ecently I read an article called Why I’ve Lost Faith In Tony Robbins (And Most Life Coaches). I found it really interesting. Being a writer in the self help space it made me really question my own intentions and the information and advice I put out there and HAVE put out there almost every day for ten years. I’m putting this post together for people who want to stop being taken advantage of, even though it’s kind of a difficult post to write.
Back to the article – on the surface, this was an article that was critical of the life coaching industry and, by extension, the self-help and self-improvement industry. The reason I want to talk about it today is not to bag life coaches (because there are many many awesome life coaches out there). And it’s not to bag the self-improvement industry (obviously because I’m in it!). The main thing I’d like to talk about is the art of discernment. How are you supposed to figure out who to listen to? Especially if the dodgier life coaches don’t even really know they’re being that dodgy.
I have rules for my writing that I try to keep in mind whenever I publish something. I’m naturally quite excitable and passionate so I have to concentrate really hard on keeping my writing calm, rational and open to criticism. Like if I find a new healthy eating plan or exercise program and I’ll be all ‘OH MY GOD IT’S AMAZING AND THE ANSWER TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS!!!’ – I have to really tone it down and make sure what I’m writing is honest, useful and ethical.
Everything I write must be factual
If I make a claim about the health benefits of coffee or why you should walk 10,000 steps everyday, I always make sure my claims are backed up by peer reviewed scientific papers. I also make sure the people who fund the research are neutral. I won’t trust a study on the health benefits of drinking fizzy drinks that was commissioned by Pepsi for instance. That would be super stupid.
Everything I write must be inclusive
I don’t know if people notice but I generally use non-gendered and non-heteronormative language my writing. I never write any advice on the assumption that the person reading is straight, white, female and cis-gendered.
Everything I write must respectful of other points of view
I actually really struggle with this because I’m such a hard core researcher, I get really frustrated when I see people doing things like denying their child health care because of religious beliefs to the point that their child dies but most of the time, I make sure I respect other people’s life style choices. For instance if I have a recipe that has meat in it, I’ll provide some vegetarian options or if I talk about how exercise is incredible for my mental health, I’ll always add a caveat saying I know that it’s not effective for everyone.
5 Things Responsible Self Help Writers Do
1. Share personal experiences and what worked for them as individuals, but emphasise that what worked for them may not work for you (the reader). Basically being flexible in their claims and acknowledging that actions have different results based on different individuals.
2. They research and they understand that a sleep study conducted by a hotel my not be as responsible or reliable as a sleep study conducted by a neutral third party team of scientists.
3. They’re suggestive, rather than prescriptive.
4. When they’re challenged about why people should listen to them, they say generally you shouldn’t listen to them and encourage you to do your own research and self experiments.
5. Their advice rarely has harmful side effects. For example you won’t die if you cut down on dairy for a few weeks but you should probably do some research and see a medical professional before have colonics every second day that some health ‘expert’ on the internet suggested.
5 Things Irresponsible Self Help Writers Do
1. Leverage your pain/make you feel bad about yourself in order to get you to read their stuff. Basically suggesting that you’re less of a human if you don’t do/buy what they’re saying/selling.
2. Suggest their way is the only way. Be very wary of anyone being particularly dogmatic about their own methods.
3. Flat out lying. For example the whole Belle Gibson fiasco. If someone is going to claim to have cured their own cancer through dietary changes, it would be helpful to have a confirmation that they actually had cancer in the first place.
4. Using underhanded tricks like using before and after weightloss photos of random people (who have never done their program) to promote their own healthy eating course.
5. Refuse to look at scientific data or proven tests that dispute what they’re saying. If they’re really in the self help industry, their message should change constantly because technology and science changes constantly.
What to look out for
1. Look to people who are keen to leverage your potential rather than your pain
2. Look to people who practice both keen self-examination and a tonne of research.
3. Look to people who are very clear that something worked for them, but it may not work for you
How to practice discernment in self-help
1. Trust your gut – if something smells fishy, it probably is. My mate Beth at BabyMac talks about getting ‘itchy neck’ when something doesn’t feel right. Like if a brand wants to work with you and the thought of writing a post for them gives you an itchy neck… back away.
2. Look for an agenda. Particularly a money making agenda. I think you absolutely should pay for things. Apps that help you track progress, courses that teach you things, people to moderate groups. People should absolutely be paid for their time but make sure the person you’re paying has experience in what they’re teaching. It’s probably best to not pay for business advice from someone who’s never run a business that’s not giving business advice.
3. If you’re feeling a bit lost, understand you’re probably looking for ‘the answer’ – and there is no hard and fast answer.
4. While every person who is selling a $2000 seminar is not dodgy, do ask yourself whether that $2000 could be better spent on. Always seek the help of professionals first.
5. Be self-aware. When you are feeling a bit lost in life – you just want someone to tell you what to do – be on guard and choose someone who has your best interest at heart.
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Have you ever seen a self help guru and been like WTF? Who’s your favourite no BS self improvement writer?
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