Have you ever noticed that Barnes & Noble has a whole bookcase—not a shelf but a whole bookcase—dedicated to self-help books? Have you ever noticed that many women’s magazines (print and online) repeatedly publish self-help articles? Self-help is a popular genre that piques many people’s interest, especially young women. But how many of these books and articles actually cause real change in people’s lives?
I read my first self-help book when I was eighteen and, since then, many more. One of the first was Dr. Brené Brown’s book, . Her message is simple: it’s ok to be imperfect. You can be enough just the way you are. I found this message relatable, and I appreciated a deeper understanding of the issues I faced, but I also felt like the book didn’t provide guidance on how I can overcome these feelings. In some ways, I left the book feeling even more frustrated, because I was more in tune with those feelings of inadequacy, but no better equipped to deal with them.
More recently, I read was by Hal Rod. He argues the quality of your day depends on how you start your morning. Get up early (before 8:00 a.m.), exercise, and take control of your day as soon as you wake up. Rod did include tips on how to carry out his advice: keep your alarm far away from your bed (in other words, don’t use your phone), have a glass of water as soon as you wake up to fight dehydration, do a brief set of exercises to get your blood moving, and so on. I gave these a try, but ultimately had trouble following through. The ideas in the book were much harder to translate into habit.
What do you after reading Self-help?
After reading these self-help books (as well as consuming articles and self-help TV programs), I felt ambitious about improving my life. I felt pumped-up about getting up earlier in the morning and committed to being less hard on myself. I wanted to feel that I am enough just the way I am. But—and it’s a significant “but”—I felt committed for about one day, and then the next day the motivation, the spark, was gone.
These self-help topics and themes get repetitive and boring after awhile. Look at how many self-help books Brené Brown has published on basically the same topic and theme, such as , which is about loving ourselves just the way we are. I’ll often pick up a self-help book and say to myself, “Yeah, yeah, I know this already.” You have the knowledge, but your actions and choices do not follow through.
Fortunately, I discovered something that does create real change in my life: therapy. It is my therapist’s guidance and teaching that has helped me to fully live out my life as an independent woman. This isn’t to say self-help content is useless. Reading self-help books can, at times, expand your understanding of what your therapist is trying to tell you, and help you make connections to a broader lesson. But, I’ve found that one-on-one interaction with someone who is pushing me along creates change that books cannot.
I strongly believe that no one can get to where they want to be in life by only consuming self-help content. Humans are social, so attempts to solve problems with total independence is an uphill battle. People will see real progress when they put the time and energy into making connections and working with others. It doesn’t have to be therapy, as it was for me. Support groups, religious mentors, and even interest-based communities can be transformative. These people can reinforce those positive behaviors and provide encouragement when things get tough.
Self-help content can be a placebo unless it is paired with active choices on the part of the reader. This content can be a useful supplement to your more active efforts to improve, but it cannot be your only source for self-improvement. Working with others helps you become disciplined. Yes, the decision to go to therapy (or join a group) is a choice that you have to make for yourself. It’s a commitment to yourself and well-being. But, once you make that choice, the support from others is what will keep you committed.
Marking that Commitment to Connect with Others
When I was a big consumer of self-help content—for instance, when I would watch Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday every week—I would think to myself, “Oh, one day I’ll be one of these happy, successful people,” but, deep down, I never truly believed my words. But now, therapy—making that commitment to connection with others—has helped me make that real change. I now have the confidence that I will live the life I want to lead.3
Also published on Medium.