Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Considering “Your Erroneous Zones”

A careful look at Jesus Christ will reveal an extremely self-actualized person, an individual who preached self-reliance, and was not afraid to incur disapproval.” 

Those are the rather surprising words of Wayne W. Dyer in his bestselling book Your Erroneous Zones (1976)—surprising not because they seem untrue, but because Dyer was not a Christian (as least in the traditional sense).

Dyer was born on May 10, 1940, and passed away last August 29 at the age of 75. Your Erroneous Zones was the first of many books he wrote, and I read it with great interest when it was still fairly new—and again, hastily, this year. 

Dyer’s book is certainly worth reading, and re-reading. On the New York Times bestseller list for 64 weeks, it was one of the top-selling books of the twentieth century with an estimated 35 million copies sold.

Even though a religious pluralist, Dyer had great respect for Jesus, as seen in his statement above. While not in his 1976 book, he is also quoted as saying, “My beliefs are that the truth is a truth until you organize it, and then becomes a lie. I don’t think that Jesus was teaching Christianity, Jesus was teaching kindness, love, concern, and peace. What I tell people is don’t be Christian, be Christ-like.” 

He went on to say, Don’t be Buddhist, be Buddha-like.” From such statements, it seems clear that Dyer was a person who was very spiritual, but not religious.

Another of his books that I read with interest and profit was Change Your Thoughts—Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (2007), and he has other books about the ancient Chinese spirituality known as Tao (now sometimes written Dao, the way it is pronounced). 

Dyer also considered Swami Muktananda (1908-82), a Yoga guru, as his master. 

Dyer held a doctorate in educational counseling from Wayne State University and served for a while as an associate professor at St. John’s University in New York. But he is mainly known as the prolific author of self-help books and as a motivational speaker.
On his website, Dyer is introduced as “an internationally renowned author and speaker in the fields of self-development and spiritual growth.”

The reference to a “self-actualized person” in the quote at the beginning of this article is a term made popular by Abraham Maslow, who in other places Dyer refers to as one of his greatest teachers. (It is surprising that he doesn’t mention Maslow in his 1976 book.)

One of the best, or most important, chapters in Your Erroneous Zones is titled “The Useless Emotions—Guilt and Worry.” “Throughout life, the two most futile emotions are guilt for what has been done and worry about what might be done,” writes Dyer at the beginning of that chapter. 

He suggests strategies for eliminating both of those “erroneous zones” and then challenges his readers to learn to “live now and not waste your current moments in immobilizing thoughts about the past or future.”

The final chapter of his 1976 book is “Portrait of a Person Who Has Eliminated All Erroneous Zones.” It could also be taken as the portrait of a self-actualized person. That summary chapter is worth reading and considering at least once a year—if not once a month. 

According to Dyer, people who have eliminated all erroneous zones “are enthusiastic about life, and they want all that they can get out of it.” That statement reminds me of Jesus’ words: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly(John 10:10).


  1. I have not read any of Dyer's books, but I have done the modern thing of watching his specials during PBS pledge breaks! He definitely has some interesting ideas.

    I have some reservations about his idea that guilt and worry are useless emotions. In moderation, they can help focus us. Americans in general, and white people in particular, have plenty to feel guilty about. The ones who feel no guilt are living in bubbles, and are a menace to everyone. A fine example is the presumptive nominee of a certain party for President of the United States. Only a fool would feel no worry about the future under global warming or neoliberal economics. Again, I am talking about moderation, not that overwhelming drowning sensation sometimes felt. Guilt and worry are types of questions, sometimes to be answered, sometimes to be considered, and sometimes to be dismissed. For this last, Dyer has some good ideas.

    By the way, for full disclosure, I am a white American male. So this is an internal analysis, unless looked at from the nineteenth century, when my Irish forefathers were not considered white!

  2. Craig, thanks for your important critique of Dyer's ideas about guilt and worry.

    I don't have his book at hand here in Japan, but as I remember from what he said in his chapter on guilt and worry he stressed that those two "erroneous zones" were negative feelings whenever they immobilized a person from fruitful action in the present.

    Maybe these is partly my ideas, but if we are guilty from wrong in the past, we should seek to do something to right those wrongs rather than just feel guilt--especially if those guilty feelings keep us from productive action.

    In the same way worry about the future is not only useless but even detrimental if that worry keeps us from taking action in the present. Of course we should be concerned about the problems you mentioned among many others. But worry does nothing to help solve those problems. Thinking about the problems and working with others on concrete ways to solve such problems is important, though--and much different than worrying.

    Dyer continues to focus on the present--what we think and do now. I like his emphasis on living and acting in the present, so I basically agree with his contention that feeling guilt and worrying are useless and even harmful ways of thinking.

  3. Local Thinking Friend Tom Lankford shares these pertinent comments:

    "Your blog also reminded me of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. When the woman asked for the living water that Jesus had offered, interestingly enough Jesus begins by asking her to go get her husband, knowing full well that she's been married five times. Most traditionalist would say that Jesus was asking her to confess her sins but I would say he was letting her know that he knew the facts of her life and he was asking her to give up her worry and guilt about those facts, regain her voice and join the new kingdom that had come. And of course the results were amazing in that she went back to the village, where she had no voice, spoke to that whole village about a new kingdom where everything is known and led them out to that new kingdom. Only in the kingdom of Christ is the first evangelists a woman who's been married five times. Amazing!"

    1. Tom, thanks for your interesting comments about the Samaritan woman.

      A couple of years ago I read a fascinating book by Obery Hendricks, an African-American theologian. It was a novel titled "Living Water" (2004)--and I'll never think about the Samaritan woman again without thinking of his depiction of her life and encounter with Jesus.