myself. Most of what has happened is by my own doing, and most of what is going to happen will be by my own doing, the good and the not so good.
        I really enjoy these discussions and I hope that we continue to express ourselves freely…

    • enreal October 31, 2009 at 6:42 am

      J~ terrific article and I must say I agree with all of it. I like the fact that you do not attack the practice, rather the doubt that people can not find help on their own. The knowledge or “self”help is deep within each of us, our voices are too muffled to hear. The industry is over wrought with intentions gone astray. I feel the gurus, if living in the right intentions, would gladly give their services to the masses, after all spirituality and wisdom is priceless…

      As for a sweat lodge itself (Brynn)… I just completed my fourth… with hesitation… the media in the US seemed to miss the point, greed led to this tragedy. The media has been attacking the practice… This medium is one of reflection and should be taken extremely seriously… (as Viv mentioned eloquently in the following comment)

      I send my prayers to those who have been involved in this tragedy and encourage people on the path of spiritual exploration to not be deterred…

      It is in the intent…

      Great conversation and great article

      • J October 31, 2009 at 9:27 pm

        Greed did indeed lead to this tragedy along with ignorance.

        From conversations with Viv I have learned that the practice of the sweat lodge is indeed one of reflection that goes back hundreds of years and should be treated with respect. It is also a practice that does not come at the price James Ray charges for it!

        My hope is that the media will focus on James Ray’s negligence and incompetence instead of the practice itself.

  10. viv66 October 28, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    A sweat lodge is best understood when you have the background spirituality of the people who started it and when you have that understanding it’s much clearer what it can do and why. It’s far more than a sauna and the whole process(when done properly and prayerfully) is of such significance that it’s central to the core of the people.

  11. J October 29, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Brynn you are always more than welcome to share your thoughts and I hope you will continue to express yourself freely.

    I too appreciate and enjoy the discussion regardless of whether or not we end up agreeing or disagreeing on the topic! For me it is not about being right or wrong but acceptance of different points of view. We are all on our own individual journeys which will always result in different points of view.

    I agree with your point that if one is looking for reasons why something isn’t working then that is generally what one will find. It does, however work both ways.

    I am not trying to pick a fight with you here or anyone else for that matter and as I said earlier we are all individuals with individual opinions. I am, for the first time in my life trying to stay true to myself and my current beliefs without giving into agreeing for the sake of either avoiding conflict or gaining approval.

  12. Brynn October 30, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    One thing I forgot to mention. If James Ray really believes in what he teaches, the he is going to have to try and figure out how he attracted these unfortunate events into his life. We’ll have to wait and see….

  13. J October 30, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    That exact thought has crossed my mind too and I am curious as to what his answer will be.

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