You’ve probably seen the ads, splashed across the internet: “Transform your life in just weeks,” “Change your life for the better,” “Live the life you truly deserve!” Such promises made by self-help books and programs often seem too good to be true and for good reason—they are.
Before you invest your time and money into the latest self-help craze, it’s important to understand the truth and potential dangers of these books.
The False Promises of Self-Help Books
Self-help books and courses make many promises, like helping you identify and overcome patterns of negative thinking, build greater self-esteem, boost your happiness, and more. All of these claims can be compelling, especially if you feel stuck or unhappy in your life.
However, it’s important to realize that the vast majority of self-help books are nothing more than grandiose marketing ploys with little scientific evidence to back up their claims.
Despite this lack of evidence, there are many common selling points made by self-help books that can easily lure people in. Here are just a few of the most commonly cited claims made in self-help literature:
- You’ll achieve instant gratification with long-term results
- You can attain radical transformations with minimal effort
- You’ll be liberated from practical limitations quickly
- Unlimited happiness awaits when you purchase the book/course
- Success will automatically follow if you devote effort to what is prescribed in the book/course
It’s important to remember that these grand promises are in fact just marketing gimmicks meant to draw customers. Be skeptical! There is no magic pill when it comes to growth often significant changes take time and hard work.
The Dark Side of Self-Help
Many popular self-help books promise quick solutions but fail to deliver on their promises. Let’s take a closer look at why self-help books don’t always work and what you can do to find better solutions:
Lack of evidence-based advice
Many self-help books provide advice (often general like a fortune cookie), but don’t back their guidance up with scientifically proven techniques or studies. Because of this, it can be difficult to determine whether a particular book is actually going to work or not.
The lack of evidence-based advice in many self-help books has the potential to lead readers down a path that’s not actually helpful. This can ultimately lead to frustration and make it more difficult for them to reach their goals. Or worse you begin to feel like a failure.
To avoid this problem, it’s important for you to make sure that any advice they take from self-help books has been backed up by reliable evidence. Additionally, you should be aware that there may be other approaches and solutions available that have been proven effective but are not included in any particular book.
Looking beyond what’s offered in self-help books can ensure that you get sound guidance and increase your chances of achieving success through your own efforts.
Unclear language and concepts
Unfortunately, many self-help books are filled with abstract concepts and ambiguous language that can be difficult to understand. When tackling complex topics such as stress, anxiety, depression or relationships, simple language and direct advice is important for providing clarity.
However, when writers rely on vague terms such as “love yourself” and “be present in the moment” it can actually be a detriment to those looking for specific guidance or instruction.
Without an understanding of what those phrases mean and how they relate to the issue at hand, you may finish the book feeling confused or inadequate. Furthermore, if the book doesn’t address the potential causes of the issue being discussed it may leave you feeling disappointed and lost.
It’s important when selecting self-help books to make sure they provide:
- Clear explanations
- Detailed advice
- Address potential causes of issues rather than simply stay on the surface level.
Doing this will ensure that you find a resource that is truly helpful in tackling your problem rather than just something that restates the obvious but provides no actionable steps for success.
Lack of actionable steps
There’s a reason why many books don’t seem to be delivering on their vast promises. Most self-help books lack realistic and actionable steps.
The authors often promise successes like improved relationships, increased energy levels, perfect wealth management skills, and so on. These sound great but oftentimes go far beyond what can be realistically accomplished by the average reader within a set time frame.
For instance, few people will be able to follow complex or expensive philosophies of wealth management within just a few weeks or months of reading a book. Worse yet, many self-help books don’t provide any actionable steps that are needed for success.
They simply repeat vague affirmations and platitudes without providing any direction for how to actually implement them in everyday life.
“A thought without action is just a dream” Key word there is ACTION! To take action you need a plan.
Alternatives to Self-Help Books
Enough bashing these books let’s think of actual solutions. Nothing will ever beat a personal touch and accountability. This is where seeking professional help or communities is more powerful than anything a single book can provide. We are human, and humans need community.
While self-help books can be useful in giving us new perspectives and ideas, they have their limitations and can be unhelpful or even harmful if our issues are complex or deep-seated. By contrast, seeing a qualified mental health professional such as a psychotherapist, psychologist or psychiatrist is more likely to result in change.
In counseling, the primary benefit is that it’s tailored to your specific needs and goals. Having a real person to talk with, someone who isn’t biased by personal experience like the authors of many self-help books, also provides a valuable perspective.
A professional counsellor will work with you to help you identify patterns of behaviour that may not be apparent on your own and develop strategies for changing those patterns. Doing so can allow for long term changes to take place as opposed to only dealing with occasional symptoms as one might from reading a book.
When considering whether professional counseling is right for you, it’s important to find someone who has the appropriate qualifications and experience and with whom you feel comfortable discussing difficult topics. The expectations should always be discussed openly between yourself and your counselor before beginning therapy, so ask questions such as:
- What happens during each session?
- How often are sessions scheduled?
- How long does this type of counselling typically last?
Remember finding a good counselor is like finding the perfect dress or suit. It will take a few tries before finding the perfect fit.
Online courses come in many different forms and can give you access to a range of ideas and techniques that don’t appear in self-help books. You can find courses on subjects like mental health, business, relationships, and more from well-known platforms like Udemy and Coursera.
I will say ideally focus on a course where you learn an actual skill, or where you are meant to take physical action. It can be easy to fall into these online “communities” for a price that ends in a 7 ($997).
The benefit of a course is that it allows you to interact with your instructor, receive feedback from other learners in the course, and complete assignments for a better understanding of the material. Most importantly, you will be able to practice the skills that are discussed in the course so that you can use them on a daily basis for self-improvement.
Joining a support group can provide an excellent impact on your lifestyle and well-being. Joining a support group is free or at times very minimal cost, in comparison to buying self-help books.
In a support group, you get guidance from someone who is unbiased and who has been in your shoes. They are people who are bringing shared experiences to the table, helping one another by offering positive reinforcements and constructive feedbacks.
The cohesiveness builds within a supportive environment that aids in building relationships faster. You can build deep meaningful relationships much quicker with people you meet at a support group where they can help you work through common issues together.
If you think about it, the people present have been through similar situations like yours, which provides more knowledge than any book ever could:
- You get guidance from someone who is unbiased and experienced in the field.
- You get positive reinforcements and constructive feedbacks.
- You can build deep meaningful relationships much quicker with people you meet at a support group.
- You get more knowledge than any book ever could, as the people present have been through similar situations like yours.
Take Action With Self-Care
It’s also important to prioritize self-care so that you are better equipped to handle the challenges that life throws your way. Aim for balance in all areas – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – as well as sleep, nutrition and exercise.
It’s essential that you learn effective coping strategies to manage stress (e.g., mindfulness meditation) and self-soothe when negative emotions arise (e.g., journaling).
To prevent burnout and exhaustion, be sure to take regular breaks from work or daily activities for some downtime with family and friends or just moments of reflection and relaxation when needed.
Also, don’t forget to practice gratitude every day by focusing on the positive aspects of life – gratitude journaling can be especially helpful in this regard – while also maintaining realistic expectations of yourself so that you don’t become discouraged or overwhelmed by the magnitude of what needs to be done.
Seeking out meaning and purpose can also keep things in perspective during difficult times while helping promote inner fulfillment regardless of external circumstances.
The Big Self-Help Scam
When taking advice from a self-help book, it is important to remember that these books are often written by people with no expertise in their field. They may be motivated by profit, rather than any desire to help.
Though these books may appear to promise the world, they often don’t deliver on their promises. Learning to help yourself is important, but it’s important to have realistic expectations and to recognize when the promises made by the self-help industry are too good to be true.
Remember Confucius says “start living a life based on action. And only through action can one find purpose.”