Self Help Guide is Based on Neuropsychology but Lacks Enough Depth to Assist Those Struggling with Complex Issues
How to Build Self-Discipline: Resist Temptations and Reach Your Long-Term Goals by Martin Meadows is a strange sort of self-help book, in that it doesn’t purport to help you overcome a specific issue, such as overeating or toxic relationships. Rather, it is a comprehensive look at self-control that is based in the science of neuroplasticity and the precepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – though the author specifically states early on that he will not use overly scientific terms. But the underlying theories are based on the concept that, with practice, new neural pathways can be created in the brain. That is, in order to create a new behavior, it must be practiced over and over until it is “etched” into the brain.
What is not covered, however, is how to support yourself as you are practicing the exercises that Meadows suggests. Giving up coping skills, even those that have become detrimental, is a difficult process and without something to replace them with, it is hard to get through the time it takes for new habits to become fixed in your brain. The book alludes to some replacement coping skills that are reminiscent of those in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, such as mindfulness and meditation, but much of the book has a “just do it” feel. Again, there is an emphasis on practices that can be very helpful in overcoming addiction and other unwanted behaviors, such as self awareness and meditation. But the guide gives very little instruction on just how to become self aware or how to mediate. In the chapter that deals with dopamine, for instance, Meadows suggests riding out a craving this way
“Acknowledge your craving and let the feeling wander through your body. Then switch your attention to the reason why you’re resisting it.”
Unfortunately, it is not that easy, as anyone who has dealt with addiction can tell you. Those two sentences are
woefully inadequate instruction on how to overcome the urges created by chemicals like dopamine. What does “let the feeling wander through your body” mean? How does that process work? For how long? What if it comes back? Should I distract myself with something else while I’m letting the feeling wander? What if I fail? Should I try again? Is failing the first time I try normal? None of these questions are answered by Meadows’ guide.
Self help books can be a boon when we are struggling with a particular issue or behavior, but they can also create a sense of failure if, after having read them, we are unable to change the issue or behavior. Readers of this book may come to it looking for help with complex and deeply traumatic issues such as addiction, eating disorders, anxiety attacks or self-injury. And the abbreviated “just do it” approach in How to Build Self-Discipline: Resist Temptations and Reach Your Long-Term Goals, however well meaning it may be, has the potential to do these book buyers more harm than good.