Everything you need to know, you'll learn from a self-help book

ALICE STEINBACH

April 25, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

We have lived through the Age of Psychoanalysis and we have lived through the Age of Aquarius, and now we find ourselves neck-deep in the Age of Self-Help.

Of course, self-helpism is not new. Throughout history, people have always been interested in improving themselves.

How else are we to account for the days when knights sought courage from magic potions and princesses turned to witches' spells to enhance their beauty. Or the lengthy period when people routinely looked to the stars for guarantees of their future success.

But self-helpism made a quantum leap with the invention of the printing press. It was then that a few entrepreneurial trend-spotters saw the huge potential in the self-help market.

In fact, right after old Mr. Gutenberg invented the printing press, he turned to a young apprentice and advised him as to where the economic future lay: "I want to say one word to you," he told the aspiring businessman. "Just one word: self-help."

And thus was born a terrible beauty: the self-help book.

The rest, of course, is history.

Nowadays, bookstores have entire rooms filled with such books as: "Ten Basic Rules for Better Living," "Ten Days to a Great New Life," "Ten Days to a New You," "Ten Steps to Empowerment," "Ten Ways to a Better Marriage," "Ten Ways You Can Earn One Million Dollars This Year, "Ten Words That Will Change Your Life."

I am told people buy such books. In large numbers. It is a fact that I have always found to be both sad and amusing, reflecting, as it does, humankind's pathetic gullibility. Until, that is, last week when I came across a book seductively titled: "The Ten Dumbest Mistakes Smart People Make and How to Avoid Them."

I surrendered. Forked over the 10 bucks and hurried home from the bookstore to an afternoon of self-improvement.

I have been in a depression ever since.

Of the 10 dumbest mistakes smart people make, it turns out I suffer from . . . all of them. Including:

The Chicken Little Syndrome: In this syndrome, the victim jumps to catastrophic conclusions based on exaggerating a situation's meaning. For instance, in my case, a man I find attractive recently suggested we stop seeing each other since I wasn't "his type." I immediately overreacted and took this to mean he didn't want to see me because I wasn't his type.

Personalizing: A mild paranoia in which the sufferer takes everything personally. For example, when the person sitting next to me at a concert last week moved to another seat, I instantly assumed it was because of my humming to the music.

Comparisonitis: Suffering from feelings of inferiority when you compare yourself to others. As I did not too long ago after comparing my as-yet-unfinished novel, "Bread and Butter," with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

What-If Thinking: The stupid mistake here is worrying too much about all the things that can go wrong in any endeavor you might undertake. For instance, while trying to install a complicated electrical device on my wet roof not too long ago, I kept thinking: What if I electrocute myself? And what if after that I fall off the roof?

Mind Reading: The illusion that we know what others are thinking. And vice versa. Let's say, for example, it is your birthday and you assume your beloved knows what you really want is a pair of high-heeled, satin mules. As I did. Big-time disappointment resulted when I unwrapped the electric can opener/cheese grater.

Believing Your Critics: Accepting without question the criticism of others is a really dumb mistake, according to the book's co-authors Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf. Tell me about it! Just the other day a neighbor criticized me for using my Big Boy Power Mover to cut the grass on a Sunday morning at about 5 a.m. I actually felt bad.

Yes, Butism: The tendency to always find the negative that outweighs the positive. I did it the other day when a saleswoman talked me into buying a pair of sling-back shoes with 3-inch platform soles. "They make you look taller," she said. "Yes, but are you really sure these are jogging shoes?" I asked.

There are three more dumb mistakes people like me make, but I'm too tired to tell you about them. If you want to know what they are, buy the book.

Which, a friend of mine suggests, may be the 11th dumbest mistake a smart person can make.

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