Do You Make The Mistake Of ODing On Self Help?

I’m all for self-help books and self growth and improvement. But my concern lies in the fact that some people seem to always be reading the latest self-help book and saying things like “this is the book for me, this is what I’m going to do to change my life.” The part I’m not ok with is the fact that next week they’ll be reading a new book!

If you’ve made a trip to the bookstore or library lately, you’ve probably noticed how incredibly many self-help books there are on the shelves. There are so many that you probably couldn’t read all of them in your lifetime, even if you wanted to.

Now, I love self-help books. I’m all for self growth and improvement. That’s what I do with my life, help other people grow and build better lives.

But I’m a little concerned that some people seem to always be reading the latest self-help book and saying things like, “This is the book for me. This is what I’m going to do to change my life.” That part is great. The part that is not so great is that the next week they’re reading a different book, and again saying, “This is the book for me….”


I think some people get a little too involved in self-help. They look at the label, “self-help,” but they only see the “help” part. They don’t get that they have to do the helping themselves. That’s why it’s called SELF help.

This is pretty easy to understand. It’s like people who are always on a fad diet. It’s easy to believe, or try to believe, that this diet really will work. And when it doesn’t, you may feel it’s because it wasn’t the right diet, and try another.

That’s a reasonable reaction, once or twice. It’s true that some people do indeed get results, my great uncle is on a men’s plan from Nutrisystem and it seems to be working for him, but he is an anomaly that wakes up at 5 am every morning to exercise so I’m not surprised that it is working. Eventually you need to realize that it’s not the method you’re trying that’s the problem. And if you’re constantly reading self improvement literature hoping “this one” is going to cure your problems, you’ve got a little problem.

There are a couple of stories about prayer that I find really helpful in this situation. I’m not using these examples to make light of anyone’s beliefs, but to show that we have to be active and involved in our growth, whatever our beliefs.

The first story is really just a little piece of advice someone gave a friend of mine years ago. She said she’d been praying for help with a situation. An older gentleman pointed out to her that “I could sit on the steps of the courthouse all day praying that he could get to the corner of Fifth and Main, but unless he got up and started walking, he’d never get there.

The second story is an old joke, but a really good one. During a flood, a woman was stranded on the roof of her house. A boat came by and the pilot offered to take her to safety. “No, thanks, I’ve been praying and God’s going to save me.” Another boat came by. “No, thanks, I’ll just keep praying.” A helicopter tried to lift her at the last minute, but again she said, “No, that’s okay, God’s going to save me.” After the helicopter left, she sank under the water, drowned, and went to heaven. She confronted God. “Why didn’t you save me?” God replied, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

Again, whatever our beliefs, we have to take action on what we learn, to improve our lives. If we’re spending all our time reading self-help books and not doing anything to improve, it’s not really “self improvement.”

To get going with self improvement today:

• What are you reading? Is any of it self-help?
• Make a list of things from your recent reading that you can actually do.
• Start doing one thing today.

Thanks to The Next 45 Years for including this post in the Personal Development Carnival, to Musings of a Thoughtful Conservative for featuring this post in the Waukesha Carnival, to Great Management for highlighting this post in Great Inspirational Articles, to Declutter It! for inclusion in the Organize Your Life Carnival, and to E3 Success Systems for including this post in the Carnival of Success Principles.

13 Replies to “Do You Make The Mistake Of ODing On Self Help?

  1. As someone who has read quite a bit in the self-help field, I have found the following two titles to be the most helpful.

    “A primer in positive psychology” by Christopher Peterson and “Self-directed behavior : self-modification for personal adjustment” by David L. Watson & Roland G. Tharp.

    Don’t be put off by both of these books being Psychology textbooks. Have an open mind and work through the exercises they present. I have and it has improved my life and my attitude when I have consistently applied the material that I learnt.

  2. Excellent! I´m guilty of this myself… too much reading sometimes, lately I´ve been doing what I´ve learned instead of just “knowing more”. Like they say “Knowledge is not power, it´s only potential power!”

  3. Lisa,

    I do too! I have to be careful, however, to put what I learn into action instead of simply trying to accumulate great amounts of knowledge. Knowledge means nothing to me without acting on it.


  4. Hi David – great post! You are so right….i am constantly making plans and lists about losing weight, cleaning my house, positive thinking etc etc…!! And you are right about the method not necessarily being important. I have lost 8 kilos in the last year and have come to realise that most sensible diet plans work, you just have to stick with it and KEEP GOING!!

  5. Great post, David.

    I’ve been there myself and have now overcome that ‘habit’. I remember a time when I found THE book, which was going to change my life. This book was the ONE. I got the buzz of buying it. It wasn’t THE ONE so I’d look again and this time… get the story.

    Nowadays I still read numerous books but before reading the next one I ensure I implement at least one thing from the last (assuming there is something I want to implement).


  6. Andrew,

    I’ve found several end-all, be-all books myself throughout the years. I still read them, but am now comfortable implementing those ideas that apply to me as opposed to trying to do it all and be it all.


  7. Pingback: Personal Development Carnival: Issue 31 | The Next 45 Years
  8. David,

    I have chosen this post for my weekly GreatManagement Inspirational Articles – The Best Advice From Around The Web.


  9. Pingback: Organize Your Life Carnival #21
  10. Pingback: E3 Success Blog » Blog Archive » E-3 Carnival of Success Principles - March 8, 2008

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