Self-help content writing never fails. It is an evergreen business idea.
In 2018, the self-help industry was worth about $10 billion per year in the United States alone.
Take a moment and remember the last self-help book you read. I can bet it didn’t have more than two pages or five hundred words of value.
What is the point of writing a whole book? What is the point of purchasing one and spending so much time in the hope of getting something?
And then, what is the point of disappointment and despair just a week after reading that apparently magical life-saving book?
Self-help books are flash and smoke. You may think that they work, or they will.
But most of them don’t.
I want to present here a compilation of arguments and reasons as to why self-help books don’t work. Are the readers responsible somewhere and somehow? How to choose self-help help books that DO help?
What's Included in This Post
Self-help Books Warp the Reality
Self-help books gift-wrap your circumstances, as they are literally fresh, yellow lemons. And all you needed to do all this while was to grab them and enjoy lemonade in the shade of a tree.
To the reader’s luck, this gift-wrapped reality and real-life circumstances do not stay longer than just a few days or maximum a week after you finish reading the book.
And you are back in the real world dealing with tangible deadlines, workload, stress, relationships (the list goes on and on), on your own. Not just dealing, you feel like looking for another self-help book to help you pass a few more days with the hope of getting a magical potion and get everything sorted.
This positive feedback loop does not help at all in any way. Unless or until you find a book or psychological analysis that can point out loopholes in one’s approach to life and its circumstances that are very, very close to yours.
A self-help book is just a fling!
The one-size-fits-all approach of self-help books fails the reader to get what he dreamed of when he purchased it. A formula or sequence of steps and events that worked for the author doesn’t necessarily work for you. Why?
Because he had his own set of circumstances, people, and events that made his surroundings and a piece of advice worked for him.
Tell you what, a bit of advice that worked for the author doesn’t have to be there in the book as long as it is not attractive!
For instance, it might be possible that it was hard work that changed the author’s life. Now, who would like to hear ‘work harder’ after spending time and money and high hopes on looking for magic?
So, the advice that worked for one person won’t necessarily work for you.
Secondly, the book might not even be touching the advice that would work for most people out there.
Self-help Books is more Business- than Solution-oriented
You buy self-help, motivational book with very convincing, never-heard-of-this-before punchlines and rave reviews. You get your life sorted.
What then? What are the odds that you will find yourself looking for another?
A survey tells us people who buy one self-help book have been seen to buy another one in a maximum time of 18 months. Or we can say that once you buy a self-help book, you keep on buying them. Why?
The business idea is to provide you only with something, like I said, five hundred words of value.
To set in that never-ending loop of positive feedback (product feeding back and make the reaction stronger). You don’t get your problem solved, but you feel like you are close. And you will reach if you go for another self-help book.
No one is more concerned about solving your problems and sorting your life out more than you.
The way you are busy sorting your life out, the author is doing the same by selling the book.
As per survivorship bias, you can do all things right and still fail.
This may seem to you somewhat complacent, but an unbiased view or discussion of one’s life story has more value than a series of ‘right’ decisions and things that happened.
The author of a self-help book may be looking at everything that provided results, all the strategies that were fruitful. But not those which failed. Every self-help book ever is more a ‘success story’ than a success-failure story.
When stakes are high such as your own life, take a bigger picture to find solutions to your problems.
What does Psychology say about Self-help Literature?
The world of knowledge has been divided into two main streams:
A school of thought that does not acknowledge the concept of the supernatural and the soul. It recognizes and studies truth and truth-seeking based on empirical and rational thinking. In other words, only the things that exist and can exist in the matter are its subject. This is called academic psychology. (Trust me, nobody wants to hear that!)
The other one is popular psychology. This school of thought has its roots in the limitless power of self. Narcissus (a Greek mythology subject who fell in love with his reflection in the water) as its model. A body with a soul can do anything and everything only by thinking about it!
This popular psychology, now more commonly called ‘pop’ psychology, sells self-help content.
This literature’s goal seems to be miraculous attainment of one’s aspirations he is looking for for a long time and a permanent state of happiness, satisfaction, and fortune.
These two approaches or streams of knowledge are very ancient, and we can find self-help books in history. Their messages speak to the human condition: our existential, psychological and emotional needs for hope and a sense of purpose and control, just like the self-help books today.
Psychology says that this genre cannot and does not provide any tangible solutions to anyone’s problems.
What it does is, give the reader a sense of control and power, which makes him able to look for a solution. And believe that there is a way that he could get things sorted whether in emotional, scientific, financial, or relationship matters.
A Better Approach to Self-Improvement
I will not be selling any self-help content here by bashing out on other self-help book authors out there.
Writing on self-help and motivation should not stop because even five hundred words of value per book could be a life-saver for a person stuck in a feedback loop of mental and emotional problems. You never know!
The point here is how to choose self-help books and authors and then how to bring self-help literature into optimum utilization if you still want to read them. Otherwise, problems and circumstances can be made better without reading self-help literature as well.
Look for scientists
“Don’t take the authors’ word for it just because they are extra-spiritual, or manly, or a doctor who knows Oprah – listen because they are scientists and use data.”
When going for a book, read about the author first. You are already looking for a way out, and you don’t want your time and money going waste on something that doesn’t help your circumstances.
I want to suggest two very general, personally tested books for you to read. Authors of both them specialize in their jobs. Again, even these may or may not be helpful in your particular case:
’13 things mentally strong people do’ by Amy Morin
‘You can win’ by Shiv Khera
Look for books that contain real-life cases that the author himself has solved and that lie very close to yours.
Understand your Circumstances
Employ logical thinking to use the strategies and ways claimed by the author to be magical. Consider the odds of a plan not workable for your case. Critical thinking can help you decide whether you should place your trust on one or two ways of attaining felicity claimed by the author or none of them.
Craft out your Unique Solutions
When you are the one in control of your life, you are the one who can make out the most suitable solutions. So, sit down and make out priorities.
Carve out all possible solutions to the number one priority issue. Weigh pros and cons. If this doesn’t work, take some other way to do that. But one thing that you should do is to take control and look for a way out NOW!
Self-help books don’t help. We have established a whole argument based on facts, stats, and an essay written by a certified psychologist.
You can help yourself without self-help content as well by evaluating your circumstances and finding probable solutions.
But there are some self-help books out there based on tangible evidence, research, real-life surveys, and experiences. It would help if you chose them wisely but again you need some help from learned people to completely understand these books.