“Self-help”: friend or foe?

self helpIt’s human nature to want to grow and develop ourselves over time. People are perpetually looking for ways to transform themselves.  By losing weight, better managing stress, communicating better, becoming happier, improving self-esteem, increasing creativity, improving your memory, managing anger, improving relationships, or simply motivating yourself to do any of the above.

Self-help is a massive industry, covering a diverse range of books, e-courses and face to face training sessions. Pop the term into Google and you get 358 million hits. has more than 400,000 books categorized as ‘self-help’.  And in the US alone it’s a an industry that generates over $10 billion each year.

“A self-help book is one that is written with the intention to instruct its readers on solving personal problems.” Wikipedia

I met a woman recently on a ‘self-help’ course I attended in London.  She owned her own business and had been fairly successful over a number of years.  She had reached the point where she wanted to take her business to the next level – expanding and growing outside of her limited customer base.  She seemed professional, organised, knowledgeable and motivated to succeed.

BUT.  She couldn’t do it.  She’d done a host of self-help courses.  She’d read a bunch of books.  And she was convinced she couldn’t grow her business yet.  She told me that she had to wait until she’d worked out what was stopping her taking her business to the next level in her head.  She knew what she had to do, but she was literally stopping herself.

So what did she do?  She continued going on more and more courses.  She continued buying and reading more and more books.  She continued wasting more and more money and time.  Because she had convinced herself that she had to find the answer.  She was on an eternal quest.  Instead of just getting on with doing what she knew she needed to do and channeling her time and energy into growing her business.

By the way.  That particular course was also a lesson for me.  It taught me to dig further on course content and credibility of a trainer before booking anything.  At least 50% of the course content turned out to be based on a book.  But a book that had not been written or even licensed appropriately by that trainer.  Not only could I have saved myself money as I’d actually read the book before, and the trainer added little of value to it, but I was also amazed to see someone take someones elses work and use it for their own gain so blatantly.

Some self-help is benign and perhaps even helpful.  But beware the ‘self-help’ that involves pouring money down the drain, while keeping you chained in to a scam of pseudo-science or untested nonsense, while creating false notions and limitations in your mind.  It makes me think of those ‘roll up, roll up’ showmen that will jump on a box and start selling their fake perfume in the street.

Investigative journalist Steve Salerno estimated that 80% of self-help customers are repeat customers – they keep on coming back – even if the program, book, course or whatever, didn’t work for them.  Some people even suggest that, in terms of self-help books, supply actually increases demand. The more people read them, the more they think they need them, and the more they buy them.

When I was doing some of my NLP training I remember a trainer telling me that each person was like an onion.  Each time they dealt with a problem or limitation within themselves it was like peeling a layer off an onion.  There would always be something else to deal with underneath.  And when that was peeled away they’d be something else under that.  And again. And again. Running in ever decreasing circles, wasting time and effort. Creating stress to find that invisible problem. That may or may not exist.

This type of philosophy installs the mindset that each person will have to keep coming back.  Paying more and more for yet more courses or books, to find these hidden flaws, that will always hold them back from achieving their dreams.  But will they ever find them?

At best I’d call it procrastination and making excuses for not living the life they want or achieving their next goal.  At worst I’ll call it wasting time, effort and money.  Their big dreams end up stalled due to their own perceived imperfections.  That someone else has helped install in their heads.  That may or may not exist.

Stop worrying about ‘fixing’ yourself.  Build on your strengths.  Don’t be anxious about your weaknesses.  Don’t wait until you’ve solved an invisible problem to get on with your life.

“Play to your strengths.”
“I haven’t got any,” said Harry, before he could stop himself.
“Excuse me,” growled Moody, “you’ve got strengths if I say you’ve got them. Think now. What are you best at?”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire



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