I am a sucker for self-help books. I am not into the Kardashians, Dancing With the Stars or Entertainment Tonight, but put a self-help book in front of me and I’ll devour it in a day or two. I have read them all – under the hope of becoming a better person, improving my business or my favorite…setting and achieving goals.
I am not alone. Self-help books moved from a niche position to being a cultural phenomenon in the late twentieth century. It is estimated to be an $8 billion a year industry in the US alone.
A self-help book is one that is written with the intention to instruct its readers on solving personal problems. The books take their name from Self Help an 1859 best-seller by Samuel Smiles.
Some respected psychologists like Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi have argued that self-help books will clearly not help people to become thin, rich and well-adjusted; indeed they will probably have no effect whatsoever.
Worse, some have claimed self-help books are actually bad for us by promoting ‘false hope syndrome’.
And that is what brings me to America’s first self-help movie, The Martian, Matt Damon’s new blockbuster that is drawing massive attention and attendance.
For many it’s a thrilling story, but for me, the sucker for self-help, it was another guide to goal setting.
I mean if his goal was to get back to earth from Mars (that’s 50 million miles), then what the hell, my production goals are a joke. Take a look at that photo of him—all smiles and thumbs up. Talk about having a good attitude.
Without giving away the plot (duh), I will attempt to point out some of the many self-help principles Damon used to get back to earth…principles that have actually guided me through my own personal journey.
- Be a life-long learner. Commit to knowing your work as they taught me at the Pankey Institute many years ago. Damon’s character was a botanist. Think how handy that knowledge could be when you are stranded on a planet without water.
- Be a goal setter and monitor your progress. These two go together because just setting a goal without understanding your deadlines and progress is just a dream. Our film’s astronaut knew exactly how many days he had to get back to earth and how much rations he needed to get there. The story really takes off when they have to figure out every component of his rescue was necessary. As an author I can tell you that writing a book is nothing compared to getting home from Mars – so reaching your monthly production goals—piece of cake.
- Fail Forward. Look, no one bats .1000. Murphy’s Law is always in play, besides, what kind of movie would this be if nothing ever went wrong. The key is to pick yourself up and use the failure as a learning experience. It’s a good thing Matt was familiar with Thomas Edison’s lessons learned from inventing the lightbulb. After failing 10,000 times he told a reporter he learned 9,999 ways it didn’t work.
- Be Persistent. Overcome Resistance and Do the Work. Those three points may look like three separate lessons but they are all related. Everyday we face resistance. Our tendency is to put things off. Damon could not…he was in survival mode. He had to act with a sense of urgency everyday. To me this is life’s greatest lesson. The clock is always ticking. Our job is to continue to move the ball down the field. Most of us (and I mean our patients as well) don’ understand that without forward continual motion we get stuck. Sure there is resistance—our job is to overcome it. Calvin Coolidge said it best:
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
5. Have Fun. Once again, as you can tell by the picture above, Damon continued to maintain a positive attitude throughout his mission. Tough to do? Sure, but attitude means everything.
6. Leave Your Legacy. Once again, I won’t ruin the movie for you but understand that Damon had people on Earth that needed him back. He becomes a mentor—a teacher—because in the end we are all here to pass the baton.
Enjoy the movie. Hollywood has an agenda. How else can we learn life lessons these days? The Kardashians?