Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Tag Archives: psychology

A Reader’s Bridge To Their True Self . . .

Did you know the best-selling book genre is “Self-Help”?

Do you know the roots of the genre?

Think it’s Psychology?

Eastern Mystics?


The Prophets of Religion?

I’ll leave the True Beginning of Self-Help as an exploration for your inner self to appreciate…

What I give you today is the latest best-seller in the genre: Jessica Lamb-Shapiro’s Promise Land.

First a very curious bit of a review of the book:

“Jessica Lamb-Shapiro has an unusual relationship to the self-help industry: her father is a child psychologist who has authored numerous books on the subject. Lamb-Shapiro’s inherent ambivalence is at the heart of Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture, in which the author immerses herself in the world of seminars, mantras, and self-improvement, all the while exploring the nation’s enduring fascination with perfection. By turns funny and sad, the book is, ultimately, a deeply personal story—and a really good read.”

Apparently, her father’s books of self-help never sold well.

The NPR site has an interview with Jessica—audio and written. Here are a few excerpts:

“Lamb-Shapiro writes that even though she ‘had recoiled from self-help’ her entire life, she wanted to know ‘why people liked self-help so much, what it meant to them, whether it worked; and if it didn’t work, why people still craved it.’ It’s a funny and observant book that takes an emotional turn when she starts writing about a tragedy in her own family.”

Jessica: “You know, there’s a way in which philosophy tells us how to live our lives and self-help books tell us how to live our lives. So, you know, we tend to think of philosophy as this really lofty territory and self-help books as this ridiculous low-brow territory and I think that the language that they use and some of the ideas reflect that. There’s some base level where they’re trying to do the same thing, which is why something like ancient Greek philosophy can be sold in the self-help section.”

“People seem to be interested in self-improvement and so much of self-help is about buying things, so it makes sense that infomercials and reality shows, which tend to sell things, are part of that. And I think that that’s one of the ways that it just seeps into our lives. Because you can be exposed to an infomercial in passing or watch a reality TV show and you might not think that you’re engaging in self-help but you’re still being exposed to a lot of the ideas and values of it.”

So, where did self-help begin?

Reading the Words of a Prophet.

Reading what the Philosophers borrowed from the Prophets?

Reading what the Psychologists borrowed from the Philosophers?

Reading what the Self-Help Gurus borrowed from the Psychologists?

And, perhaps most importantly, why do you think Self-Help is the World’s Best-Selling Genre?
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Setting A Few Things Straight About The Universe . . .

Writers do all kinds of research; especially, for their characters, plot, theme, and setting.

Some even create alternate universes so they can craft special situations.

But, what if we’re stuck in this universe?

I’ve always tried to keep up with scientific findings but, over the last 15 years, I’ve taken the time to study an alternative approach to understanding our universe that bids fair to completely overturn the standard theories of mainstream science.

How would something like this affect me if all I wanted to do was write a love story, or a thrilling mystery?

One would think that if I stayed away from hard science, this new knowledge wouldn’t much matter.

The thing is that my study of this new field of human understanding is also overturning most of what passes for knowledge about the vast treasure of Mythology.

So, if I’m writing something that goes deep into human motivation and I want it to strike the right chords in the reader, I should consider the new Paradigm

Ultimately, because psychology shows that the deepest, not-conscious information and motivation have profound effects on conscious action, the closer I can get to the Truth about the Universe and my place in it, the better I should be able to write works that relate well with my readers.

Naturally, there are writers who skim the surface of life, write about it, and sell thousands of books to readers who gobble up the result

I ain’t built that way.

Also, I feel the most sensitive writers have already been tapping into this new Mythological, Scientific Paradigm.

Psychological sensitivity has a way of reaching deep into the soil of human understanding and bringing up what appears to others as amazingly powerful insights.

So, there could well be folks reading this post who don’t need the rest of the information I want to share………

Apparently, humanity has three Main Stories:

First is the rich heritage of Myth which has powered some of the most profound philosophy and psychology.

Then came the Story that Science attempts to tell.

The Third Story is just now being written—a Story with More Honest Science which incorporates New Appreciations of Myth—a Story for Humanity’s Future

Let’s be imaginative for a moment:

If you truly believed the Earth was the center of the Universe, the stories you wrote couldn’t help but somehow reflect that belief, right?

By the way, some writers are still crafting stories in that universe

I want to give you two resources to explore that might change your mind and feelings in profoundly deep ways.

The first is a Synopsis of the New Paradigm of Our Universe. It begins with a quote from H. P. Lovecraft:

“The most merciful thing in the world … is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality… That we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Believe me, that quote was clearly used for Effect. The information at that link has little chance of driving you mad or back to a personal dark age :-)

The second resource is the following video.

Even if you think you have little stomach for science (or even mythology), if you’re a serious writer, I urge you to watch it.

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This Page Intentionally Blank

This Page Intentionally Blank is the name of a blog that has a recent post called, Making Characters Real. I saw the title and immediately thought of two posts I’d written: Very Special CharactersVery Special Characters ~ Revisited. I touched on minor, significant, major, very special, and meta characters. But, all characters need a rationale for their being–some underlying psychology that helps the author create them and justifies their actions in the story.

So, up steps Bill Jones, with his blog post on making characters real

Ever feel surprised by something that immediately reminds you of a pleasurable time in your life? Kind of like being swept up and back at the same time.

Bill did that for me by bringing up a personality test I’d studied and used extensively back in the 90s–the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators. That’s the “official page” but you can find a use-it-right-now version by checking out Bill’s blog post.

He sketches-out the way he uses the personality types in the Myers-Briggs system to give substance to his characters as well as find fascinating personality combinations for character interactions.

Bill gives a hint of the usefulness of the personality types by showing his own profile:

“ENTJs are natural born leaders. They live in a world of possibilities where they see all sorts of challenges to be surmounted, and they want to be the ones responsible for surmounting them. They have a drive for leadership, which is well-served by their quickness to grasp complexities, their ability to absorb a large amount of impersonal information, and their quick and decisive judgments. They are ‘take charge’ people.”

I hadn’t answered the profile questions in quite awhile (yes, your profile can change over time) so I took the test again. Here’s my profile:

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of ‘definiteness’, of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. When it comes to their own areas of expertise — and INTJs can have several — they will be able to tell you almost immediately whether or not they can help you, and if so, how. INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t  know.”

So, I hadn’t changed from the last time I took the test but then I’m 65 and rather settled in my ways :-)

Do check out Bill’s post and, if you take the personality test (it’s relative short), it would be great if you came back and let me know how well it captured your basic nature.

I’d also be intensely interested if you shared how you think this method of sketching out personality could be used in character creation!
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Rediscovering The Power of The Word, “No!”, with Irina Avtsin

About a month after this interview, Irina returned to talk about her other book, Friends, Enemies, and Everyone In Between.
I want to give a respectful welcome to Irina and thank her for choosing this blog as a stop on her BlogTour. On to our interview…

Irina, I think a good first question is where are you from and what are some of the highlights of what brought you to write your book, Rediscovering The Power of No?

I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia and, being an admittedly brave teenager (or just a teenager :-) immigrated to Israel on my own, arriving there on the second day of the first Gulf War. I got my gas mask and an Israeli passport at the airport. That was my welcome to the country.
I worked my way through getting a BSc in Computer science from Technion, the Israeli analog of MIT. I came to the US in 1999 and soon started working on Wall Street – first at Merrill Lynch and then at Citigroup. I graduated from Columbia Business School in 2007. I worked at Credit Suisse Private banking before starting my own Personal Confidantency, which I then  expanded into “Let’s do a reality check!” and “MBA Confidante”.

I think my experience in all of that is what brought me to write the book.

Would you share a few personal interests and abilities with us?

I like Yoga, Pilates and I hope to learn to play golf some day.
I appreciate good food, nice wine and well written books.
And, I’m fluent in Russian, Hebrew, and English and speak some French.

Thanks for that personal touch :-)

So, your book says that saying “Yes” can be harmful. Would you explain that?

“Yesomania” is a term I use to describe the chronic and widespread desire to please other people and always say “Yes”, often times compromising one’s own health, money or relationships.
My book helps you take the first step towards having more control over your life. Beginning to take a closer look at how saying yes to everything affects you and what the price you pay for it is. This will help you see where you need to change then take the steps towards making your life easier and less anxiety prone.

O.K., let’s get just a bit of your advice from the book right here. How about in career matters?

It’s hard to say ‘No’ to your boss. However few people realize that if you are the one who always says “Yes” you will be given all those tasks that others said “No” to – and for a good reason. Your raises and promotions will likely get postponed, since there is no reason to make sure that you are happy with your job. You will say “yes” anyway.

What about personal relationships?

When you always say “Yes” to others’ requests and suggestions you are not allowing other people to really get to know you. All they know is that you are someone with no preferences, who always says “Yes”. While it might feel that you are always surrounded by people who could help, you could find yourself alone in a moment of need.  You could also suddenly realize you won’t be able to accommodate everybody. It often happens to those affected by Yesomania that accommodation might be the only thing people came to them for. Once “Yes” is not on the menu they will disappear and you will see the friends who stay with you and can help in times of need.


Your finances are bound to suffer if you can’t say “No” to a small loan, going out to a restaurant that’s too expensive, or buying something you don’t need because you can’t refuse a salesperson. Do a quick calculation – how much did it cost you over the last month?

How about health and stress?

If you can not say ‘No’ to your boss’ request to stay for a few hours longer and skip the gym as a result, you might start piling up those pounds that are so hard to lose later on. When you are on a diet and say “Yes” to a friend’s dessert, your waist line is likely to suffer.
Also, When you are spread too thin you’re stressed. Period. You do not have the time to evaluate your priorities and that in itself leads to additional stress.

Irina, thanks, so much, for that peek into the kind of help you offer in your book!

I should add that, even if a particular reader of your blog doesn’t have the problems that come with Yesomania, the book would make a great gift (for under $5) for any push-overs in their life!

Absolutely, Irina!! Thanks, again, for stopping off on your BlogTour and I’m sure your book could help many of our readers :-)
Feel free to ask Irina a question in our Comments
Listen to Irina’s audio interview at TheGCafe

Buy her book on Amazon

BTW, there are free Kindle applications available for PC, iPhone, etc.
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Alert: A Very Special Visit To “Notes from An Alien” !

Monday, the 28th of February

Columbia Business School graduate, Irina Avtsin

Telling us about “Rediscovering the power of ‘No'”

For all Readers, Writers, and Publishers

Make your life easier by learning to say, “No”!

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Follow the “co-author” of Notes from An Alien, Sena Quaren:
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