On the occasion of this issue devoted to positive psychology, I have a confession to make. I love motivational self-help books. By that, I don’t mean books designed to help you overcome anxiety, depression, abuse, or addiction, although I like those books too and often recommend them to my clients.
The books I’m referring to are often referred to as “positive attitude” books or “success literature.” Books that motivate, inspire, and encourage you to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Books that suggest that you see the good in people and try a little harder to get along with them.
Books that dare to suggest that it’s OK to make a lot of money.
I was first introduced to these books at the age of 20. Wanting to become a polished speaker, I signed up for the Dale Carnegie Course. Everyone was given a copy of the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. Originally published in 1936, it is still in print and still a big seller. It’s impossible to read that book and not be a nicer person. I know one multimillionaire who reads it once a year.
Less well known but just as good is Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. As a young man concerned about my future, I found it very helpful to “live in day-tight compartments.” I also learned Mr. Carnegie’s three step process for dealing with worry that I still teach to my clients. In 23 years of clinical practice, I have found nothing better.
So as a young man starting out, I was fortified with a lot of good stuff. Then I went to graduate school in psychology and became much too intelligent and sophisticated to be caught dead reading such simplistic notions. I started thinking in terms of psychopathology, object relations, family systems, whatever. I learned a lot but became a little cynical and negative in the process.
About five years ago, I was introduced to some of the more recent work of this genre. I was fortunate because the first one I read was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I was immediately impressed by the high moral tone of his writing, and his contention that effectiveness is based on character; and character, while it can be nurtured, cannot be faked. I didn’t just read that book. I inhaled it. I bought some of his tapes and listened to them repeatedly. I internalized many of his concepts. It has become natural for me to “Be Proactive,” “Begin with the End in Mind,” and “Think Win-Win.” His simple Four-Quadrant Model of time management has helped me be much more productive than I ever was before (I would not have written this article without it.)
Since reading Covey, I have acquired a new taste for this material. Some of it is poorly written and repetitious, but a steady diet of this kind of nourishment is good for the mind and soul.
Here are some of my recent favorites: In Failing Forward, Atlanta author John Maxwell urges us to see failure as just a stepping-stone to ultimate success. A four volume series called Storms of Perfection by comedian Andy Andrew is a series of letters (some real some fictional) of famous people reporting how they had turned failure into success. And many of you have no doubt heard of Spencer Anderson’s, Who Moved My Cheese? This is a delightful fable on the importance of being flexible in the new economy.
There is a nice merging of psychology and self-help in Changing for Good by psychologists James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente. The authors describe six stages of human change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination. To be successful in facilitating change, we must understand what stage our client is in and make interventions appropriate for that stage.
I have been so inspired by these books that I have decided to write one of my own. Even though I’ve completed a couple of rough drafts, it needs a lot of work and I haven’t decided on a title. But I feel so good about myself these days, I know I’ll finish it eventually. Maybe I’ll even make a lot of money!