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Saturday, January 27, 2018

When I Most Need Help

Motivated by a reader comment, I recently re-read "The Four Agreements" (1997) by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a straightforward and worthwhile read, anchored by four easy-to-remember tenets that - taken together - can help construct a solid foundation for anyone looking to build an authentic life: 1.) Be impeccable with your word. 2.) Don't take anything personally. 3.) Don't make assumptions. 4.) Always do your best.

In the weeks since my re-read however, a question about books of this type - many of which formed a significant chunk of my reading diet throughout the 90s - has plagued me. What prevents me from fully utilizing the sensible tools suggested in "self-help" books when I'm most in need of help? Put another way, when I'm angry or feeling threatened or under stress, why do I feel less able to recognize the benefits to be derived from these tools? Absent anger or threat or stress, the tools seem to be easily at my disposal. If any of you who have read more than one book of this type has made a similar observation about yourself and wondered what gives, it would be comforting to know I'm not alone. It's possible that comfort might extend to other readers of this blog.

I don't have to reach back to the distant past for illustrative examples of how my impulses frequently over-ride the common sense help offered by these books. Just last Sunday, in a pique of irrational anger when my wife and I missed a train to NYC, no self-help tool came to my aid. Later in the same day, I did it again. The threats? Those are mostly ego-driven although that often seems clearer to me after the fact, i.e. those "learned" tools are absent while I'm feeling threatened. Stress? Same thing, a great deal of the time.

Am I better off having read many of these books? Without a doubt. But on middling or low days, I yearn for a time when my bad behavior is more noteworthy than my good behavior. That would make me feel like I've turned a corner toward lasting growth and utilized the many tools I've learned of via all this reading. In the meanwhile, I begin, again.  


  1. I too have had that experience. Sometimes I beat up on myself and other times I take a deep breath and am thankful at least for the awareness. And over time bit by bit there is less of a tendency to fall into that reactionary trap. As you say: "I begin, again."

  2. Agreed! I've found awareness is developed gradually over time. Every day we are alive is a new beginning, another chance to hone our awareness. Over time being in the moment becomes increasingly habitual.

  3. Ines & Peter; Thanks to both of you for your continuing support of my blog and your always welcome comments. It seems you two are aligned in the view that awareness is the necessary first step toward real growth. And though I agree, sometimes my awareness feels ill-equipped to counter my more base impulses. On those days, all that works for me is self-forgiveness.