Is Self Help Actually Helping? – Book Recommendation and Thoughts


The more I learn the more I feel I need to learn to actually know anything….

Back in my first year of study, in my first tutorial on motivational psychology, my tutor popped a big photo of Tony Robins on the screen and preceded to launch into a little rant about how he (and many other motivational / success gurus) were all pretty much full of shit…

As someone with a keen interest in performance, motivation and the psychology of change and personal development I was confused and intrigued and set about trying to uncover more about the root of this controversial statement and the science of self help.

On that journey I found the book “SHAM – How the Self Help Movement Made America Helpless – by Steve Salerno.”

I reckon it’s my favourite book I’ve read this year (although it was written in 2005).

I can’t stress how much I recommend this book for anyone else with an interest in self help, personal development, ”coaching” (of any kind), success etc.

As someone who’s chosen to go back and take the traditional path of education in the field of psychology (4-6 years of study at a university + relevant work experience) this book was incredibly thought provoking. Especially when the allure of an internet accreditation as a “mindset or life coach” I can complete online, in a few days, has on more than one occasion caught my eye.

Though I disagree with some of the author’s ideas and think the book is too one sided and feel there are some very valid counter arguments to supporting the self help movement, I think everyone could benefit from the analytical approach Salerno comes at the self help industry and it’s common ideologies with.

I also think some of the information is a little dated and as the book was written before the rise of social media could do with a revised version, or a stand alone book dealing with that topic alone but the basic premise is still relevant to a lot (not all) of the self help and personal development material I’ve come across and makes for a nice stimulating read.

Now to go read more and try and answer all the new questions this book has left me with haha.


Mid Workout Mind Games


Our minds are incredible things.

They can create wonder and wreak havoc only moments apart.

I find few things allow me to play with my mind like intense exercise.

In psychology the term “flow” is used to describe when an athlete or artist achieves an “optimal experience” or a state of such pure attention and focus that they transcend awareness into an auto pilot like state in which they can practice their craft with enjoyment and ease.

There are certain criteria which must be met in order to achieve the fabled flow state and as an athlete, and even creatively I can say with certainty that have experienced this on numerous occasions.

However not every session nor competition can ‘flow’ with such ease.

This is where the mind games begin.

When I am dialed into a workout my mind is so focused on the task at hand I have no thoughts beyond my current movement. Its meditative.

However today my mind was anywhere but on the task at hand and so I took the opportunity to put my mindset to the test.

What do you do when your mind begins to wander, or when negative thoughts start to creep in?

The opportunity to overcome the mental hurdles that anxious voice in my head throws at me as I take myself beyond what my conscience try’s to convince me are my limits is what I live for.

Sadly I don’t always win out, I’m only human. However today I did and I wanted to share that experience with you guys.

Today I had the pleasure of training with John Singleton of The Progrm and to finish our session we did the following:

EMOM x40min

Min 1: 5 kettlebell swings 32kg+ 10 push ups + 15 squats

Min 2: 20cal ski

10 minutes in I was telling myself I would go to 20min and then drop the calories back on the ski.

At 20, I decided to push that to 30min

By 30min I was hurting. Bad.

Minute by minute I had to find a means of switching off the voices in my head, which were desperately trying to justify why I should slow down or stop.

It is these kinds of internal exchanges that I believe forge a strength far more powerful than physical fitness.

A strength which can be applied to all facets of life in which adversity presents itself.

Identity: initial thoughts

Note: I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I’ve been writing. I think perhaps exploring identity and how we shape ours, using my own personal journey, may be where I finally put pen to paper haha. Here are some of my first written thoughts on the subject

The concept of identity is one of my latest fascinations.

What is an identity?

Who determines our identities?

Do we control them or are our they determine by the world around us?

Are they set or dynamic and, if the latter, how do we change them?

If they‘re dynamic, do our identities change with our own perceptions of ourselves or are must we seek to change to the way the rest of the world perceives us?

Social media allows the world access to our lives and as such there seems to be a growing collective conscious obsessed with defining ourselves in neat little 150 character bios or in grand declarations in our posts. (I am as guilty of this as anyone).

Despite the fact that it’s common knowledge social media is a carefully curated portrayal of our lives, I’m blown away by how often I hear people referring to themselves or others in comparison to posts they see or stories they’re shown.

As if we’re starting to build our identities more around who we aren’t, what we can’t do and what we don’t have and less around the person we are when we look up from our screens.

This forming of our identities by comparison, when what we are comparing to is more than likely an embellished, idealised image of a person, is a dangerous way to live.

I think we need to take time to get to know ourselves without the influence of the world around us.

Spend time exploring our own thoughts and feelings. Alone and without the judgement and opinion of anyone else.

Mindset: Success and Content

Most of the literature I’ve come across on “mindset” is written with success or as a how-to guide to achieve something in mind.

We’re told from a young age that we should always be striving to achieve things. That success is the measure of a man, or woman and being driven for those successes a badge of honour.

As an athlete, a business person, a student and in many of my pursuits in life, having the right mindset has played a key role in any successes I’ve had in those pursuits and is a skill I’ve dedicated so much time to learning about and developing.

However it is my firm belief that the pursuit of “success” should only be one part of a developing a strong, happy mindset.

So much of my life I’ve been preoccupied by “what’s next”. What achievement or success could I chase down when I was done with my current goals.

One of the most profound breakthroughs I had mentally was learning to deal with failure, rather than achieving success. After many instances of intense (and at times dangerous) self loathing when I would feel like I had failed I found myself in a dark vortex. Measurable successes were my only source of internal validation and therefore any form of perceived failure would cause me huge mental and emotional anguish. It took many years of learning and practicing, mindfulness and self love to learn to be content with the person in the present rather than constantly striving to be something more.

It was a difficult but incredibly rewarding process.

Being centred and at peace in the present moment is just as important as knowing how to push yourself towards a goal.

Social media is a constant barrage of the highlights of those around us and amidst all the #goals and #blessed lives it can be easy to find ourselves swept up in the desire to try and strive to emulate these idyllic lives we see around us.

However in doing this we lose touch with ourselves the way we are, a dangerous disconnect in a world where our own identities are so fluid they can easily slip right through our fingers leaving us confused and isolated within our own minds.

Practicing mindfulness and taking time to appreciate the things you have, the person you are and the world around you are as fundamental to mindset “development” (the irony of calling it that in this post isn’t lost on me) as is practicing the pursuit of success.

Being “Good”

Growing up I went through several things that gave me an incredibly skewed sense of who I was as a person.

Much of my teenage and early adulthood was spent trying to figure out how to be a good person, or at least appear to be in the eyes of others, to ease to ever nagging voices in my head that told me I was otherwise.

Even today I occasionally find myself ruminating on others perceptions of the man I am and if that man is inherently good or bad in their eyes. However these instances are fewer and further between and generally, through mindfulness practices, I can regain control of my wayward thoughts and centre myself with content.

One of the most profound shifts in my thinking occurred when I realised we truly live in a world of grey and as such, being universally “good” would never be attainable. No two human beings will ever completely agree on what constitutes “good” or “bad”, meaning there is no universal standards by which we can hold ourselves to.

That’s not to say that there are no such thing as good or bad actions or behaviours. There are plenty of universally accepted examples of these and in fact I believe that any action that causes undue harm to another human being can almost always be categorised as “bad” (although even this has grey areas too, self defence, to prevent further harm, etc.) and I also believe kindness, acceptance and love should be universally practiced for the greater good of the world. However that greater good is relative to my concept of goodness and I’m not so naive as to think it’s shared by everyone. If I truly value acceptance and it makes me feel “good” I must seek to understand and accept those who do not wish to behave with kindness and let them live their lives as happily and peacefully as they can.

However, these are actions and their goodness or badness are not enough to categories something as complex as a human being into good or bad and as the nature of the goodness or badness of an action is still subjective (for example kindness being something good to me, but it may be an irritation to someone else) it’s safe to say we’ve all done something “bad” at least by someone’s standards.

Now some of us may sit and say, “we’ll hang on, what about Hitler, or Saddam Hussein? Can’t we agree that overall they’re ‘bad’?” However there would be people out there, some of which by our standards may be “good” people, that would disagree and therefore we can’t claim that universal definition of goodness or badness.

Unlike science which can test for right and wrong, our opinions will only ever be as real as we (ourselves, not the world) believe them to be.

We are our own unique and wonderful human beings. Our lives shape our thoughts and our worlds around us. If we let the worlds others have shaped for themselves dictate the standards of behaviour we hold ourselves to, we will forever be falling short and end up beating ourselves up any time we feel we have let someone down. Our own worlds change, as too do the worlds of those around us. This means good and bad are as dynamic as our general moods can be. At the end of the day no one will see you or your world the way you do, so the only way to ever find content in your own character, is to set your own moral compass and follow it and no one else’s. If you value your relationship with others it will undoubtably steer you towards things such kindness, altruism, empathy etc. If you don’t, then no doubt you won’t care if others find you unkind and as such live with content being aloof or dismissive. (Without causing harm)

Man’s Quest For Freedom – Is It All In Vain

I spend a hell of a lot of time inside my head trying make sense of a several concepts with which I battle.

One such concept is the idea of freedom, or specifically, how much freedom and control do I have over my own life.

Freedom took pole position in my psyche after a rowsing speech on the matter from out tour guide in the Sahara. Freedom is so etched into Berber culture it is symbolized through the Yaz on their flag.

I loved hearing the passion with which our guide to the desert spoke about his people’s love for freedom and how they fought and protested to keep it so many times.

The desire to actualize ourselves through our freedom seems universally sacred, which fascinates me.

The concept of freedom is something I’ve wrestled with for most of my adult life.

Though my life may look like a great, free spirited adventure, I find myself constantly frustrated by a lingering feeling that I’m not, nor have I ever truly had freedom and I devote a great deal of my time pondering why.

The dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.”

Part of the solution I’ve reached as to why I constantly wrestle with feelings of oppression, is that these three rights (action, speech and thought) are both linked and hierarchical and without one the other two are impossible.

The lowest level of freedom, I believe, is freedom of speech but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We all have the ability to speak freely should we choose, however speech does little to change the world around you without action and so I think it’s contribution to the actualization of freedom is minimal.

Even without freedom to voice it we can still have the freedom of an opinion, we just can’t share that opinion with anyone else, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’e exist. It also doesn’t mean we can’t act on those opinions, depending on our care for the consequences.

Which leads us to the second level of freedom, action.

Freedom of action exists, however it is limited by laws, social norms and socially determined morals and ethics. This means complete freedom of action can only exist if we choose to ignore the consequences should our actions go against what is deemed “right” within the social groups we live and associate with.

One could also argue that freedom of action is also limited by our basic human needs for survival. For instance we must eat for energy to perform various actions, so our freedom of action is limited by our need to eat to fuel those actions and go on surviving. Furthermore, human beings are social creatures by design. In ancient times being part of a group meant a better chance of survival, so belonging is a survival need and as such not adhering to the standards of the social groups with which we seek to belong may (or should) cause us distress as it is jeopardizing one of our most primal survival needs.

You could also argue that these pressures to act in a certain way for the sake of survival don’t actually inhibit us from performing the actions we want, they may just deter us and thus we must still have freedom of action. However if we act in such a way that may cause us harm (physically, psychologically or socially) then we are technically increasing our chances of dying, which (all theories of the afterlife aside) is the ultimate form of oppression as when we die, so too does any freedom we ever had – which is an incredible oxymoron. Why would we use freedom of action if it may rob us of our ongoing freedom across all facets of life? Is one particular type of momentary freedom worth that kind of sacrifice? (I actually don’t know I’m just riffing).

Moronic as deathly actions may seem, their potential consequences still don’t mean we can’t act freely, even to the potential detriment of our survival, so freedom of action can still be argued as being achievable, regardless of it’s consequences.

Given there are valid arguments for both sides regarding freedom of action it seems that there must be a higher level of functioning which influences the free nature of such actions.

Which brings us to the third and final right of freedom.

Free thought.

I believe freedom of thought is impossible and I believe it is this understanding that causes me (and probably many others) so much internal distress.

Yes, we can think anything at any time and for any duration of time, we have that freedom.

But do we

But without complete control of our thoughts how much freedom do they really have.

Perhaps spending much of my life dealing with an assortment of mental ailments and devoting a great deal of time and energy to strengthening my self-awareness so I can hone in on when my thoughts are real and rational or obtrusive and irrational, products of the quirks in my mind, has given me an appreciation of the volume and power unwanted and uncontrolled thoughts can have in our daily lives.

We may have the freedom of thought, but we do not necessarily have freedom to think.

Obviously you could argue that we can conjure up any thought we want consciously when prompted. Say for example if I said think of a bear you can immediately picture a bear.

But how truly bear-like is your thought and how much control do you have over your thought bear. Where are you drawing your thought bear from? A memory? If so your thought truly your own is it a product of visual stimulus you had no control over seeing and thus selected to be projected into our conscious by a means beyond our control.

Without the memory of “bear” we cannot think of “bear” so our thought is controlled in part by memory, over which we have some control, but not complete.

Also what does that mean for unconscious thoughts? Can we control our desires and urges that exist simmering below the surface of our conscious mind?

A married man who sees a woman that isn’t his wife he is attracted to can control his actions and choose not to try and sleep with her.

However how much control does he have over his attraction to her?

He cant, he has a billion events that have shaped his idea of beauty and as such when he sees someone that fits those criteria he will automatically think they are attractive.

So how free does that make our minds?

I honestly don’t know how to answer that question. Obviously we can influence the way we think and advances in neuroscience show us that we can even physiologically alter our brain and thus change our capacity to think.

But does that give us the freedom to control our thoughts, even if we can influence the bandwidth on which they can come and go? Our minds work like a billion song iPod on shuffle, you can choose which songs may appear when you listen to it, but have no control over which songs come on. Sure you can potentially delete a few songs or add some more, maybe even narrow the songs down into playlists (like schemas we create to respond to certain events in our minds) making it more likely you will hear the one you want to when you hit play. However an algorithm far too complicated to control at will ultimately dictate when and what we hear.

Therefore I posit freedom of thought cannot exist and as such neither can freedom of action or speech below it.

If we have no complete control of ALL our thoughts are not therefore free to think on command, then we also can’t act or speak on command. We may only act and speak as prompted by our thoughts, which may be selected freely, but may also occur by means of something beyond our control.

So what the fuck does that mean for those who fight so passionately for freedom if TRUE freedom (as per it’s definition) doesn’t exist.

Perhaps another linguistic concept with a more concrete physical attainability is a better pursuit?

The amount of control we have to exercise our full spectrum of acceptable actions, speech and thought seems worthy of fighting for.

But that opens an entire new can of worms in what is an acceptable amount of control to have in life to be happy.

Which is another reason I think I struggle so much with feelings of oppression. I’ve never felt in complete control of my thoughts and being aware of that lack of control has meant I constantly feel oppressed by my mind and given the hierarchy outlined above, oppressed in general.

I have no idea how to un-know this awareness of the impossibility of complete control of our lives, so does that mean life just becomes an exercise in acceptance?

In our quest for self actualization and an identity as a functionin

I guess so?

But I honestly don’t think I know…

Fuck I’m weird

Like the Desert Missed the Rain

📍High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

📷: iPhone 7+

Our trip to the Sahara Desert involved an ever-looming 10 hour drive home today.

For the most part we cruised through spectacular sunshine, painting the desert and the Lower Atlas incredible shades of red, gold and orange.

As we climbed the Atlas Mountains I was eagerly anticipating another breathtaking Moroccan sunset, however in the space of a minute, we drove into what appeared to be some fog and entered another world entirely.

It was surreal.

Rain clouds so thick they blocked the sun all together replaced the blue sky, the mountains around us loomed grey and black instead of shining like moments before and any hopes of sunset was brought to an eerie end. However life went on in the mountain towns. Fog lit roadside stalls (like this one) poked out of the dark, their owners still waiting desperately for tourists (like us) to buy a fake fossil or coloured crystal as they stopped in swarms to grab tea, coffee or a tangine from the hundreds of restaurants that line the route between Marrakech and the desert.