Too often self-help books enrich authors without benefiting readers

January 31, 2019 — by Leo Cao and Andrew Lee

Some of the best-selling books of our time are self-help books, whether it be to help improve our professional or personal lives. Hits have included Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” and Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” covering topics ranging from being more productive to prioritizing to staying true to one’s values.  

More recently, books like “Self-Help” by YouTuber Miranda Sings and “10% Happier” by Dan Harris have become bestsellers, especially among young audiences.

In spite of the category’s title, these bestsellers may not necessarily be as life-changing as they are marketed to be. And even thought they purport to motivate and inspire readers, often times they fail to do so, instead only giving short-term tidbits of advice that readers will nod along to but then forget later.

For example, in Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” he says, “At the very heart of our Circle of Influence is our ability to make and keep commitments and promises. The commitments we make to ourselves and to others, and our integrity to those commitments, is the essence and clearest manifestation of our proactivity.”

While this is a pretty heartfelt message, it does nothing to drive actual change in the reader’s lifestyle or actually create productivity.

Rather, it is up to the reader to try to help themselves with common-sense knowledge they already have, while the books provide a false sense of productivity  and change. Because of this, “self-help” books do not actually contain the materials necessary to make desired, impactful change, but serve as a distraction that hinders real progress.

The best of these books give readers the blueprint for how to achieve their goals and become a better person, but the execution of ideas expressed in them is the most important aspect and many readers fail to turn their thoughts into actions. For example, reading a question like, “what makes your heart sing the most?” and not doing any soul searching to answer the question leaves little lasting change.

From our experience, these books simply recommend common sense and common knowledge. The authors include examples that are very idealistic and oversimplify major changes that people need to make. Moreover, we have noticed that some of these books, including “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David D. Burns, often include very long introductions and many sections dedicated to explaining why everyone needs a self-help books. The most important ideas often get lost in a sea of self-promotion and anecdotes.

Additionally, some self-help books are written in a one-sided perspective. These books are nothing more than a waste of time, doing nothing to help readers change their assumptions and look at challenging situations through different perspectives.

Much of the information explained in self-help books can be found with a simple Google search. Not only does this method save money, but the advice is also more up to date, unlike the tips from books because of the large time gap between when the book is written and when it is published.

Continued growth is essential to living a happy and fulfilled life and reading self-help books with a strong desire to improve can help you learn something new. However, simply reading about possible solutions is not enough; instead, readers need to apply what they already know and lead the lives they want to lead

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