New York: Wellness Central, 2009
No Matter What! is a self-help book in the tradition of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The Secret. The concept behind this book is that we all have “bounce-back muscles” that, when fully developed, help us navigate the difficult situations in our lives. While Nichols believes we have as many “bounce-back muscles” as we do actual muscles, she only focuses on nine in this book: the Understanding Muscle, the Faith-in-Myself Muscle, the Take-Action Muscle, the I-Know-Like-I-Know Muscle, the Honesty Muscle, the Say-Yes Muscle, the Determination Muscle, the Forgiveness Muscle, and the Highest Choice Muscle. As she describes each one and how it helps us become more fulfilled and empowered individuals, she uses examples from her own life to illustrate how they work. In addition, at the end of each chapter, Nichols provides a series of exercises that help to develop the muscle in question. But while Nichols’ life story is certainly admirable, I fail to understand what makes this book fundamentally different from the other self-help titles out there. In addition, there are some chapters which I found lacked in empowering messages.
A number of the chapters in this book are off-putting. For example, I cannot begin to relate to “Chapter Four: Developing Your I-Know-Like-I-Know Muscle.” When read by an atheist, this section is completely inaccessible. To Nichols’ credit, she does not attempt to advocate one specific religious tradition. She emphasizes that although she is a Christian, she sees all spiritual viewpoints as valid, even a more abstract general, nonspecific spirituality. However, Nichols also asserts that one must believe in something in order to achieve their goals. But she fails to recognize that she might have readers who do not believe in something larger than themselves. Even atheists read self-help books sometimes. However, our idea of self-help does not include being told that we need to believe in something we do not think actually exists. We’re not just going to magically develop a sense of spirituality because we’re told we need to in order to achieve fulfillment. Furthermore, we resent the implication that we’re somehow less than whole because of our lack of faith.
The other chapter I found particularly frustrating was “Chapter Nine: Developing Your Highest Choice Muscle.” As in the other chapters, Nichols uses her own life experiences to illustrate how she overcame obstacles. In previous chapters, she discussed struggling as a student, losing her college scholarship, difficulties in establishing her career, legal trouble, unplanned pregnancy, and leaving an abusive boyfriend. But in the ninth chapter, where she discusses the final “bounce-back” muscle, she focuses on weight loss. The fact that she devotes this chapter to weight is frustrating because first, it allows for the implication that being fact is invariably unhealthy (it’s not), and that fat people are somehow less empowered, less successful, and less fulfilled than thin people. Secondly, this chapter allows for the assumption that one’s weight is something that absolutely can be changed through diet and exercise; it implies that people are fat because they eat too much (they snack out of boredom or to fill an emotional void) and exercise too little (because they spend too much time at work or because they are lazy). This chapter ignores the fact that body size, just like other characteristics, has a lot to do with genetics. “Chapter Nine” is body-negative and fatphobic. Authors like Nichols should be encouraging their readers to love their bodies, to accept themselves as they are, and to have healthy habits without focusing on weight loss. Furthermore, by including the topic of weight loss in this book, Nichols equates it with her real accomplishments: working her way up and starting her own business, safely getting out of an abusive relationship, and being able to balance a career and single parenthood. Losing weight and aligning oneself with an arbitrary standard of beauty is not a triumph and it is not empowering.
Nichols clearly had good intentions, but she fails to set herself apart from the rest of the self-help tradition. Furthermore, her work is at times alienating due to her reliance on spiritual belief as well as traditional beauty standards. While Nichols has led an accomplished life, the power of her own story gets lost in the conventions of the self-help genre.