5 Reasons Self-Help doesn’t Work and What To Do About It

Enough with the self-help porn

Do you always achieve the things you want using self-help?

If you’re like most, this is how it goes for you:

You read books, listen to podcasts, watch videos, attend seminars, but you don’t see the results like others.

Then you think it’s because you aren’t working hard enough. You then read more books, listen to more podcasts, watch more videos, and attend more seminars.

But it still doesn’t work out.

And then you question if self-help truly adds value to your life.

I’m a child of self-help books. For they have shaped my life during my late teens.

The first book I read was *Think and Grow Rich. *4 Hour Work Week, Power of Positive Thinking, Power of your Subconscious Mind, and How to Think Big followed.

I was hooked. I spent the next two years of my life absorbing book after book, article after article and podcast after podcast.

I never thought something like self-help content can be addictive. But it is.

I proudly told my friends,

“Yeah yeah, no fiction books, I only read non-fiction” “What kind of non-fiction books?”, they asked. “Books like Think and Grow Rich”, I replied. Looking up to me as if I’m an enlightened being, they exclaimed, “Ah, I wish I could read as you do”

In hindsight, this egoic flattering was more pleasing than reading the books themselves.

I was focused on building a library rather than building knowledge

Only to show it off to people who visited me. Or to post Instagram stories — #LeadersAreReaders.

Deep inside I knew this habit is harmful. But I did not realize until one day, I was reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

In the book, Yogananda teaches the futility of mere book learning and information digestion. Many on the spiritual path have a tendency to keep themselves busy by reading scripture — the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, etc. His guru, Sri Yukteswar, often remarked,

“Do not confuse understanding with a larger vocabulary. Sacred writings are beneficial in stimulating desire for inward realization, if one stanza at a time is slowly assimilated. Continual intellectual study results in vanity and the false satisfaction of an undigested knowledge.”

This stands true in the study of all subjects of personal growth. Continuous consumption leads to no outcome.

All consumption and no production makes Jack a very, very dull boy

I knew I’d been doing something wrong. This changed my whole perspective to self-help and personal growth. I started to see problems with the industry.

And these issues misguide people like you and me — who seek true growth in their lives.

Productivity Porn

The self-help industry is full of generic, corny advice. Chase your dreams, think positive, believe in yourself, work hard, etc.

It does you no good. You’re left at the place you were at before.

It’s productivity porn.

The latest productivity system, app, this journal, that affirmation — everything is vain until you take action.

Consuming self-help without taking action is no better than reading fiction.

You’ll forget the information in some time anyway. Like you never read it in the first place — a waste of time.

Consume content intelligently. Think more about which books to read. Will you be able to implement what the author is saying?

I’m not telling you to stop reading. By all means, read anything you like but understand that it’s an act of leisure.

Now if you’ve to choose between Netflix and a book, go for a book. Don’t stop reading.

Yet don’t judge your productivity by how much you read. Action is what counts.

For instance, I bought 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene a few years back. I’ve yet not finished it. Sometimes, I study only one law and try to see how I can put it into action. Don’t go till the finish line — there’s no reward for finishing the book.

Be selective in your consumption, save time, and take more action.

It’s All Marketing, Anyway

There are very few who genuinely want to help. There are a lot who write just enough to spark your curiosity so they can sell a webinar, ebook, course, or consultation call.

I’m not saying it’s a problem. People have to make money with their skills and knowledge. It’s capitalism and there’s no free lunch.

But, when the writers come from a place of selling, they don’t end up helping you much. Their aim is to keep you hooked to the content.

Gary Vaynerchuk for example runs his YouTube channel as a side hustle. There’s no monetization model for him. He’s not trying to get you into a funnel. He repeatedly tells you to stop watching his videos and take action.

This is why people like him. He provides value.

(Gary’s example is a little rare though. A lot of writers make their money from what they write, unlike Gary who runs a business full-time).

Now don’t despise information coming from other sources like Medium either. Yet, raise the bar on whose advice you read. Has the person done before what you’re trying to do?

Yes, you might miss some “life-changing productivity technique” by deciding not to consume every self-help content. But the freedom and time you get are worthwhile.

This is why as a writer, I always err on the side of actionable advice and value.

I get no benefit in repurposing content and then feeding it to you with a clickbait headline. The aim is not to keep you here. It’s to help you improve and take action.

Information Overload

There are many different ways to succeed. Some coaches preach one technique, others preach a different one.

Advice from different ‘gurus’ can seem contradictory. For instance, there are some who talk highly of goal-setting. Then there are some who say goal-setting is crap.

And you’re stuck in between.

It leads to analysis paralysis. You keep on optimizing the ‘system’ or the ‘strategy’ but you never get to work.

Choose one path, experiment with it, and make your own system to help you succeed. Period.

Unrealistic Expectations

The self-help industry often creates unrealistic expectations which lead to anxiety.

They can’t help it — remember, they’ve to market their content.

But you should be an aware customer. No single technique can give you everything you want.

It’s our want of instant gratification which keeps the self-help industry alive.

Many authors tell you to mimic the morning routines of billionaires. If you act like them, you can be like them, right?

Not really.

There’s a lot more that goes into their success than their routines. And, in this case, no one tells you the routine of billionaires and CEOs when they were struggling.

Your situation is different. Be inspired, but don’t blindly copy.

Which brings me to my next point,

No Focus on Beliefs

A major part of what makes people successful is their belief system. If you’re procrastinating, there might be a deeper sense of inadequacy or low self-esteem.

No one talks about this. Yet it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Successful people are not on successful because of their routines. They succeed because their underlying beliefs are in their favor.

All their actions, habits, routines, decisions, come from their beliefs.

Creation > Consumption

It’s time to actually help yourself. Consume less and create more

To use self-help for your benefit, help yourself! Put the books down, and start executing. Don’t consume content for the sake of it.

You can figure out how to help yourself. You need to think hard enough. People who write self-help content are also *people. *Like you, like me.

They solved their own problems and then told the world about it. If they can do it, then you can too.

Nobody asks you how many books you’ve read, they look at what you’ve accomplished. And this is where your focus should be.

You have what it takes to be successful — don’t waste your time and get to work!

Written on June 11, 2020