I am intrigued by the work of Jeffery Martin, who aims to evaluate self-help literature in a scientific way. If you can spare 17 minutes, check out this video. Below it is my summary of his remarks—and a personal caveat.
1. There’s little research about the effectiveness of self-help techniques. Most self-help products have only anecdotal evidence.
2. Many self-help techniques have mixed results. Martin and colleagues studied the effectiveness of specific techniques. They gathered groups of 10-20 people to test one self-help technique at a time. People in these groups answered 2 questions: Did you meet your goal in using the technique? Are you happier overall?
The results: In any group of 10 study participants, only 1 to 3 attained their goal and reported more subjective well-being. Three to 4 people—in addition to not attaining their goal—experienced a marked decrease in well being.
3. You will benefit from using only one major technique at a time. People who succeed with one technique have negative experiences with other techniques—or no effect at all.
4. As you change, so will the effectiveness of self-help techniques. A technique that previously worked for you can stop working—that is, have no effect or lead to greater unhappiness. Be willing to let it go. After 2 weeks of using a new technique, you’ll know whether it’s working for you.
5. You stand on a specific point on a psychological continuum. At one end are people with a symbolic sense of self (based on our attachment to personal narratives, or self-defining stories). At other end are people who consistently experience a state of “No-Self” (traditionally called enlightenment). As we move toward No-Self, we experience increasing amounts of fulfillment and meaning in life.
6. Self-help techniques will work for you when they match your current point on this continuum. These techniques may not work for other people at other points.
Think back to a recent time when you experienced a wish fulfillment or achieved a goal and ask yourself these questions:
- Was your wish or goal preceded by sustained intention and effort on your part? If so, then your sense of self is symbolic. This is true for most of us. Martin recommends that you try focusing.
- Was your wish or goal preceded by sustained intention and effort—and then giving up? If you answer yes, then you are moving away from a symbolic sense of self and toward enlightenment. Try the emotional freedom technique (EFT) with an intent to achieve a goal.
- Was your wish or goal was preceded only by passing thoughts? If so, then you’re on a point on the continuum that’s even closer to enlightenment. Martin recommends using EFT without intent, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), WHEE (Wholistic Hybrid derived from EMDR and EFT), or the Sedona Method.
7. As you move toward enlightenment, you will pay less attention to setting and achieving goals. Simply by releasing attachment to thoughts and emotions, you’ll find that better things show up in your life than you ever hoped to achieve by setting goals.
My personal caveat: I have not seen anything about this research published in a peer-reviewed journal. We really need that to evaluate Martin’s conclusions.