Penciling in Life -- Monthly Column by Donald Dean Mace ---- Self-Help




Self-help, there’s tons of it out there.  There is self-help available in everything imaginable—name the topic, it’s out there.  You can find books, CDs, movies, magazine articles, periodicals and the like all dedicated to self-help.  Here I’m going to narrow the field down and take a look at self-help in its traditional--what some might consider “New Age” --application.  “New Age” however, is a misnomer.  You’ll understand why shortly.  I’m going to take a look at three examples of self-help purveyors: Anthony Robbins and his “Personal Power” CD program; Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”, which can be found in book, CD, and movie form; and James Allen’s classic book, “As A Man Thinketh”.  These people, and many others, have written and/or recorded vast amounts of material on the subject.  In so doing, what they’ve done is taken a simple concept and worked it into volumes.  I’m going to distill this concept down for you.  Simply put, thoughts are powerful and creative things and they create not only our own personal experience of the world, but also our experience as a collective; if you change the way you think, you change what you experience and you impact everyone and everything else.  There, I just saved you a ton of reading, watching, and listening.  All of it is an extension of that.

 Many of us might remember this quote from René Descartes, a French mathematician and philosopher born in 1596, “Cogito Ergo Sum” or, “I think; therefore I am.”  That quote sums it up succinctly.  And, there are many references to thought in spiritual literature.  Here is one from Gautama Buddha, who was a philosopher, spiritual teacher, and religious leader in ancient India, c. 5th to 4th century BCE, “We are what we think.  All that we are arises with our thoughts.  With our thoughts we make the world.”  To expand on that thought, here is a modern-day quote from RC Henry, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, “A fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates the reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a “mental” construction.”   So, there you have it.  We are what we think.  What the previously mentioned self-help gurus have done is to take that concept and attempt to change the way you think and believe.  Let’s start with Tony.

 Tony.  Tony.  Tony.  I love Tony Robbins.  He’s brilliant, charismatic, personable and well-informed.  That said, I have to take issue with him on one point.  In one of his tape programs he said, “He stole my stuff.”  Well, let’s be careful with that, sir.  Tony Robbins claims to have read hundreds and hundreds of books and attended dozens and dozens of self-help seminars.  I believe him.  And I’m sure we’ve read many of the same books.  His cleverness, his genius, lies in taking what he’s learned, through personal experience and from others, and assimilating it into a package.  Now don’t get me wrong, the package has value and I would recommend giving it a good listen.  Some of its strong points are that it’s uplifting, informative and positive; And his stories are entertaining.  Still, the basic message is this: set goals and achieve them.  The way that you do that is this: 1) Get clear on what you want. 2) Decide you’re going to have it and take action to get it.  3) Notice what you’re accomplishing with your actions.  4) Make adjustments to your actions until you achieve your goal.  Simple.

 Now, Rhonda Byrne and “The Secret.”  In reality, the mysterious secret is really no secret at all.  The “secret” is simply this, change your negative beliefs to positive beliefs, imagine (vividly) what it is you want (and the next part came out in a second movie as an update to Byrne’s philosophy, which many felt wasn’t working) and take action to turn your desires into reality.  That’s pretty much it.  Now, I enjoyed both the book and the movies.  All are positive, uplifting, and filled with examples and testimonies of people who claim they have accomplished their dreams.  How did they accomplish their dreams?  The answer, by changing what they believed was possible and utilizing the Law of Attraction, which was written about extensively by Norman Vincent Peale in his book “The Power of Positive Thinking” published in 1952, among others.  Let’s get a definition for the Law of Attraction, which Wikipedia explains as this:

 In the New Thought philosophy, the Law of Attraction is a pseudoscience based on the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person's life.  The belief is based on the ideas that people and their thoughts are made from "pure energy" and that a process of like energy attracting like energy exists through which a person can improve their health, wealth, and personal relationships. There is no empirical scientific evidence supporting the law of attraction, and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience.

 Well, to Wikipedia’s definition I’d have to say, a lot of things used to be considered pseudoscience.  At one time, science believed the solar system and all the rest of space orbited Earth, which was of course, flat at the time.  And from what I remember from high school, dinosaurs were reptiles and now they’ve morphed into the ancestors of birds.  And what was it that RC Henry, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University said?  Reread that if you need to.  Doesn’t it seem that scientists are constantly changing their minds?  Regardless, Wikipedia’s definition does mention negative thoughts and positive thoughts.  I think that most of us can agree that a positive mood gets us generally positive responses and that a negative mood gets us generally negative responses.  Basically, “The Secret” comes down to this, believe and achieve; of course, we need a plan, realistic workable goals, and a positive attitude.

 I adore James Allen’s book, “As A Man Thinketh,” which was published in 1903.  It’s not his only book, he also wrote “Eight Pillars of Prosperity”, “The Mastery of Destiny”, and “From Poverty to Power” among several others (nineteen in total).  I believe personally though, that “As A Man Thinketh” is Allen’s best book.  It is short, succinct, and easy to understand.  As Wikipedia states, “The title is influenced by a verse in the King James version of the Bible from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 23, verse 7: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."  Allen sums up “As A Man Thinketh” this way: 

 "... [dealing] with the power of thought, and particularly with the use and application of thought to happy and beautiful issues. I have tried to make the book simple, so that all can easily grasp and follow its teaching, and put into practice the methods which it advises. It shows how, in his own thought-world, each man holds the key to every condition, good or bad, that enters into his life, and that, by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts, he may remake his life, and transform his circumstances."

 At only around 17 pages (depending on type set and font size) “As A Man Thinketh” is more of a pamphlet as opposed to a book.  Still, those 17 pages are packed with absolute gems of wisdom.  Even if it were much, much longer, it would be well worth the read.  It seems almost criminal to distill Allen’s work down further, yet be that as it may, that’s why I’m here.  Simply put, you are your thoughts, your thoughts control your deeds, your deeds dictate your experience, your experience is your life.  Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “You are what you think about all day long.”

 So, there you have it, self-help in a nutshell.  However much comes out about it, it all boils down to basic, practical procedure:  We need to know what it is we want, decide to make it a reality, take steps to make it a reality, then adjust what we’re doing until it becomes a reality—In other words, have a plan and take action.  And as a side note, it should be understood that failure is success if we learn from it. Additionally, we need to recognize that positive thoughts work in our favor and tend to attract positive results.  Also, we should realize that our thoughts are real things and that they affect us, and others; so, keep them positive and believe in yourself and what you’re doing.  And, for the folks that love old sayings as I do, there’s this: “The Lord helps those that help themselves”.  I think there’s real wisdom in that.      

Donald Dean Mace

 Donald Dean Mace is an artist, poet, guitarist and freelance writer living and working quietly in Yuma, Arizona.  He has travelled the world extensively (Europe, Africa and Asia) and in the 1980’s and 1990’s he lived and worked in Germany for a total of 10 years.  He is currently working on a novel.  He has been published by Ariel Chart, the Yuma Daily Sun, the Arizona Western College Literary Magazine, and his poetry was featured in a public service broadcast.  He is Pushcart multiple nominee for poetry.  Also, he was a guest on Mark Antony Rossi’s podcast, Strength to be Human.





  1. well researched and thought out article on self help, a concept probably more relatable now in covid than any time in history.

  2. one of the biggest issues with self help is the preachers of this thought frame usually help themselves to your praise and money. this essay is objective and positive. it's more than you'll get from losing a few pounds.

  3. Well done, Donald! You are a truly talented individual. Thank you for calling into the show tonight. I always love hearing from you!

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