I came across this book at the perfect time – I had just decided that for the next six months I would eschew Self improvement – I’m on a self-improvement diet if you will. And along came Chris Niebauer’s book, the Neurotics Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-Brain Plays Unending Games of Self-Improvement
Here is the essence of his idea:
“The invincible law of opposition” I created this to express how the desires of the ego typically have the opposite effect. Walk into a casino and demand that the universe provides a huge win, and you will leave very disappointed. If you couldn’t care less about money, you will fall backwards into it.
In other words, the more we work to Actualize and focus on what we want, a la The Secret, the harder the Universe will laugh. I thought of Terry Prachett’s description of Fate, a beautiful, impulsive woman who just walks among humans (and others, this is Disc World after all) and just randomly whacks them with outcomes. The more we think, focus and try, the worse our situation can get.
Has self-improvement really improved the self?
More than ever people are on a quest for self-improvement and enlightenment. People are “watching” their egos or losing their egos in order to find peace of mind or to get along better with others. And yet, the more we try to lose our ego, the more of it there is to lose. The more we try to make peace, the more we find conflict. It is exactly what happens when we try not to think of the number 3 and that is all we can think about. Our efforts seem to have the opposite effect and this is due to the way the left side of the brain processes information.
Try not to be anxious and that’s exactly what happens. Try not to worry and you will be flooded with anxious thoughts. And the same is true for self-improvement. The more we try to improve our story, the more the story needs to be improved. The left brain excels at these games even when it plays by pretending not to play. If I said that all attempts at self-improvement are futile, how would you respond? Would you reflexively think I’m wrong? Is there any way not to play these games of the left brain? Which part of your brain do you think is asking this question?”
To that I answer: My hijacked right brain, conned into believing that if I only did more, think more, focus more, manifest more, I will have the life I really want. The challenge is, what is the life I really want? With all the focusing and manifesting, I’m no longer sure.
This book was written for the ordinary person who has an extraordinary curiosity for who they are, how thoughts work and why they cannot control their thoughts. It is a practical guide that uses examples from my kids, favorite movies and TV shows from the 80s and 90s along with simple exercises so you can see for yourself if any of this is on track. While no special knowledge of the neurosciences is required, you may understand many of the examples if you’ve seen an episode or two of Star Trek or Seinfeld.
Dr. Niebauer holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuropsychology from the University of Toledo specializing in left-right brain differences. As a result, the book is not necessarily what we would call an “easy read” it is a slow read – think your old text books in Psychology, no skipping to the end to find out what happened. The reader must work a bit to pull out the points that the average ego driven person can use, but all in all this book is a great addition and second opinion to the twenty years of self-improvement literature.
For more information and an interactive reference/notes section see my blog: http://worriedbuddha.com/