I have a love-hate relationship with self-help books. I cannot stop myself buying them, though these days I restrict myself to charity shops. This is because none of the ones that would help me to my first million worked.
Part of my difficulty with these books, and indeed all books, goes back to my childhood belief that you began a book at the beginning and kept on going to the end. This is about as dumb as watching to the end of a boring film. Early on I did learn to use books. That means writing on them. Noting down things that make an impression. Relating an idea to something to which it would apply. But I was still cursed with that begin at the beginning and end at the end. I still didn't know how to tear out the page I wanted and throw the rest in the bin. So it came about that I have a lot of motivational or self-help books, many of which I bought having convinced myself there might be something of psychological interest in them. Sadly that is rare. Most of these books are just so much snake oil. But they do one thing very well. They may not make millions for the readers, but sometimes they do for the authors. If you are not all loved up with a religion then maybe they are the secular way to success. Instead of praying you can focus on a sentence that works for you.
High level sports people and the ways they think have always interested me. At an elite level there is so little between the top performers and they will go to extraordinary lengths to find something that gives the tiny edge that winners have and that people who come second crave.
I was fascinated by the Paul Kimmage interview with Rory McIlroy carried in this paper some weeks back. Rory had the names of the books he had taken ideas from on the tip of his tongue. He was always searching. People around him were always suggesting. And he had a Moleskin notebook to write things down in which sounded like it was never far from him. There the similarities between me and Rory sadly end.
Then I heard the eight-time All-Ireland winner, Eddie Brennan, speak at a fundraiser for Kilkenny hurling and his old school, St Kieran's College. Believe it or not this hurling great didn't even get on the St Kieran's team until his final year. These days Eddie is an impressive manager, broadcaster and public speaker. Again he is someone who devours motivational books. He gave one tip that stuck in my mind and I wished I had heard it years ago. He said that when he reads a book he hopes to get one sentence out of it that he can take away. For most of those books that is setting the bar at the right level for an inquisitive open-minded reader.
Ninety nine per cent of what you find in self- help books is fairly obvious. It is the one per cent that makes all the difference. None of them have all of the answers but most have some. And what works in January might not work in February. What works after a big win might not be the same as after a losing streak that you are trying to break. What you are looking for is the gem that will help you focus. I do have some inspirational quotes around my house. I have a few in the bathroom which are supposed to start my day positively. And some in the kitchen but I cannot remember what they say. I have one on my desk that says 'SIMPLIFY' and I do try to live by that. And I have shelves full of books that I should have torn the pages out of and stuck on the fridge.