Be Wary of the Self-Help Machine
Self-help is an industry. It is difficult to admit but that is the truth. Many of us have fallen down this rabbit hole — and it can often last months, if not years. A trail of books, YouTube channels, and podcasts are reminiscent of Pacman scooting around the maze absorbing everything he can possibly consume; eventually being eaten himself. The industry is worth around $10 billion and expected to grow five-fold over the next 10 years.
Maybe you are going through a tough period in your relationship, feeling taken advantage of at work, or simply looking to improve aspects of your life. Self help certainly not an evil concept and could be hugely beneficial if you have identified a point-blank error in your life. A cure without a diagnosis, however, is worthless — the same goes for self-help. Reading a book on motivation may be refreshing when you flip the final page; listening to a podcast on self-belief may give you a kick in the morning but ultimately the boost is short term. The dopamine you feel is biological confirmation of the book’s success, not your success, this is crucial to remember if you are invested in the world of self-improvement. Your brain is saying thank you, but your body must then put what you have learned into practice.
Those good feeling hormones can linger in your body for a while, you feel complete, you are the MVP of your life, and can conquer any obstacle. Until you are confronted with more assignments, a client leaves you, and worst of all, a pandemic might hit. Your world suddenly comes crashing down but now is the time to be strong, to be resilient, and exude positive vibes.
It can be easy pickings to tackle a problem when motivation is at an all-time high and everybody is clapping for you, but the issue lies in the expiration date of your self-help endeavors. Can you remember those strategies you read in chapter 8 a few weeks ago? How often do you practice ‘mindfulness’ techniques?
Every book, podcast, and app you get stuck into is akin to a drug addict looking for another hit. Make sure you absorb what you learn, or it becomes a deluge of dopamine rather than an educational exercise. Scientific advancements have taught us that repetition is the key to a sound memory and practice is the aliment to perfection. Strengthening our neural pathways allows us to better perform a task.
To add another layer of complexity, be sure not to confuse progression with the number of books you have read or the endless quotes we all unconsciously scroll through. These too can eventually become second nature and we begin to rely on a constant stream of self-help insta-porn as our brain has become accustomed to what may as well be called a digital sugar rush.
Meaningful change is likely the driver of long-term contentment — I say this because happiness is not the goal, it is absolutely part of the journey. Apply what you learn in self-help and be sure to revisit a book or podcast if you feel the strategies it had outlined are becoming unclear as time goes on. Even better, reach out to those around you for help instead.
The Pacman-esqe business model, which the self-help industry has not pioneered but does extremely well, very much leaves you alone to solve your problems — a basic customer retention strategy leaving you at the mercy of just one more book, one more podcast, and eventually a hole in your bank account.
We are losing our means to connect with each other and function as emotional humans. Of course, a book can alter your perception, but only does it become a part of you when you use it to help others, practice teachings and you may finally see the results in yourself.
You don’t have to bore yourself with the same books or podcasts either; have a specific problem and tackle It from a new angle, tailor your learning then dive back into the deep end. I have lost months to self-help books only to find that life itself has been neglected. I felt down but was never so sure why.
Imagine having a broken leg and taking a trip to the opticians — be deliberate and specific in how you approach self-help. If you are new to it, spend some time alone, ask yourself if you really need this. If the answer is yes, I sincerely hope you find what you are looking for, just don’t end up like Pacman.