“Be Yourself” and 5 Other Stupid Self-Help Sayings Debunked

Think Positive Quotes and self helpThe world around you is filled with stupid advice and related quotes. Use at your own risk! There is a big difference between intention and reality.

Although the intention behind the classic self-help sayings I’m about to reveal is positive, the result if followed is virtually guaranteed to create massive pain. Ready? Here we go…

1. Be Yourself

This is clearly wrong. Sorry Oscar Wilde who once classically said – “Be yourself: Everyone else is already taken.” It’s not that the phrase isn’t on the right track, it’s just missing a vital ingredient.

The “be yourself” phrase relates to the importance of being authentic. The aim is to showcase with comfort and pride, the natural elements of your life and your personality. Sounds good, there is just one problem…

You’re Boring!

Don’t take it too personally, we all are.

You’re life, no matter how authentically you live it, is for the most part, dull. I don’t want to hear about it and neither does anyone else. I don’t want to hear about traffic and toileting and TV watching and the other average things you do in your day.

I want the highlights package, I want to know about either the best parts or the worst parts and most importantly, your story needs to be told well.

I do want you to speak authentically, but I also want to have an engaging experience. There has to be a performance.

You don’t want to hear a musician playing scales, even though that may be what takes up the biggest part of their day and you don’t want to spend hours a day for months at a time seeing how a movie is made. What you want to enjoy is the finished and polished product.

So rather than “be yourself”, what it should be is “be your best (authentic) self.” Showcase the best parts of your true personality, not your whole personality. That is what the smart people do on a date or at a job interview.

Furthermore, by continually raising the standards of your authentic behavior, over time it becomes less of an effort and even more a natural part of who you become.


2. You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind Too

Garbage! Completely false. There are millions of people who have really put an incredible effort into something and it didn’t pan out. What a horrible thing to say. It’s cruel to give false hope to someone, no matter how positive the intent. There are just some things you will never be able to succeed at no matter how hard you try.

But that’s okay, because that means the resources that would have been wasted on you would go to someone who does have the ability to excel in such an area.

The reality is we all have different strengths and weaknesses and only a fool would spend an entire lifetime trying to achieve great level success at something they clearly suck at.

This does not mean that high level success isn’t possible for a lot of people. It is possible. If the activity caters to your natural strengths, then with enough dedication and effort, you may surprise yourself in terms of how far you can go.

Change to – “It is possible to achieve a great level of success if the activity caters to your natural strengths.”


3. If You Believe You Will Achieve

Dangerous! This type of thinking if followed blindly will crush a lot of dreams. First of all, it’s the perfect kind of ‘escape from jail’ statement a charlatan self-help guru would use. If you’re not successful, it’s because you didn’t believe enough. You weren’t strong enough in your conviction. Forget about talent, opportunity, planning and skills, it’s your lack of belief that caused you to fail.

If that’s the case, if all you needed was total belief, what about someone suffering a psychotic episode. Often such a person is totally convinced by a delusion, such as a delusion of grandeur and yet many remain unsuccessful in their career aspirations.

However, to be fair, on rare occasions a massively delusional person will achieve a very high level of career success, though it is often at the expense of others.

Change to – “If you believe, act, refine and persist, you will achieve on strengths related activities.”


4. Stop Thinking Negative, Just Stop!
Great advice, except for one tiny problem… it doesn’t work. Many moons ago, psychologists came up with a technique called thought stopping. The way it works is whenever you notice yourself having a negative thought you just imagine screaming stop, or perhaps visualise a stop sign, or snap a rubber band against your hand or something else to that effect.

You still hear advice based on this concept today. “Don’t think negatively,” or “just stop being negative” and my favorite “get over it”, but it’s impossible to stop thoughts. As soon as you give attention to a process, it can not be ignored.

For example, don’t think about a pink elephant, don’t think about a dark scary room, don’t notice the sensations in your left knee… As soon as I tell you not to have an internal experience, you have it.

So being told not to have negative thoughts when you’re having them just makes you feel guilty or stupid that you can’t stop and so now you have even more. What you need to do is notice, accept and let go of such thoughts and at the same time working on focusing on what you do want.

This process requires training and patience as even when you let go of negative thoughts, they may come back again and again and so you have to continue to notice, accept and let go with patience repeatedly.

Change to –“Notice and let go of unhelpful thoughts as you cultivate a positive focus. “

5. Think Positive
This is better than “don’t think negatively”, but is still lacking. The reason is simple, thoughts without action are useless. Only actions count. You could think beautiful, wonderful, amazing thoughts but without the action, they are useless.

A court of law does not care about what you thought, only what you did. You can think horrible, gruesome, murderous thoughts and be left to roam free in society as long as you never acted on them.

Alternatively, you could have incredible loving thoughts but without demonstrating this through action, by never expressing such thoughts through heart-felt action, no-one would ever know and you would be judged as someone who never had such thoughts.

A simple and powerful example of this is parents who really did love and care for their children but would never show or say it. Ask the children of such parents if they think knowing that their parents did have positive and loving thoughts towards them was enough for them to feel loved.

Positive thoughts help, but only actions count. You can have negative thoughts and still act positively and be successful but not the other way around. For example, have you ever had a test and thought “I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail” but did it anyway and passed. Of course you have! Sure, it’s better to have positive thoughts but the point is they are not required and not the critical ingredient for success.

Change to – “Act positively with or without positive thought.”

6. Learn How to Say ‘No’
Okay, so you did it. You finally said “no”. Now what? Now you still feel uncomfortable and guilty and the other person is angry at you for saying no. Hardly a victory. What you want to learn how to say is “yes under these fair conditions”.

For example, let’s say you have a young school age child who really wants to play his game but hasn’t done his chores. The exchange could look like this…

“I want to play my new game, can I play it.”

“I’d love to let you play that new game, but there are some chores to do, what do you think needs to happen for you to earn it.”

“Nothing. I want play it.”

“And I want to give it to you, but if I just give it to you, than neither of us learn. You don’t learn how to be a responsible boy and I don’t learn how to be a responsible parent. So what do you think should happen first?”

“What if I clean my room?”

“Okay, so if you clean your room, you believe you would than have earned game time. Is that right?


“Okay, if you clean your room before lunch you can play your game this afternoon for 1 hour. That sounds great, let’s do that!”

The same principle of course also works with adults. It is no different, let’s say your worker wants a raise. Great, tell them you would love to give them one and then offer the criteria necessary to earn it, or if it is you that wants the raise, ask your supervisor what is the criteria to earn it.

Change to – Learn how to give people what they want on agreed terms

For more great tips around negotiation, as the above examples were inspired by a conversation I had with an incredible negotiation teacher, grab the free chapter of the Destiny Defining Decisions Book at the top of this page. 

That’s all for now folks. If you have any examples you’d like to add of sayings that need to be debunked, feel free to let me know 🙂

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