‘…I’m getting better and better.’ Or, as Emile Coué originally put it, ‘Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux.’
Coué, a French pharmacist, was truly the first self-help guru – you need no more evidence than the fact that one of his most notable followers was Norman Vincent Peale. Robert Schuller of Crystal Cathedral was also a fan.
Born in Brittany in 1857, Coué was the son of a railroad worker, but did so well in school that he was on his way to becoming a chemist when hard times forced him to cut his studies short. So he became a pharmacist, a much more practical choice. After working a while, he noticed that it wasn’t always the medicine that cured, so much as faith in the efficacy of the medicine. What Coué had discovered was the placebo effect.
He ran a small (completely unscientific) experiment – he told some of his patients how highly effective their medicine was, while to others, he said nothing. Those who were reassured seemed to improve more and Coué decided that imagination had a lot to do with health. He came up with the theory of autosuggestion, ‘which can save your life when you know how to employ it consciously.’
Coué became well-known in Europe, but after Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt discovered him and invited him to the States (he arrived on January 4, 1925), he became a mega-celebrity. Like raccoon coats, flagpole-sitting, spiritualism and the Charleston, he was all the rage. Dozens of reporters met him at the boat, his lectures in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago were sold out,
Coué Institutes were founded. His book – Self-Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion – sold like hotcakes and trendy Americans began their days intoning, ‘Every day in every way…’
American Heritage reports that ‘crowds mobbed Coué wherever he went, desperate to touch his garments. Theologians debated Couéism’s relation to Christianity, while cocktail-party psychoanalysts interpreted autosuggestion in light of the widely discussed, if poorly understood, theories of Sigmund Freud.’
After his American visit, Coué went back home to work in his clinic, study hypnotism, write, and to encourage everyone to use what he called, with all humility, his little ‘trick.’
After a few years, the many Coué Institutes folded and autosuggestion gave way to the power of positive thinking, which in turn gave way to self-affirmation, self-realization, self-whatever. Coué faded from the collective consciousness, but he really was the granddaddy of them all. You can read his book here.