My internet self-help hell

Once, life coaches and personal advisers came at a price. Now they're offering their services by e-mail - for free. Clare Rudebeck puts her life in their hands
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The Independent Online

In our self-obsessed society, if you're not fielding calls from your stylist, life-coach, housekeeper, home finder, astrologist, nanny, financial adviser, acupuncturist and personal trainer, then frankly, you've not arrived. As the influence of the Californian approach to self-fulfilment grows, the more gurus you need to tell you what to do, and how to do it.

In our self-obsessed society, if you're not fielding calls from your stylist, life-coach, housekeeper, home finder, astrologist, nanny, financial adviser, acupuncturist and personal trainer, then frankly, you've not arrived. As the influence of the Californian approach to self-fulfilment grows, the more gurus you need to tell you what to do, and how to do it.

Fortunately, for those of us whose speed dials are more likely to reveal the number of the local pizza-delivery company than that of a nutritionist, help is at hand. Wherever you are in the world, whatever your income or social status, an entourage of personal assistants awaits your call. Subscribe to their e-mail alerts and they'll tell you where to shop, what to think, how to eat and when to tidy your bedroom - and all for free.

But how valuable is their advice? And can it transform my life from the chaotic mess it is into the well-ordered operation I aspire to. To find out, I have signed up for all the advice I can find online, and have vowed to follow it for a day. Will I emerge with the dress sense of Sienna Miller, the business acumen of Marjorie Scardino, and the leadership skills of Condoleezza Rice? Or am I going to be so busy reading about how to lead my life that I'm not going to have time to live it?

8am Get up and start up my computer. Overnight, I have received 13 messages. Feel better already - usually the only e-mails I get in the morning are unwelcome invitations to enlarge parts of my anatomy.

Eight of my messages are from FlyLady, an anonymous American woman who must spend the whole day at her computer. Her internet site offers free advice to anyone living in a dump (presumably she employs a cleaner).

8.15am FlyLady is imploring me to start my evening routine now: lay out my clothes for the next day (does it count if they're laid out on the floor?), shine my sink and have a bath. This must be timely for those subscribers living on the east coast of the United States, who receive it at 7pm, but it arrived at midnight here. In a later message (received at 4am my time), she orders me to go to bed immediately. After some consideration, I decide to ignore this.

8.25am Open up my daily news bulletin. How relaxing to have the world's trials and trivia reduced to six bullet points. Go to make my breakfast with the latest insults from the US election ringing in my ears.

8.40am My e-mail from MoneySavingExpert has arrived. While I applaud this site's rallying cry, "Companies try to screw us for profits. MoneySaving shows you how to screw them back", I'm not wild about this week's bargain: cheapo engagement rings.

However, I am excited by the news that Argos is having a secret sale. Apparently, the bargains are already ebbing away and I need to act fast if I want a really cheap watch/DVD player/kitchen.

9am Have spent 20 minutes reading MoneySavingExpert's inside information on the clandestine Argos bonanza. Apparently, there are very cheap mini-discs in the Dover store and, in Newcastle, I can pick up a bargain 29-piece garden tool set.

9.05am Am going to be late for work. Do I continue to look for Argos bargains? Or keep my job?

9.15am Message arrives from FlyLady telling me to proceed immediately to my bathroom and throw away unwanted cosmetics: "If you have not worn anything in the past year then... TOSS TOSS TOSS!" I jettison blusher, foot balm, hair wax and glitter aftersun.

9.20am FlyLady wants to know if my sink is shining. It is not. It is sprayed with muesli.

9.30am Sink is now clean. Bathroom cupboard is bare.

10.30am Arrive at work. Slip into seat. Start tapping away at my computer, looking busy (am in fact checking my daily horoscope, which has just arrived).

10.33am Suppress muffled scream as horoscope e-mail tells me to "expect a change of some kind in your [my] living situation today. It could be something major like a totally new house." Or loss of a job and a house... Help. The recommendation that I shouldn't fight this change, but "go with the flow" doesn't calm my nerves.

10.35am Get e-mail from MSN money, which advises me that it's time to rethink my life insurance. I don't have life insurance. Suppress muffled wail. What am I going to do when I lose my home?

11.05am My thought for the day arrives: "We have been called to be fruitful - not successful, not productive, not accomplished. Success comes from strength, stress, and human effort. Fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness." So says Henri JM Nouwen.

11.10am Admit my weakness for bargains and log on to MoneySavingExpert to find out if there are any new tip-offs on Argos savings. Who needs to be successful?

11.30am Still no bargains. However, an alert from History Daily informs me that the Battle of Hastings took place on this day in 1066. I feel the hand of history on my shoulder: 938 years ago, King Harold was valiantly battling the Norman hordes. Today, I am fighting battles of my own - with my overflowing wardrobe, with my bank account, with my inability to get any work done. Unlike Harold, I intend to win.

12.30pm Receive an e-mail telling me that I'm a single parent trying to do the best job possible raising my kids. To help me do better, I'm advised to refrain from "being a poor role model" and also from "refusing to consider professional therapy for yourself or your children". I do not have any children.

1pm Time for lunch. I open up my e-mail newsletter from thefooddoctor.com, a nutrition site, in search of guidance. This instalment focuses on men's health, particularly "testosterone for fullness of life". If I were a man, I should be eating grilled swordfish steak, green beans and potatoes for lunch. As I am a disorganised woman eating lunch on the run, I opt instead for an egg sandwich.

1.30pm Arrive at Argos. As my virtual search for cut-price merchandise has proved fruitless, I have decided to continue the hunt on foot.

1.40pm Find a shoe rack, reduced by 20 per cent, and proceed to checkout.

1.50pm Leave store dragging my rack behind me. Realise that my 20 per cent saving was worth £2. Hope my shoe rack will fit into my bedroom. Hope that my horoscope does not come true and that I will have a home to go to at the end of the day.

2.30pm Return to the office to find an instruction from FlyLady telling me to take a break. I must now "go outside, pull some weeds, sweep the porch. Just get out of your chair and move."

2.32pm Am just getting out of my chair when I am alerted by my daily beauty bulletin: the best way to get "a gorgeous glow" is to exercise. It is vital that I make "a date to get active".

2.50pm Get back to my desk having brilliantly fused my 15-minute break with my date to get active (Walking extra fast to the canteen, vigorously chatting to colleagues and then walking back).

3pm Am working.

4pm My fashion alert arrives. Am instructed that the "chic-lady-about-town" look is all the rage. This means buying a cashmere jumper, a pencil skirt and a pair of heels. I have none of these items. I also need to deep condition my hair, apply an ultra light gel-cream to my skin and treat myself to a mascara that adds extreme curl. I begin to regret throwing away most of my beauty products under orders from FlyLady.

4.30pm What to do? Should I follow the fashion alert's advice and stock up on the latest cosmetics? FlyLady would be disappointed with me if I did: I have only just de-cluttered my bathroom cupboard and I doubt you are supposed to re-clutter in the same 24 hours. I imagine MoneySavingExpert would also have something to say about it. And what would Henri JM Nouwen think? Would buying extreme-curl mascara make me more fruitful? Or less?

5pm Turn off computer. Have decided e-mail alerts are not for me. Today I have read 40 e-mails - five work-related, 35 not at all work-related. I have managed to concentrate on what I have been supposed to be doing for, at most, two hours. And all I have got to show for it are a shoe-rack, the fear that I may lose my home and an empty bathroom cupboard. Like King Harold, so many years before, I concede defeat, although, thankfully, not with an arrow in my eye.

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