Rhetorical evidence aside, there is some validity to certain self-help techniques. In fact, most of them are based on a combination of anecdotal stories that offer evidence for the strategy and real scientific studies that have dived in and studied exactly how the different techniques affect the mind. Credible self-help gurus take time to live their advice and can share through their unique experience, but they also take the time to research the science on their techniques. Others, however, may take an idea and run with it—building an entire book on thoughts and not actions, on words, but not the steps necessary to truly change your life.
Scientific evidence is a great way to sway readers. If science says that it’s true, then it must be true, right? The truth is that many of these studies are only one small part of the bigger picture that self-proclaimed moguls in the industry are sharing. Yes, there is some science behind most self-help techniques. However, the evidence only covers a shred of the ideas that are promoted in their book. From here, generic tidbits and strategies are added, regardless of how helpful they are. They piggy back off a single idea that has scientific claims to support it, reporting on the techniques as if they were all based on scientific study and thought.
Examples of Self-Help Techniques and How They Work
In this section, we’ll go over some scientifically proven techniques—but just the scientific portion of them. This will be a no-frills section that explains why certain techniques work when they do. It’s not magic or the universe at play. It’s science and psychology.
The Law of Attraction
The law of attraction is perhaps one of the most popular techniques that have been covered by self-help gurus. There are many derivatives of it, with the major message being, “Ask and you will receive.” The basic idea is that you can send out any idea into the universe, whether you want a new car, a better job or to become more social—and receive whatever it is you are asking. It promotes the idea that regardless of how you act, simply by wanting something enough, you are giving yourself the opportunity to bring that thing into your life.
One of the ideas behind this technique is vibrational frequencies. Basically, the idea is that you emit a frequency that calls things on the same frequency into your life. However, the reality is that there is a science to this and it has a lot more to do with action than it does with thinking.
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were willing to go to great lengths to achieve it? Maybe you decided to dye your hair to get one of your coworkers to notice you or you went out of your way to take on big projects at work to get the attention of your boss so you could earn a raise or promotion.
Think about it this way. If you wanted a new car, would you expect it to fall out of the sky? Obviously, that is not going to happen. So, you decide to take a more practical route about getting the car. You may start saving money by cutting back on the number of times that you eat out or pick up extra hours at work so you have more money. You might also take steps to improve your credit or secure a car loan. Even though you are asking the universe for that thing by wanting it badly, you are the one playing a critical role in going after what you deserve. You may be doing it subconsciously, but ultimately you are the one responsible for taking the steps to get what you want. The universe is not giving you that car—you earned it.
Another reason that the law of attraction works in some cases is because thinking about something makes you more receptive to things that will lead you in the direction of desire. If you have been thinking about trying to find a love interest, you are going to be more receptive to people when they are flirting with you or being friendly. You also are more likely to go to places where you would meet new people, like social gatherings or parties. If you are looking for a new job, you are more likely to notice a ‘Now Hiring’ sign than someone who is in a stable job that they love. You may think that it is the universe guiding you toward these things, but the reality is that these things were there all along. You just did not have the desire to go out and seek them yet.
It would seem, therefore, that the law of attraction actually is based on taking action in your life. Whether you do it on a subconscious level, so you do not notice it or take conscious, actionable steps, it is you that is changing your life—not the frequencies that you are sending out into the world.
Positive thinking has been proven successful in a number of arenas—from sports to business and everything in between. It shapes the way that we think and feel and alters the way that we perceive the things around us. One way that it does this is because of the Pygmalion Effect. The Pygmalion Effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea is that we create our own expectations and then our perception of what is going on around us falls into line with those expectations. For example, if you are nervous about a party and expect to have a bad time, then you are likely to be plagued with anxiety the entire night and unable to relax. You may even see good situations as bad. For example, someone may offer you a drink to break the ice, but you might see it as an attempt to try and have sex with you. It is likely you will blow this person off and never find out, simply because you are fulfilling the idea that you will have a bad time.
Now, imagine for a moment that you have to give a speech on stage. Anyone in this position may find themselves a bundle of nervous energy, but it is how you harness that energy that determines the outcome and how well you perform. Nervousness exists as a response to stress. When used the right way, stress boosts mental performance and helps people perform better. It could actually give you the focus that you need to give an incredible presentation if you harness it in a positive way, believing that the presentation will go well and that your mind will drive you to succeed. On the other hand, if you allow the nervousness to overcome you and you believe that the speech is going to be awkward or that you will make mistakes, then that is what will happen.
Once again, success when it comes to positive thinking comes back to you. If you want to think positively about situations, it really can help drive you to success. Thinking in a positive way gives you the confidence to try the situations that make you stressed and harness nervous energy for success. It gives you the push that you need to take action—the very action that you need if you expect anything different to come of your life. For example, a person who is confident in their abilities may hear of a senior member of the company retiring and step up to get the attention of the boss. Instead of shying away and hoping to be picked for hard work, positive thinking can propel someone to give it a shot. After all, the worst thing that can happen is the job being given away to someone else.
Instead of watching from afar, positive thinking about the potential of earning that position might cause you to pick up extra projects at work or share your ideas more in meetings. It gives the confidence to show the boss that you are worthy of considering for the position, as well the confidence to know that there is nothing wrong with being passed over for the promotion either. It does not matter if you do not succeed—it just matters that you tried. Plus, if you do earn the promotion, then you have yourself, and not the universe, to thank.
Something else that sports stars and business moguls often credit to their success is visualization. Visualizing what you want brings it into your life because it prepares your mind for the next actionable steps that you are going to take. It gives confidence and motivation, while teaching your mind what to expect in the upcoming scenario.
When visualization does work, it is because the person involved has imagined the scenario that they want in deep detail. They have pictured every minute detail, from the emotions that they feel when they reach their goal to every step that they must take to get there. This includes physical sensations and engaging the senses. For example, positive visualization is proven to help combat anxiety. This could be for an important game or public speaking. Sports players may imagine themselves playing an amazing game and then taking the winning shot, noticing the way that the sweat feels running down their face and how the ball feels in their hands. Someone giving a public speech may imagine how the edge of their notecards feel in their hands and how the lights will shine down on them.
The reason this is effective is because the mind cannot always decipher from the things that you are imagining and the things that you are experiencing. When you go deep into detail about the things you are trying to achieve, it triggers certain neurons in your brain. As these neurons light up, the pathway that connects them grows stronger. This works the same way that mental exercises work to strengthen the brain, by creating new connections and strengthening existing ones. As with any task, you become faster and more skilled the quicker that your mind works to process it. By vividly imagining the scenario, you are creating and strengthening the connections in your brain. This means that when you go to complete the activity (the action part), your mind is prepared to do a good job.
Positive thinking also works to instill confidence, especially when you are nervous about a situation. By imagining it in your mind, you are living that scenario as if it were happening in real life. This makes you more familiar with it, so it is easier when it comes time for the situation to happen in real life. You also feel more confident, because it does not feel like a new, intimidating experience anymore.
Another element of positive thinking and the law of attraction is vision boards. Vision boards are often used by people with specific goals they are trying to reach. For example, someone trying to lose weight may have an old picture of themselves that they admire or a pair of pants they want to fit into. Someone that is trying to earn their degree to land their dream job may have pictures of others doing what they want to do or positive reminders to put their best foot forward. Someone who is trying to bring relaxation or calmness into their life may have pictures of a place they want to vacation or serene landscapes. It does not matter what exactly is on the board—as long as it reflects where you want to go in life. It should motivate you and inspire you to make the changes that you need for success.
One of the great things about vision boards is that if you put them somewhere that you see them several times a day, you are going to stay focused on your goal. You are going to feel motivated and want to succeed, because it is a constant reminder of what you want to achieve. As a result, you are going to do the things that you need to do to reach those goals.