Self-help books don’t always sit well with me. I think there are a lot of them with good intentions, but there are so many that leave something to be desired. But I also think that it comes down to who is the intended audience, and am I really them.
I picked up Rachel Hollis’s book, Girl, Wash Your Face because I had a coupon for Barnes and Noble and I, like many of you, saw it floating around social media. Every influencer had their hand on this book, which is why I stayed away from it for 2018 – I didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon. However, I found myself nodding at posts here and there and thought, maybe, this book isn’t so bad.
So those two reasons aren’t glamorous – but I like a good deal and I like real books. I like how they smell, I like the binding in my hands, I like the opportunity to write in them if I feel the urge.
What caused me to buy the book is the chapter titles. That’s how I start. I check out the cover, I prefer hardback books – then I read the inside of the jacket, then I go through the table of contents.
If you haven’t read the book or at least glanced at the table of contents, then let me tell you that the chapter titles are lies that she had told herself or had believed about herself. That drew me in because I found myself finding a few of her lies were also a few of mine – or at least surface level they were.
I stood in the bookstore and skimmed through the pages of the introduction and that sealed the deal.
Her writing style reminds me of mine – it’s a conversation. You feel like you’re having it with her and that was a comforting talk – so I bought the book and read half of it on my way to and from Philadelphia and then as I’ve had time I read pieces here and there – taking notes throughout.
So, this is what I liked, what I could’ve done without, what I think should’ve been expanded on a bit more, what I think you should continue to consider and find other perspectives on too.
This is going to be a long one.
Hollis introduces the book and explains that us, the reader, is ultimately responsible for creating or finding happiness. She continues to explain that there needs to be a level of ownership in our lives regardless of the world we live in and the words we absorb.
We do live in a place where a lot of information is thrown around. We find ourselves sifting through it just so we can decide what side of the fence we want to be on – sometimes, finding ourselves playing hopscotch. As Hollis says, “recognizing the lies we’ve come to accept about ourselves is the key to growing into a better version of ourselves (xii).”
This is something I connect with and it’s something I encourage clients consider. All of those should you’ve always believed – where did you learn those? You should be quiet, you shouldn’t be strong, you should be small, you should try harder? By “recognizing the lies” we are choosing to actively deconstruct and participate in writing the narrative that we want to create about ourselves.
As we develop as people because we’re not meant to stand still, we’re going to evolve as we age, as we gain more experience and have opportunities, we need to understand that our journey’s – our story’s – aren’t going to close the way we thought they would 10 years ago. “It’s not supposed to be a merry-go-round that bring you back to the same spot over and over again (xv).” While there are opportunities that may steer our paths differently, we do have a choice, and we can create other opportunities. We aren’t just going forward blindly – or at least I hope we’re not.
We share our experiences with each other to create a connection so that we feel less alone, so that we can understand that if one of us has felt like they should be or do something, there’s a chance that someone else has felt the same way. It’s not about sharing our imperfections or insecurities so that we can brag about how “comfortable” we are. I’d argue that I’m comfortable about 80% of the time and the other 20% I’m trying to figure out if it’s okay that I’m comfortable 80%. I’m uncomfortable with liking myself I guess. But if we can break the glass that keeps us boxed in then we could be limitless. If we can like ourselves and own our lives while creating the best ones we can then we really do have some power.
Chapter 3: The Lie: I’m Not Good Enough
Just by this title, I’m sure some of you are nodding your heads. It’s something I’ve said to myself before and still a thought that comes into my mind.
Hollis makes the connection of her workaholism to her childhood. Being successful meant she received praise, which meant the concept of productivity is related to worth.
Part of me could relate to this and part of me also felt defeat. While her good grades were met with praise, my A would be met with well it’s not an A+. However, with these differences, this chapter felt like it was written for me.
She continues to talk about stress related to her work and how it resulted in vertigo. This hit the nail so hard.
One thing I explain to clients when they try to down play their stress and anxiety is that we all experience it differently as individuals, but even each situation will present itself differently. You may not feel stressed, but if you’re losing sleep it’s possible there’s a connection.
When my anxiety attacks are bad they feel like my heart is going to rip out of my chest for me see. The first time I experienced that with JP he was so scared he wanted to take me to the ER. He didn’t realize that a physical response could come from an emotional issue.
In this book, it’s something I liked, but also something I found slightly missed the mark – the things that helped her.
For this chapter, she states that she went to therapy, she hustled for joy and she reordered her list of priorities. I agree with all of these things. You need to do things because they fire you up. I try to remind myself and I tell clients often that we need to decrease the concepts and things in our lives that don’t serve us and we need to increase the small things that bring us joy. Joy can be found if you look for it and look for time to create it. This also connects with your priorities. What’s important to you?
Therapy is an amazing tool and I can’t recommend it enough, but I also feel it’s like the perfect outfit- you need to shop around and find the right fit.
She recommends talking to your gynecologist to find a therapist – I rolled my eyes at this. I recommend talking to your primary care and then doing some research on specializations because not every method or practice is going to be useful for every person. Just because someone looks at your vagina doesn’t mean they can recommend a therapist to you and it’s silly to suggest they do.
Chapter 13: The Lie: I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon
It wasn’t the title that sucked me in, it was what Matt Damon represented for her that had me thinking.
When I talk about diets and lifestyle change with clients we think about the bigger picture – what habits are helpful and can be used throughout life. What do you imagine your life and success being in three months, six months, a year? If they can’t see the future it’s going to be really hard to implement change.
I might not imagine marrying Matt Damon, but when I think of success and happiness, I think of standing in a room with a powerpoint presentation talking about my journey and how others can take control of theirs. I imagine that I would say something like you need to think out of the box about your resources. And when I think backwards of how I’m going to get to that room with those people to give that presentation, I find myself pushing myself to think out of the box to take those steps forward.
So Matt Damon for her as well as a purse she mentions, were these detailed dreams that she used to help her work towards the future. They helped her move forward because they were real to her. Just like being in a room presenting will be real to me one day.
I took away from this chapter, that we should daydream so big that we can feel it and taste the coffee that we picture in that reality. I would also add that evaluation of your goals is also important as you hit benchmarks.
Every few weeks I ask clients how they feel about progress and what we’re working on going forward. For some coaching has taken a completely different direction and for others it stays the course. We look at timeline – how much time are you willing to give yourself? The big picture, the monthly, the weekly – what can you accomplish today that projects you forward?
Chapter 17: The Lie: I am Defined by My Weight
I don’t think I ever felt like I was defined by my weight, but my appearance? DEFINITELY.
This chapter was meaningful because it shows the backstory that you don’t see from Hollis’s social media. She dives into her teen years, the suicide of her older brother and the relationship dynamics in the house after – she continues to explain her battle with emotional eating.
It doesn’t matter how perfect someone appears, there’s a connection that you can feel when you realize someone is just as human as you. I needed that. I think sometimes we all do.
What I found unhelpful was some of the language that she uses that at first glance may come off as tough love, but I think may also show that there’s more education needed to understand the complexities of health like examining from a socio-ecological framework that looks at personal and environmental factors that determine behavior. She can speak from her personal trauma, and I know I can speak about my own, but that doesn’t mean that I can fully understand someone else’s or paint broad brush strokes.
When I work with clients, I may talk to them about how I navigated a situation and we may see if any of the thought process I took is helpful so they can determine their own steps. I may make some suggestions as well based on what I hear them say – sometimes their helpful and sometimes they’re not, but that’s also the difference in working one-on-one versus writing a book.
Some of her language does get preachy where she says “You need to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every single day” and “You need to stop filling your body with garbage like Diet Coke and fast food and lattes that are a million and half calories. You need to take in fuel for your body that hasn’t been processed and fuel your mind that is positive and encouraging (p.183) .” She says more than this too, but this authoritative language can be confusing because it sounds like leadership, but it’s really dictatorship.
I have a client who likes Diet Coke – it keeps her happy. She has made significant improvements on her stress management that she doesn’t binge anymore, but instead goes through why she’s feeling the way she is and tries to solve the real problem rather than masking it. Her overall diet quality has improve greatly and that paired with calorie moderation has lead to a decrease in body fat. If Diet Coke keeps her happy, then I want her to have that little vice while we focus on some other bigger demons.
I get what Hollis was trying to do because yes, we can’t expect to see progress if we don’t make changes. I agree when she says that for a time the reasons we use as excuses as to why we can’t take better care of ourselves are valid. We have to change our diet, our mindset, our activity, our lifestyle for these things to happen and to last – but like she mentions in her chapter about Matt Damon – you also need to let people dream about the bikini while showing them that there’s more to life than having an “ideal” body – whatever the fuck that means.
Chapter 19: The Lie: There’s Only One Right Way to Be
We moved a lot when I was a kid, I mean a lot for a kid who wasn’t in a military family. I lived in three states, five area codes and yeah, five different districts in my first 18 years. I saw a lot of different kind of people. But what’s funny about seeing different people is learning how they all can still act the same.
Dr. Seuss once said “Why fit in when you were born to stand out.” I don’t know if I ever really tried to stand out, well, at least not until high school. However, I remember feeling like someone from a previous school district must have called and told the kids the right names to call me because they were same. As an adult, I learned that people just aren’t really clever.
I assumed there was a right way to be, but I wasn’t allowed to be a part of the group. Even why I did try blend in I couldn’t – I would get made fun of for trying. Then questioned at home when I stopped trying.
So Hollis, talking about her small hometown and her realization that she hadn’t had a chance to experience different people until she was in junior high opened my eyes that maybe that was the problem I saw growing up. Maybe these other kids were all trying to fit in, but never really stood out by accident to begin with. Maybe because from day one they all wore the same clothes and liked the same music they assumed that was all that there was to wear and listen to. Maybe I read Stargirl a few too many times too.
I also think that’s a really sad reality, and I think we can work toward fixing it by encouraging conversations with people that we wouldn’t normally talk to, do things that push us our of our comfort zones and immerse ourselves in learning something new about community. But the first step is to admit there’s a problem. Hollis also suggests to ask questions and assume answers, she also recommends diversifying your circle and being more aware.
We need perspectives, which is why I read this book.
If I had to write a few of my own chapters, these would be their titles:
- The Lie: No one will ever love you
- The Lie: If it’s not hard, then it’s not worth it
- The Lie: You’re still not good enough
- The Lie: It’s just a job, deal with it
I don’t think she said anything ground-breaking, but what I do think she did is take some of the same information and repackage it for those who need a different voice so they can hear the message clearly. As I read her chapters, like I explained above, I heard conversations with my clients repeating in my head and I’m sure many can make connections of former conversations as well.
I am not religious and barely spiritual, but I found myself very capable of replacing her references to religion with just being a decent person and found my way through each chapter. I’m not a parent, but I found those perspectives helpful since I do work with many mom’s and I know they sometimes feel guilty for making their health a priority. Selfish might even be a good word to use here. I think many see health as selfish, but I see if as a way to continue to live a full life and give or serve another purpose.
I’m not perfect. Hollis doesn’t claim she is either. You’re not perfect. We can all learn bits from each other and take it as far as it will. Then we can continue to seek other perspective.
So here are some others I invite you to check out:
The Transtheoretical Model also known as the Stages of Changes was developed in the late 1970s and looks at decision-making.
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
If you focus on the finish line, will you get there faster? Emily Balcetis, TED Talk
Can you change for the better in just 30 days? Matt Cutts, TED Talk
Can you become a better person by confronting your worst self? David Brooks, TED Talk