When you think about personal growth, you might imagine a stack of self-help books sitting on a bedside table, with buzzy, feel-good titles plastered on the front covers. But according to developmental psychologist Sasha Heinz, Ph.D., who is an expert in behavioral change and positive psychology, self-help isn’t all about feeling good and ignoring the past; in fact, self-help is often about acknowledging life’s challenges and believing in what’s possible moving forward. It’s not “fluffy” or “frivolous.” It’s universal, and it’s real.
On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, Heinz walks us through what we’re still getting wrong about self-help and happiness—find the three biggest myths below.
Myth 1: Positive vibes only.
“People [think] this self-development work is cheesy or it’s about good vibes only,” Heinz says. “That is so untrue.” In fact, a positive-only mindset actually won’t get you anywhere. Of course, believing in yourself and hunting for the good in people is important, but according to Heinz, your pessimism also plays a role.
“Dream big, and then brush that dream up against cold, hard reality,” she notes. “Maybe it’s your skill set, the current climate, resources, or whatever it is… Use a strategic mindset and say, ‘These are the obstacles. How am I going to overcome these?'” Planning for what potentially is not going to work makes you more likely to accomplish the goal, as opposed to staying in an optimistic fantasy.
That’s not to say optimism isn’t important—you should definitely focus on optimism before launching into a pessimistic mindset. But “if you really want to make that dream into a reality, your pessimism is on your side,” says Heinz. “That little bit of tension or inner friction is actually important because it activates us to take action. It makes us do something.”
Myth 2: Some people just aren’t into self-help.
Some people may be more drawn to self-help books than others, but according to Heinz, self-development is not a personality trait. “We pretend it’s like, ‘This person is into it, and this person isn’t,’ [but] we’re all in this process of growth and development,” she says. “We all fundamentally agree that children develop—so do adults.”
We encourage children to constantly develop and give them the tools they need to succeed, and that shouldn’t stop once we hit a certain age. “What if we lived our adult life like that, too?” poses Heinz. “That is our great task in life, to continue to grow in the same way kids do in childhood.” If you’re not growing, you’re stalling, and you may start to feel stuck.
Myth 3: You can hack your way to mindfulness.
You might be surprised by this last myth, especially considering we have a robust library of quick, mood-boosting hacks. However, the myth lies in the intention: “This notion that you’re going to find the quickest hack, to me, is something that reduces effort,” says Heinz. It inherently promises that mindfulness takes zero effort (which is often not the case), which can make people give up quickly when it feels challenging.
That’s not to say you should throw all of your mindfulness tools out the window. Just tweak the semantics: “Don’t think about it as a mindset hack. It’s really more about changing your daily habits,” she explains. The trick might not make mindfulness easy, per se, but it can help you better handle stressors in the future.
When it comes to self-help, positive psychology, and happiness, there are a bunch of nuances we overlook. The phrase self-help has become a bit elusive (with self-care hot on its heels), but according to Heinz, everyone can benefit from a little more mental fitness. It won’t be all sunshine and roses, but the work is worth it: “Any accomplishment requires a lot of uncomfortable action,” she adds.