Evaluating Self-Improvement Gurus A year ago, Beth Lisick gave new meaning to the term "self-help" and spent the next year determined to improve every aspect of her life. Her journey has turned into a book, Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone.
NPR logo

Evaluating Self-Improvement Gurus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17763470/17765189" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Evaluating Self-Improvement Gurus

Evaluating Self-Improvement Gurus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17763470/17765189" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

So while you're cleaning up the cake and the champagne bottles, do you remember that bold resolution you made to change your life? And whether that involves a spiritual quest, killer abs, financial independence, or a garage you can actually park your car in, there's bound to be a shiny book or video lurking in the self-help aisle.

Skeptic Beth Lisick avoided that aisle like poison, but two New Years ago, she made an unusual decision to step outside her comfort zone and seek self-improvement not just with gusto but with goals.

But which guru to choose? She spent a year wending her way through 10 of the most popular and most popularly scorned self-help tomes of our time - "Men Are From Mars," "Seven Habits," Deepak Chopra. And yes, she went on a cruise with Richard Simmons.

And Beth Lisick's book about her year combining - combing the self-improvement aisle is called, "Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone." If you've enlisted the help of a Tony Robbins or a Suze Orman, if you're debating which path to take at the moment, our number is 800-989-8255, the e-mail address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Beth Lisick joins us now from the studios of member station KALW in San Francisco and Happy New Year.

Ms. BETH LISICK (Author, "Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone"): Happy New Year to you, Neal.

CONAN: And your book begins just where we are now, January 1st, two years ago. So set the scene for us.

Ms. LISICK: Well, I - we have a New Year's Eve party every year and I woke up in my bed and I was looking at the cracks on the ceiling and I was looking at the screws where the - where our smoke detector should've been hanging for the past few years. And I just started thinking, God, there are a lot things around here that I could improve, but I'd never made a New Year's resolution and like you said, I was completely skeptical of anything near the self-help aisle at the book store.

So I think because I'm a writer and because I like to kind of push the limits of my comfort zone, I thought, well, why don't I just face my fears head on and just go for it, and just try to spend this entire year improving as much as I - as much as I could.

CONAN: You described that aisle as the intersection of sincerity, curiosity, revulsion and sheer desire to improve my life. But you also entered that aisle with, well, something between skepticism and snarkiness, is that fair to say?

Ms. LISICK: Well, I don't - you know, it's too easy a subject to make fun of. And so that was really challenging for me because, yeah, I went on a cruise with Richard Simmons. It's a regular Carnival Cruise ship with 2,000 people onboard, 225 which were Richard's group. And I thought, how am I going to approach just having fun with it, but actually trying to understand these people and figure this out. So I tried not to be snarky.

You know, I really tried to be sincere and see what I could do. But it's also - I mean, it's funny. You're doing aerobics on a cruise ship that, I mean, so there's a lot of - there's a lot of humor in the book, but hopefully, not mean-spirited.

CONAN: Somebody describes the Richard Simmons Cruise to Lose as the tyranny of fun.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah, well, that is - that is one of the mottos on the Carnival Cruise ship. I mean - that's how I interpreted it.

CONAN: Your interpretations…

Ms. LISICK: It's all - yeah - it's all, you know, it's a fun ship. It's all about fun, fun, fun all the time. And it really did sort of seem like a tyranny of fun by the third or fourth day. It was a week-long cruise. It's a long time to be on a ship.

CONAN: Yet despite your skepticism about a lot of things, you came to, it seems to me, honestly like Richard Simmons and what he was doing for these mostly women who are on the cruise. You called - you point out that one of the meanings of the word guru is the slayer of darkness. And Richard Simmons was that for you.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah, he really was, because there's - you know, I got to spend the most time with Richard. I did follow the advice of 10 gurus during this year, but I've taken a full week with Richard on the high seas. And I think that I saw a lot of different sides of him and I saw the really extremely campy side that we see on TV. But then, I also saw the way that he interacts with his followers. And he gets as much from them as they get from him. And so that was really interesting to see that close up. And I think that to me, slaying that darkness was - what I saw, was kind of taking away that cheesiness and seeing a real person there, which I didn't get to do with everybody. But with Richard, I definitely did.

CONAN: And has any of his advice stuck with you?

Ms. LISICK: Well, you know, I did sweat to the oldies, I did party off the pounds a little bit with some of his videos. But, you know, I hadn't exercised in 20 years. And so, for me, when I chose that month, the health and fitness month, I thought who - you know, what other fitness guru is there in United States that's as long-running and as well-known as Richard besides Jack LaLanne who's like 93 now, I think.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And I don't think doing cruises or at least not anymore. We're talking with Beth Lisick. Her new book is called, "Helping Me Help Myself." If you've ever engaged the book of one of the great self-help gurus, the popular ones, give us a call, 800-989-8255 and especially if you made that decision on well, New Year's Day. Again, the phone number 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

And, Beth Lisick, I wanted to ask you, I guess the first person you went with was Jack "Chicken Soup for the Soul" Canfield.

Ms. LISICK: That is correct. He had a book out at the time called "The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be." And part of the thing about these gurus and about the self-help thing is just all the language around it had turned me off for years and years and years. I mean, I used to watch Tony Robbins with my friends when I was a teenager, you know, at night, and just - we'd be laughing. And so I pick up a book like that and would you believe me, Neal, if I actually followed some advice in the book and envisioned myself having this conversation with you during this year, I thought, you know what, I read a book about this, I could go on TALK OF THE NATION and talk to Neal Conan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LISICK: And that is actually a thing that I really thought two years ago while I was reading his book, because that's part of his philosophy. It's just, you know, if you picture in your mind's eye what you want and it was so against my nature to do any of this, but this is a hilarious example of something that I actually said, all right, I'm going to put this in my goals binder and - yeah, a goals binder - I mean, I never thought I would have one. And so…

CONAN: Well, we want to see a copy of that goals binder notarized and dated.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LISICK: I know. And I was supposed to learn how to make pork chops really well too. That was in my goals binder, but I didn't get that one yet.

CONAN: And do the splits on both sides.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah, that was from the talent show that we have at our New Year's Eve party that I - this is how it all really started, is that, I thought I could do the splits on one side and I had done it for the talent show and when I had woken up on New Year's Day, I thought, God, you know what, next year, I'll learn how to do the splits on the other side and it'll be way more showbizzy(ph) and funny. And then that's when I realized that I had just made my first and only New Year's resolution.

So that year started out with that was going to be my only resolution for the whole year. And that's when I realized I was - it was kind of pathetic that that's all I was - that was my only goal.

CONAN: Pretty limited goals, yeah.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah.

CONAN: What was it about you - about your personality, do you think, that sort of kept your out of that self-help aisle for all those years?

Ms. LISICK: You know, I think that there is something about just being able to take care of stuff on my own, thinking that I could do it on my own, that Emersonian idea of self-reliance and I don't need anybody else. And I think a lot of it, too, is just that the commerce around it is really unappealing and unattractive. And looking at these, you know, kind of tan men with perfectly coiffed hair and just thinking how could that relate to my life in any way. And so I don't think I'm a jerk, but I definitely was very turned off by it. And just kind of from the outside looking at it, just how it felt, how cheesy it felt.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. Again, 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's talk with Dr. Tom(ph) and Dr. Tom with us from Minden in Nevada.

Dr. TOM (Caller): Yes. Hi, Neal. Hi, Beth. Good morning.

Ms. LISICK: Hello.

CONAN: And Happy New Year to you.

Dr. TOM: Happy New Year. You know, Beth, I just wanted to comment that I got a kick out of what you've been saying so far. I'm looking forward to reading your book in the sense that I'm 54 years old and I think I've done everything that you're describing times 10.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. TOM: When I was in college, I was a psychology major and ever since, I've been really interested in, you know, how to - if you can even use the word - improve one's life. So I understand both the attraction and at the same time that skepticism, almost repulsion.


Ms. LISICK: Yeah, it's a strange thing and I think that once you get in there and sort through it all, there's some great ideas. And I actually did learn a lot of things. I mean, I called up, you know, I followed Suze Orman's advice and called up my credit card company and got my APR reduced from something ridiculous like 20 percent to zero percent for an entire year in two minutes with a phone call. Just stuff like that, I read it in the book, and just never thought of doing it myself. So there are a lot of things, if you sift through.

CONAN: Well…

Dr. TOM: Well, you know, if I can make one comment, one thing I discovered -and this is a personal observation - is that you could - one can almost become addicted to self-help in that one reads the books, and listens to the tapes and goes through the seminars, and I had this sort of personal epiphany that in the sense that at some point, I realized, you know what, I just put down those books and tapes for years where I realized, I just have to live this stuff. I mean, I would go to seminars and I would almost predict what the next sentence was going to be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LISICK: Yeah. I did find - you know, I read the book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and that was the second book that I read in my year of self-help. And I really think that that is actually a good self-help book that - you could just read that one, there really could just be that book, I do believe. It's kind of bare bones and basic and all the ideas are in there, and it's interesting to me to see how the personalities of the gurus has come out and some people identify with certain people or think, oh, this is going to be my person, you know. And well, you - that book's terrible but try this guy. He's, you know, he's the best one.

CONAN: Though you asked yourself - reading the Stephen Covey book, is it wrong to ask a self-help book to help you improve your character?

Ms. LISICK: Yeah. To me it seems like that there's - the idea that there's a plan and a guideline - follow these, you know, seven habits or the nine steps to financial freedom, the, you know, these four things, these are the rules -and so it does seem counterintuitive that you would be reading a book that is telling you how to be a better person when the ideas are so very basic.

CONAN: And I have to - I'm sorry I didn't mean to interrupt you Dr. Tom.

Dr. TOM: Well, Neal, I was just going to make one more comment in that that's very apropos what you said, Neal, about the character issue? I've been to these seminars where I've gotten to know some of these people firsthand, some of these what we call gurus and, you know, it's so fascinating. There is one famous guy - and I don't want to name his name but he has written a book on relationships and, you know, amongst many other self-help books - and I've seen him on cheat on his wife.

So I'm going, who are you, you know. When you see these people up close and personal, you realize that they're more than human, and that's in one hand, there could be a turnoff. But on the other hand, you go - hey, they've got nothing over me, you know, you just realize you've got to live your own life and not to put anybody on the pedestal. Take what you can and just use it in a way that Beth was saying like the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." Take what you get but don't put these people on a pedestal because they're really no better than you or I.

CONAN: Okay, Dr. Tom. Thanks very much for the call.

Dr. TOM: Thanks so much.

CONAN: Beth, did you ever find out who Franklin Covey was?

Ms. LISICK: Oh, right. I did. Stephen Covey merged his business with Franklin Industries so that's how it turned into this Franklin Covey as we know it, the store at a mall where you can get the planners. So I did go to a Franklin Covey symposium in Chicago for a few days and there were a lot of Franklin Covey products also there for sale. The funniest thing they had also at that seminar was a company called Executive Book Summaries, which was one of the conference sponsors. And what they do is they take these business books and they condense, you know, a 400-page business book down to its essentials, so it's like three paragraphs long. And I noticed that they had taken Stephen Covey's latest book, "The Eighth Habit," which is actually a longer book than "The Seven Habits" so I haven't read that one yet but it's one habit is - takes up more room than seven…

CONAN: Than the previous seven. Well, it must be real good (unintelligible)…

Ms. LISICK: …the previous book. Yeah - and anyway, they had taken "The Eighth Habit" though and condensed it down to two paragraphs so they were trying to sell the book, on one hand but then also you could just pick up a pamphlet with the two paragraphs and it was all boiled down for you.

CONAN: We're talking with Beth Lisick about her new book "Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is going to be Julia(ph). Julia with us from Eugene, Oregon.

JULIA (Caller): Hi. Am I on the air?

CONAN: Yes, you are. Go ahead, please. Happy New Year.

JULIA: Okay. Happy New Year to you, too. I wanted to talk about that Joseph Campbell (unintelligible) following your bliss?

CONAN: Mm-hmm?

JULIA: …because that's what I decided to do a few years ago. I realized I was really far from where I wanted to be and I decided to take that seriously even though it's such a pithy(ph) comment, you know, but my life was just turned around 180 degrees. And the thing that really works for me about him is he seems to encourage me to really listen to that deep inner voice, you know. He doesn't sort of tell me what to do so much as I feel like tells me how to listen to what it is that's really inside, you know.

CONAN: And you feel like this is has made a tremendous difference in your life?

JULIA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I'd feel like I was really far from where I wanted to be and, you know, one of the things I wanted to talk about was how scary it can be to sort of become the person that you want to be, if it's so unfamiliar to you, if you've been living your life and kind of going the wrong direction for a really long time, you can turn it around and it'll feel really good. But on the other hand, it's kind of really challenging, too, because it's so unfamiliar.

CONAN: Yeah. You also have to commit to it, and it's interesting. Thanks very much for the call and good - continued good luck with your pursuit.

JULIA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: But you have to commit to it and one of the - I forget which chapter you were writing about, Beth Lisick, you said, you know, if this program is to succeed or if any of these programs are to succeed, I have to be dedicated, I have to be committed to this.

Ms. LISICK: It's true. I - because I found myself, you know, a whole year doing this it was really exhausting. And - so there are times - it so chronicles my year and I kind of start to flag at points and just think, God, I don't know if this is for me. And, you know, it's like what the caller said, having this idea of following your bliss. It's interesting because it's almost like if you just think of that, I don't know that I needed a book to tell me that I can maybe read the title and just sit there and think about it following your bliss, okay, following what's inside and I think that - in daily life, it's hard to keep doing those things when you're distracted by people cutting you off in traffic or, you know, all those, all the things like that.

CONAN: Small children, those sorts of things.

Ms. LISICK: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: Yeah. Which you have had and have, the question about these (unintelligible) you learn a lot about God.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah. No, that was an interesting chapter. I - that was probably the most unhumorous of all of my chapters because I have - at the time my son was 4 years old and he was going through this terrible testing time where I found this guy at actually a different seminar. I was at a - to see John Gray, the author of "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" and I found this guy, Thomas Phelan. Dr. Phelan, who has written a book called "1-2-3 Magic."

And it's this very slim book on disciplining your child and it was so basic and simple, and I actually found that it really, really worked. And that was probably, you know, one of the top ones that I did that year was just learning this advice on how to discipline my child. And again, it's not a very funny chapter because I go through, you know, the temper tantrums and the frustration and all that of being a parent.

CONAN: It's New Year's Day, a time for resolutions and gurus to help you resolve and give us a call to help - tell us what self-help tomes you've consulted over the years. Our phone number 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And you can check out what listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. We're talking with Beth Lisick about her year of self-improvement. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And right now, we're continuing our conversation with Beth Lisick, who spent a whirlwind year sampling the pleasures and pains of self-improvement with a gaggle of gurus. You can read an excerpt from her book, "Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone" at our Web site at npr.org/talk. And if you've ever consulted a guru or pored over a self-help book, let us know how it worked for you. You're invited to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. And again, our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And Beth Lisick, I have to ask you, you were talking about being motivated by Suze Orman to call the credit card company and have your rate reduced, which was, I guess a variation on - I think it was Jack Canfield's suggestion of, you know, just ask for what you want. And…

Ms. LISICK: Yeah, that's right. That's one of Jack's - one of his success principles is just ask, ask, ask and keep asking. In the beginning of the book, I tried to get him to give me free e-coaching, to be my live coach for free, and I just asked and I just kept getting rejected.

CONAN: Well, I'm sorry about that, but…

Ms. LISICK: But - I know, I know. But in the end, I did get a lot from Jack, but it didn't work in that case. But in this - in the credit card thing, it was interesting because it really was a two-minute phone call. So that - in that case it worked out really well.

CONAN: But I wonder - you see a lot of parallels between even, you know, Richard Simmons, who you wouldn't necessarily think of being the same category as, say, Deepak Chopra, but nevertheless, the same kinds of advice filtering through all these different channels.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah. You know what I found very interesting was when I did my home organization month, I consulted Julie Morgenstern, who's Oprah's go-to lady. And it was - her book is called "Organizing from the Inside Out." And a lot of it is takes these ideas of kind of going a little bit deeper and figuring out well, why is your closet a mess and I just thought I've just got a messy closet I don't know I can't keep the stuff organized, I - and then when I read her book, I thought, you know, it really is because I've always been sort of ambivalent about fashion, I like, you know, old vintage clothes but I think it's kind of ridiculous to be really into fashion and spend a lot of time in your appearance. And so I realize that, you know, according to Julie's philosophy, that was why my closet was a mess…

CONAN: Well…

Ms. LISICK: …it's because I didn't take care of my clothes because I didn't really put much value in them. And so…

CONAN: There was another philosophy a friend of yours came and it said, you two have just kept everything that you thought was funny when you were 20.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah, that's true. That's - yeah. A friend did say that to us when he went down on our basement which is sort of the - where we put everything that we don't want to look at anymore. And he did notice that, you know, we have a lot of like huge portraits of families from the 1960s that aren't related to us and, yeah, things we thought were hilarious at one time and are still in our basement.

CONAN: And after that book and realizing the cogence of her advice, is the basement clean?

Ms. LISICK: You know, Neal, the basement is not clean. I'm sorry to say it. But I'm going on a book tour and my husband has taken some time off work and that's actually his - going to be his job. So it's, you know, two years later and we're still working on it here. But it's good because it - I actually got, like, for the home organization thing, Julie gave me a whole plan, a master plan. And I got the closets, I got some of the cabinets done and then I still have this thing to look at of what I can do. So I put the basement off on my husband.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers in on the conversation. Let's turn to - this is M.J.(ph). M.J. with us from Potter Valley in California.

M.J. (Caller): And a Happy New Year to you and your guest.

CONAN: Thank you.

Ms. LISICK: Okay.

M.J.: As a matter of fact, I was in the garage getting the straight - we can get one car in the two-car garage and I'm bound to get that straightened away. But the reason for the call if I can just kind of jump right in. From my standpoint - I'm not quite 60 years of age - and the guru in my life has been my father, who incidentally was a and remains a dear friend of Jack LaLanne. A matter of fact, they used to work out together at the YMCA in San Francisco in the '30s. And my father today - Max is his name - retired inspector from the police department in San Francisco is the same age as Jack. I think they're about four months apart. Born in 1914, he still does 10 pushups every day and I'm talking military pushups. I have a tough time keeping up with my dad - God love him - and he has some tenets that he lives by.

First of all, he says, son, love everybody. And I said dad, that's impossible. He says, it's not impossible; if you can't love them, at least forgive them. And never give up. So he lives by that and I'd like to add that there are many excellent books on the market but certain principles kind of remain true - you had to be true to yourself and those that love you need to be loved in return. I haven't had an occasion to read your book, Beth, but I'm looking forward to it.

CONAN: Well…

Ms. LISICK: Oh, thank you so much. That is a great point though, getting inspiration from the people around you and people that you know. And yeah, taking those really basic ideas and not, I guess I would kind of, you know, write them off as cliches because we hear them so often - treat others, you know, do into others, the whole Golden Rule. And if you think about it, when you walk around and you're in - and I mean, then it gets to the whole thing about the secret, too, right? If you're projecting all these positive energy, it's going to come back to you, you know? That was the book and that came out at the end of my year, so I didn't have to tackle the secret, though, Jack Canfield did hand me a copy of the film when I met him. But I think it is true that you can get so much inspiration from people around you and people who set good examples of how to live their lives.

M.J.: Very true and…

CONAN: And M.J., I think we can safely say that most of us would have a hard time keeping up with your dad and with Jack LaLane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

M.J.: You know, I agree and he is still a member in good standing of a health club in U.K. and he has saved many people's lives, people that unfortunately feel down, they feel crippled because their muscles are - they're not standing straight. And my father, I can't tell you and your listeners how much I respect and love Max. I see him every week. My wife and I live in just outside the Santa Rosa and we have a home in U.K. But the long and short of it is, it is an inspiration for me to be with my father because so many people - and I mean this sincerely - come to the house for when they see him either at the health club, they gravitate to him because he is a positive person.

No matter how much pain he has been in - and let me say he was shot a couple of times, I remember as a kid when he was in the police department, he was in a robbery detail - he came home bloodied but he went right back out and solved the crime in most cases. So a positive mental outlook on life is very, a very healing to one's psyche and to one's soul.

CONAN: M.J, have you ever considered writing a self-help book?

Ms. LISICK: I say we should get your dad a book deal.

M.J.: Well, you know, that's - it's - thank you. I'll mention that to him. It may very well be and I'll be more than happy to discuss his outlook of life with…

CONAN: Well, our people will be in touch with your people, M.J.

M.J.: …you know, thank you very much for the opportunity of sharing with both of you folks and with your audience to keep a positive mental outlook on life and to keep smiling. If nothing else, it keeps those that are looking at you off guard.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

M.J.: All right.

CONAN: And a Happy New Year to you and to your dad.

Ms. LISICK: Happy New Year.

M.J.: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's turn now to Catherine(ph). And Catherine's calling us from Salt Lake City.

CATHERINE: (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. And a Happy New Year.

CATHERINE: Hi. I want to meet that guy's dad.


Ms. LISICK: I know.

CATHERINE: The - you know, the message that he spoke up of, positive mental attitude and also self-love kind of came into play in the book that I read, too. The book I read is called "The Dance of Anger." And I read it a long time ago when I was a young woman with three young children, small children, and I was married to an abusive spouse. He really was a very angry and mean man and I felt trapped and I didn't know what to do.

CONAN: And the "Dance of Anger" helped you?

CATHERINE: It did. I was angry. I mean, I was in a relationship where I was angry because somebody was, you know, throwing me into walls and, you know, being abusive with money and just trying to abuse power in a relationship. And I realized that my anger wasn't getting me anywhere and so I - the book helped me get in touch with who I was as a person and help me make positive choices. And pretty soon, he became intolerant of my behavior to him because I wasn't responding to his use of power anymore and he left me.

Ms. LISICK: Well, you know, that's - in a lot of these books, too, is that you cannot choose, you know, you can't control how other people are going to act to you but you have the choice, the power to choose how you react to them.

CATHERINE: I know it was - exactly. And I have read this book and, you know, there was an even where he did harmed physically. I called my father. My father said, Catherine, that's assault. Call the police. And it snapped - something in my head just snapped and, you know, that was the beginning of the end of the marriage. I just wouldn't tolerate his abuse anymore and I wouldn't be angry and I wouldn't react to him and I wouldn't cower and he just one day walked out. And by then, I was so - I didn't love him because of the awful way he had treated me and, you know, the bad, you know, he was a bad force in the lives of my children, too. And I basically said don't take the good towels and goodbye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CATHERINE: And then he left and, you know, since then, he hasn't been a great father but he has a good positive relationship with his children and I never see him or talk to him but I'm not angry of him anymore. And I really credit this book it was a wonderful book, "The Dance of Anger" by Harriet Goldhor Lerner and she's a psychotherapist. And the book was written in 1985, so it's not a new book and I don't even know if there are newer versions of the book but I loved it. And there was a subsequent book to it and I forgotten the title but "The Dance of Anger" changed my life. It really did.

CONAN: Well Catherine, congratulations. It's not easy.

CATHERINE: Oh, thanks.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call, too. And again, Happy New Year.

CATHERINE: Happy New Year to you, too.

CONAN: We're talking with Beth Lisick about her book, "Helping Me Help Myself." You are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Beth, I wanted to ask you. At the end of your book, you conclude after a year - and it wasn't one guru per month exactly, you took a couple of months off to - was that to plow through the depths of self doubt?

Ms. LISICK: You know, I had a couple of things that I wanted to do and when I got to those months, I thought it would be funny to try and to improve my sex life. And then when I started thinking about how I was going to write about this and what, how I was going to consult someone to - and then my husband and I just decided, hey, why don't we just have sex more often? That will work. And so that was that chapter.

CONAN: That was that chapter and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …something that made some people very happy, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But at the end of the year, back in January, you wrote, I thought it would be the funniest thing if I didn't improve at all. If I came to the conclusion that self-help programs were mostly a bunch of garbage. What conclusions did you come to?

Ms. LISICK: You know, I think that there was something about stepping out of the way that I normally live my life with which really is this kind of low impact, go with the flow, in way following my bliss, but that wasn't exactly working out in some areas. So when I stepped outside and actually started to -I mean, I'm not kidding, you know, visualize myself writing a book about it, going on TALK OF THE NATION, trying to make something - make some sense out of it. In the end, I really did find that, that there was some good ideas and it was useful for me to kind of step outside of the way that I normally think.

CONAN: You spent a fair amount of money in pursuit of this, obviously, for the cruise with Richard Simmons and…

Ms. LISICK: That - yeah, that was the downside.

CONAN: …yeah, I was going to say. But also, you know, for the $699 for one seminar and the - I can't find my numbers - but several hundred dollars for another and this can all add up and it seemed before you get to the, what you delightfully described as the merch desk.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah. That - I think that that was, that's the biggest downside, definitely. I wanted - I spent my own money on it and I go, you know, I go broke in the, you know, toward the end of the book, I mean, literally, I have no money. And - but I wanted to see what it felt like to do what people do and buy these books and then go to the seminar and spend that money on it. And so, yeah, I think that maybe if people read this book, they'd probably realize that they don't have to spend as much money as they are on all these seminars and a lot of the ideas are, you know, you can get a good used copy of an old self-help book.

CONAN: Let's see we get Jeff(ph) on the line. Jeff's with us from Portland, Oregon.

JEFF (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. Happy New Year.

JEFF: Happy New Year to you, to both of you.

CONAN: Thank you.

Ms. LISICK: Happy New Year.

JEFF: I was - there are some comments I want to make. First, I wanted to ask if you had ever read "As A Man Thinketh," which is, you know, credited as one of the first self-help books. And…

Ms. LISICK: Oh, no.

JEFF: No, you haven't?

Ms. LISICK: No, I haven't.

JEFF: Oh, okay. It's - it was written in the late 1800s and a lot of people turn to it as one of the first pot, you know, think positively (unintelligible), you know, come true. But also, why - what is your take on the fact that there's such a proliferation of these books and a lot of them wind up saying the same thing over and over again, and why are people turning to these, you know, turning to these as opposed to what most people turned to a long time ago which was, you know, organized religion?

Ms. LISICK: Yeah. I find that very interesting, the whole idea of the life coach and the therapist to kind of taking place of that. And I think that a lot of it is about packaging and marketing and that somebody - taking these all ideas and putting in, you know, a new face on it, and somebody feels like, well, I'm not going to relate to Deepak Chopra, but maybe, you know, Stephen Covey's going to be my guy. Or maybe I want somebody more religious or maybe I want somebody a little warm and fuzzier. And so I think a lot of it is just it's been discovered that this is a huge, huge moneymaking thing. And so I think that's what it is, is that they just keep turning around and putting a new face on it and that those faces are going to resonate with certain people.

CONAN: I was interested because you sort of end up dividing the whole category into two periods - 150 years of, well, you know, self-help books and then success writing, which comes of age after World War II.

Ms. LISICK: Right. And Stephen Covey talks about that, that there was this -originally, this idea about basic things about your character. That was sort of Benjamin Franklin, you know, wrote or Emerson, and then it did turn into more of the kind of what you think of the pop psychology and, you know, yeah, put on a happy face and kind of these quick-fix things are a more recent thing and I think that's just a product of the culture.

JEFF: Well, a friend of mine who gave me the secret, who you show me that. I mean, there's a lot of stuff in there, like, you know, you feel like saying, duh. But…

CONAN: Well, there's a fair amount in all of those things you feel about saying duh.

Ms. LISICK: Yeah.

JEFF: Right, right. But the bottom line is that, you know, maybe because of our lives when you take, you know, sometimes be reminded of it.

CONAN: In a fresh way, in a way that's a little bit outside the box. Anyway, Jeff, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

JEFF: All right. Thank you. Have a good New Year.

CONAN: And Beth Lisick, we're glad that we could empower your aura today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LISICK: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Beth Lisick is the author of "Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone." She joined us from the studios of KALW in San Francisco, California.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Happy New Year everybody.

I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.