“Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.”Joseph Conrad

There is a happy development in the otherwise gloomy world of self-help. Gurus are getting tough.

Although this well-intentioned terrain is still cluttered with “self-empowerment” mongers who use lazy, unfocused thinking, gimmicky ideas, and politically correct pseudo-concepts to sell their services, we now see the beginning of a new breed of advisers who preach self-responsibility and hard work.

One such is Phillip C. McGraw, a courtroom strategist and a counselor to Oprah Winfrey, who has written the best-selling book Life Strategies.

McGraw, a former football player, is no friend to feel-good psychobabble. Instead, he favors honest self-evaluation and specific, actionable personal objectives. His second “life law” requires you to take responsibility for your circumstances in life, even if you were the victim of a thousand injustices.

It All Starts When You Accept Responsibility For Your Situation.

“Genuinely acknowledging your accountability,” McGraw says, “means you should be willing to ask yourself questions like “What did I do to arrange the situation so that it happened in the way it happened?”

Failing to accept this law is a deal breaker, he says. “You’ve got to realize that you have already and always have been creating your own experience in this life.”

* You made the choice

* You said the words.

* You settled too cheap.

* You got mad.

* You treated yourself like dirt.

McGraw makes a useful distinction between accepting responsibility and taking on blame, however. You shouldn’t blame yourself for all the bad things that have happened to you, but you do need to see yourself as responsible for them.

Much of the work McGraw has you do in Life Strategies involves recognizing and accepting your negative thoughts, feelings, and habits. By identifying and accepting responsibility for these counterproductive impulses, McGraw believes, you will be able to do something about them. (Life law #4: “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

McGraw tells you to ask yourself – and find the honest answers to – such questions as:

* Am I living like a loser?

* Am I lazy?

* Am I scared?

* Does my marriage suck?

* Am I clueless?

Once you have figured out your faults, McGraw recommends that you figure out what you want in life. Then spend some time contemplating which of your personal characteristics need changing. Prioritize those characteristics by dividing them into the following categories: Urgent (faults of utmost concern), High, Medium, Low (faults you can live with).

Life Strategies is not the kind of book I would have written – nor is it the kind of advice I like to give. I don’t think you should spend much time thinking about what has happened in your past. I suppose I take it for granted that everyone – you and I included – has had a screwed-up life to some extent. We all have self-flagellating monsters in our psychological closets clammering to come out.

I’d rather leave that door shut and spend my time observing others, particularly successful people. If I can discover exactly what it is that successful people do when they are in the process of succeeding, I can do that myself. By imitating them, I can succeed also.

That said, Life Strategies did make me stop and think (however briefly) about my own personality flaws. I can’t deny that there are a dozen things I do wrong . . . and do wrong repeatedly . . . that hamper my success.

I do keep an index card filled with little reminders, such as “get to your appointments on time,” “smile more,” and so on. But I’m quite sure I’ve never faced my worst faults – the ones that no doubt cause the most trouble for me.

This, for me at least, is the greatest benefit of Life Strategies. I found McGraw’slLife laws themselves abstract and/or mundane and his strategies somewhat ordinary. But his fundamental insight – that you can be much more successful in life if you eliminate your worst personality defects – can’t be denied.