The Crippling Effect of How-To Articles

Do you ever notice the vast amount of “how-to” articles online? It’s incredible!  When I want to search for a new skill, I am confident that I can quickly and easily type my dilemma in a search engine, and it will produce several sites that imply the answer is as simple as a short list. Then, out comes a better me.

Yesterday, I had an conversation argument with a loved one who made a comment about my selfishness. After removing my defensive attitude, I thought about how I could be more selfless.  So, I Googled it: How to be more selfless. Here is what generated:

  • 11 Steps to Becoming Selfless
  • How to be Selfless: 14 Steps
  • 6 Ways to Save your Marriage with Selflessness
  • 5 Ways to be Selfless

Now, after all the lists that popped up, who wouldn’t think it isn’t easy to make change? I will admit that I did click on each of the lists in hopes that one would give me the perfect combination of quick change and simple task. Then, like a bolt of lightning, I was reminded of a passage in a book I once read by Brene’ Brown in which she criticized “how-to” lists:

“‘How-to’ is a seductive shortcut, and I understand that.  Why cross the swamp if you can just bypass it?”

Brene’ Btown, The Gifts of Imperfection, Hazeldon 2010

That was such a reality check for me! Was I afraid to cross through the swamp – the difficult waters of internal work- in order to get to a better me? Absolutely.  But one thing I know to be true is that nothing is a quick fix, especially when it comes to a transformed life.

Think about it: With all the access to information, do we really not know how to exercise? To eat healthier? To reduce stress? To be selfless? Why, then, do we find ourselves still operating the same way? The many reasons for that are arguable, but the common thread is about getting to the root of the issue.  What is the real reason why I am operating out of selfishness? What is the real reason I am not eating healthier? Simple “how-to’s” don’t go deep enough for those types of questions because they simply scratch the surface. Literally.

If we want to see real change in our lives, we have to be willing to dig deeper and address what we don’t want to name.  For me, being able to admit that my selfishness stems from a fear of losing something was revolutionary in the way I could address my “flaws.” Facing that reality allowed me to get to the other side of the swamp, regardless of the muddy waters in between.

What is in your swamp? Feel free to share the roots of your dilemmas in the comments!


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Elana Cole is an author, educator, and coach who is passionate about helping others in their personal journeys towards a more beautiful life. She is the author of "The Midnight Experience" and creator of Empowered Narrative, a blog about transforming the way you live and love.

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