On this blog I’m in the general business of self-improvement, and so are quite a lot of you, so I’m going to recommend a book which someone was kind enough to send me and which I really enjoyed. It’s called Help! and it’s by a man called Oliver Burkeman who writes a column called This Column Will Change Your Life. In that column, he examines all sorts of self-help techniques, books, ideas, and filters the actually-quite-useful from the potentially-very-harmful-nonsense. The book is a compendium of some of his findings.
The main finding of the book is that most self-help systems which offer you a chance to ‘CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN 7 DAYS’ or ‘ACHIEVE EVERYTHING YOU EVER DREAMED’ etc are bollocks, and true happiness – if we can find it at all – consists in having more realistic expectations of ourselves. I’ve made it sound pretty banal (welcome to the world of reviews) but its commensense approach is actually quite inspirational. The subtitle of the book is ‘How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done’, and most of the little essays in the book are devoted to just that idea: making small, useful changes, which might not have the dramatic effect of a lot of the transformations you’ll find in some self-help books, but will actually change your life a tiny bit for the better.
A lot of what I’ve done on this blog (and in my career) is about big, silly gestures: a ten-year blog, a load of self-improvement targets, 31 New Year’s Resolutions… it’s all a bit like the 24-hour shows. I’ve always been very attached to huge eye-catching attention-seeking moves, and that’s probably why I became a writer/comedian/person that’s always banging on about something or other. But quite a lot of people who started out doing TYSICs were probably put off by the extravagant nature of my approach. The fact is, it IS better to try and make small, manageable changes to your life, bit by bit, than to try and overhaul things massively overnight.
So this is partly a recommendation of the book (which is also very funny, by the way), and partly an appeal to you, if you set yourself a Ten-Year Self-Improvement Challenge, to go back to it and – if it was proving too hard – just find an easier way of approaching it. Even if the progress you make seems tiny, progress of any sort is real, whereas big claims are pretty much waiting to be exploded.
And in one way the TYSIC idea does tally neatly with Burkeman’s book: it’s all about doing things over that decade-long timescale rather than taking dramatic steps. Ten years. It’s loads. Take your time. Do something so small it’s barely noticeable, just for the sake of taking an eighth of a step forward. There’s so much time left.
I’m going to update my TYSIC page with a full breakdown of my last few months’ self-improvement efforts, once I get to Australia and can do more stuff. I would love some other people to do the same. And in the meantime, yes, I recommend the book. It’s got a nice yellow cover. You’ll see it around. If you can’t afford to actually buy it, I’ve now at least told you enough of its contents that you can pretend you have.
PS I think it’s time for a new Can I Help You? feature too, in honour of this book’s title, and the general optimism top-up it’s given me. Put your questions/appeals for advice on any subject at all, below. See previous Can I Help You?s for examples. But bear in mind I quite often fail to answer half of them. So if you’re in serious trouble, don’t rely on me. Thanks.