Re-discovering Neil Strauss

A lot of, or dare I say all self help stuff is just repackaging of the same BS you’ve heard before mixed in with some inspirational mumbo jumbo and product recommendations.  Neil Strauss’ self help blog is certainly guilty of this offense, but I started reading it anyway. The thing that caught my interest was the suggestion to add writing to your morning routine because that’s basically how this blog started. These three sentences leave a lot to unpack.

I think most people would agree that most self-help writing is repackaged BS. Even those who would take issue with this assertion would likely only defend insofar as their personal guru was attacked. “Yeah those other guys are hacks, but with my gurus revolutionary ‘Precision Passion Principles ‘ (TM) you can lose weight, get rich, and win a motherfucking Nobel prize all while raising a family and deeply connecting with your inner self.” I’ll admit that Neil Strauss is one of my gurus of choice and then provide a counterexample to my own thesis by criticizing rather than defending his advice.

Here is a list of, for lack of a better term, good stuff that you should do and buy from his blog. I’m down with most of the ‘Work’ and ‘Family’ points, but it starts to break down at the ‘Self Care’ section. Making a 5-year plan and then revising it every year so that you are always on year one is either ineffective or impractical, or both. If it’s a complete overhaul each year then it’s not really a 5-year plan. It’s a 1-year plan with 4 years tacked on at the end. A better system is to make a plan that can be self-audited daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually.

The ‘Education’ section doesn’t really offer any practical advice as to how to educate yourself. Instead, it just offers some suggestions on things to think about. Here’s a more practical suggestion: (1) pick something you want to learn about, (2) google it, (3) implement what you find. For example, if you want to learn how to change the oil in your car, search google for how to change the oil in your car, and then change the oil in your car. From experience I can tell you that I learned that 30 bucks for an oil change is a pretty damn good deal. If you want to learn something more abstract, or something that involves being very careful about which information to trust, I’m working on that but haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Moving on to the ‘Social’ section, I’m probably the last person to advise on, or criticize the advice of others in, this area. When I was in college this dude in one of my classes had a sticker that said ‘Fuck off! I have enough friends already.’ That really resonated with me at the time, and I think it’s even more legit over a decade later. Ok, maybe not “Fuck off” but at least “I don’t really give a shit one way or another.” In other words, why bother giving or taking advice about social life.

As someone who genuinely enjoys sports and physical activity, I don’t really get the ‘Physical’ section, but this is around the point that a parade of product pitches for some pretty gimmicky fitness products starts to show up. Six of the eleven bullet points are recommendations for buying stuff. I’m not sure if he’s getting paid to promote this stuff (and I don’t begrudge him if he is), but if you’re not into exercising buying more exercise stuff isn’t going to get you there. I have some thoughts on how to enjoy exercise.

There is a section on ‘Home Scents and Ambiance.’ Maybe I’m not mature enough to understand this section, but I didn’t come to a blog written by the author of The Game to find stuff that I could look up in one of my sisters’ Marie Claire magazines. Then there’s another section on ‘Great Products to Try.’ I think I’ve made may point about BS, inspirational mumbo jumbo, and product recommendations.

One possible rebuke to my criticism is that it’s up to each individual to decide what works and what doesn’t, but that’s bullshit. If the advice isn’t firmly grounded in certain fundamental principles then it isn’t really helpful and allows the guru infinite latitude to shift positions. Telling people “it’s up to you to decide what works” is itself a shifting position. A technique either “works because…” or it’s just made up on the fly with no clue as to whether or how it works.

Criticism aside, I liked a log what I read on the blog overall. I found it randomly one day and then searched my browser history for it on the following day. Around the same time I found Neil Strauss’s blog I found this and concluded that a lot of what’s written at Neil Strauss’s blog is worth my time and attention. For example, I tried the Pomodore technique and it works fairly well in some circumstances. On the other hand, it may be more effective to simply Pay Attention to Attention than purchase a zillion new recommended products.

When I got to this post I was like ‘hey i already do most of these things!’ So, you could evaluate the advice there based on your opinion of me, I suppose.

One recommendation is to write every day. I’ve written about writing every day here. The benefit of writing every day is that it’s active rather than passive. My theory is that if I’m going to pick up my phone first thing in the am then I need to use it to do something.  Passively “reading” whatever doesn’t count. Additionally, I like to try and make arguments without looking up an authority to cite. It’s challenging and liberating at the same time. So, yeah, that’s part of the morning routine, and I’ll give the meditation thing a try too.


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