HOW WOULD YOU like to have a super-efficient mind, a better job, more money, and the wisdom of the ancients? And wouldn't you love to bristle with robust health and fitness, astounding the neighborhood and your friends with your dramatic metamorphosis? The current crop of self-help cassettes offers all this and more, promising to transform our minds and bodies while we're otherwise wasting time ironing, commuting, or jogging.
Milo O. Frank, for example, explains How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less, in a superbly produced stereo cassette. Frank and several excellent actors are fun to listen to as they present his sensible and practical communication shortcuts. Only 45 minutes (long enough to get 90 points across), Frank's tape sets the standard for self-help tapes.
Jeffrey G. Allen's How to Turn an Interview into a Job is also well done, going right to the heart of the job hunter's major problem. De-emphasizing the importance of resum,es, the 52-minute stereo production uses actors to simulate how interviews can be generated, constructively manipulated (or blown by dumb remarks) and converted into employment.
Get That Job, an adaptation of Thomas M. Camden's book, is less lively but more extensive. The man and woman narrators present the material and simulated interviews as straightforward lessons in job hunting. The two cassettes include a 54-page workbook with resum,e and cover-letter samples and a job search strategy review.
Once your fat salary starts rolling in, Still the Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need will help you hang on to it. Author Andrew Tobias leads an energetic and informative hour-long group discussion covering stocks, bonds, inflation, and taxes. Tobias is excellent on tape -- engaging and expert -- and his rambling delivery helps demystify personal financial planning.
Venita VanCaspel is more informative than entertaining, but her six-cassette The Power of Money Dynamics is a comprehensive and persuasive course in money management. A leading financial planner, VanCaspel clearly explains a dozen complex topics, including mutual funds, insurance and real estate. A 52-page booklet keyed to the cassettes is included. (Both the Tobias and VanCaspel cassettes are tax-deductible purchases.)
If money worries have you puffing away, The American Cancer Society's Freshstart: 21 Days to Stop Smoking could help you kick the habit. Comedian Robert Klein narrates -- along with music and the voices of psychologists, physicians and former smokers offering encouragement and facts. The 21 segments are sparkling audio pep talks designed to guide quitters through the difficult first three weeks of abstinence.
Self Hypnosis: Stop Smoking takes a different approach, using a curious "double indution" hypnosis technique with clinical psychologist Lee Pulos speaking simultaneously on two tracks. The overlapping voices and suggestions (against a background of surf sounds) are "particularly useful for persons who are overly analytical . . . in their approach to hypnosis," says the accompanying pamphlet.
The Courage to Change could save a listener's life. This "Personal Conversation About Alcoholism with Dennis Wholey" is based on the TV personality's best-selling book. Wholey speaks informally but frankly about his own alcoholism and recovery. Though brief, this inexpensive cassette provides information of great value -- particularly for the spouses and families of an alcoholic. It includes a brief self-diagnostic alcoholism questionnaire developed by John Hopkins University Hospital.
Dealing with Stress
EMMETT E. MILLER, M.D.'s Ten Minute Stress Manager is a well-produced stereo production combining a gentle surf (ocean sounds are becoming a growth industry), songbirds, guitar, flute, and Miller's sonorous voice to guide you through progressive relaxation. It sounds wonderful through earphones, and many would-be meditators may find it an improvement over mumbling a mantra and contemplating the existential void.
Miller's "Software for the Mind" series also includes Headache Relief and Peak Learning, similar productions using guided imagery, music and pleasant sounds as teaching and relaxation aids. By contrast to most cassettes, you don't listen to them (or similar tapes) while operating machinery or driving. Those perfect stereo waves booming between your ears could mellow you right off the road.
If progressive relaxation isn't enough to ease your aches, try Dr. Ray Mulry's Freedom from Back Pain, a well-organized six- cassette set with an illustrated workbook. Mulry, a clinical psychologist, warns against relying on surgery or drugs as cure-alls for chronic back pain. Histapes effectively teach correct posture, strengthening and stretching exercises, and relaxation therapy, emphasizing self-care and prevention.
Bonnie Prudden on How to Relieve Pain is less successful precisely because it doesn't include illustrations or diagrams. Prudden's myotherapy (applying brief, intense finger pressure to "trigger points") relieves muscular pain, but learning the techniques from a single cassette will be difficult for those not already familiar with her system. Reading Prudden's books first and then listening to the tape would be more practical.
Norman Cousins' Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient provides a philosophical view of medical self-care and personal responsibility. Cousins speaks at the beginning, summarizing his celebrated recovery from a rare, life-threatening disease. Jason Robards Jr., one of the richest narrative voices on tape, then reads an abridged version of the book detailing Cousins' self-directed cure (which involved intravenous ascorbic acid, laughter, and positive thinking).
How Shall I Live? by Richard Moss, M.D., leaps beyond philosophical discussions of medical self-care, presenting an unusual program of spiritual development. Subtitled "Transforming Surgery or Any Health Crisis Into Greater Aliveness," the three cassettes and 162-page book use illness as a metaphor and tool for personal growth. Moss has a warm and thoughtful manner on tape. His meditation and visualization, "Exercises for Sensing and Sharing Energy" and "Preparing for Surgery," could benefit both patients and medical workers seeking "greater compassion and a greater ability to love."
Ram Dass approaches expanding one's consciousness from a different perspective. Once associated with Timothy Leary's early LSD experiments at Harvard, psychologist Richard Alpert became Ram Dass after a 1967 trip to India and a spiritual transformation. Four one-hour cassettes -- Healing Ourselves: Healing the World; Who Are You?; Death and Dying; and On Relationships -- present Ram Dass at his best, a warm, unpretentious guru delighting his listeners with ancient wisdom, startling insights, and spritzes of hip humor. Not even the poor microphone placement (which picks up the audience's every hack, wheeze, and snuffle) diminishes his dynamic performance.
Words for Kids
AND LEST we forget all the children (and their parents lurking in the background) eager for a bracing tonic of self-help, Wordplay offers a painless approach to vocabulary building for 3-to 8-year-olds. Seven stories on two cassettes (including "Don Pedro and the Three Dragons," "The Ghost Who Loved Toast," and "The Smallest Monster") and two colorfully illustrated large-format books introduce little listeners to 100 "key words not found in primary readers."
Wordcraft ("A Kid's Word Power Program") a seven-cassette set for children 9 to 15, uses brief, well-conceived essays incorporating 700 "problem words." Each selection contains 10 new words which listeners can later test themselves on (900 test and 300 review questions) in the three study guidebooks.
There's no magic in self-help cassettes, of course, and passively listening to an instructional or inspirational recording won't dramatically alter your life. Yet, as noted here, many self-help tapes are surprisingly good, original productions providing useful information. That, coupled with a listener's earnest effort, could lead to positive personal changes, if not Cosmic Consciousness in Dolby stereo.