Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Secrets You Keep from Yourself by Dan Neuharth

Neuharth, DanSecrets You Keep from Yourself: How to Stop Sabotaging Your HappinessNew York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.

Why is that we sometimes, maybe often, find ourselves doing things that are not truly in our best interest?  Why do we undermine our success?  Are we just messed up?  Sort of.

Psychotherapist Dan Neuharth, in his book Secrets You Keep from Yourself, finds the answer in fear.  Especially, it is fear of emotional loss.  As he puts it, “Bottom line, fear is why we get in our own way.”

Much of the book is directed toward helping readers identify their fears and confront them.  As Neuharth points out, there is a lot of false logic in fears.  For instance, he says that our fears make us feel that a situation will go on forever, that feelings are innate within ourselves and that they are totally pervasive.  He responds that in truth most situations change (emotions are especially fleeting), our feelings are often triggered by external events or even random and our problems don’t affect every part of life (or don’t have to).

Another way our fears trick us is through false accounting.  Our internal accountant hates emotional loss, and so will put great weight on even the slightest potential for loss.  In addition, he discounts potential gains, making them seem less worthy and valuable.  When he weighs the costs and benefits, he keeps his thumb on the scale so the costs always outweigh the benefits.  Because of this, fear can freeze us in inaction or prompt us to take action contrary to our interests; the internal accountant has no interest in taking risks.  As with other feelings of fear, identifying what we fear losing and taking a balanced look at potential losses and gains can help us take reasonable action.

I took a lot of notes while reading this book.  I normally take a few notes while reading nonfiction books to help me write reviews for this blog.  In this case, however, my notes are mostly exercises and personal insights from the book.  It prompted me to spend some time thinking about what I fear, what I want and what I can do about it.  I was surprised to see some of my unproductive behaviors identified and explained.

These exercises can help you identify specific fears and desires.  Neuharth categorizes the most common fears and wants and provides simple tests to help the reader see which ones apply.  You won’t be left hanging with vague feelings of unease; you’ll be able to put your finger on specific fears.  Armed with that knowledge and with other tools from the book, you’ll be able to confront them.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in