Those words are cringeworthy to some, money in the bank to others, and twitch-inducing to many.
Self-help and self-development have been getting roasted in the public sphere for many decades…but the numbers don’t lie – it’s a 9.6 billion dollar industry. Yes, 9.6 BILLION. Andddddddd that number is getting bigger by the day. So, it ain’t going nowhere.
What is self-help?
Here’s the almighty Wikipedia’s definition:
self-guided improvement —economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis.
Let’s expand this a little. Anything that brings you closer to that person who you see in your mind’s eye – whether it be buying an audiobook on how to manage your finances, a new exercise program, a philosophical book with the intention of strengthening your mind – is all self-help.
Pretty much anything that is non-fiction, you can consider it “self-help”.
(And yes, before you ask – Unstoppable Rise is indeed “self-help”.)
Why are people spending money on this?
We live in very anxiety-producing times. Many people are wondering if we’re gonna tip into another recession, another world war, or something along those lines… A lot of people just want to “get ahead” of the competition and gain a competitive edge in the rush towards happiness and fulfillment. This is all well and good. Here’s the problem though:
It doesn’t work.
The implementation of self-help and self-development concepts just aren’t there. There’s no “sticking power”.
Many people who do these courses and such fall back into their old habits and routines with alarming rapidity. That’s mainly in part because there was no real change in their self-image. They see themselves as someone who does X, so naturally they’re going to do X. There’s no way around it.
I’ll say this: if self-help and self-development was so effective, we’d all be ripped as fuck with six pack abs, great health, a positive attitude, and the life of our dreams.
So, I’ll concede: it doesn’t work. ONLY if you’re a certain type of person.
Why you should read this article:
If you’re the type of person who reads a bunch of self-help and self-development books, and finds himself unable to act on ideas…then this article will do you a ton of good.
- Six solid reasons why self-help does more harm than good
- Ways to start implementing concepts you find in self-help and self-development
- How to filter out the good from the bad when it comes to self-help and self-development
Let’s get to it.
Reason # 1: Pollylollyanna
A lot of self-help books tend to be very idealistic. Many of them talk about what “could” be instead of what is.
It’s good to be idealistic, but we need to temper this with reality.
It gets REALLY bad when you start to venture into the New Age metaphysical ramblings- talking about “trusting the Universe” and other woo-woo nonsense. This line of thinking can be very dangerous.
Some of these books have real life application such as Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now. Many of them take advantage of the inherent anxiety and desperation in the individuals who buy the materials. Most readers of self-help books are repeat customers.
Reason # 2: Analysis Paralysis
Famous self-help guy Earl Nightingale said someone asked a doctor “what’s wrong with men today”? You know what this doctor said? He said “men simply don’t think”. I agree.
We definitely do a lot of thinking. We are a culture obsessed with anxiety. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans has an anxiety disorder. Yes, Anxiety does have a genetic basis… but a lot of anxiety comes about from excessive thinking, mainly the wrong type of thinking. Repetitive thought loops that make you circle round and round like a fucking Looney Toon.
This excessive thinking propels us to click over to Amazon and buy the next self-help book. Then when we DO read it, we’re wondering if we’re doing it right, like Mr. or Mrs. [Insert your favorite self-help guru here].
As a result, we take no action and we are in the same place as we were before.
Reason # 3: Information Overload
We’re exposed to a barrage of information on a daily basis. Why add four more self-help books to that clutter?
You’ll most likely forget about what you read (unless you write it down) and it will be another piece of your precious time that’s been wasted reading something that just makes you “feel good”, while producing no actual results.
This information overload feeds back into the previous reason and creates a vicious cycle of self-doubt and inner resistance.
Reason # 4: The “Pacifier Effect”
I made this up, but let’s roll with it. It’s an interesting phenomenon I see within the self-help and self-development sphere.
Let’s use John as an example. John goes out and buys a new copy of Think and Grow Rich. Fired up from his new read, he decides to go on a self-help book reading spree. During the course of his reading, he then encounters an idea that contradicts one he read in Think and Grow Rich! Later on John encounters a problem that can be solved using the teachings found in both of these books. What should he do?
John should think for John…but he doesn’t – so he does jack and shit. He would have taken more action than if he didn’t read those books in the first place.
Instead of being empowered, many readers of self-help books are put in a position of helplessness. These readers need to consult the self-help guru of their choice when it comes to certain aspects of their life that they should be able to deal with.
These people can’t think for themselves and think that every single problem that have will be solved by reading these books. Not only do they waste more time on inaction but they open themselves up to information overload and analysis paralysis.
Reason # 5: Rewarding…but for what?
Admit it… you get a dirty little high when you read a self-help book. You feel like you’re gaining some type of insider information that will put you above everyone else. It’s ok, most people do.
Well, there’s this awesome little chemical called “dopamine” that provides the basis for any of our actions. Dopamine is a motivational chemical that’s released whenever we do anything that’s rewarding for our survival.
As you read a self-help book, your brain is releasing dopamine to signal that this information is beneficial to you and will help you move up in the world. Dopamine is the reason why we do anything.
When you read self-help books, you are tricking your reward center to thinking that you “did” something when you actually didn’t move the needle whatsoever.
By tricking the reward center that you’re doing work, you make it harder to do ACTUAL work. Real work isn’t as stimulating as reading one of those self-help books because you don’t see the results immediately.
This is why addictions like Internet addiction are so rampant in our society. It’s easier to spectate than it is to create, especially in our risk-averse society.
This is the major reason as I why I nipped my addiction to these books as it was starting to sprout. I knew it would become a problem because it would devastate my ability to focus.
Reason # 6: Diminishing Returns
Ask yourself: do you really need to read that next book? Didn’t you already listen to a version of this audio program? Haven’t you already watched a video like this? Do you really need another book on how to be productive? Do you really need another book on “how to run a business” even though you kinda/wanna/sorta start something (but deep down inside you know you won’t)?
Granted, if you’re starting from ground zero and you have no knowledge of self-help concepts, some will certainly do you good. But after a while, it’s like reading the same stuff over and over again.
Eventually you’ll just get a point where you’ll ask: “didn’t I already read this?” But it’s a different book.
What is the reason for the self-help addiction?
The overwhelming glut for self-help stems from procrastination. We all want to make a difference in the world…Just not today. I’ll read about it first, then I’ll go out and change the world.
Procrastination is the main culprit you have to eliminate if you truly want to be free of the black hole of self-help.
You’re probably reading this article to procrastinate, if so…think of it as “proactive procrastination”.
(Didn’t see that coming!)
Work with what you have
One of the main symptoms of the addiction to self-help is a repeat buying of materials, even though you don’t need them.
If you buy a ton of books and courses on how to exercise before you even start exercising, then you’re procrastinating.
Marketing for different products works so well because we’re convinced we’re somehow incomplete. The people who feel they’re incomplete are the first people in line to gobble up self-help. Granted, these people may have a ton of books just sitting on their shelf, begging to be read.
My advice? Read what you already have. I’m not talking about once. I’m not talking about twice, or even three times. Re-read it until you internalize it and REALLY understand what the author is saying. That’s how you get the most of out these books.
Don’t impulse shop
You’re more likely to make rash decisions when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or stressed (HALTS). That’s the nature of the beast. We are all emotional creatures, for sure. Don’t by the bullshit from anyone who says they aren’t.
But our trump card is the prefrontal cortex. This is the seat of your willpower and your decision-making capabilities.
You can choose to not click “add to cart” when it comes to that book or audio program.
You can choose not to view that video.
You have a choice. You always have and always will.
Act, then course correct
You may have a tendency to “go along with the crowd” or fall victim to peer pressure…but you’re not dumb. You’re already pretty smart in some area.
You already know what you need to do to achieve [BLANK].
You already know what you need to do to gain muscle or lose weight. It’s not magic.
Go to the gym. Eat healthy foods. That’s it. Well…there’s a bit more than that, but there’s no real reason to overcomplicate things.
What if you acted before you were necessarily “ready”? You’d probably end up achieving your goal in a shorter amount of time than if you read ALL the books in the world.
When you took your first job, you didn’t know everything in that field. You learned along the way.
If you wait until you know everything about something, you’ll never do it.
You get going and then change course along the way. Of course, don’t be an ignoramus and launch blindly…but don’t fall victim to the idea of “getting ready” either. If you encounter a certain problem, THEN you can get a book or course to help you out.
Life isn’t lived between the covers of a book or on the Internet.Life isn't lived between the covers of a book or on the Internet. Click To Tweet
What’s really real?
As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s tons of self-help and self-development material out there that just isn’t…. how should I put it….”up to par”.
I’m not going to name any names but it should be easy to spot “all fluff, no substance”.
Here’s a quick way to “vet” a self-help book or program:
- Does it have a “legacy”? Is it a book or program that’s universally acclaimed, not just by the cult followers?
- Does it have readily applicable concepts? Can you start apply these to your life today?
- Can you re-read or re-watch/listen it and find something new every time?
- Does it speak to the “sensible” part of your being or does it just puff you up and make you feel good?
The final solution
When I first started getting into self-development and self-help, I thought it was an incredible thing.
I didn’t learn any of this in school. Instead, just A LOT of useless junk.
I bought self-help book after self-help book in addition to learning a lot of stuff through videos and audiobooks…then I started to run into diminishing returns.
I soon came to the conclusion that I would not buy a self-help book unless I had a pressing problem that needed to be solved. I already read a lot of the classics…while skipping a few others. And to be honest? I doubt the quality of my life would have increased dramatically after reading the “classics” I missed.
My understanding of the books I now have are deeper and richer due to repeated reads. I’m very certain I could do more plumbing if I needed to.
So I went back to basics, as a history and philosophy buff. Now? I usually end up reading biographies or historical books. Those are a lot better than a “8 Ways to Do X” book anyway.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it all comes back to dopamine and the reward system. For the time being, you need to exercise conscious control over your desire to read self-help books until it becomes a habit.
Once you get rid of this addiction, you will feel so much better. Trust me.
Now, I want to hear from you. Do you have an addiction to self-help materials? What are you going to do starting today to stop it?