The late comedian George Carlin had a great line about self-help books: “If you’re looking for self-help, why would you read a book written by somebody else? That’s not self-help. That’s help!”
While we can all acknowledge Carlin’s linguistic wit, we may not agree with his utter disdain for self-help books. Some people cannot afford a therapist; some don’t want to go on medication; some just want to read something inspirational — something that gives them hope. There are many reasons to reach for a self-help book.
Kiss That Frog! is the newest book by Brian Tracy, coauthored by his daughter Christina Tracy Stein. (For the purposes of this review, the authors will simply be referred to as the Tracys.) Kiss That Frog! is meant to be a short read, providing concisely written, easily applicable, unassailably practical methods for transforming one’s “negatives into positives” in “life and work.”
The central metaphor the Tracys use comes from the fairytale “The Frog and the Princess.” All the princess ever wanted was to marry a handsome prince. When she happened upon an ugly frog, she was at first disgusted. But when the frog told her if she kissed him he would turn into the man of dreams and whisk her away into marital bliss, she overcame her fear, took a leap of faith, and had her life forever positively changed as a result.
The Tracys outline the moral of the story, which is the underlying basis of their thesis: “It seems that almost everyone has a block, or more than one, that holds him or her back from becoming a truly happy, healthy, joyful person, looking forward to each new day with excitement and anticipation. What is the ‘frog’ in your life that you need to ‘kiss’ before you can achieve all that is possible for you?”
The metaphor is perhaps a tad elementary and cheesy, but it’s easily understandable: many people who are not as happy as they’d like to be have “blocks” or “frogs” that are preventing them from living a better life. By confronting and dealing with these obstacles, one can make them things of the past, and begin living a better, more enriching, happier life.
This idea is not novel. Many people understand that they have something holding them back, and many do in fact understand that they need to address whatever these things may be. That said, one must have the proper mindset in order to begin eliminating these blocks and frogs. One must have the proper motivation — the proper tools in place.
This is one of the reasons the market gets flooded with self-help books. While most talk more or less about the same central issues, they differ in how they instruct the reader to perceive them. Because of this, not all self-help books are universally helpful.
To this, the Tracys write: “Psychologists have described fully functioning, self-actualizing people as genuinely happy, at peace with the world and themselves, self-confident, positive, personable, relaxed, feeling that they are fulfilling their full potential, grateful, energized, and generally feeling terrific about life. If this description is a good goal for you in the months ahead, this book will show you how to become that kind of person” (italics in text). Even though these characteristics are a bit broad, they nevertheless paint a picture of how confident the Tracys are in their program.
Kiss That Frog! contains twelve chapters, with each giving a chief direction, e.g. “Imagine Your Handsome Prince.” After some succinct preliminary information, there are then sections that provide exercises, and detail why they work and what they do for you.
For example, in Chapter 3, “Look Your Frog in the Face,” the Tracys ask us to “Analyze the Situation” by posing four questions:
- What exactly happened (in our past)?
- How did it happen?
- What can be done?
- What actions will we take now?
By addressing these questions and coming to grips with the fact that events in the past need not control our future, we can learn to attain our ideal qualities.
All of this is well and good: sensible, practical, for the most part inarguably valid statements and solutions. But the Tracys get into dicey territory when they paint overly broad strokes, perhaps trying to be overly inclusive in their rhetoric. By presenting their ideas and methods as facts instead of as useful tools, they open themselves up to legitimate criticism that their book is overly idealized and even foolishly impractical. By essentially saying, “This will work,” the authors fail to cover their bases if it does not in fact work.
While this can certainly be said of many self-help books, it is particularly relevant to Kiss That Frog! On the book’s inside flap, for example, the Tracys quote Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The sentiment is clear — nothing is inherently bad for us; it just depends on how we view it— but the practicality is ailing. Contrary to the Tracys’ assertion, things can be bad. And it doesn’t just matter how we look at them. Losing one’s job is bad. Yes, such an event can in theory lead to a more rewarding life through countless possible channels. But it is rare to find someone laid off who in the moment claims it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.
Yet that is at times how the Tracys’ writing comes off — that no matter what happened in the past, or how dire circumstances may currently be, it can and will get better if you follow our advice. Perhaps this is too cynical of a reading, but much of what the Tracys have to offer does not seem revolutionary. This is not to say it’s bad advice, but it is to caution against getting one’s hopes up too high. Kiss That Frog! is a system of thought—a method of altering how you perceive your circumstances — and you will only get out of it what you put in. To that, you must fully buy into the Tracys’ program. Halfheartedly going through the motions will not produce tangible benefits.
Kiss That Frog! is not for everybody. Some may find it too short and not detailed enough. Some may find the style too all-encompassing and not specific enough to their particular situation. Others, though, may find it just what they need. Like any self-help book, it certainly has pitfalls. But the writing is confident and engaging, and the content is solid.
Despite its shortcomings, the book is worth checking out if you’re looking for something new in the self-help department. And if you can get onboard with the Tracys’ style, Kiss That Frog! may well be the most useful book you’ve ever purchased.
Kiss That Frog!: 12 Great Ways to Turn Negatives into Positives in Your Life and Work
By Brian Tracy and Christina Tracy Stein
Berrett-Koehler Publishers: March 5, 2012
Hardcover, 192 pages