Last week I wrote an article for the upcoming  Winning Ways newsletter and mentioned that I’m not fond of the term self-help because it ignores the fact that it’s not truly a DIY project. It involves a teacher as well.

No matter what we call it, not everyone is getting the kind of results they anticipated. Here are some thoughts on how we can make the most of our personal growth excursions.


When I first discovered the literature of personal growth and development, there weren’t many titles to choose from. Today there are thousands.

I always have a self-help book or two in my current reading pile, because there’s so much to learn.

However, the self-help movement has spawned plenty of dropouts. Why don’t all readers and seminar participants find this material helpful?

Here are some thoughts on that.

° Refuse to abandon skepticism. Hanging onto cherished beliefs is a guaranteed way to prevent growth.

“I tried that positive thinking stuff once. Didn’t work.” is the motto of the self-help dropout.

Simply reading a single book or attending one seminar is not going to produce visible change. It’s more a process of chipping away at limiting thoughts and behaviors that have taken hold over years.

Then there’s the woman I know who dismisses any personal growth suggestions with a quick,”I’ve already heard that.” With great discipline, I resist saying, “If your life doesn’t show it, you don’t really know it.”

° Exercises are too much trouble. Most of us think of reading as zooming from the beginning to the end of a book.

Self-help books invite us to slow down and take a slower journey. Exercises are like rest stops along the way, causing us to pause, reflect and apply.

° TMI Syndrome. It may seem like a good idea to gobble up as much information as you can.

Sign up for every guru’s mailing list. Be a perpetual seminar attendee.

However, too much information is as dangerous as too little. It causes confusion and leads to inaction.

° Right book at the wrong time. Personal growth is an evolutionary process and we expand our receptiveness one concept at a time.

Sometimes a book arrives ahead of our readiness. When that happens, don’t abandon personal growth. Try a different book.

° Miss the point. As Henry David Thoreau said, “A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

3 Responses to “Why Self-help Doesn’t Help”

  1. Dee Relyea

    Excellent post! I find the most useful self help books include a call to action in every chapter. If one is to benefit from the book, the call to action must be followed by the reader. Otherwise, it is like reading “about self help” but not actually engaging in the process.

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