Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mindfulness and the Self-Improvement Demagogues

I've recently become interested in popular figures promoting various plans for self improvement--what makes them work, and for whom, and what makes some more popular than others.

For example, Dave Ramsey has created a financial planning franchise centered on the idea that budgeting and avoiding consumer debt, coupled with a particular structured plan of incremental savings can get people financial freedom. Or Fly Lady, who helps clutter-prone people keep their homes neat by starting with shining the sink every day and gradually building a routine of 15-minute cleaning sessions to conquer clutter.

What these plans have in common is incorporating clever schemes of operant conditioning along with an easily taught method of breaking complex problems into smaller, simpler ones. These plans often provide some mechanism for clients to participate in some sort of community that fosters a sense of belonging and support, whether online or in conventions and classes.

I've also noted a theme of intentionality which reminds me of Shambala spiritual practices of meditative flower arranging, etc. That is, by deliberately budgeting, scheduling cleaning time, or planning meals in advance, one has a sense of being present in the moment, rather than allowing time to just happen to you in an alienating way. It can be a meditative, spiritual exercise.

It's not clear to me whether charisma of a plan's leader/originator has more to do with the plan's actual effectiveness, or just its popularity. But I suspect that these sorts of plans fill in a void left by the dwindling of extended family, and of community and religious institutions in America.


At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Paul said...

I'll bet that these folks are making lots of money in the process of telling folks how to use their money .

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