In America, self improvement and self help are as much a part of the culture as apple pie and automobiles. That explains why PickTheBrain (www.pickthebrain.com), launched in November 2006, has been finding an audience. It’s dedicated to “self-improvement with a focus on personal productivity, motivation and self-education.”
The site is organized into five key areas: personal productivity, motivation, self-education, psychology, and philosophy.
The site’s mission is to expand the boundaries of self help. “Rather than sticking to a small set of topics,” explained Editor-in-chief Erin Falconer, “any information that people can use to live more prosperous, satisfying lives is a potential article.”
Nonetheless, most articles stick to the conventional self-help formula, offering advice, action steps, and bulleted suggestions. Articles are written in a casual, conventional tone, appeal to the masses, and are not overly pedantic or emphasizing research studies.
The articles read like the self-help section of a book store. For example, three lead articles included, “How Your Thoughts Create Your Brain,” “Myths of Meditation,” and “How to Improve Your Personal Awareness.”
Over 400 bloggers contribute articles. “I’ve tried to create a home where anyone, despite age or background, who is genuinely looking to improve their life can find the right resources to do so,” Falconer said, adding that the audience is in the millions.
One of the keys to the site’s success is variety. For example, it offers over 300 different articles on boosting confidence, including ones provided by popular blogger Tina Williamson, who has developed a following on the site.
PickTheBrain specializes in creating snappy, appealing titles. It’s hard to resist “4 Ways that Your Darkest Moments Can Change Your Life” or “5 Ways to Stop Laziness in Its Track.”
The reader is guaranteed a payoff in every article: learn from your mistakes, turn the negative into a positive, and follow these four simple steps and change.
Of course, reality is often more complex. Changing is difficult, and sometimes advice doesn’t always lead to change. Arina Nikitina’s article on “5 Ways to Stop Laziness in Its Tracks” shows how procrastination and delaying taking control of one’s life can have damaging effects on growth and self-development. Nikitina’s suggestions for change include: uncovering the underlying reason for the procrastination, identifying the “hot buttons” that trigger it, structuring your life differently to change your passivity, and providing some time off. She could have offered more specifics, however, on how to achieve this change.
Williamson, the blogger with the large following, wrote an article titled, “One Big Thing That Will Save You from Regret.” It looks at limiting one’s regrets in life by taking a very unorthodox viewpoint. Rather than self-berating oneself for making mistakes, Williamson suggests that the best way to live a fulfilled life and never look back on one’s mistakes is to confront, face, and overcome death.
The thesis of Williamson’s article is that coming to terms with death at an early point and recognizing and accepting it frees a person to live life fully. Moreover, accepting death enables people to live life in the moment and live passionately, without regret. It’s an unconventional prescription to enjoy life by confronting the inevitable fact of one’s mortality.
Williamson engages with her readers. She encourages readers to contact her directly through Facebook and via her Barefoot Beginnings blog and establishes an ongoing dialogue with PickTheBrain readers.
Another article, “Suffering Comes from Your Perception,” written by Lori Taylor, serves as a primer on how thinking can set you free and make you or happy—or not. Suffering, Taylor wrote, “doesn’t come from the fact; it comes from your perception of the fact.” How we interpret events can make us depressed, delighted, or baffled. A person who feels rejected and gets undone by the so-called rejection may only be misinterpreting a friend’s slight. Taylor’s theory is that people have the power to make themselves happy or unhappy, depending how they perceive specific events.
Most stories offer suggestions that help the reader toward self-improvement. For example, the article “The 5 Ways to Build a Wonderful Life” recommended suggestions to stop the negative cycle and turn your life around. In that article, suggestions included “Educate Yourself” and “Live Below Your Means,” recommendations that aren’t earth-shattering but could be useful for those in a rut.
PickTheBrain is targeted more to women than men since self-help book readers are 75% female. Nonetheless, interested men could also benefit from these articles.
The site “provides inspiration for readers to go out and do better for themselves and those around them on a daily basis,” Falconer said.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.