10 self-help lessons from writer Augusten Burroughs

Consider this advice: 1. Make your life better by acknowledging how bad it really is right now 2. Don’t be afraid to be yourself as you are at every moment of your life — even when you are miserable, fat and alone 3. Self-knowledge isn’t just power — it’s freedom

Augusten Burroughs, This is How


Consider this advice:

1. Make your life better by acknowledging how bad it really is right now
2. Don’t be afraid to be yourself as you are at every moment of your life — even when you are miserable, fat and alone
3. Self-knowledge isn’t just power — it’s freedom

These are just a few of the many examples of the brutally honest pieces of life advice offered in This is How, the provocative and uncompromising self-help book by New York Times’ best-selling author Augusten Burroughs. You won’t get any life-changing mantras or tips on how to write a gratitude journal here. What you will get: the powerful knowledge that you are the only person equipped to figure out what to do with your life. Self-knowledge is power. Told you.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Augusten, author of the wildly successful Running with Scissors, here’s what I learned:

1. ‘I think I can’ doesn’t work for everyone. Conventional wisdom says to think positive thoughts when you’re feeling down and out. Tell yourself, ‘I’m good enough, smart enough and doggone it people like me!’

Hold up, Little Miss. Sunshine. Your methods aren’t as effective as you think. Augusten cites research disputing the notion of a one-mantra-fits-all universe, “Those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves,” he writes. So go ahead…

2. Feel bad, really bad, if you want to feel better. Hate your job? Fallen out of love? Don’t be afraid to face up to your darkest thoughts and feelings. When you allow yourself to feel what you’re really feeling as opposed to faking it (see positive mantras above) “then you have a baseline,” says Augusten.

The truth about how you really feel, painful as it may be, is a starting point for taking appropriate action and therefore control of your life. So “bad” thoughts? They’re a good thing.

3. You can’t lose those last 10 pounds because you don’t want to enough.
Can’t lose the weight? Ask yourself why. And be honest. For Augusten the answer is simple he writes, “You don’t want it deeply and completely enough. Something within you is reserved in the matter. You need to know where that voice of dissent is coming from.” If it’s coming from the candy section of your local grocery store, then acknowledge that you derive more pleasure from eating dark chocolate than you do competing with Victoria Beckham. This is not a bad thing. This is you owning that 10 pounds, and heck, even enjoying it. You can measure pleasure in pounds sometimes.

4. Stop chasing confidence — you’ll never catch it. The relentless pursuit of self-confidence is a waste of time and money, “There are so many things you can focus on,” says Augusten. And that focus is precisely what will help you to stop chasing the phantom of self-esteem.

Next time you’re swept away by feelings of insecurity, or self-doubt, Augusten says shake your head and direct your attention to a task — mop the floor, clean the fridge, play with your dog. Activity, not thought, will free you from your self-defeating internal monologue. “It’s a mental trick that works,” he explains.

5. You haven’t looked for your soul mate as hard as you think you have. Unlucky in love? Don’t blame the universe, your mother, or yourself — just get out there and meet more people. Augusten writes, “…being single when you don’t want to be single anymore says nothing about your lovability…it says volumes, though, about the limits you’ve established with respect to looking for and meeting new people. If you’re single and you don’t want to be, meet more people. It is, in fact, that easy.”

And while you’re at it, close the door on “closure”. You’ve been hurt. Somebody screwed you over, did you wrong, harmed you in some way. That’s awful, says Augusten. But here’s the hard truth: stop waiting for the wounds to heal, for that never-going-to-happen apology, and instead acknowledge the present reality. “I wasted years of my life thinking to heal meant to become whole like [I] was before. No. Not at all. The new you is you now. That’s it.”

6. You can end your life without killing yourself. Suicidal thoughts don’t mean you want to die, says Augusten. They are simply the way you express a desire for change. You don’t want to die — you want to end the life you’re living. So do it, he says. End your old life and start a new one. Press ’restart’ on your life rather than ’logout’.

7. Live in the present. Theoretically the hands of a clock could move in either direction, says Augusten, but in reality they only move forward. “So there is, woven into the fabric of everything around us, everything, a direction, an arrow that moves away from what just happened. The past is literally gone. The future isn’t yet real…we are built to be in the moment.”

8. Make sure that your dream is not a delusion. When Augusten was little he wanted to be an actor. Then he saw a videotape of himself “acting” and that’s not at all what he saw: “I was not an actor.”

Instead of persisting in the delusion of his acting potential, he realized he was a theatrical dud and asked himself a smart question: Now what? The answer: become a writer. “I don’t feel I gave up my dream. I gave up my choice of vehicle used to deliver me to this dream,” he writes.

9. There is more to life than happiness! “When I hear people say, ‘I just want to be happy,’ [I think] don’t wish that,” he says. “Don’t wish for things you don’t have.” You can be more than happy, says Augusten. You can be interested, passionate about your work, you can be curious. You can be miserable. If you want happiness, don’t look outside of yourself for the answer think about what it means to you personally. “If you’re going to wish for it you’d better know exactly what it feels like. And is it the sort of feeling that can last for years? Or is it the sort of feeling that you feel for a little while and it’ll go away and you’ll feel it again.”

10. Expose the lies that stand in the way of personal truth. What’s making you so blue? Maybe you’ve not been entirely honest with yourself: about the reasons why you’re married or not married or why you’re stuck in a job you dislike.

Augusten says, “Whenever I have encountered a block or an issue in my own life it’s because somewhere, hidden in my life, is an inaccuracy and I have to find it. There’s an inaccuracy of the marriage, of the life I’ve built…being a little bit dishonest here and there created a disaster. When I think about all the times I’ve screwed up it was because there was a lie somewhere in my life.”

Find the lie and by extension you find the truth.

Augusten’s book, This is How, is available now, $29.

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