You were all fired up and have bought self help books, tapes, CD’s to play in your car or while you jog, whatever. You’ve bought them on all kinds of subjects, relating to one or usually more areas of your life that you KNOW need improvement. You’re frustrated now that what you heard or read just doesn’t seem to be happening for you. Nothing is changing!

When you first heard the recommendation from your best friend about that book on relationships, it sounded like such a great idea…. You actually went to the bookstore to get it. You read the cover, the back, even the inside flaps, and got jazzed up about it – “This is it!” you think, “ This is what I’ve needed all along!” A month later, the book cover is off, the book is face down by your bed, covered in dust.

What’s wrong here? Well, don’t throw anything away just yet! You’re just missing a vital ingredient. You’re actually “this close” to using and benefiting from that self-help stuff you spent your hard earned money on.

I’m big on self-help anything, which is a bit odd, considering I was a mental health therapist; my income depended on people needing help from ME. Why in the world would I give the people I worked with anything else other than session time to get better, when coming to see me was my livelihood? Cynical people won’t believe this, but most of us got into the helping professions not to make money, but to help others. I probably did lose clients to a self-help book or video, but it didn’t bother me a bit: See, I knew that life is lived OUT THERE in the real world, not the little office where people came for help. We ALL need all the help we can get in the real world!

One of the first things I did with most people is help them gain confidence and faith in helping themselves. I couldn’t walk out the door with them; they had to help themselves to function and improve. Self-help information was obviously a valuable addition to therapy..

I never did think I could “do it all” for any one client, anyway, no matter what the problem was. I was just one person who knew “X” amount about whatever was wrong – anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, adjustment problems. Everyone had multiple areas in their lives affected by these troubles – daily living, family, career, financial, spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health….One hour a week wasn’t going to cut it in terms of REAL help. So I always tried to “over-deliver” and make sure they walked out the door with lots to do, including finding self help guidance and using it.

It turned out often that people wouldn’t invest the TIME needed for life and self-improvement. They’d come for an hour a week to talk about things, but not apply what they learned to life outside the office. They’d buy the self-help books and other media I recommended, but not read or use them. Failure to do that was almost always related to TIME. The LAST thing on their to do list? Self-improvement. (That amazes me; I believe we are our own greatest resource.) I know, I know, “Life” takes over and everything else becomes a priority in front of what would really make your life better.

So I made it my mission to convince clients that their lives would get better and they could leave therapy if they took the suggestions and self help steps I gave them. Guess what? The people who did that - using the suggestions - got better, left therapy and went on to happier lives!

What was their secret? Those people did something with the information I gave them and what they read or listened to -What made the difference?

The answer - The secret ingredient I am talking about - that most self help information is missing - is more astonishing than you could imagine because it is so very simple! They found a way to get started and keep that first push going. It sounds laughably simple, doesn’t it? Procrastination is the number one cause of failure! You can’t succeed if you never start, right? The key to making the most of self-help information is STARTING THE ACTIONS SUGGESTED AND FINDING OUT HOW TO KEEP IT GOING.. I figured out after about a year of asking people if they did readings and steps in the self help information I gave them and getting a “No” all the time, that I better find out what was going on. These weren’t willful or rebellious people. They WANTED to get better and knew they needed to take action. The answer 90% of the time was that they couldn’t seem to get started and the 10 %who did get started, just couldn’t keep it going.

Aha! So NOW you have the answer, the missing ingredient, and it’s simple. Having the answer gets you on the path to a solution, right? The ultimate solution is to find out how to get yourself started on the self-help information you get and the best way for YOU to keep progress going once you start.

Here’s a start on what to do - Ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I clear on what area I need to work on? (You think it’s money, maybe, but could it be the hectic, not enjoyable family routine of constantly eating out is messing up the budget…So is it financial or family related?)

2. Am I clear on the suggestions given to work on that area of my life? Or does this author sound like they have a PhD in Economics and can’t fathom how to balance a grocery budget for 4 kids?

3. Are the suggestions in the information (book, audio, video, whatever) actually “doable” for me? (Example: I bought an exercise video which required equipment to do it that I couldn’t afford at the time, and there was no hint of that on the cover!)

4. Are the people around me going to help or maybe object and not help? What do I do about that? (Accept, ignore or change their minds, is my answer!)

5. What inside me keeps me from getting started? Negative thoughts? Real physical fatigue? How can I get rid of them? What works best for me? (I recently had a roadblock due to unexpected fatigue and found natural energy drinks - fortified bottled water, basically - that were almost an instant “cure” - I was amazed!)

Another thing I found is that self-help information is often too complex and overwhelms people, so the thought of starting and committing to something that detailed was paralyzing!

OK, one more question: If you got out that exercise tape or self-help book again, could you start using it to help your life if maybe one thing in your life were different? Usually that one thing is FIXABLE. Maybe if you had more time, or you could afford the needed equipment (someone made a couple of the items for me and I found dollar store substitutes for others!), maybe if you had family support?

I challenge you that ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS GET STARTED on self-improvement and it will work for you if you work on it. You might need to reread or listen or watch the video. Perhaps you could find a different author who is not so heavy on diagnosing problems, but heavier on solutions. Maybe you need to go to an exercise class and get motivation from other people in the same boat as you.

The books and CD/DVD’s you have may not work because it often isn’t presented well on exactly what to do first, how to do it, and how you keep it going! Your self-help information/ program WILL work if you find out what to do FIRST and take the first step to do it. Once you start, use that momentum of accomplishment to keep moving forward. Any path is traveled one step at a time. No matter what the speed, if your steps keep moving forward, you’ll get there!

Author's Bio: 

Patricia Carnahan, MS is a former mental health therapist with over a decade of experience in the mental health field. Patti turned author and started Good Life Directions and Getting the Good Life information resources to provide self help guidance that works. Find out more about her ideas on keeping it simple AND GETTING RESULTS, in your quest to work on self-improvement and life improvement. Are you ready for the Good Life? Check out the website www.vision.org