This Self-Help Site Needs Help


By Francesca Di Meglio Everyone always wants to make a fresh start around the New Year -- lose weight, get ahead, quit smoking. So, there's a natural attraction to a Web site like IHaveGoals.com, which claims to "enable every visitor to take tangible steps toward achieving a balanced, productive, successful life." And for a mere $12.95 a month at that. Sound too good to be true? Alas, it is.

Launched in March, 2001, the site bills itself as the "first personalized online goal-setting system." Karen Childress, a business coach and management consultant whose practice concentrates on teaching health-care professionals how to work as a team, says she founded IHaveGoals to help people who want to get more out of life. At Childress' site, you can read articles about goal-setting, chat with other IHaveGoals members, reach out to online coaches, take classes, and keep a journal about what you want to accomplish.

You can enlist in IHaveGoals on your own or through an employer who has a group account. The fees might actually be worth it -- if the site actually did anything to speak of.

WRITE STUFF. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much. IHaveGoals tries to surf on the recent wave of spiritual self-help books, videos, and TV programs. Led by New Age gurus such as Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, the followers of the self-help movement tend to do yoga and meditate. The motivational lingo is nice and shiny on the surface. But, as the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words -- and yapping was all I found at IHaveGoals.

When I signed up, the site promised to help me get more of my writing published, find more time to spend with family and friends, and lead me to the man of my dreams. How? First, I was directed to make a list of priorities and set a deadline for each. From there, it was up to me to keep track of my progress by writing an online journal.

Then, I was advised to take teleclasses, which are conference calls led by an IHaveGoals consultant. Members can sign up, call in at a designated time, and participate in conversations with the lecturer and fellow "classmates."

YOU'LL HAVE TO WAIT. I signed up for "Goal Setting 101" and "Overcoming Resistance and Procrastination." I was told I would receive an e-mail providing the phone numbers necessary to dial into the teleclasses, but I never heard from anyone. Feeling like a truant, I tried to sign up for the classes again, only to find that teleclasses would resume in January. Hey buddy, wasn't the point of this to teach me to stop procrastinating? Physician, heal thyself!

IhaveGoals had other tricks to teach me, but they weren't very useful. My next shot at making my every dream a reality was e-mailing an expert about my desire to publish more articles and meet new people. Jeannine Cassell, the first expert I contacted, is a "professional coach" who specializes in corporate and executive training, and has consulted for Toshiba and Delta Airlines. She instructed me to visualize where I wanted to be in 2003. "Do this often. The brain doesn't know the difference between the real and imagined," she wrote.

Whoa. Last time I checked, my brain did know the difference between my fantasies and realities. At least, I hope it does. Next, I turned to Margaret Echols, another professional coach. Her MBA from George Washington University gave me false security that she was more grounded than Cassell. Though that's also my alma mater, looking back, this should've been my first clue: GWU is hardly known for its business school.

POP PSYCH. Margaret told me to keep a journal filled with answers to questions such as: What is draining you? What is your vision for yourself? What are you afraid of? The response demonstrated that the real failure of IHaveGoals is its perpetuation of motivational mumbo jumbo. Too much pop psychology, too little practical advice.

These coaches were little more than personal cheerleaders. If someone is willing to shell out a monthly fee to fix his or her life, then a pep talk is useless. Such a person is already motivated and now needs practical tools. I probably would have benefited from a consultation with an actual editor, who could have made suggestions about my writing style, pitch letter, and resume.

The site would be much more helpful if it provided e-mail addresses for a slew of experts from a variety of professions willing to dole out career advice. Maybe a psychologist or matchmaker could be on hand to offer tips in the romance department.

AD IN DISGUISE. Believe it or not, IHaveGoals may be the class act in the weak field of life-fixing Web sites. Take WeCoach.com, another motivational site itching to get you primed for the new year. With a primitive homepage and lacking true online services, wecoach.com is more of an advertisement for life coaches, especially Carol Reynolds, a marriage and family therapist and a motivational speaker you can hire.

IBreakThrough.com also serves as a commercial for offline services -- but at least it has snazzier graphics and design. Unlike IHaveGoals, neither of these sites requires visitors to pay a fee to log on. Then again, neither puts you in touch with anyone online and both charged additional fees for face-to-face coaching.

All these sites have spiritual jive in common, instructing visitors to do things like overcome their fears and move metaphorical mountains. Of course, no Web site can move the mountains for you. This may not be a shock. But it's still worth saying. Freelance writer Di Meglio will face the new year from Fort Lee, N.J.


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