THE FOLLOWING are some questions about
the book Self-Help Stuff That Works and answers
by the author, Adam Khan. Enjoy.
Question: Adam, what is your book about?
It's a collection of simple ways to improve your own disposition
while making you more effective with your actions. Most of the
chapters are about improving your attitude and dealing better
with people. Those are the two categories that anyone can continually
improve, and this book was meant as an ongoing guide, something
to refer to again and again throughout our lives.
No matter how much I want to be in the
habit of telling the people in my life what I appreciate about
them, for example, I still need regular reminders. That habit
does not come naturally, and no matter how much we may believe
it is a good and right thing to do, too many other circumstances
intervene, too many things are on our minds, and so we never
get a chance to practice it enough to make it a habit, to make
it something that pops into our minds when it's missing. Self-Help
Stuff That Works is full of principles like that, and now
we have a book we can pick up and spend a few minutes reading
before we go to work or before going to bed that can remind us
of basic principles and help us form new habits.
But the book is not merely what we already
know. Many of the chapters are about new research and how those
findings can be applied in our daily lives.
Question: Will applying the principles of your book make
someone happy? A certain amount of unhappiness is inevitable,
don't you think?
Absolutely. But all of us experience more unpleasant feelings
than we need to. We have more frustration, worry, stress, etc.,
than is healthy or necessary. And the book is filled with methods
to eliminate some of that from our lives.
For example, in the chapter called Adrift,
I share a principle I swiped from Steven Callahan. When he was
alone in the middle of the Atlantic in his life raft with very
little chance of rescue, he told himself, I can handle it.
Compared to what others have been through, I'm lucky. He
told that to himself over and over and he said it gave him fortitude.
I've tried the same thing many times (not
getting stranded in the middle of the ocean, but telling myself
I can handle it), and I'll be damned if it doesn't give
me fortitude every single time. One of the things we tend to
think in hard times is I can't take this, which is a thought
that makes us weak. The thought itself makes you collapse inside
and give up. It makes you feel small and makes the world seem
like a big steamroller plowing over helpless little you. The
thought I can't take this makes you experience unnecessary
You are not helpless. And you can
take it. You're a lot tougher than you give yourself credit for,
and when you do give yourself credit for being tough,
you become tougher!
Question: What's your background?
I'm self-educated, which is probably appropriate for a self-help
author. I happen to be fascinated with psychology and change
and I have been since I was in high school. I've devoured hundreds
of books on those subjects and marked passages which I then read
onto audiotapes and listened to them in the car and while shaving,
ironing, doing dishes, etc. And I try the ideas I learn about.
My whole life is a kind of experiment.
Question: How is your book different from other self-help
My book is unique in a couple of useful ways. First, the chapters
are short. They get right to the point.
Second, each chapter ends with a principle,
usually just one, and usually simply and briefly stated. I've
found that you can't really apply a paragraph, or a chapter,
or a whole book. But you can apply a sentence.
In Dale Carnegie's biography the authors
point out that another book on the same subject was published
six years before How
to Win Friends and Influence People came out. It was
in Handling People. The two books had many of the same principles,
and in fact, many of the same illustrations. But Carnegie's book
went on to be the number two bestseller of all time (behind the
Bible) in America. And nobody has heard of the other one.
One reason for the first book's failure
is that the principles were long. For example, in Carnegie's
book (in the section on persuading others) one of the principles
Get the other person saying "yes,
In the Strategy book, the same principle
was stated this way:
The first step in persuading people
to act as you wish, is to present your plans in such a way as
to get a "Yes Response" at the very start. Throughout
your interview, but above all at the beginning of it, try to
get as many "Yeses" as you possibly can.
Which principle is easier to remember?
Which one is easier to apply? Self-Help Stuff That Works
does the same thing: The principles are designed to be easy to
remember to make them easier to apply. I tested the principles
myself and kept changing and re-wording and shortening them until
they were very applicable tools.
Question: How did you become interested in this subject?
I was shy in high school and I wanted to become more popular
(especially with girls) so I read Dale Carnegie's How
to Win Friends and Influence People. It made a difference
and taught me things that really helped me in high school.
I think I was lucky to have chosen that
particular book for my first self-help book because it is thoroughly
action-oriented. The first chapter actually tells you how to
get the most out of the book, and I went on to use the same approach
with other books, even those that weren't obviously self-help
Question: What inspired you to write this book?
The book kind of grew by itself. I was a columnist for what used
to be known as At Your Best, a newsletter sold to business
for their employees, which is now part of a much larger online
"product" called Rodale's Online Health. In
the meantime, I wrote a book called Using Your Head. When
I took the manuscript to the publisher, as a last-minute idea,
I printed a small collection of my articles into a booklet, and
told the publisher I was thinking of publishing a whole book
of these little articles after Using Your Head was published.
She looked over the stuff and told me she
thought I ought to publish the collection of articles first.
Question: What kind of newsletter was At Your Best?
It was a six-page monthly newsletter that was bought by businesses
for their employees. If the company had 50 employees, they'd
get a subscription for 50 newsletters. They'd put the newsletters
in the break rooms or in their checks. Most of the articles were
short (500 words or less) and practical. Most were about doing
better at work, improving your attitude, and dealing with the
normal problems of time management and family concerns.
Question: Who is your book directed toward and what would
you like them to get out of it?
It is directed toward normal, healthy people. It is for people
who like to learn and improve their lives. And I would like them
to use the principles to have better relationships, to feel better
more often, and to make their work life more enjoyable.
I know a lot of people think self-help
books are for losers or people with problems. But every person
has problems. Everyone has room for improvement.
From what I've seen, the people who are
interested in improving themselves are usually upbeat and at
least relatively successful, and most very successful people
I've met are enthusiastic about improving themselves. I don't
know if people became upbeat and successful because they
have improved themselves, or if upbeat and successful people
are simply more likely to be interested in improving. But often
the people who could benefit most from self-help material
are the ones who would never think of reading a self-help book.
It is not a very sane person who is unwilling
to do anything to help himself or improve his circumstances and
it is a particularly debilitating belief that I'm just the
way I am and I can't do anything to change things. So the
pursuit of self-help could be seen as a sign of mental health.
Question: What about the theory that much of what we are
is unchangeable and genetic? Isn't depression genetic?
There's certainly a genetic predisposition in some people toward
depression, but some people with that predisposition do not get
depressed, so the important question is not how much of
it is genetic, but what can be done to overcome it? Brain
chemistry is not the end of the line. The way you think changes
your brain chemistry. And exercise and the way you eat changes
your brain chemistry. Certainly some people are hopelessly handicapped
by a quirk in their brain tissue. But even severely depressed
people can benefit from thinking less pessimistically. It may
not make them as happy as the rest of us, but it'll make them
I think it would be a mistake to put too
much credence in the postulate depression is genetic.
It is a defeatist and highly pessimistic explanation of a phenomenon
that has shown itself amenable to alterations in thinking habits.
It is ironic that a person would have to be fairly pessimistic
to explain depression as purely genetic! The explanation itself
Question: Is your book generally useful? Or does it apply
to only certain people?
It is generally applicable. The chapters talk about dealing with
people, feeling good more often, enjoying your work and doing
it better, and these are things most of us deal with every day.
Question: What has it done for you? How has the content
of the book helped you?
Every one of the chapters covers a principle that helped me.
The things I tried that didn't help didn't make it into the book!
The very first chapter, for example, is
on the work of Martin Seligman, a researcher from the University
of Pennsylvania. For over forty years he has been conducting
experiments to discover how people get depressed and what can
be done about it. His best book (in my opinion, of course) is
Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. I got it
because my wife had suffered from depression off and on her whole
life. The information helped her tremendously, but a surprise
to me was that it helped me also. It surprised me because I had
always considered myself an optimist.
There's a questionnaire in the book that
allows you to discover how optimistic or pessimistic you are
and in what way, specifically, you are optimistic or pessimistic.
Out of the six categories of optimism/pessimism, I was very pessimistic
in one of them: Taking credit for the good stuff. When something
nice happened, I hardly ever acknowledged myself for the part
I played in bringing it about. This category doesn't produce
really devastating depression, but it did prevent me from feeling
some good feelings.
So I talk about the principles from Seligman's
book in my first chapter. It is useful to know. It helps. For
every chapter in the book, I can tell you how that principle
Question: Why would people want to buy this? How's it going
to help them?
There are several ways it could be helpful to someone. First,
and probably most important, when any of us (let's take you for
example) gets in a bad mood for example, if you're in
an argument with your spouse or feel bummed because you've been
slacking on your exercise program or because your kid is getting
in trouble at school the book is ready-made for browsing
at times like that. I do it myself, and it works like a charm.
For the everyday problems and unpleasant feelings, there's something
in the book, usually lots of things, that address the situation
It's important, for example, to refrain
from jumping to negative or self-defeating conclusions, and you
can certainly read that and remember it. However, when a friend
of yours gets mad and hangs up on you, and you start fuming,
one of the things you probably won't remember is to check
your thoughts for ill-formed conclusions. And yet that's the
very time you need that information. So the book is good for
browsing, to remind you of things you could apply that would
The reason I made Self-Help Stuff That
Works hardbound and Smythe-sewn is because it needs to hold
up under years of constant use. It's when you're upset, when
you're mad, when you're frustrated, when you feel defeated, that's
the most important time to confer with the book. That's when
it can remind you to do the things you know in your good moments
you ought to do, but in your bad moments you forget to do.
So the book is good at bringing you up
when things are bad. But it's also useful for making things better
when things are fine. Leaf through the book and find a principle
you want to practice today, write it on a card, and practice
it for the day. This will produce incremental, but noticable
improvements in your life.
For example, I decided today I'm going
to pay attention to what I appreciate and say it. That will benefit
me today, but it'll also begin to make me more aware of it in
the days after, and if I practice it a lot, it will form a new
habit that will benefit me the rest of my life.
Question: What is the basic nub of the book?
You can improve your attitude, become more effective at work
and enjoy better relationships by becoming more rational with
your thinking, imbuing your life with more purpose, and raising
your level of integrity.
Question: Are you totally happy and fulfilled? Do
you ever have problems?
I don't think any final attainment is possible. I've never met
anyone who was perfect, and I don't expect I would be the exception.
Improvement is always possible, however.
Even if someone could, by some miracle,
solve all her problems, I think she would immediately create
a problem, because whether we're aware of it or not, solving
problems is where most of the fun in life is. Now, of course,
some people call them "problems," and some call them
"goals," but however you think of them, overcoming
challenges is the source of our most satisfying moments.
Question: Aren't the techniques in your book superficial?
Do they deal with unconscious motivations? Can they produce real
Dealing with unconscious motivations is like chasing a phantom.
You never know if your "discoveries" are really something
you've made up or genuine. The "deeper" you go, the
more lost you get and the more ephemeral and purely subjective
it becomes. And often, recovering a genuine forgotten trauma
does nothing to help you change your thoughts or behavior now.
It may be interesting, but is it practical? The techniques in
Self-Help Stuff That Works are direct and overt, and yes,
they do produce real change.
Question: Have you used any of the principles in your own
Yes, every single one of them. In fact, that was one of my criteria
for putting a chapter in the book. For it to be chosen, it needed
1. Produce a good result/effort ratio:
that is, it had to produce a great result for the effort. Some
ideas work very well, but require great effort. Some require
very little effort but don't do much good. I chose the ones that
2. Be simple. It takes a high degree of
concentration to apply a complex or complicated principle, and
I wasn't interested in those kinds of techniques.
3. Be something I have used myself and
want to use in the future.
Question: Is there any "self-help stuff" that
Yes, there is. And there's some self-help stuff that's just too
complicated or too difficult to do. I don't want to slam any
book in particular, but some have an eight-step program or a
long list of things to do in the heat of the moment, or have
a long, drawn-out technique that most people wouldn't do. And
some are just too airy-fairy to even know if it's working or
not. Did the crystals work? Are you now in a higher plane? Is
your aura brighter? How would you really know?
I once spent six hours writing every goal
I had, everything I wanted. I followed the technique outlined
in the book to the letter. I had pages and pages of goals, from
the immediate to the far-off fantasies. It took a long time,
and didn't do me any good as far as I can tell. Goals are important
to have, but time is limited. Having just a few goals is much
easier and less stressful to deal with. When you accomplish those,
then maybe you can think up some new ones. But having 500 goals
is pointless. Worse, it's kind of overwhelming.
In the creation of Self-Help Stuff That
Works I filtered all that out. All that's left in the book
is pure gold.
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Order it right now on Amazon.com: Self-Help
Stuff That Works
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See a linked list of the chapters from this book