Self-help must be ‘Usable’, not just ‘Feelgood’


Why ‘Stronger with Rakesh Shukla’™ is more than just self-help psychobabble.

Life is a complex journey and growing up is a painful process — one that often leaves us feeling unfulfilled and with emotional aches and pains. We feel the need for help. From the time of Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey, truths about human behavior, personal effectiveness, and relationships have been captured and distributed to help us become better. 

Today there are a variety of ideas and opinions available as ‘self-help’. We believe that the trials and tribulations of a person who is communicating these have been similar or more severe than ours. Over these experiences, they have developed a philosophy and a toolset they share with us to make ours better. Well, what if it doesn’t? 

The pop psychology of ‘self-motivation’

I never grew up wanting to develop a philosophy of becoming strong in mind and body. I grew up to be an engineer, do an MBA, have a great career, and became a successful entrepreneur. Over this journey, I was exposed to a few leading speakers and programmes. I was in the first year of my MBA when one of India’s motivational superstars came to our campus. You felt lifted and somehow you thought things are going to be different. But in a few days everything was just as it was.

I still see him on YouTube. He is a bigger superstar but 25 years later he still says more or less the same things while the reality around us has changed. Do people really change when they hear or read someone? Do you need more self-help? Here are some things you need to know no matter what kind of ‘self-help’ you choose. 

I attended a few more 2-3 full-day programs over the last two decades — they were part of planned management growth in the companies that I worked at the time. I noticed the same things. In a few days everything was just as it was — not just for me for pretty much everyone. If I ask an attendee today what they took away from the program 20 years ago they might recall an epiphany. If I ask them what they did with it over the next 20 years I don’t really get any responses. That is the gap and there are some other commonalities:

  • Mass customization: Most programmes are run by mega Indian or multinational corporations who have developed this ‘method’ they teach hundreds of thousands of people each year.  With a ‘teacher’ who has changed the lives of millions and when you’re in the company of thousands, you feel you are a part of a transformational experience. Most people will agree with me that when they attend a well put together seminar, it feels like a life-changing experience because their life journey finds resonance in what has been said. But it is not just them — everyone does. 
  • Propagating a borrowed belief system: Each of the teachers has a belief system that more or less focuses on self-mastery, believing in yourself, taking control of your lives, and managing your emotions.  These insights seem to be born out of either deep personal experience or out of deep research as a professional psychologist or a trained therapist. Mostly none of these cases are true. 
  • Simple and clear action is missing: Workshops and books exhort you to make a different life and you do get some clarity on what you need to change. But how? The specific method on how you could bring about a massive personality shift is not easy to develop or deliver. Without specific steps, no matter how powerful this belief system has been developed, there is little chance of actually living a different life. 
  • Designed to be cult-like: The programmes I have attended had a certain cult-like feel. Over a day or two, it is established that you are having a ‘breakthrough’ experience and it is followed by a tremendous amount of indoctrination. As a good cult member, you are expected to ‘spread the word’. As it happens some of the same people who came looking for breakthroughs now line to become the proponent. It is almost like a pseudo-religious experience. 
  • The simplistic focus on removing negativity with positivity: For a reader or attendee it is easy to identify yourself with the negative feelings that the programme talks about — but that association is no breakthrough. What you do with them is. Most of the teachings focus on replacing this negativity with positivity. But the reality of life is you can’t simply replace stress and sadness with gratitude and love. Besides, avoidance of unpleasant emotions creates a psychological backlash and you’re less likely to feel confident about your life story.

Rely on yourself, not on psychobabble

Indeed you don’t have to attend my seminar or anyone else’s. In the first place, I urge you to focus on staying with the negative emotion and thinking through ‘why’ till you begin to understand yourself. Examining yourself will reveal the forces that shape your life  and the beliefs that dictate your behavior. Staying with negative emotions is actually a sign of emotional well-being. Just this self-awareness will have a profound impact on you.

Second, learning and doing are two very different things. Small modifications to your thinking and routines can help you implement the change and move in the direction you want. For anyone looking for ‘self-help’, it is easy to fall into the trap of consumption without action. You can read dozens of books and attend scores of seminars but unless you have a system to implement what you have found, they have no meaning.

With my education, experience, and drive when I went into free-fall five years ago — it was a dark, life-changing experience. I clutched at every branch of the tree I fell from, on my way down, and then on the way up. But someone else’s self-help philosophy was not one of them. I know from my own experience that change is not easy, but it can be made. My writing shares my first-person experiences with specific manageable steps that will allow you to take control of the narrative you create for yourself and create a meaningful life.

Stronger with RAKESH SHUKLA is a framework for developing unparalleled mental and physical toughness. It is based on Rakesh’s life, and has helped drive two ‘comebacks’.

Rakesh Shukla slept on railway platforms on his way to creating a world-leading technology company — TWB_, which is the choice of over 40 Fortune 500 tech customers worldwide including Microsoft, Boeing, Airbus, Intel, and others. However, at 43, he lost everything within a year. Alone and friendless, he spent the next five years repaying over INR 20 crore of debt and taxes, while building back his company and reputation, and creating and funding VOSD — world’s largest dog sanctuary and rescue.

Rakesh Shukla has suffered heart disease since he was seven years old, had had two heart attacks by the time he was 30, suffers from brain diseases, has broken his back and his kidneys are failing. Towards the end of this five-year period, Rakesh weighed 88 kg and very unfit. Today, at 48 years, he can lift well over 100 kg above his head, run a 10-minute mile, do 2,000 push-ups, and 250 pull-ups. He has never been to a gym, been on a diet, had a trainer, or taken any supplements.

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