x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

A great leap forward?

Feature Dave Crane, the UAE's only life designer, claims that his motivational strategies can help us all to reach our full potential.

Life designer: Dave Crane.
Life designer: Dave Crane.

Making new year's resolutions is always a daunting affair. For some, the idea of aiming to lose a stone, quit smoking or find a better job is so dispiriting that they turn to the self-help professionals. This year, I have decided to join them. No vague promises about step classes or language lessons for me. I am putting my plans for self-improvement in the hands of Dave Crane, who claims that he is Dubai's only life designer. Life designing, it seems, is the new life coaching - a term that seems terribly 2007. Life design, on the other hand, is very now. After all, as Crane says "self-improvement is the new rock'n'roll and everybody should be doing it."

I meet the diminutive Crane at a coffee shop in Dubai, his signature blond-streaked dreadlocks and oversized silver earring tipping me off to his presence before we even get the chance to make our introductions. At 41, he is no stranger to the self-improvement game. He decided seven years ago to change his life (note: it was not part of a new year's resolution) and is now on his umpteenth career, after transitioning from working as a DJ and radio presenter with the BBC in the UK to motivational speaking and being a professional hypnotist in the UAE. According to his website, clients such as Visa, Kodak and Pepsi have paid for his special mix of entertainment and self-help.

Judging by his website, www.iwantdave.com, you would guess that Crane is a smiling, pyjama-wearing hybrid of Anthony Robbins and Tom Cruise's character from Magnolia. After all, he has a CD entitled Now That's What I Call Hypnosis, Volume 1. Thankfully, he is much more down to earth. Though Crane usually sees his clients in group sessions at the Dubai Natural Healing Wellness Spa, he is meeting me for a house call of sorts: a radically simplified intro to life design. Building stepping stones to success, it seems, is not a short process.

On to the hard part: making resolutions, or, indeed, life designs, that I can stick to. Crane brings out a small piece of paper about the size of a business card with a bull's eye on it. This is what he calls a life design wheel. He asks me to rate my success in various aspects of my life, such as family and friends, life purpose and money. An imposing zero (presumably for abject failure) is located in the red centre of the bullseye, with lines of even numbers jutting out like spokes towards 10 (success!), which are located along the green outer rim of the target. I circle eights, nines and tens in the different categories. Of the topics where I circled an eight in terms of success, Crane asks me to imagine myself in five years' time, then together we work backwards in order to create practical solutions that are likely to lead me to my goal.

"Once you've done that, you have a complete template on where you need to be," Crane says. We focus on the romance area of my wheel and Crane offers practical tips on how to meet my soulmate (most of which seem to boil down to finding ingenious ways to meet new people). Even though it has already taken a few hours to get to this point, and none of the suggestions are exactly earth-shattering, in the long-term, it is probably more time efficient than spending a lifetime listening to my grandmother's advice.

The US self-help industry is worth $11 billion (Dh40bn) and is clearly nothing to sneeze at. Global economic strife doesn't appear to have hit the sector just yet. Crane charges $1,500 (Dh5,500) for each masterclass session which lasts all day, though he usually advises groups of about 10 people and corporate behemoths such as Unilever and Wal-Mart. There are at least six other life-coaching agencies in Dubai alone, although Crane's fees are higher than the average.

Like most self-help programmes, there are bullet points to guide you into your new life. Crane's involves 10 "essential life design rules", which are printed on a "Bank of Life credit card" which he issues to all of his clients. "You keep it with you all the time," says Crane. "Those are the 10 rules that make such a difference." Credos on the portable mandate include: "Your worst things are the best," "Your experiences are unique," and "Your time is irreplaceable." These are hardly new phrases in the lexicon of self-development.

The list includes such nuggets as number four, "You Never Make a Mistake: At the time it was the right thing to do, so stop bringing up past regrets." Not sure if I agree with this one. I am pretty sure that the silver mini-backpack purse I wore in the early 1990s was a mistake. However, I digress. Crane says that he came up with life designing as an alternative to life coaching, which he felt was limiting him because it does not allow for the use of hypnotherapy or suggestion. In fact, life coaching is much more similar to plain old analysis in that way. Instead of logging in hours on the therapist's couch, Crane can guide you, hypnotise you and entertain you into your new life quickly. He also uses neuro-linguistic programming also known as NLP, a therapy created in the 1970s in California that analyses people's negative perceptions associated with certain words and helps change them.

"Coaching is built on psychology. People don't go to a shrink once. They go to a shrink for 10 years. If they go to a shrink for 10 years, something is not right. Why would you need to go for that long?," asks Crane. "Hypnosis and NLP are built around your subconscious mind, which most people don't understand but use all the time. You don't need to spend such a long time working with somebody. You can give them the tools and techniques and change them around very quickly."

Because of Crane's use of hypnosis, he has often been compared to the UK's leading self-help guru, Paul McKenna. McKenna promises that he can make you rich and/or thin, and his books have sold millions of copies worldwide. Crane says that he doesn't want to be like McKenna at all, but makes it clear that he has no objection on being rich and famous. Judging by his thriving business, that's just as well.