Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters, by Phillip C. McGraw
On television (and online) there is a commercial out that advertises two products, expressing “tough love” and “soft love.” If you know anything about Dr. Phil, you can probably guess which type of approach is taken in this book. If there is something bracing about this book, it is also true that he is forthright in his desire to provide a beneficial sort of manipulating through influence, and that he reads the same way he would sound on his television show when dishing out unpleasant truths. What would be far more irritating coming from most people, and what is a far harsher approach than that taken by most self-help books on related subjects , works because one can read this book and believe that the author likes seeing people successful and is both far more grimly realistic and far more optimistic than many people are. He is also clear about explaining what he means, and so he manages to overcome many of the traps that unwary writers find themselves in when encouraging people to wrestle with patterns of failure and disaster within their own behavior.
Dr. Phil frames this book around ten supposed laws of success that have a lot more nuance than would appear to be the case from the titles alone. The result is about 300 pages of motivational boot camp that is bookended by his discussion of a particular civil lawsuit brought in a federal court in Amarillo by some cattle farmers upset about Oprah’s advocacy about mad cow disease in how he gave tough love to Oprah herself about her strategy for the case and how he appreciated the ambition and service mentality of a cab driver hired to shuttle people to and from the airport during those several months. In between he talks about ten principles: you either get it [reality], or you don’t; you create your own experience; people do what works; you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge; life rewards action; there is no reality, only perception; life is managed, it is not cured; we teach people how to treat us; there is power in foregiveness; you have to name it to claim it. There is little earth-shattering here, for those used to looking at their lives with a high degree of reflective self-criticism, and to be sure, Dr. Phil is quick to avoid blaming people for the sort of horrors that some people have suffered and struggled to overcome, but he is relentless in demanding that people take accountability and responsibility for the way that their lives are now and not to let ourselves be imprisoned by the past.
Overall, it is pretty obvious to see Dr. Phil’s approach. He gives a lot of discussion of his own life and his own family background, and it is clear that he approaches life from a strategic mindset. Not everybody would be able to pull of his approach, nor would everyone else try. There is enough compassion and humor and warmth in his approach to smooth off the rough edges, and to allow the reader to appreciate the author’s approach, even if it is far more direct and unsparing than is customary in this genre of literature. Even though this particular book was written some time ago (in 1999), it is clear that by this time the author had seen many situations where people sabotaged themselves and their relationships through repeating patterns of failure that they considered to be acceptable, or at least better than the alternative. Overall, this book works well, and one can tell that the author believes that those who are discouraged by his blunt message will not make it to the more optimistic closing, a very clever approach to front-load the more difficult aspects to winnow out readers.
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