Admit it: You like reading articles that contain lists. You know the ones I mean. The ones that contain those snippets that’ll explain how you can change your life if you follow a five-step plan to being a better person. The five steps to being wealthy; five beauty tips of the stars; five things that will help you beat procrastination, depression or anxiety. Come on, I know you like them — because I do too!
There’s something strangely comforting in looking at these lists and hoping that our life problems can be boiled down into five simple steps. I read them hoping for the answers, because I too want the secret to life, the universe, and everything.
However, I think the reality is this: As much as some lists offer interesting ideas, the majority mislead people about change. They offer false hope instead of facts. They generally encourage people to think their lives can be simpler if only they do those five secret things that may have worked for another person.
Come on, really? Life is so complex and the reasons why we feel and do what we do also are complex.
Take depression, for example. The reality is nobody really knows why people feel depressed; and nobody really knows what will cure each individual’s depression. When talking about cause and effect, there are so many factors to take into account: cognitive, environmental, social, biological.
What we do have is good empirical evidence that some therapies can help some people overcome depression. But that doesn’t mean everyone will overcome it through therapy. I’ve worked with many people and, for whatever reason, they remain depressed and sometimes become even more depressed. When that happens, the focus of therapy changes to learning to live with being depressed. No list is going to change that.
We know that medication can help. But it doesn’t help everyone. More often than not, medication is guesswork — an art more than a science. What works for one person can make another person sick. I’ve seen some people recover in a matter of weeks, and others poisoned to the point of hospitalization. Where’s the five-point list on that one?
Advances in neuroscience are helping us understand the brain and how it works. Yet, even super-intelligent scientists with the most sophisticated technology don’t fully understand what is causing depression. So, can a five-point list really tell us how to overcome it?
It’s clearly frustrating not knowing the secret to being well. As a therapist and coach, it’s my job to help somebody get well, so it’s easy to hope a list will provide me with the secrets that’ll help me and the person I’m working with.
But many lists just don’t cut it. I was reading a list on procrastination the other week and the first thing on the list was something like ‘just do it.’ I can imagine all the people who procrastinate reading that and thinking, “Wow, that’s amazing. Why didn’t I think of that?”
OK, I’m knocking these lists, so I must know all the answers, right? Nope. I wish I did but unfortunately I don’t (please don’t tell my wife I said that). With that being said, I will now counter everything I’ve just written and offer you my own secret five-point list to life, the universe and everything.
- You are personally responsible for all that you think, do, and (mostly) feel.
- Accept reality: Life doesn’t owe you a thing.
- You are you. Nobody can ever know what it means to be you, so be kind to yourself and others.
- Life is meaningless, except for the meaning that you give it — so use that power wisely.
- Nobody has all the answers. We’re all just making stuff up as we go along, hoping for the best.