Book Review: Stand Firm: Resisting The Self-Improvement Craze

This book has a provocative title, probably that’s why it grabbed my attention and I decided to buy it to see what does the author actually mean by “Self-Improvement Craze”. I mean, who doesn’t want to improve himself?

It turns out that this book has nothing against self improvement per se. Instead, it questions the most notorious ideas of various self-improvement movements. Those ideas may look appealing if you don’t pay enough attention to their consequences but many of those ideas can do more harm than good.

The author tries to “invert” many popular mottos of the self-improvement movements to show us that the opposite of those ideas may have much more sense. Here are a few examples I found interesting:

Cut Out The Navel-Gazing

One of the distinctive features of our time is the obsession with the idea of self, people are constantly trying to find out who they really are and to reach the highest level of self realization. That’s an admirable effort but what makes us so sure that the answer is inside us? Maybe it is the case that self-analysis can make more harm than good?

The author mentions the health paradox as an example: more medical help often makes us feel worse. Getting medical help feeds our obsession with self-diagnosis which leads us to false conclusions about our health. It seems like the “search of the true self” can be as dangerous as receiving unnecessary medical help. Anyway, what makes us so sure that the answers we are looking for are within us?

Focus on The Negative

What can be more worse than death? Well, I heard a few attempts to imagine a worse situation. For instance, one guy said that it’s much worse to die if your enemies are still alive than to die after them. Apart from such clever attempts to imagine something worse than the death itself, we can safely assume that death is a very negative and inevitable event in every person’s life and we usually try to avoid it by any means necessary and not to think about it too much.

Should we ever think about such a negative event? The author sides with stoics in thinking that the focus on the negative events is not necessarily a bad thing. Thinking about the things we may lose can help us to set our priorities straight and to appreciate things that we have now because we might lose them at any moment.

Suppress Your Feelings

The author makes a good point in writing that people that are always positive may seem insincere. Another problem is the idea that we should always express our feelings. Self-help gurus like to use children as an example of “proper” attitude to life, children tend to express their emotions freely, be positive and optimistic about the future and they are usually a good example of “living in a moment”. There are many issues with that:

  1. No one likes the adults who behave like the bad tempered babies. It seems like people are becoming more infantile, thanks to the bad advice of self-help gurus
  2. Our feelings are not who we are, they just come and go, and there is nothing wrong with suppressing our feelings
  3. Looking forward is great, but there are a lot of things we can learn from looking back

Conclusion

This book offers a good introduction into the stoic philosophy as a tool that helps people to stay sane in this crazy and ever changing world. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who feels stressed by the pressure to keep up with everything in life or feels the pressure to conform to any of those popular new ideas of the self-help gurus.