Tag Archives: personal development

Solitude in a noisy world – a book by Anthony Storr

5 Oct

I was attempting to restore some order to my bookshelf when I came across a book I had almost forgotten about but one that deserves a post.

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A couple of years ago, I found myself contemplating my relationship with myself and others .  While I did desire a fruitful social life, my desires didn’t seem the same as other people in their early twenties.  Basically, I was becoming increasingly aware that I frequently craved time alone and often enjoyed spending time alone rather than in the company of many people my own age.  So I did a bit of research and bought ‘Solitude’ by Anthony Storr.  This time I didn’t want something self-helpy; I wanted something more scientific and evidence-based to give me an insight into my own desires and preferences so ‘Solitude’ seemed to tick the right boxes, what with Storr being an eminent psychiatrist.

Quite simply, it’s a very good book.  It explores the various dimensions of ‘solitude’, and brings to light the importance today’s society places on ‘intimate interpersonal relationships as the touchstone of health and happiness’, which Storr points out is a ‘comparatively recent phenomenon.’  Previous generations focused on survival and earning a living, but nowadays, in developed countries, it seems that the arena of personal relations causes the greatest concern.  Storr argues that this ignores the importance of less intimate relations,  the need to feel part of a bigger community, the need for a function and a place.  Too many psychological studies emphasise that life revolves around personal relations but what I like about Storr’s approach is that he sees that this is not always the case.  People that lack intimate relations can still enjoy meaningful lives – although it might be more difficult, it can certainly be managed and such a pervasive belief that personal relations determine meaningfulness is damaging and entirely ignores the fact that people are complex creatures, that come in different shapes and forms.

I found this idea really refreshing and reassuring; reading it felt like a comforting pat on the back against a society that often classes solitude as something to be looked down upon.

Storr also examines the differences between enforced solitude and how something that one can crave becomes torturous when enforced.   However, what I found especially interesting was the relationship between solitude and creativity.  He questions whether individuals that enjoy solitude are more likely to be creative and the causal relationship there isn’t entirely clear.  He discusses the personalities of Kafka (a pathologically introverted, schizoid even), Wittgenstein (depressive and often suicidal) and Newton (transiently psychotic).  I found this exploration fascinating; they all experienced ‘more than the usual share of what is generally deemed ‘psychopathology”.  But they survived and contributed so much to the world; their creativity and genius perhaps flourishing due to their personal battles, their desire to ‘search for coherence.’

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book.   Those that find themselves craving solitude will be reassured, comforted and informed by  Storr’s words and those that are perhaps more extroverted will gain a sharp insight into other personality types.

The last paragraph of the book, taken from Wordsworth’s The Prelude sums up the message of ‘Solitude quite perfectly:

When from our better selves we have too long

Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,

Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,

How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

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The self-help phenomenon

12 Mar

I’ll admit it: I’m a recovering self-help junkie.  Give me any article, book or video that claims to possess the tools and know-how to transform your life into a shinier, sparklier version and I’ll be hooked.  My love of everything within the self-help/ personal development arena has led me into some slightly surreal situations including taking part in a three-day course at a hotel next to Gatwick, where I was made to massage the strangers sitting next to me and karate chop a piece of MDF with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blaring in the background.

And it’s not just me who seems to have been sucked into this self-help phenomenon.  With the economy pretty much having been rubbish for the last few years, sales of self-help books have soared even when other genres have suffered significantly.  That’s not exactly surprising – people generally feel lower during times of recession so are more likely to turn to books that help to inspire and motivate them.   If the industry is profiting by making people feel more inspired and hopeful about their lives, surely that can only be a good thing?

Many argue that the self-help industry has a dark side – the side that exploits vulnerable people and convinces them with false promises that they will be able to attain whatever they want.   Critics of Rhonda Byrne’s international bestseller, ‘The Secret’, state that this can lead readers to believe that everything is attainable if one merely wishes for it, which can steer them away from effective solutions to their promise.   Indeed, much of the advice in self-help books has not been scientifically tested despite the authoritative authorial tone that is often adopted, with some advice being downright dubious – just look at Byrne’s potentially damaging view that ‘Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts.’

I guess my penchant for the self-help genre is slightly strange considering I’m an innate cynic; experience has taught me that great expectations often lead to great disappointments.  Life rarely goes to plan and it’s important to realise that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Perhaps, then, this is what attracted me to the shiny world of self-help; it’s the opposite of everything I am.  At one point, I used self-help books as a sort of comfort blanket, something to cling onto when I was feeling vulnerable as I believed they would be the tool to allow me to become this amazing, new and exciting person.  However, these are categorically wrong reasons to read self-help books.  In fact, obsessively reading self-help books can actually be viewed as a manifestation of my own self-hatred.  I didn’t like myself and I turned to these to try to find ways to change who I was and become the person I thought I should be.  Constantly looking for a quick fix or solution to my unhappiness has shown me that a self-help book can never offer this – it requires internal reflection and maintaining a sense of purpose, among other things.

Despite all of this, I definitely feel that self-help books still have their place.  It’s a testament to people’s desire to improve themselves and keep developing to be the best they can be and that’s not to be frowned at.  Instead, I think that a lot of advice should be taken with a pinch of salt and without blindly assuming the  author is an expert – after all, how does one become an ‘expert’ in personal development?  As in any genre, there will be good and bad books and you should appeal to your commonsense principle to decide which book best suits you.  Self-help books and articles can be an amazing tool to help give you a lift and point you in the right direction but they do not provide a magic cure for everything.  They should inspire you to make positive changes in your life rather than make you feel bad at having done things a certain way thus far.

This is why I am proud to say I am a big fan of personal development and any tools, whether they be books or articles, that help me in this journey.

Tiny Buddha article (2)

8 Mar

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I am so happy and grateful to have my second article, ‘Getting to know yourself, what you like and what you want in life’  featured on the Tiny Buddha website (available to read at http://tinybuddha.com/blog/getting-to-know-yourself-what-you-like-and-what-you-want-in-life/).  I actually sat down at the end of last year at my desk after thinking about things (mainly what I had learnt, as you do at the end of the year) and I just felt the sudden urge to write about my experiences.  They weren’t initially meant as articles -at first, they took the form of a sort of internal monologue but I gradually realised that they provided a good basis for articles.  Turning them into articles was actually a really positive experience because it required me to think of advice and tips I could give to combat the feelings I experienced.  As a result, I became a lot more aware of my actions and what I could do differently to make myself feel better.  I hope these articles are in some tiny way inspiring or helpful to others 🙂

Tiny Buddha article

22 Feb

I was SO happy to see my article, ‘How to be at peace with the way you look’ on the Tiny Buddha website yesterday.  For those of you that don’t know, Tiny Buddha is a website, set up by the lovely Lori Deschene, which ‘offers simple wisdom for complex lives.’  It’s one of my favourite websites and the fact that the majority of articles are written by contributors makes it far more personal than the multitude of personal development websites out there.

The link to my article is here:

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-start-feeling-at-peace-with-the-way-you-look/

Please feel free to leave any comments!