So, I stumbled on some YouTube videos that I guess fit into the "self-help" category – I was curious about a specific thing (journaling) and you know how YouTube is. And there's a sort-of-obvious point I'd like to make about that genre: there is no expertise in it.
I want to be a better person. It's important to me. But I'm not going to say I'm excellent at self-improvement – partly because I think improving other people is more interesting, of course. But also because I'd be deeply paranoid about what precisely it means to be good at the process of self-improvement.
Are these people constantly topping their fitness personal bests? Are they waking up even earlier every year, working even more, being even more productive? You'd think they'd get so happy and fulfilled they'd just explode – or, they'd have years where they don't really improve along those metrics. Which is fine, of course – at what point should we turn our focus outward? I don't think the answer is 'never' – no one does – so everybody who's any good and trying at all ought to eventually just decide their life is essentially running the way they want.
But I'm not sure that drives clicks (or watch time, the video metric that ill be derided as pathetically myopic by future generations – in our defense, it is better than clicks, and finding good metrics is challenging), not in the quantity they need. And this is the moral hazard of it all. There is a professionally demanded insecurity to that particular occupation, a moral corruption that threatens to infect their audience. I'm perfectly fine being basically a good person who wakes up at a reasonable hour and is decently productive. But they need to improve every year, over and over again. It's farcical, but contentment is sort of the end of self improvement, so as much as they might meditate, they are perhaps the least zen people of all. Because they have actually negative consequences if they don't find new grist for the mill. They need to improve. This is a job perhaps even more sensitive to injury than professional athletes: the physical injury can heal, but can they repair the image of them backsliding from their impressive achievements?
So maybe they mislead a little.
Now, don't get me wrong, the two people I've seen on YouTube in this category are extremely forthright about their failings and insecurities. YouTube is actually pretty good about that. Tony Robbins will always seem (and maybe be) massively more full of shit than his modal YouTube analogue. Authenticity is table stakes for the modern web, and Tony Robbins has always sounded like he thinks the key to success is to join a cult.
But YouTube isn't so great about patience. If you stop posting things, you stop making money. So a lot of service journalism can be corrupted into content that helps the income of the creator more than the audience.
Let's take, for instance, the very strange old internet idea of taking exceptionally cold showers. Some research says the human body benefits from, occasionally, feeling both hot and cold. And with the proliferation of modern air conditioning, that doesn't happen as much as it used to, so now people are re-introducing exogenous temperature variations, frequently in the shower (saunas are also common recommendations). What a strange pattern of modernity.
But here's the thing: as sort of weirdly appealing as that style of discomfort is, and despite the health benefits, it's fascinating. People like to think about it, and talk about it. It's super weird to me that something this marginal would have such a huge presence online, when it truly should be relegated to the "eating chocolate reduces risk of blah" corner of clickbait science with super minor effect sizes.
It's essentially a side show. Sure, it might help. And sure, it's uncomfortable. But I cannot imagine the lack of mental fortitude required for this to be a true personal difficulty. It's cold water. Brrrr. Either it's worth it for you or it isn't. Another video, another essay, they won't do much to tell you if you should do it, not compared to a google search (which will show it likely does nothing), or just stepping into the cold water to see if you might not mind it.
In case you think I'm being overly flippant: Due to some unknown plumbing issue, I took a icy cold shower moments ago. I'd waited more than an hour and a half to see if I'd get warmer water, and it didn't happen, so I dived right in. And I was shivering. I was gasping. I did not get used to the temperature at all. I'm not sure I learned anything or grew, and the process definitely feels like it's not healthy, but who can say? Perhaps the effects are so subtle as to be worth it anyhow.
"Experts" need to say something, though, so they'll be driven to say more and more, well past when you should listen. It's possible there's a surprisingly small, fixed amount you could possibly know about this. Your routine really shouldn't be too complicated, at the end of the day, so how many tips or tricks could you even really use? And how much of someone else's experience can you really borrow? Isn't their life different than everyone else's, requiring slightly different things?
Try a couple things you might want to make habits. You'll find which combination works for you soon enough, I'm sure of it. Don't listen to people too much about these things, except to maybe get reminded of a good idea.
While I have your attention: probably the best mental health routine is writing an emotionally expressive journal. You might want to try it out.