Motivation: Why we can’t get it from “self help” books and how we can from being a “hero”
I’m not going to tell you never to buy another self help book. As a genre “self help” is as interesting as any other genre. But, I will tell you that most of these books are offering false hope. If you want to really help yourself you have to understand how much your values influence your behavior. And only then will you be able to live those values, as a “hero” does.
Self-help books are wonderful. I’ve read hundreds, yet like the machines for trimming your abs, those that you see on late night TV, they don’t have the ability to keep you on task year in year out. The simple fact that they keep coming out with new ones shows you that they can’t live up to their promises.
The best self help books teach you how to turn the abstract concept of “success” into a practical program yet even the best ones, like “Think and Grow Rich,” aren’t able to keep most on task long enough to see results. This is why.
Jordan Peterson implores “Give up on self development because you cannot create your own “values.” You are not your own slave!” Peterson points directly to the problem of people not being able to keep on a path to self-mastery (going to the gym, studying for a degree etc. etc.) We need stronger reasons to do the “hard work” necessary. In order to be better than ourselves we need values that align with ours but also come from outside ourselves. We need those that are lasting and perennial. Our “better” nature is not enough in most cases.
The story of the frog and the scorpion illustrates this point. A scorpion asks a frog to ferry him across a river (as scorpions are want to do). But the frog wasn’t having it. The frog said to the scorpion: If I put you on my back you are going to sting me. But the scorpion objected. No, no I won’t be so stupid. If I kill you then we are both dead. This sounded reasonable to the frog and he promptly loaded the insect on his back and headed for the other side. Half way across he felt the sting of the scorpion go deep in his back and with his dying breath asked: “Why?” The Scorpion replied, calm as you like, “I suppose it’s my nature.”
Many have contended that it is the “nature” of man to default to the negative, to take the soft option and justify it without skipping a beat (See Jonathan Haidt “The Righteous Mind"). We need something beyond ourselves to do “the right thing”. That “something” is going to be different for different people but it will involve a “heroes journey” of sorts. Only something that transcends ourselves will give us the power to be our best selves.
The “Samurai” dealt with rising above themselves by acting out the age-old archetype of the hero. The Samurai “hero,” like all heroes, were courageous, brave and adventurous. The dragons they slayed were such things as self doubt, sloth and avarice. And like all heroes the fear of death.
The Crucifix is the Christian symbol because it shows the way to salvation (Jordan Peterson). The Samurai knew like Jesus did that the ability to accept ones mortality is the key to transcending it. It was their salvation and their gift to us. What we need to be better, and to keep us on the path to “salvation” doesn’t have to be as dramatic as being prepared to be nailed to a cross or plunging a knife into our stomachs but it necessarily involves rising above our fears.
It involves taking on our responsibility our “load”. It means going out into the world as heroes, unafraid, living values that make the effort worth the fight and fighting for what we love. For me it is as simple as putting my family and sport above all else. Whatever values you need to help you be “better” will come from a higher place, not from the values you create. And don’t expect to find anything of lasting value in the pages of a “self-help” book.
Jordan Peterson. Joe Rogan Podcast #958 May 10, 2017
Jonathan Haidt "The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion."