The Toxic Positivity of The Self -Help World

Mason Sabre
Aug 17, 2020 · 8 min read

The self-help world is selling us hope, and we’re falling for it.

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Photo by David Lezcano on Unsplash

Like many people, I have a collection of self-help books on my shelves. If you look at the titles, they tend to have a similar theme, which would give you an understanding of what it is I’m looking for in my life — inner peace, purpose, success.

I have everything from Tony Robbins to Hal Elrod, Paul Mckenna and more. I am not alone in this. The self-help world is a $9 Billion dollar industry.

The first self-help book I read was Allan Carr’s, The Easy Way to Quit Smoking. I bought this book on a recommendation of friends who’d successfully given up smoking after reading this book.

Smoking was the thing I did more than anything. I so desperately wanted to quit. We had a new baby on the way, money was tight, and buying a pack of twenty cigarettes a day just wasn’t in the budget.

But, like any smoker, I had quit smoking countless times, always giving in eventually to those niggling cravings and finding excuse after excuse as to why now isn’t the right time.

The Easy Way to Quit Smoking was haled as a miracle book.

Making claims such as

- The psychological need to smoke disappears as you read

And

- Join the 25 million men and women that Allen Carr has helped give up smoking.

Friends told me:

“Yeah, I read this book, and when I finished it, I just didn’t want to smoke any more.”

“This book changed my life. I quit before I’d finished reading it.”

“I don’t know how the book works, but it’s like magic.”

I was blown away by the responses, and so, like anyone desperate to quit smoking, I went to my local book shop (online ordering wasn’t around yet) and got myself a copy.

I read the book in one night, expecting … waiting, for that miracle to happen.

But it never did.

Clearly, there was something wrong with me, or something in my makeup, But i failed. I told myself it just wasn’t the right time for me to quit. Because that’s what we do. We take the blame for the failure when we invest ourselves in the beliefs these books give us.

I put the book away with the promise I’d read it when I was ready to take quitting seriously.

SELF-HELP REINFORCES PERCEPTIONS OF INFERIORITY AND SHAME — Mark Manson

I didn’t pick up another self-help book for a good decade.

In 2015, my father was dying from cancer and I was trying to balance family life and a bachelor’s degree in Neuropsychology, with caring for him. It was too much. Everything started to fall apart.

I was sleeping late; my mental health was in a terrible state. I walked around like an unfulfilled zombie hoping to feel better but not knowing how to change what was going on or change me.

Something had to give; something had to get better. I couldn’t go on like this anymore.

We’re all looking for something, searching for that thing that fills a void inside us, or takes us to the next level.

That was when I discovered Hal Elrod’s book, The Miracle Morning.

Hal talks about a morning routine and setting yourself up for the day so you can achieve anything you want. When I say anything, he attributes his morning routine to his health and wealth. Things I thought I was looking for too.

We’re sold the dream that money, fame and material things like flashy cars and big houses will make us happy. Self-help plays on that. And I feel for it too.

After reading Hal Elrod’s book, I was hooked. The feeling I got after finishing his book was euphoric. I’d gone from that sorry state of struggling student and grieving son, to feeling I could take on the world.

That’s the trap.

That first self-help book about smoking had been hailed a miracle book, and I had bought into that. When it didn’t deliver the results it promised, I looked inward and blamed myself. It had to be me and not the book.

When I read Hal’s book, it was different. I wasn’t combating a chemical addiction, so it was easier for me to implement the changes. I got up earlier like he said, I meditated, visualised and journalled my dreams onto paper. I wasn’t making progress on anything I wanted, but he’d given me the illusion I was, so I hailed him a hero and bought into the idea of self-help.

In the end the self-help book or article becomes a sort of crack that temporarily pulls you up, only to let you fall back down again.

After reading the Miracle Morning, I needed more, and I bought book after book, devouring them every chance I got. I took what they said to heart and blindly followed their advice. With all those voices out there to guide me, to tell me how to feel happier, feel healthier, I had finally found that thing to drag me out of the darkness.

I was addicted.

If anyone questioned it, I didn’t listen. These gurus had it right. How to make more money, how to achieve your goals and dreams. I even started to pass the books to my wife, telling her how brilliant they were and enthusing for her to read them too so we could get into the same mindset. I needed her on board with me.

I started waking up earlier to start my day, started eating better, started doing workouts, began scheduling everything about my day. I took up meditation, visualisation. And for the first time, I saw the possibility of taking my writing career to take it to the next level.

Self-help was a wonderful influence on my life, and I felt good. In fact, I felt great.

The better I felt, the more self-help books I bought and the deeper I got into the ideas they were selling me. On and on I went, taking cold showers, repeating affirmations to myself, making myself feel this joy inside.

I had made it. My life had changed so dramatically from the mentally ill, beat-up version of myself I’d been before, to this on top of the world, in control new and perfect me.

I had found the answers to my life.

Because, after the smoking book and until I found the Miracle Morning book, I didn’t need help

In the years between those two books, my life was in a place where I was happy, so I wasn’t searching for anything. I wasn’t rich, but I had enough money to feed my children, pay the bills and take family holidays. I wasn’t a published author, but I had all the time I wanted and friends who supported me in my writing. I had a job, I had fulfilling hobbies, I had a little family, and we were happy. Looking back I can see, I had what I needed, and so there was no need for me to search for that thing to help me.

But a few things happened.

I was made redundant, my mental health was on the brink of collapse (I had a breakdown), the children had to change schools for various reasons, I went back to school and started a high-intensity degree at university, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I was diagnosed with depression.

Every part of my life started to fall apart. I struggled to pay the bills because I’d lost my job, I struggled to even get up in the mornings because I had depression and was on the road to my breakdown. I struggled to cope with the feelings that surrrunded the knowledge my father was going to die, and on top of those things, I had children and a family to care for. It was a lot, and I began to feel dissatisfied.

When I found self-help, I was struggling in my life.

It was not a happy time for me.

I think this is how self-help gets into peoples lives, when they’re at their lowest, when they’re vulnerable. Like me, those delving into self-help are looking for something they feel is missing from their lives.

And why wouldn’t it? The very name of it, ‘self-help’ the idea you can help yourself get out of a dark place is enticing. When things are going wrong in life, we’re susceptible to too all these promises self-help books, guides and courses can offer us.

And there is no problem in wanting to work on our lives to make them feel better when everything’s gone to hell. After all, it’s down to us to carve the life we want to lead.

Self-help does make us feel good.

If you’ve ever read a book or attended a seminar, taken an online course, you’ll know there is this euphoric feeling that comes over you like you’ve taken control of your life, you’re doing something when everyone else is being left behind. You’re making it.

But herein lies the real danger.

I read the Miracle Morning over the course if a few days and readied myself to start putting what I’d learnt into practice. I couldn’t wait for it. My mind was pumped, and I felt good. During my wait, I bought the Success Principles by Jack Canfield not realising I was then in the trap that self-help books lure you into.

They work on the dopamine. That’s the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. When we read self-help books, we get a dopamine hit that makes us feel great, so we keep reaching for it, searching for it. Reading book after book, after book and throwing ourselves into this cycle to get that feel-good hormone.

It is only when you look at yourself and your life, you realise is nothing has changed.

You’re just the same.

The self-help world is a billion-dollar industry. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from books to seminars and conferences, online courses, podcasts and any other medium you can think of.

I found myself being addicted to certain self-help gurus. Tony Robbins, Hal Elrod both being at the top of my list, and like so many others in the same place as me — searching for that something to make me feel better, I reached into my wallet time and time again, pulled out my money and handed it over for the latest thing — the one-hit that would make all of it worth it.

For me, self-help was a way to not deal with my grief, with the fact I was burning myself out and not looking after my mental health. I was wired all the time, hopping from my father’s bedside to my office to study, to looking after my family. And instead of facing my grief or allowing myself to accept it’s okay to not be perfect in every aspect of my life, I looked to other people for a way to feel better.

I thought I was doing something about my problems. I thought I was tackling them. But in reality, none of my situations changed, and neither had I. I was giving myself false hope, rather than dealing with the issues at hand, I was avoiding them, I was masking over them with these dopamine hits and getting nowhere.

That is what self-help is.

They’re selling hope, selling dreams.

The only people getting rich in the self-help industry are those spooning us self-help guides.

You and I are falling for it.

It’s time to realise no book is going to sort your life out. Only you can.

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else…

Thanks to Jon Hawkins

Mason Sabre

Written by

Mason is an author and a teacher. He loves to write and read and will always be a life-long learner. https://www.patreon.com/masonsabre

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

Mason Sabre

Written by

Mason is an author and a teacher. He loves to write and read and will always be a life-long learner. https://www.patreon.com/masonsabre

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

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