Embarking on ancient wisdom that was hidden in plain sight during the lowest point of life is a backstory cited by motivational speakers or self-help gurus.

Ethiopia is not immune to the motivational speakers proliferating with increasing internet access and social media platforms, vying for market share in the entrepreneurially slanted generation.

Dawit GebreEgziabher has gained popularity over the past few years through his YouTube videos and live seminars. Dubbed "Dawit Dreams", the self-help organisation got a formal set-up three years ago but claims to have coached over two million people.

His office located in the Haya Hulet area has a young staff with an exceptional level of optimism, with "incredible", "amazing", and "fantastic" often heard in response to questions. The company has recently taken a formal structure hiring a deputy CEO, an HR staff and management.

Dawit wrote in his book citing to have learnt the secrets of success from Bob Proctor of the Proctor Gallagher Institute. Bob Proctor, a Canadian self-help author who died last year following a career in the self-help industry, had a book by the name Change Your Paradigm, Change Your Life, usually featured in the background of Dawit's speeches.

"Everything that is coming into your life, you are attracting into your life," said Bob, who built an empire estimated to be worth 20 million dollars within the self-help industry. "It's attracted to you by the images you are holding in your mind."

Dawit, who said that he has watched the video nearly a thousand times, agrees with the themes that entail the law of attraction.

He had a troubling period, barely speaking Amharic as he operated an Internet cafe business before having an aha moment upon which he embarked on this quest. He reflects on a period when he lost five million Birr, which prompted him to begin this path, hoping to escape his own troubles.

Dawit has been teaching life skills coaching, "the way life functions," as he calls it, for nearly a decade. He claims that "96pc of humans prefer death than thinking" in one of his recent videos, citing thought as one of the six "brain instruments" schools failed to teach us.

According to him, a person who comprehends the way of life is qualified to become a self-help guru. He advises that no one should judge others on their competence to teach the tools of self-knowing.

"Someone who understands should teach it," Dawit told Fortune.

A host of guests grace the stage at his seminars, narrating their rags to riches story, leaving the audience full of "inspiring" stories in order to become "successful". Most of the guest appearances are presented along the lines of reaching from "0", a blue-collar job, to "Hero", ownership of some business earning them millions. However, they fail to mention a clear direction of where to go and what to do.

While attending one of his weekly sessions is free, the two months and a half classes cost 10,000 Br, a small price for a series of sessions to "transform" life.

Attendees claim to have experienced the changes from within.

Dagim, a former attendee of the seminars, has benefitted from the experience. The mid-20s young man who attended the classes a little over eight months ago says his life has changed because of it.

A 'paradigm shift,' a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions and a term that is mentioned several times in Dawit's speeches, is what he claims to have experienced.

"I have learned to look inward for solutions," he told Fortune.

Feven, another attendee, also expressed a similar sentiment suggesting that the session was self-finding and improved her overall financial and professional situation.

Unverified or rather unfalsifiable claims about the nature of mind, consciousness and secrets of manifestation are ubiquitous across the plethora of new-generation gurus that assail social media and conference centres.

One such motivational guru featured in the short documentary was James Arthur Ray. He ended up going to jail for negligent homicide after three of his clients died in a sweat lodge in an attempt to "help themselves" out of their impoverished condition.

Napoleon Hill was the author of one of the first and most widely read self-help books in the early 20th century. His book "Think and Grow Rich" which was inspired by Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy man who expanded the US steel industry, claimed to dispose of the secrets of wealth to the impoverished masses.

Several iterations of this model were recycled by different authors, culminating in perhaps the most abstract yet promising book, "The Secret" by Australian television writer Rhonda Byrne. The book unseated Harry Potter from the best-selling list in 2007 with at least seven million copies sold and the DVD sold over two million copies in four months.

For the psychologist and counsellor at Aha Psychological Services, Moges GebreMariam, a degree of regulation in the rapidly expanding motivation industry should be implemented.

He has had clients who following a burst of energy enamoured by self-help magic, find themselves depleted in a short time.

"Anyone can apparently become a motivational speaker," Moges told Fortune.

The psychologist indicated that the complexity of the individual psyche requires a calibrated approach to addressing issues. He commented that living with a certain degree of tension between fantasies and reality is not something to be escaped from.

Moges questions how these speakers' professional competence can be assessed if there is no compulsory educational background to reinforce it.

A New York and Hamburg Universities professor, Gabriella Oettingen (PhD), begs to differ with the so-called positive thinking wave that occasionally captures a certain swathe of the population. In her book "Rethinking Positive Thinking, " the professor argues that positive thinking in its current consumption model creates complacency rather than action.

In a controlled study conducted by her colleagues, one group was asked to imagine that the coming week would be full of good grades and great parties, while students in the second group were asked to record their actual thoughts and daydreams. The result showed that blind optimism creates a sense of relaxation and complacency by lowering blood pressure but leaving with less energized and less prepared for action while thinking of that same wish and considering not getting it raises it.

In another experiment, the researcher instructed third graders to imagine a candy that they would receive if they finished a language assignment while considering their own behavioural limitations that could impede them. A second group was strictly told to imagine the candy where the former greatly outperformed the latter.

Over two decades of research by the professor, are surmised it all lies in making the most of fantasies by brushing them up against the obstacles that stand in the way.

Mike Shermer (PhD), the publisher of Skeptic magazine, once wrote that such programs contain a shield that protects them from sceptics blaming the attendee for not having positive enough thoughts if it does not work out.

With unclear demarcations of what exactly it takes to become a life coach or self-helping motivational speaker and no requirements of professional licensing in place, listening to these bold, well spoke, new-age speakers requires caution.

Minase Hailu, a lawyer with over a decade of experience, argues that some form of assessment concerning the motivational speaker's competency should exist as their recommendations and consultations have mental, financial and social consequences.

"If a license is required to drive, it should be required for these people too," Minase told Fortune.

He indicated that the vague categorization of the class of services provided by these self-help gurus could have rendered their delayed classification into a discernible business type.

Minase referred to the new capital market proclamation suggesting that the commensurate license should be obtained first if they are categorized as financial advisors.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 15,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1198]

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