Self-help writing has become a HUGE industry but is it really helping us? Or, is it making us even more miserable?
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I never would have even considered those questions until finishing a recent book. That book was called, Help Me: My Perfectly Disastrous Journey through the World of Self-Help by Marianne Power.
I found it at an Indigo bookstore during my birthday week and convinced my parents to buy it for me. Self-help has become an interest of mine over the last couple years and so has, what I call, stories of “personal growth”. Think books like Eat Pray Love or Wild. They often involve a woman who goes on a personal quest to learn more about who she is, and what she wants in life. Help Me combined both of those worlds: the topic of self-help AND a story of self-discovery.
So yes, the book came home with me and made me ask “do self-help books really help?”. It was a question I was uncomfortable thinking about because I was obsessed with these books…and still am!
From the beginning of the book, I knew it was going to be funny, informative and relatable:
Mum: About this book…
Mum: Please tell me you don’t use the word ‘journey’ in it.
Me: I don’t.
Me: I prefer the term ‘spiritual path’.
Mum: Oh, Marianne…
Marianne Power is a British journalist and blogger who found herself, at the age of 36, questioning if she is living her life to the fullest. She was feeling like she wasn’t at a certain milestone other people she surrounded herself with were.
“…always single, I didn’t own a house, and I didn’t have a plan…stuck in the same life I’d had since my twenties”.
She had been reading self-help books since the age of 24. Starting with Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and followed by many many more. By 36, still unhappy, she reflected on the popularity of self-help books in her own life and everywhere else. If she’s been reading them for the last 12 years why isn’t her life perfect? Do they really help?
Marianne realized they weren’t actually helping but comforting her. Each time she read a different book it was acknowledging her insecurities and anxieties and adding a sense of fantasy, such as becoming a millionaire. She concluded (before her experiment) they never really helped her because she never did anything they told her to do. Like many of us, she read the book and shelved it shortly afterward.
So, to answer the question, “do self-help books really help”, Marianne committed to a year-long experiment to read a different self-help book each month and ACTUALLY DO WHAT THEY RECOMMEND YOU DO!
The result is this hilarious book about self-improvement and how things can go horribly wrong. I’m not going to spoil her journey and lessons from this book. Instead, I recommend you pick up a copy, especially if you love self-help books (it doesn’t ruin the industry, just adds more depth to how you think about it). It’s funny and a good time, with lots to learn and relate to.
MY THOUGHTS AFTER READING HELP ME!
When I started the book I was worried it was going to destroy my enjoyment of self-help books. For me, these books are inspiring, motivating and, I would argue, essential to growth. They are also a big inspiration for the content of this blog!
However, after finishing Help Me I gained a deeper understanding of the role self-help books have in the world. I continue to appreciate them instead of hating them.
In addition to an enjoyable story, Help Me taught me a few things.
There are several reasons I believe self-help books really help:
- If read at the perfect time in someone’s life, a self-help book can have a positive impact. They can inspire confidence or break through limiting beliefs.
- When you surround yourself with positive, uplifting, and successful people it usually affects your life in the same way. I would argue that self-help books can have the same result. Surround yourself with the writing of Jen Sincero, Tony Robbins, Mel Robbins, Eckhard Tolle, or Brene Brown and their attitude about life will start to influence yours.
- Even though self-help books might seem like they are asking you to change, or improve yourself, many are really teaching self-acceptance.
And several reasons they can be damaging:
- For perfectionists, they will never feel like their life measures up to the type of person some self-help books suggest striving towards. They can almost be as damaging as the pressure placed on young men and woman to live the perfect Instagram-worthy life. It’s unattainable. It’s important to remember you aren’t reading these books to change who you are. This is something Marianne Power had to learn in Help Me!
- Self-help books aren’t created equally. Some authors will resonate with you and others won’t. It’s just how it is. In Help Me! Marianne discovers she isn’t a fan of The Secret but she loved Eckhard Tolle.
- Attempting too much self-improvement without the guidance of a psychologist can be hard on your mental wellbeing (as you find out in Help Me).
SELF-HELP ISN’T FOR EVERYBODY
Self-help books aren’t for everybody, however, if the books resonate with you there is nothing wrong with reading them. But do they really help? It’s kind of a grey area…so maybe.
Some people have found these instrumental to their success and mindset. Others hate them.
With a healthy mindset and good timing, self-help books are helpful. With the wrong mindset, they can cause further damage.
As Marianne Power found out….wait I’m not spoiling that!
Grab a copy of her book then come back here after your done and share whether you still like self-help books in the comments below!