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Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement…
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Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze (2014)

by Svend Brinkmann

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Danish psychologist Svend Brinkman encourages those of us who are sick to death of society’s obsession with self-help, self-improvement, self-development, self-esteem – to say no! He is is well-read, witty, and humourous, and the voice of reason in a culture of emotion and self. What a breath of fresh air!

A reviewer writing The Sydney Morning Herald aptly summarizes Brinkman’s work: In a subversion of the typical seven-step self-help guide, he offers his own seven steps, inspired by the ancient Stoics, on resisting the fetishisation of the self: cut out navel-gazing, focus on the negative, say No, suppress your feelings, sack your coach, read a novel and dwell on the past.

Brinkman is upfront that his novel is not for everyone: those who are content in the self-race our society has created and continues to propagate – well, Stand Firm is not for those people. But if, like me, you reject the find-and-develop-yourself ideology as the panacea to happiness and success in our modern society – well, Stand Firm is a must read!

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Best Quotes: (so many!)

On the paradox of society, and our failed attempts to improve working-class lives: I see this so clearly in my work as a public educator where new curriculum, being introduced as we speak at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, perpetrates self-development, self-esteem, follow-your-passion (until I could gag!):

“As a society, we see the paradox machine at work on a bigger scale and in all sorts of contexts: for example, attempts to liberate the working class and its progeny by deploying critical and anti-authoritarian ‘learning by doing’ have merely reproduced inequality (and even exacerbated it in recent years), as these children have found themselves unable to navigate diffuse education structures with their myriad demands for autonomy and self-development. The offspring of the middle and upper classes have encountered no such problems.“ (23)

On the danger of the Yes hat:

“The Stoics see nothing wrong with positive experiences per se, but don’t see pursuing as many of them as possible as an end in itself. In fact, such a pusuit, decked out in a Yes hat and the latest fashionable gear, might stop you achieving peace of mind, the virtue that the Stoics cherish most … But in the accelerating culture, peace of mind is no longer deemed a desirable state. It’s a problem. People with peace of mind are precisely the type who are founded enough to knock back all sorts of (unreasonable) requirements and demands. That is not an asset in an era when the idea is the liquid, flexible, changeable individual.” (51)

On the value of literature in a world of psychobabble:

“I am convinced that the novels of Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabakov and Cormac McCarthy (some of my favourites) will make us better people than Anthony Robbins’ coaching guides or Martin Seligman’s positive psychology. Admittedly, comparing fiction with self-help is like comparing apples with pears – but what they have in common is that they both explore what it is to be human and what life is all about.” (93) ( )
2 vote lit_chick | Dec 3, 2017 |
In a subversion of the typical seven-step self-help guide, he offers his own seven steps, inspired by the ancient Stoics, on resisting the fetishisation of the self: cut out navel-gazing, focus on the negative, say No, suppress your feelings, sack your coach, read a novel and dwell on the past.
Quote from a review.

Svend Brinkmann is a popular Danish psychologist - and this anti-self-help-book was his big hit a few years ago. His humorous and self-ironic approach - deliberately exaggerating - help to get his point across. I disagree with his fundamental beliefs in pragmatism, but still he has a lot to offer in this critique of the endless demand for change, personal growth and positive thinking.

Our news organisation change every 12-18 months with sacking people and reorganisation and moving departments (and people) to and fro and it’s just crazy that you just settle in and start to know the new people, then another move, another way to do things.

I would like to tell my boss this next time he presents a new plan (it will happen in October) these words from Brinkmann:

“When someone presents plans for innovation and ‘visions’ for the future, tell them that everything was better in the old days. Explain to them that the idea of ‘progress’ is only a few hundred years old — and is, in fact, destructive.” ( )
2 vote ctpress | Sep 14, 2017 |
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"The pace of modern life is accelerating. To keep up, we must keep on moving and adapting - constantly striving for greater happiness and success. Or so we are told. But the demands of life in the fast lane come at a price: stress, fatigue and depression are at an all-time high while our social interactions have become increasingly self-serving and opportunistic. How can we resist today's obsession with introspection and self-improvement? In this witty and bestselling book, Danish philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann argues that we must not be afraid to reject the self-help mantra and "stand firm". The secret to a happier life lies not in finding your inner-self but in coming to terms with yourself in order to co-exist peacefully with others. By encouraging us to stand firm and get a foothold in life, this insightful anti-self-help guide offers a sobering and realistic alternative to life-coaching, positive thinking and the need always to say ?yes!?"--… (more)

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