Saturday, November 17, 2012

Musings on Self-Help Programs

TITLE: Musings on Self-Help Programs 
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 17 November 2012

Once in a while, someone will come up to me and say something like, “I’ve had it with all those motivational gurus, and those books that give you all kinds of steps to be a better person. Such things wow initially, but over time, the novelty wears out.

I understand. In fact, it is not surprising why the same old people who have been inspired by some moving talk or literature, pledges to do something about it, but eventually returns to the point where he needs another shot of motivation.

I hear the sentiment. Perhaps, one reason why self-help gurus continue to make money is because their formulas are not only easy to understand, people who needed help never grow out of needing help. In some countries, seminars, conferences, and motivational events are opportunities are held so often that they have become the main staple for any motivational need or spiritual diet. Take for example leadership conferences. People spend hundreds of dollars to attend talks by so-called “world-class” leader of some amazing organization. After the big publicity and the packed houses of eager attendees, soon after, the hunger returns. The same people come back to the same kind of conferences and seminars. My question: Why?

Seminars like these are popular, can they help?
The trouble with many people is that they think the magic lies with the motivational speaker or the materials they provide. Pay the fees, buy the books, and the change happens automatically. At least, that is how their behaviour demonstrates. As one who has attended many conferences, I have learned that what I do with the materials in the first 48 hours will determine the depth of my learning. Whatever notes I have copied. Whatever books I have purchased or received. Whatever recordings I have taped, if I do not do something with it, they are gone. Disappear. Poof.

Come Monday, we go on to our usual selves and our regular set of activities. The weekend infatuation has gone. The normal reality has come. Nothing has changed. Such people are immediate candidates for motivational gurus, and various organizations to continue to milk and cash in. So what do we do with conferences, motivational talks, books, music, and all kinds of self-help materials? Let me offer three musings.

A) Do Not Condemn Them

There is a place of everything. In fact, there is always a first time for anyone. As much as some of us may dislike the idea of motivational gurus and the feel-good atmosphere generated, they do serve a purpose of bringing like-minded or people who share similar concerns. First-timers will benefit the most. There are good in it too. I have been assisting Regent College’s conference programs for many years. From the annual Pastor’s Conferences to occasional theological seminars, I have seen many famous names enter the chapel halls and leave people gasping for more. The quality is top. Even the attendees of such conferences are willing to fly more than half the world to Regent College in order to attend a 1-day seminar! There is a place for motivational seminars. The trouble is when motivational seminars become the main staple of any person’s diet. That will then be a problem.

Another point to note is that we do not need to put any person up there on stage on the pedestal. They are also ordinary people like you and me. Put on the appropriate makeup, wear the wireless lapel microphone, and we too can learn to speak, to look, and walk like them. Invite them over for a meal, and we learn that they too are people who had very ordinary beginnings. The secret is in the hype or the marketing that goes with it.

B) The 48-Hour Rule

What we do with what we have learned within the first 48 hours is critical for our learning. One thing I do is to summarize my notes. Whether through memory devices or re-written essays, I find myself more equipped to engage the material, putting down what I like, what I dislike, and what are the pros and cons of what I have heard. Within the first 48 hours, many of the things remain fresh in the head. It is easy to recall the powerful stories and pointers. For those of us who have been moved by any one story, try telling the same story to another person in your own words. Talk to another person, preferably with people who have attended the same conference. Engage the material. Work through the pros and cons. When purchasing the audio-visual materials, make sure they are kept in sight, that is, we know where they are. Often, we tend to misplace them as we go back to our usual routines.

Whatever 7 steps to becoming more effective person, or 8 ways to lead, or 9 techniques to sell, we all need to learn to summarize and to decide what makes sense for us personally. Without adequate reflection, we lose what we learn. Not only that, we have wasted our time and money on mere entertainment.

C) Personal Disciplines

After 48 hours, make it a personal effort to record or to remember what we have learned. Over time, things appear very different. Contexts vary. Facts increase. We change. That is why we need to continue to update ourselves in terms of learning. Learning is not the responsibility of the motivational gurus. It is our own responsibility. Each of us needs to discover how best we learn. For some of us, we need to maintain a regular regime of exercise and active working out of what we learn. For others, all it takes is for an appropriate device to jigger our memories. For all of us, we need a certain learning discipline in order to maximize our education. Take time to update our facts. Take time to learn.

So when you see the next conference in town, do not be too quick to dismiss them. At the same time, do not be too ready to blame the gurus or organizers for organizing the same old thing. Whether people chooses to go or not, is basically part of their journeying process. For some, they may need several more seminars before they can benefit in the long-term. Such people need to be wealthy enough to fund this expensive option. For others, once may be more than enough. Whatever it is, learning is not the responsibility of the organizers or the motivational gurus. Learning is our responsibility. We cannot blame organizers or the motivational gurus for what they do best. If we feel tired or frustrated by our lack of learning, the problem is less of theirs but more of ourselves.

What are you going to do when you receive the next motivational brochure? If you have done your homework after your previous seminar, you will pass the brochure to someone else. If you have not, chances are, you will feel the itch. You will start to budget. You will likely begin the vicious cycle again, and again, and again.

Where there is this cycle, there the motivational speakers will be also.


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