Why self-help books don’t work


March 18, 2021

I just want to make this clear from the outset – I’m not sh*tting on the self-help genre. I read a lot of personal development books.

Some self-help books are phenomenal. Utterly amazing.

The kind where you have to re-read a sentence, put the book down, look up at this huge big lightbulb that’s appeared over your head, and then look out into the distance at a world that has profoundly changed because of what you just read.

I’m just calling some self-help books.

Specifically the ones that perpetuate a big myth.

And that is:

You can help yourself. You don’t need anyone else.


We don’t live in a vacuum.

We do need others. Books are not enough.

Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Now’, for example, is often quoted as one of those life-changing books. And it is pretty good.

However, I’ve encountered lots of people who have read that book but are still stuck.

Enlightened…but stuck.

Clients come to me having read so many books, listened to countless podcasts, attended webinars and made ALL the notes…but they’re not any further along in solving their career conundrum, life crisis, or existential dilemma.

So what’s missing?

Lack of accountability & you choose what you’re going to action

You wouldn’t read a travel guide to Rome and think ‘yeah, I get what the Coliseum looks like. Their description is excellent, I feel like I’ve been there so I’m going to skip the going part’.

Yet with self-help books we do just that.

We ‘get it’ intellectually and so we don’t do it. We don’t action it all. A book may have 10 exercises to do but we pick only the one we haven’t heard of, make one half-hearted attempt to do it, and skip the rest.

And by doing that we skip on some crucial life lessons.

Even if you’ve heard of that exercise and you’ve done it before in ’04, DON’T SKIP IT.

Done at a different time, in a slightly different way, can have a powerfully different effect on us.

“But who will ever find out?” You think. It’s just you and the book. You’re not accountable to anyone….

And so the book remains un-actioned.

The gems you read remain to be ‘activated’.

Asking for help is part of growth (and healing)

There’s a brilliant article on Psychology Today on the value of a therapeutic relationship which basically lists the benefits of asking for help. One of the greatest benefit of asking for support is that it breaks the cycle of handling pain (and shame) alone.

The article does a great job in breaking down why it’s hard for some to ask for help:

“It won’t occur to you to ask for help if you grew up feeling alone or “invisible,” were neglected by caretakers, or had parents who were overwhelmed, distracted, or unavailable. When needs and feelings are discounted, ridiculed, or ignored, it makes sense that the template for life is it’s unsafe to ask for help and difficulties must be handled “on your own.”

I encounter a lot of clients who have a core belief that asking for help from someone will burden that person.

Combine that with the media blowing the trumpets for SELF-made millionaires, and the SELF-help genre helping you successfully avoid asking for help, and you have a distorted view of how problems should be overcome.

Doing the same thing and expecting different results

Growth happens when we lean into discomfort and we do something different to what we’ve always done.

So if you’ve done all the reading and you’re wondering why it’s not done anything, then:

1) Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re not meant to do it alone.

2) Be proud of the work you’ve done. The knowledge is there. Now just add water (aka help) to activate it.

3) It will all come together when you reach out and get support from a coach, therapist or mentor.

If this resonated and you’re ready to move beyond being book smart, then book yourself a Breakthrough call and let’s get started!



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