Why Reading Self-Help Books Might Make You Feel Helpless

The harsh truth behind well-meant advice

Simona Hos
May 2 · 5 min read

eople’s interest in self-improvement rapidly grows every year. Just 3 years ago, self-help books generated an astonishing 800 million dollars in the U.S. market, and this number raises over 6% every year.

I suppose it became for us a sort of a new religion.

And while motivational books look like an excellent tool for personal development, obsession with them comes with many downfalls.

I’ve read around 30 self-help books over the past five years.

And no, my life didn’t get any better with every new book I read. Actually, the opposite is the truth.

With every book I purchased, my anxiety grew more and more.

It took me few months to realize that these books caused me more depressions than personal growth.

I mean, all the advice looks good on the paper, but in real life?

Who the hell can wake up at 4 a.m., exercise for half an hour, and finish it off with 20-minute meditation (and then with a big smile go to work he hates)?

Not me.

The disappointment arising from the books led me to a little experiment. What if I stopped reading them and focus on my life instead?

So I gave it a chance.

And ironically, that was the moment when my life changed for the better.

Reading it feels great — living it feels awful.

When I read a self-help book, I felt awesome. I felt like I can conquer the whole world with the knowledge I obtained.

With every sentence I read, I became more powerful.

Then I closed the book and faced real life. Everything sucked immediately.

All the advice about getting up early, meditating, journaling, and whatnot, was irrelevant to me as I had to wake up for work at 5 a.m. anyway. A thought of waking even earlier didn’t excite me at all.

But I wanted to try it, of course.

So every evening after reading a self-help book, I couldn’t wait to wake up early and start changing my life.

And then, every morning, I hit the snooze button with a thought: “F*ck personal growth, I need more sleep.”

After few mornings like this, I started believing that I can’t become successful because I’m not able to follow the advice from the book.

When I think about it now, it makes me laugh very hard.

If you fail to act on the advice from a self-help book, it makes you desperate.

It’s great to sit down and get inspired by nice words from someone else. I still believe it helps you to improve thinking patterns and build habits that matter.

But there’s one major downfall to this.

Many of the tips, habits, and routines from these books you can’t apply directly to your daily life. My mornings are a great example of this.

There’s no way to switch identity from chronic procrastinator to the master of own thoughts in one day, week, or even a month.

There’s no way to wipe out all the negative beliefs you held about yourself and the world for years with one book.

But the inability to change yourself sparks doubts that you will never become better.

Sometimes it makes you think that you shouldn’t even try to change your life because it’s simply not in your nature.

That brings me to the next point.

One is never enough.

You finished a book, but your life didn’t change. You read it one more time, but nothing happened — again.

So what do you do? If you were like me a few years ago, you’d reach out to the next book. This one might do it, this one will change my life.

We all secretly believe that self-help books will change us just by reading them.

Your subconsciousness whispers to you: You’ll need to change things on your own, no book will do it.

But you ignore this little voice — and buy another book. (Spending ten bucks is always easier than facing harsh reality, I get it.)

You hope that this time you find some special advice that will make you rich, happy, and successful — overnight.

But it never happens until you actually start working on yourself. No book will save you, trust me. It can inspire you, but it won’t change the life for you.

Never buy a new book until you apply the principles you learned in the previous book. Never.

Self-help books usually talk about the same advice over and over again.

I purchased many books about personal development, but none of them fundamentally changed my life.

And the worst thing — they were mostly filled with the same advice, said in a slightly different way:

  • think positive
  • meditate and write your journal
  • wake up earlier and think about your life, dreams, and purpose
  • work towards your goals every day, stay consistent, and measure your progress
  • after you failed, get up and move on
  • believe in yourself
  • love yourself and be nice to others
  • use visualization to create your future life

I could go on, but you get the point.

Many authors sugarcoat things. They cherry-pick advice that makes us feel good.

They keep saying that your thoughts create your reality.

And I know that’s true. But how do you keep a positive mindset and high productivity when your child is sick? Or when you can’t pay your rent because you just got fired or divorced?

These two contracts often make you unable to follow what the wise book said, and you end up feeling helpless.

Stuck in a desperate circle of reading advice and failing to act on it.

So what should you do?

The truth is, you already know what to do. You know how you can change your life.

The problem is that you’re not willing to do it.

That’s why you always reach out for a new book. Because that’s the panacea for your depression. Hearing from someone that your life once can be good.

But it won’t be. No matter how many books you will read, your life won’t change its direction only because you bought a book.

Do you really need to hear again that negativity and procrastination are bad for your growth? Or that you get what you give?

Thanks, I figured this out myself a long time ago.

Constantly getting help from others makes you feel you’re not capable of your own thinking. That you can’t follow your own path.

And that’s the real problem.

What if you simply figure out what works for you and what doesn’t? What if you find out when is your productivity peaking, and what’s the best time for you to meditate?

No book can tell you what’s best for you. Only you know that.

So get over yourself and start changing your life instead of reading about it. Start following your advice, your feelings, and your intuition.

And don’t get me wrong — I still like self-help books. But being obsessed with them doesn’t bring you any benefits.

As I said, you already know what to do to have a better life. But you’re either lazy or unwilling to do these things.

So next time, before getting a new book, ask yourself:

Do I need more advice?

Or am I just avoiding the hard work and hiding behind books to overcome the pain of doing nothing with my life?

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Simona Hos

Written by

Research Analyst, Writer | Self & Personal Development. I write for everyone who aims higher than the average. Find me on linkedin.com/in/sim-hos/ or Twitter

The Ascent

The Ascent is a community of storytellers documenting the journey to a happier and healthier way of living. Join thousands of others making the climb on one of the top publications on Medium.

Simona Hos

Written by

Research Analyst, Writer | Self & Personal Development. I write for everyone who aims higher than the average. Find me on linkedin.com/in/sim-hos/ or Twitter

The Ascent

The Ascent is a community of storytellers documenting the journey to a happier and healthier way of living. Join thousands of others making the climb on one of the top publications on Medium.

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