The top ten steps to the new you

How can we succeed at work and in love? How can we ever be truly happy? These are the questions which spawned a self-help industry that sold 4.5 million books last year alone. But are the answers to life's challenges to be found on the shelf? To save you the effort of reading them all, Clare Rudebeck selects the best bits of the best sellers
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The Independent Culture

Love Yourself

Looking for love from your family and friends? You've got it all wrong. Susan Jeffers, author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, recommends that her readers move towards a "healthy self-love". This is to be achieved, in part, by talking to yourself. She suggests repeating out loud the phrase, "I am powerful and I am loved", at least 25 times every morning, noon and night.

The self-adoration advocated by John Gray in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus is of a different nature: "We must acknowledge that there is an emotional person inside us ... We must isolate that emotional part of our self and become a loving parent to it," he writes. However, the relationship he advocates with the inner child is not wholly platonic. At least once a week, he suggests that you sit down and write a love letter to it.

You Are A Genius

If you suspect that you are an Einstein who could change the world forever, you are right, according to the self- help doctrine. Anthony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within, dedicates his book to "the unlimited power that lies sleeping within you. Let it slumber no more". The idea is that we are all extraordinary - all Clark Kents who have never taken off our glasses. Robbins believes that we all have "our own bit of genius just waiting to be tapped".

The two business books in the top 10 agree that we all have unique talents, but are less wildly optimistic about human potential. The revolutionary insight common to great managers, according to First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, is: "People don't change that much. Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough."

Take Responsibility For Yourself

So, how to awaken the slumbering superman within? Step one is to take total responsibility for how you think and feel. "Everybody in the world is seeking happiness - and there is one sure way to find it," wrote Dale Carnegie in 1937, in the self-help classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People. "That is by controlling your thoughts. Happiness does not depend on outward conditions. It depends on inner conditions."

The idea is never to blame anyone or anything for how you feel. Instead, you choose your own mood. "Proactive people carry their own weather with them," writes Stephen R Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. "Whether it rains or shines makes no difference to them." This idea is particularly popular in the business world. In Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results, by Stephen C Lundin et al, a fictional female boss turns around her failing department by telling them to "choose their attitude" to their excruciatingly boring work.

Take Action

When Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he told the trembling Israelites: "God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning." How times change. According to the self-help doctrine, fears are there to be controlled.

Where the Old Testament God prohibits, self-help demands action. "The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it," writes Susan Jeffers. However, she does add, in italics, that she is not advocating that her readers indulge in dangerous or criminal actions. "Not only could you end up unpopular, dead, or in prison, but also you would be moving yourself to the left side of the Pain to Power Chart," she warns.

The same goes for household junk. "Physical clutter is generally easier to solve than emotional clutter," writes Dawna Walter in The Life Laundry: How to De-junk Your Life, based on the BBC series of the same name. "You can clear rooms' worth of debris over just a few days." She recommends starting with the easiest job, in order to boost your confidence.

Forget Everything Your Parents Taught You

Another departure from the Scriptures. Self-help is with Philip Larkin on this one. If your bedroom is a pigsty, it may be down to your upbringing. "Think back to your parents' home and see if you now find that you are simply repeating the patterns from your childhood," writes Dawna Walter. She suggests that you re-educate yourself into developing a new routine.

Susan Jeffers believes that fear may be instilled in us by over-anxious parents. "In all my life, I have never heard a mother call out to her child as he or she goes off to school, 'Take a lot of risks today, darling'. She is more likely to convey to her child, 'Be careful, darling'. This carries with it a double message: 'The world is really dangerous out there', and 'You won't be able to manage it'."

However, there's no reason why you can't rise above your parents' mistakes, no matter how grave. As Anthony Rob- bins points out: "It's true that Saddam Hussein was abused as a child, but so was Oprah Winfrey."

Make Your Neighbour Feel Trusted And Special

Instead of coveting his oxen or maidservant, you should empathise with your fellow-man. Dale Carnegie's 16 million-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is founded on this insight: "People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves - morning, noon and after dinner." As a result, he believes that the secret of becoming a good conversationalist is to encourage others to talk about themselves. And that it is very important to smile, even if you don't feel like it.

The touchy-feely approach is also important in the world of business. First Break All the Rules and its sequel, Now, Discover Your Strengths, are both based on Gallup research, which involved interviewing over 80,000 managers worldwide. This revealed that it is not bonuses or free champagne that make talented employees stay at a company, but the feeling that their immediate boss cares about them and thinks they're great.

However, not everyone is deserving of your empathy. Susan Jeffers notes that, "as you begin to grow, you will notice you no longer want to be around depressing people... You will automatically draw and be drawn to a different kind of person".

What You Think Is The Problem Is Probably Not The Problem

You may love yourself. You believe in your inner genius. But if you think you understand yourself, you're wrong. "You are never upset for the reason you think," writes John Gray in Men Are from Mars. For example, he says, if you have a flaming row with your spouse, it is possible that you are actually still upset with your parents for being so controlling/inattentive/not buying you that Tropical Barbie.

Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking also focuses on our self-delusions. "No regular smoker knows why he or she smokes," Carr writes. But they all think they know. Carr devotes his book to debunking these personal myths. "What does a smoker get out of it?" he asks. "Absolutely nothing! Pleasure? Enjoyment? Relaxation? A prop? A boost? All illusions, unless you consider the wearing of tight shoes to enjoy the removal of them as some sort of pleasure!" Once you realise that you gain nothing from smoking, it is easy to give up, he argues.

Repetition Is Good For The Soul

As a result of a somewhat embarrassing flaw in the human psyche, if we repeat a phrase often enough, we tend to believe it. And the gurus of self-help, like God, are not above exploiting this.

Susan Jeffers requires her followers to repeat their affirmations for 10 minutes each morning, preferably in front of the mirror. She encourages them to come up with their own positive statements, but suggests the following: "I am now creating a healthy, radiant body"; "I am filling my life with peace and joy"; and "My world is filled with abundance".

Anthony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within, suggests that you ask yourself the same seven questions every morning, including: "What am I happy about in my life now?"; "What am I proud about in my life now?"; and "Who do I love? Who loves me?".

Change Your Vocabulary

Like the philosopher Aristotle, Stephen R Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is fond of explaining his teachings through conversations with his (less-than-enlightened) pupils. On one occasion, a student said that he couldn't come to the next semi- nar because he "had to go on a tennis trip". "You have to go, or you choose to go?" asked Covey.

In Covey's vocabulary, there is no such phrase as "have to", and he suggests that you erase it from yours, too. Instead of saying, "There's nothing I can do", he suggests: "Lets look at our alternatives." Instead of, "He makes me so mad", he recommends: "I control my own feelings."

John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, also understands the benefits of rephrasing, especially when trying to get a man to do something. He notes that a wife may want to say, "The kitchen is a mess! It really stinks! I can't fit anything else into the rubbish bag. It needs to be emptied. Could you do it?". However, to ensure success, she should say instead: "Would you empty the bin?"

Find Happiness

In order to achieve fulfilment, you just need to decide what you want, set goals, and then work towards achieving them. Simple. For example, if you want a tidier kitchen, Dawna Walter suggests that your initial goals could be: "Clear the refrigerator and cupboards of all expired foods. Throw away all rubbish. Clean thoroughly."

The same principle applies if you want to be happy, say the gurus of self-help. There is just one hitch: they totally disagree on where to find this elusive emotion.

Susan Jeffers thinks that we need to work towards knowing ourselves better. "I believe that what all of us are really searching for is a divine essence within ourselves," she writes. Anthony Robbins thinks that we need to figure out what we really value, encouraging readers to rank the following: love, adventure, health, success, passion and comfort.

Stephen R Covey thinks that this is all rubbish: happiness and success are impossible unless you possess integrity, humility, fidelity, courage, industry and temperance. He believes that these are "natural laws" comparable to the Ten Commandments. It would seem that the self-help gurus, like the rest of us, still don't have all the answers.


Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr (Penguin, £8.99)

Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Life by Anthony Robbins (Pocket Books, £8.99)

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action by Susan Jeffers (Rider, £6.99)

First, Break All the Rules - What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (Simon & Schuster, £10.99)

Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results Stephen C Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen (Coronet, £5.99)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R Covey (Simon & Schuster, £10.99)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Hutchinson, £7.99)

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus - How to Get What You Want in Your Relationships by John Gray (HarperCollins, £8.99)

Now, Discover Your Inner Strengths - How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O Clifton (Free Press, £10.99)

Life Laundry - How to De-Junk your Life by Dawna Walter and Mark Franks (BBC Consumer Publishing, £7.99)