The Power of Philosophy for Cycle Breakers Seeking Self-Improvement

Inspired by the introduction to Skye Cleary's How To Be Authentic, I explore the tension self-help has with core features of our identity as cycle breakers, and some of the reasons philosophy might be a better choice for us.

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The transcript:

Hello and welcome to the podcast. My name is Dr. Louise and I help cycle breakers make decisions by unleashing the power of philosophy. Today, I am inspired by a fellow philosopher. Her name is Skye Cleary and she wrote a book called How to be Authentic And in that book she goes through some of the work of Simone de Beauvoir. If you've been listening for a minute here on the podcast, I've talked about her before, but I'm not going to talk about Simone de Beauvoir today. Instead, i want to talk about how Skye Cleary thinks about the self-help genre.

Okay, so if you don't know self-help is, you know it's like a section of a bookstore you can go to. Lots of different books fit into the self-help genre. Some famous examples might be Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. I was a little bit older at this point, but a lot of the ideas you hear in a lot of self-help kind of you can find those core ideas in the Seven Habits book. But you know, there's all kinds. There's all kinds of self-help.

Honestly, and you know what? I'm a big consumer. I'm a big consumer of self-help. I love it. These are books that teach you how to be more productive, how to better regulate your nervous system, how to improve your life? Right? That's the idea, and while I am a big consumer, i also kind of hate it. Is that possible? Can we do both? Can we both love it, consume it, want it and also dislike it immensely? I mean, i occupy this space where I love exploring different people's ideas about how we can live a good life. Right, if you studied ancient Western philosophy at all, you know that question of how do we live a good life is really at the center of a lot of ancient Western philosophy.

Some might even argue that the whole idea of self-help could be at least in the West, could be traced back to kind of the things that Socrates was doing with folks. Maybe Plato was talking about. These are people out in the streets trying to help everyday folks become better at thinking Right, to learn how to think in a way that motivated them to take actions in a way that improved their everyday lives. So you might think philosophies like the great, great, great, great grandfather of the self-help genre. But you know, it looks a little different today If we think about books like Atomic Habits. A lot of the kinds of things going on in self-help relies more on empirical or scientific studies than anything the ancient Greeks were saying. So the genre is definitely. It's not the same as reading philosophy, and if you pick up a philosophy book thinking you're picking up a self-help book. You know, i just want you to take a deep breath and recognize you may not easily see the direct conversation about self-help in most philosophy books.

Now, the book that Skye Cleary wrote here How to Be Authentic is trying to kind of fall into that genre. This book is a part of what I call a Barnes and Noble philosophy, which is you know, it's not the kind of philosophy book you'd read in a university. It's designed to be more practical. It's got more actionable ideas than that. But it's also not exactly like Atomic Habits or Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Right, it occupies its own kind of space, And today I want to bring out a quote from Skye Cleary where she talks about how she understands the project that she is doing.

Right, if you, you might not be surprised to learn that. You know, I'm a philosopher and I'm one of the few philosophers out here in the world who is trying to help cycle breakers in particular, who is actively seeking to bring philosophy to people today in a way that concretely helps them. I'm not the only one, but I am one of a few, very few, one of a very few in the world right now, and so I'm, oh, I'm hungry. I'm hungry for why, what and how do the other people out here doing this kind of work think? And I think that, the more I think about it, I'm not just hungry for this because Louise wants friends. That might be part of it. That might be part of it. I think it's actually because I try, I'm really aware of the fact that I love the self-help work, but I know, as a cycle breaker, so much of it falls short, so much of it just sits wrong with me, it sits bad, i don't, it gives me the heebie-jeebies right, and I think that that's it's weird. It's weird that I keep consuming something that I'm not sure I like And I think clearly starts to help us understand why that's the case. And, more importantly, for you, listening to this episode, i think it's kind of helped me see some specific things about cycle breakers that maybe make it a little bit harder for us to exist in the traditional kind of self-help spaces. So if you are ready, willing and able to go along with me on this journey. I want to start us off by sharing some works from Skye Cleary, and then we're going to break down a couple of different things. That I think, is specifically about cycle breakers that make Self-help a little rough, a little rough.

So here this this passage is from Skye Cleary's book, the introduction to the book in particular. So she's talking a little bit about her own journey coming to study Simone de Beauvoir and How she's understanding the project that she is engaged in. So here here's the quote. She says I'm mounting a new chapter in the existential Offensive against superficial self-help and quick fix promises. I don't prescribe rules, nor do I guarantee results. Instead, I provide a starting point to help reveal and Understand the tyrannies of other people's demands on us and the chains that we impose on Ourselves and the name of love, duty or any other strings of excuses we offer up to avoid the responsibility of our actions. I Really like this quote. I Really like it, the part that really stands out to me. You know, as a, as a philosopher I wasn't. I didn't learn anything at all about business or marketing or Working with clients. I've learned all of those things outside of my formal education in Philosophy, and what I really like is that Skye Cleary here digs in and says I don't prescribe rules, nor do I guarantee results, and This, my friends, is why philosophy does not fit very well into a lot of the boxes of, i mean, we might say, capitalism, we might say contemporary society, we might say online marketing.

In particular, people today, i think, wants quick fixes. People wants to be able To consume a book, get, get a couple ideas from it, put those ideas into their lives and like bam, everything is better. Right, we want this like rapid, rapid solutions, and You know what? philosophy isn't like that. Now, there are some people out there who might disagree with me. Ryan Holiday, who is Probably one of the most successful people kind of selling philosophy in the world today. He, uh, if you just stoicism stoicism is his main bag, and, you know, maybe, maybe he thinks you get there's guaranteed results if you practice stoic ways of thought. I Think, though, Ryan Holiday is not trained as a professional philosopher, and I think most professional philosophers would feel a little Little uncomfortable with that claim.

Philosophy is the kind of thing that you know, as, as Cleary says, she says I provide a starting point to help reveal and understand. Right, it's a starting point to help us understand something important, right? she's focused on the thought of Simone de Beauvoir, who is an existential philosopher, and in Beauvoir's work there's a lot of themes about understanding the relationship between you and other people, the kind of demands and dynamics of those sorts of Relationships, as well as, yeah, sometimes our resistance to take responsibility for our actions, right? So all of that specific to Beauvoir which, if you don't know, that's not. That's not a philosopher that I I have worked with very much in my career. I really like Beauvoir's work, but I am a Little bit in a different space than that typically.

But I think Clary is saying something really true about philosophy in general. We are a starting point of understanding. It's not a concrete list of do, x, y and z and you get this kind of result. It's like I'm gonna give you something to chew on, I'm gonna give you something to think about. I'm gonna explore an idea with you. I'm gonna bring in some of the world's greatest thinkers to help us unpack and understand. Alright, that's the kind of thing philosophy is good for And that's not the kind of thing you're supposed to say when you're telling people you're gonna help them with their problems.

Okay, let me tell you I am not right now being a good marketer and saying I'm supposed to say like, oh well, you're suffering from being indecisive because you're a cycle breaker and you know you shouldn't. You know you shouldn't repeat the cycle, but you're not sure what else to do. So you freeze. And here are the three steps you can do. If you buy my program, I'll teach them to you and you'll be better. That's what I'm supposed to say. Okay, that's how the game goes, and I'm ideally according to the traditional way, i would tell you oh, you have to learn this from me.

It is secret knowledge that only Louise has, and she will only impart it to you if you pay 1997, you know. Whatever it is. I'm bad at that, guys. I'm bad at it. I don't think it's true One. I don't think you like. You don't need me. You are a smart, intelligent person. If you work with me, i can help accelerate the process. I can give you more things to think about. You don't have to go digging through books, the way that I have over my career, to get some of these juicy ideas to think about. But are you dependent on me? No, no, no, no. You are amazing. You can do what you need to do to take care of yourself. I'm here to help you, support you, accelerate you. I'm not here to give you secret knowledge that only I have. Right. I'm also not in a good position to tell you X, y and Z is gonna get you the thing you're after right.

And this has made me kind of struggle, I think, in here at Empowerment Through Thought, I've really tried different ways to kind of approach this thing, and I think Skye Cleary here is helping me see, like you know what. That's just not what philosophy is. That's just not the project. That's not the thing we're doing. If you want quick fixes, if you want easy solutions, if you want guaranteed results, Aristotle's not gonna help you get it. Beauvoir's not gonna help you get it. Confucius is not gonna help you get it right. And so that's the problem. That's the problem with self-help.

Most self-help books are built in a way that's like just wake up early in the morning and do yoga and do meditation And then you'll have all the energy you ever need for the rest of the day, right? That reminds me of like a book called, i think, the Miracle Morning. I mean that's like it's an oversimplification of the view. Don't get me wrong. But you know, basically the book is telling you how to do a morning routine and how much that will change your life. Right, and I can't do that with philosophy. I can't tell you do this thing. That's like heebie-geebies. So why do I think philosophy is helpful? right, to cycle breakers If I'm not giving you a little prescription, I'll do this thing and do that thing and you'll get this result. What am I doing? What are we up to here? And you know, i think that for cycle breakers, the super results focused, easy to follow, quick fix kind of energy doesn't match our experiences very well. It doesn't really map on to who we are or what we've been up to, right. So let's have a think about that.

To begin with, we are cycle breaker. What does that mean? Well, inherently, we break rules. Right, if you're breaking a cycle, there's been some kind of rule that has been established. Maybe it's been directly stated, maybe it's all implicit, maybe it's a rule you're carrying with yourself. Maybe it's a rule that your abuser enforced, maybe it's a rule that society has been enforcing, right. There's lots of different ways this might go. And what are we doing in our cycle breaking work. We're busting up the rules. We're saying no. Just because it's been that way doesn't mean it has to be that way, right? Just because I have a habit of acting like this doesn't mean I have to act like that every day for the rest of my life. We are actively putting ourselves in positions to break rules, so that's why it's a little bit fishy when we're trying to solve some of the challenges that come up for us as cycle breakers. We're trying to solve those problems and we're trying to do that by picking up another set of rules.

Right, we don't like rules. Rules are part of the whole friggin' problem. It's kind of like out of sync somehow. I don't want to be controlled by the rules my toxic parents set up for me. I don't want that. I want to throw those rules out. But do I want to write a whole new set of rules? Is that the game? Am I just trying to replace one set of rules with another set of rules? Hmm, some feels a little weird.

I feel like a bigger goal might be like I want to exist in a space where I don't have to have rules. I want to exist in a space where I can move organically, i can move freely, i can breathe and do what I need to do. Now I know We're not going to live in a utopian society where no one has any rules to follow. I'm not suggesting we throw out the law. I'm not suggesting that we can magically wish away capitalism or something. There are real rules that we inherently have to follow just to exist. I'm talking more about the kind of optional rules. I'm talking about how do I want to structure my weekend? or how do I prioritize my free time? Or should I really be getting up at 5am when I am 100% not a morning person? Those are the kind of rules I'm talking about.

I just think it's dissatisfying as a cycle breaker to go into self-help and be like oh good, here's a new set of rules for me to impose upon myself. I think there are times we want to create rules. I'm not totally out here with no rules, but it's kind of different when I've decided for myself. I want to create a habit, a pattern, a heuristic. I really don't like the word rule, but maybe we could say that It's different if it's coming from within me, because I really see like, yes, i want to live a kind of life that does this thing. It's another thing when I turn to a book and I'm listening to someone else's ideas and someone else's expertise and I'm like, oh well, they can just tell me what to do, right? Like, hmm, hmm, i don't feel right. Dad told me what to do, my mom told me what to do, right? Like, these people who are abusive to me were the people who told me what to do And I'm here for something else now I'm ready for other things And I think that's not uncommon.

As a cycle breaker, i think another reason that the self-help, the quick fixes, the rule-based thinking I think one of the reasons this doesn't really work out for us is, as cycle breakers, our experiences, our existence is inherently challenging to the norms. Right, when you have gotten no contact with an abusive family member, you are in some ways challenging people. Even when you aren't talking about it, you are inherently challenging. That doesn't mean you're difficult, that doesn't mean you can't exist or befriend people or anything like that, but by its nature, you are in a situation that if it came up, if you shared it, people would have to have a bit of a think. They might be a little bit surprised. You aren't following the standard recipe for how people interact with each other or the way family dynamics work or the way patriarchy says we should be doing things Right, Whether it's good or it's bad. When you've gone no contact with family, you are inherently challenging. Rules don't easily accommodate challenges. Rules work best when you have a think, you formulate the rule and then you put the rule out there and then you leave it alone. You don't come poking at it, you don't start challenging it. It works best when it can just operate on its own terms. I think that that's not always easy for us When you're a cycle breaker.

I know a lot of folks in my audience are similar to me and we have complex PTSD. Part of what it means to have PTSD is that a lot of the productivity ideas, a lot of productivity rules, things you might find in atomic habits this sort of stuff don't play nice with us. Sometimes I am stuck on the couch, not because I don't have a well-formed habit, but because I am literally in freeze mode, because my brain can no longer tell the difference between the present and the past and it is going to do whatever it takes to protect me. Right, like that's just. It's not going to work. From the self-help perspective, it's just like it's the wrong kind of thing. There are quirks to us, there are particular things about us as cycle breakers. Whatever your story is, whether you have PTSD, whether you have, you know, just feelings about, maybe, certain kinds of activities, because difficult people in your past made you feel bad about her, made you feel good about it, maybe right, whatever your story is, you're probably not going to be able to just go along with the program And most self-help books assume that you can do that and the reason that you're failing is because you're lazy, or because you just aren't trying, or because you haven't thought about it in the right way, or because you haven't heard the rule in the right kind of way, or something.

And I'm going to say that's kind of insulting. It's kind of insulting, in my opinion, that self-help has this sort of energy like, oh well, if you just knew the secret. But again, that's how the marketing works, right. Like, why pick up the book? Because you've got to think there's something special in the book, and so they really play it up. That like, oh, it really is as simple as one, two, three. And you've just been going your whole life not noticing that everything could be so much easier. So I think that's, this is not. This is not good. This is not good for cycle breakers. I also think like a particularly dangerous thing for cycle breakers who like the self-help space, which you know I relate. I understand why we like it right.

Our parents didn't teach us the stuff they were supposed to. If your parents were abusive, that is right. You missed out on some stuff. We're trying to figure things out, right. The problem, well, one of the problems for cycle breakers is that we have this tendency to blame ourselves when things aren't working. We learned it from our parents. It's a product of being gaslit and just manipulated over long periods of time. Whether it's good or bad. We have a natural tendency to blame ourselves when something is going wrong.

And when we pick up the self-help book and it's like, oh, just do this and this and this and all the problems will be solved and we give it our best effort and we really try to do these things, we will naturally say when it doesn't work out for us, oh well, it's my fault. I didn't X, y and Z. I didn't do the thing the way you were supposed to. I am inadequate, i am not good enough. I can't possibly have a better life, right, like we go there, and I think, for some of the reasons mentioned before, also just some of the superficial character of anything that presents itself as a quick fix. I just think you know, it might not be you. It might be the kind of thing you're trying to work with. It might be more to do with the fact that those topics that self-help work is not. It is not really designed for somebody like you in mind, right? And this leads us to why. I think you know, with Skye Cleary here, i think philosophy has something that doesn't come packaged the way marketers want you to package it, but it does actually have a lot of opportunity for cycle breakers.

Right, being a rule breaker is virtually celebrated in parts of philosophy. Simone de Beauvoir did not like rules, right. Existential thought in general, it's not a big list of rules to live by, it's not the ten commandments, right, there's a lot of you needing to think and make decisions based on what is most authentic to you, right. What can help you thrive the best, and not just because society tells you or you know, your parents told you or you know, whatever it is, there's a like a lot of philosophy is an invitation for you to think and make decisions about what kind of actions you want to take, about what kind of habits you want to have. It's an invitation for you to decide that for yourself.

There's a lot of discouragement for this idea of like you should just believe it because somebody who could write a book said you should do it Right. Like, philosophers don't like that. We want to hear, like, what are your reasons for thinking you should change your life in this way? Right, i want to know what you think. And that is a big, friggin difference, right, between most self-help books. Most self-help books don't really care what you think. They say you need to follow my program. You need to do what I say, right?

I also think that philosophy is much better at handling the fact that cycle breakers are inherently challenging. We are challenging folk, right? Good news Philosophy loves a challenge. It is part of the process of doing philosophy to get in there and say, oh, I think that this is going good And like, oh, i think that that's bad, and to kind of do this critical analysis. Being critical, being challenging, is a part of doing philosophy well. So, as a cycle breaker who has in-depth experience at being challenging to a lot of the ideas that are out there in society, in our families, in our environments. You've got a skill. You've got a skill that's going to be brilliant when you're doing philosophy, right. So what feels like a problem when we're talking about traditional self-help is actually an asset when we're talking about philosophy.

I also think that in philosophy, your tendency to want to blame yourself is, I'm going to say, going to be discouraged, right. I think in philosophy, there's a lot of trying to help you develop your own opinions, to develop your own way of thinking and solving problems, and so if something is going wrong, right. If something you know, like an idea, isn't panning out for you, or you thought this was really good, and it turns out to not be so good In philosophy, we're going to encourage you to be like well, maybe that idea is the problem, maybe it's not you Right. That's a big possibility in philosophy, right, and good news, in the land of philosophy, we have many, many, many ideas. We have tons of ideas. So if one idea is the problem, oh well, maybe for your personality, your situation, for where you are in your life right now, maybe a different set of ideas is really what's going to be helpful. It's not necessarily a problem with you in philosophy. It might be a problem with the idea that you're trying to work with, and we are open and happy to have that That is allowed, encouraged. We want it Right. So I think you know, I think Skye Cleary and I would agree that the kind of superficial self-help, the quick fix problem solving, you know the kind of, I'm going to guarantee your results if you do X, y and Z.

That is not it in philosophy. Philosophy has a lot of other goods, so many other goods. It's going to develop your thinking. It's going to help you explore the problems you're having in a really rich way. It's going to help you brainstorm new ideas and new solutions that come from within you and aren't necessarily on deck just because some dude said that you should do it on the internet. Right, we're moving away from appeals to authority, to the super secret knowledge, and instead we're moving towards developing your own critical thinking. We're moving towards you reclaiming space for yourself in your own life, and I think that this is part of the magic of philosophy when it comes to making decisions, when it comes to cycle breaking in general, and it also makes my life a lot more difficult as somebody who runs a business helping people through philosophy, because I cannot articulate. This is the guaranteed result and this is exactly what's going to happen.

But I also know that a lot of you in my audience are very sophisticated thinkers. You have already developed quite a repertoire of critical thinking and you already can handle a lot of nuance, right? It's probably not news to you that quick fixes don't work out so good for us cycle breakers. You probably had a few examples in your life where the thing has gone kind of wonky, right? So you know I can't be the quick fix lady, but I can be somebody who can take you on a journey through philosophy to expand your own way of thinking, to become more confident in your ideas about what you want to do in your life And how you can be the best cycle breaker. That you know your generations, that your family's generation, that your ancestors have had. I think that that's part of the magic of philosophy And you know I'm weird. I'm weird. We already knew that, though. Right?

Like, if you're a listener or follower on Instagram, it's not news to you that I'm a special flavor, but I love it. I love it and I think that it's something so powerful that, even though it doesn't fit the boxes, it's worth getting out here, it's worth talking to you guys about, it's worth introducing you guys to And, you know, i hope that you stick around here on the podcast. If you haven't subscribed, please do. If you would be so kind as to leave a review of the podcast, that would be extra amazing. And you know, you can always hit me up over on Instagram. I'm at empowerment through thought over there. You can also shoot me an email. It's dr,[email protected] I love chatting with you guys, I love hearing your thoughts And I want to say thank you so much for listening to this episode. I'll catch you guys in the next one. Bye, bye.


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