Touch Your Self Help
Touch Your Self Help: On Lists
By Chad Fifer
Aug 8, 2008

In my many years as a self-help maestro, I’ve frequently talked about the positive and negative effects of list-making. The positive: list-making helps you get organized, so that you can approach a task or problem with a clear plan of action. The negative: your plan of action starts and ends with the list.

There’s an immediate psychological benefit to making a list; a benefit that actually ends up costing you. For example, in order to overcome my usual morning anxiety, I make a “to do” list for that day’s work while sipping at my coffee. Of course, in the time I spend writing down each and every miniscule thing I have to get done, I probably could actually accomplish two or three of the tasks I’m writing down. To offset this fact, I sometimes write down things I’ve already done – simple shit like “take a shower,” or “shave (face only)” – just so I can check them off and feel even more ahead of the game.

At best, list-making is a somewhat sophisticated form of procrastination. At worst, it’s just an indicator of laziness. And nowhere is this lazy tendency more apparent than in journalism, particularly in the fields of self-help and entertainment. Check out the newsstand the next time you’re buying a cantaloupe. It’s all “Ten Ways You Can Stop Being Ugly Right Now!” and “The Twenty Best Comedies Advertising in This Magazine!” No real information, no compelling writing, just an almost arbitrary ranking of things that fall under a broad category – some words to drop on the page next to those photos of trendy celebrities and asparagus stacked over a steak.

I’m guilty of it myself – just check out my last article here in The Simon. Think I really wanted to give out tips on how to live longer? Hell no. I just wanted to repackage some news items I pulled off the internet so that I could stop staring at my computer screen and take a nap.

Now, as I stated earlier, there are some positive uses for lists. If you’re trying to get through a process, sawing a woman in half or something, a list of steps might be appropriate (put the fake legs in place BEFORE you start sawing…). And I’m sure that there are some positive uses for lists in self-help and entertainment journalism, some actual opportunities to impart real information to the reader. In fact, I think any of the following 15 topics would make for a list-based article that is actually informative and fun to read:

•    The Seven Best Actors Under 25, and the Three Horrible Actors Under Your Car, Waiting to Stab You in the Ankle

•    90 Ways to Lurk

•    The 15 People You Will Meet in Heaven, and Which Ones Give Good Handjobs

•    15 Indicators That Your Wife WON’T Actually Drive You Over the Border After You’ve Murdered a Neighbor (Even Though She Says She Would Totally Do It)

•    20 Things You Do That Creep Everybody Out. I’m Talking to You Specifically, Creep-Face

•    25 Jokes to Tell When You’re Caught Sniffing an Office Chair

•    The Two Pairs of Sweatpants You’ve Got to Stop Fucking Wearing

•    10 Great Films That You Will Insist Your New Girlfriend or Boyfriend Watch, and That Will Cause Things to Become Very Awkward When You Remember Five Minutes in Just How Depressing, Weird or Graphic They Are, Causing You to Apologize Way Too Much, Thus Guaranteeing You Will Neither Get a Second Date Nor Laid

•    The Three Things You Said That Are Silently Killing Your Parents

•    25 Turkish Summer Getaways You Will Never Return From

•    Ten Numbers Under Eleven (I mean, if you’re in pre-school, this could be a really good one)

•    Five Really Good Books That Maybe We Can Trick You Into Reading by Placing Them in List Format

•    The 275 Ways You Should Not Be Ruled by the Advice of People You Don’t Even Know

•    5 Funnier TV Show Titles Than “Manimal” (it is scientifically impossible to write this article)

•    The One Minute You Just Wasted Reading this List, and How You Can’t Get It Back

Let’s see if any of those lazy Entertainment Weekly writers out there can do anything with those topics!

In the meantime, I’ll be taking a nap.

I’ll sue your ass if you use any of the above topics.

More of Chad Fifer's incredibly insightful self-help advice can be found here. 

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