Self-help's obvious nature is its forte

Dive deep and exemplify the banal, universal advice provided by good self-help in order to extract wisdom for life.


As a new idea in my mind, this is by no means a solid source. I'm happy to hear your thoughts and learn better.

Said another way, self-help requires effort and context. Use examples, dive deep into its implications, think long and hard about it, write and share with others, give it time.

As we see self-help as obvious, we disregard it, seeking instead to acquire as much knowledge as possible. We then fail to implement those important & banal advice into our lives.

Self-help is disregarded by most people because they think they know it all. After all, they're obvious and banal, right?

  • However, rationally understanding them isn't truly knowing.
  • One needs several examples to learn how they can effectively use that wisdom in their lives.
  • And, just as important, we need to elaborate on them with our own minds and communication, fitting them to our own context.
    • That will reveal holes in our understanding and provide the deep understanding needed for advices to change our way to live and see the world.
    • This is the role of fleeting notes (going deep in our minds) and literature notes (expressing the knowledge to find inconsistencies in our reasoning)
  • One consequence of this is that, as a culture, we overemphasize reading and the "acquisition" of knowledge, when we should be giving more attention to reflection and pondering over a smaller set of ideas.
  • To capitalize on the life or death importance of the banal advice 1 of self help, we need a beginner's mind to see them as a promise instead of a well-known dogma.

Acquiring self-help wisdom is hard and takes time. To help, we need a system to feed its endless cycles.

  • The Zettelkasten is a great start especially because it pushes us to pursue deep understanding (see above) and review our wisdom regularly.

This idea came from reading Tom Cleveland's "How to read self-help". Here's the main passage that sparked this thought:

It’s a common complaint that self-help books only give high-level advice and never explain specifically how to implement these changes.

But the whole thing with wisdom is that you can’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all method of application. Good wisdom applies to so many different situations, in so many ways, that going through every possibility would take millennia.

So this is the final lesson: self-help is hard. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up if one reading of Letters from a Stoic doesn’t transform us overnight. Reading wisdom is the easiest part of becoming wise.

  1. ”…in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.” David Foster Wallace, This is water
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