It’s tough to feel powerless. It’s also hard to know when you’ve gone too far in your quest for self-improvement.
As a result, many people are reading self-help books and attending seminars that promise them the world–and then some. But have you gone too far? Have you read too many self-help books or attended so many seminars that it has become an obsession?
It may be time to take a break from all that self-help.
Here’s why you need to stop reading self-help books.
Self-help is great, but many would argue that this area of pseudo-psychology has gone way too far. Nearly every person in the Western world is being bombarded by messages about how they need self-improvement and the books that can guide them there.
Can they give you the results you’re looking for? Are they filling your life with negativity? Read on to find out.
I’m Dawn, and I’m a Self-Help Connoisseur
Are self-help books bad?
No, self-help books are not inherently bad. In fact, I love them! If you’ve visited Wild Simple Joy before, you know that I very much like self-help and what goes with it: spiritual development, having more energy, loving my life more.
I am a frequent consumer of self-help books of all types, from nutrition books to spirituality books, to life-changing books. Many of my favorite books of all time could be placed within the “self-help” genre.
But at what point does pushing myself to improve myself start to create chaos and tension instead?
I do believe there’s a limit to how valuable self-help books are. Take the example of toxic positivity. When we focus so much on being optimistic that we ignore our true feelings, it becomes toxic. When we become so obsessed with helping ourselves that we lose sight of what we’re trying to gain from it in the first place, that’s when the trouble starts.
Why Self-Help Books Don’t Work for You
These books are designed to give you the feeling of power over your life: power is addictive.
Here’s the thing: the self-help industry would go under if it actually helped you help yourself. There wouldn’t be a need for personal development, and the self-help industry would be out of money! But when you read these books, maybe you get sucked in and begin to need them. There are always new ideas, new techniques to try.
You begin to push yourself harder in the pursuit of personal development, and pretty soon, you’ve sacrificed other aspects of your life for the sake of reading another book you have no idea will make your existence better or not.
When Self-Help Has Gone Too Far
Self-help can be great for us when we’re hoping to reach a goal or improve ourselves. That’s a good reason why you should read self-help books.
But here are five reasons why self-help has gone too far.
1) Thinking of our growth focuses on our shortcomings.
When we spend all our free time reading books like this, we begin to notice our flaws–the missing pieces. These shortcomings are what prevent us from being great. So, we become more focused on them than ever before.
We stop focusing on the good parts of our lives and start noticing all these things wrong with ourselves–and then obsess over fixing those problems! We think if only we could fix X or Y, life would be perfect for us (even though it’s not even close to perfect for most people).
And we become so attached to fixing ourselves that we miss out on all kinds of beautiful experiences, big and small.
2) We attach our self-worth to our growth.
Personal development is a noble goal. But often, pursuing growth can become toxic when we connect our self-worth to our growth (or lack thereof).
For example, take grades in school–as in As, Bs, and Cs. This article from THNK explains that often, grades become the end goal, making learning secondary. Students memorize knowledge and then forget it just as quickly.
Is this what the self-help industry wants? Our inherent worth comes from being human. Every person on earth has something to offer. Why do we hold so tightly to this capitalistic idea that we are only ever genuinely worthy when we are better than someone else (or even better than we were yesterday).
Life is a series of ups and downs. Ideally, the stability of our mental health should remain constant as we ride those waves.
3) We get frustrated and disappointed when we don’t meet our self-help goals.
It is important to keep goals. They give us direction; they help us live meaningful lives. But what happens when we grasp so tightly to our goals that they make us angry instead? At what point do we give up or change course?
It’s always important to keep a measure of flexibility with our goals. Things in our lives change–they get difficult or suddenly a lot easier, from day to day or even moment to moment.
Getting frustrated over not achieving our goals doesn’t actually do anything positive for us and may even make us more likely to fail in the future.
4) We expect others want to grow as we do.
Here’s one I’m guilty of. When I read a book, I often begin to look for the themes or lessons from the book in the world around me. It’s a good practice, and I can recognize when people in my life are displaying a particular psychological pathology or when the Universe is giving me a sign.
But just because I’m interested in learning these things does not mean that other people are interested in the same concepts.
For example, I was dealing with someone recently who was gaslighting me. In my 20s, I was most certainly a covert narcissist, and I did a lot of gaslighting of others. But through self-help, I was able to change things and make myself better.
I thought to myself: “If this person would only XYZ, they would realize what they’re doing. I feel so sorry for them.”
This kind of thinking alienates people, and it’s highly judgmental. If I want to create a more communicative world, I need to treat others with grace, not hold them accountable for the same things I hold myself accountable for.
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5) We cycle through self-help trends.
I know self-help trends are exciting and constantly changing, but that’s also detrimental to us. Often we read a book and take the time to practice the concepts in it, but within a week or two, we’ve moved on. We never give the concepts the time they truly need to develop a positive change.
You may spend a couple of days writing pages in your journal, then move on to meditation and try that for a week. You don’t stick with it and move on to Buddhist concepts of compassion.
When we don’t take the time to cultivate positive change, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
7 Ideas for what to do Instead:
1) Take a break
First, quit the obsession. Go cold turkey. If you want to make a spreadsheet and keep track of how long you go without consuming a book, go for it!
If you do this for 30 days, I guarantee your life will change or at least feel different in some way. Then when you’re ready to read again, pick up something else that will not be detrimental to your mental health.
This will relieve the pressure you put on yourself to get better, and go out and enjoy the time you get to have in the moment.
2) Talk to your friends and family about what you’re going through
It’s so important to have a support system in place. This way, if you start feeling like your obsession has gotten out of hand and it’s affecting your mental health or mood, you have someone to go to.
Everyone needs this kind of support in their lives. Request some time with that person and explain what you’ve been experiencing.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been as present lately. I feel like I’m holding onto personal development, and it’s becoming a big obstacle for me to experience joy.”
3) Read fiction
Pick up a fiction book instead of reading your self-improvement books–you’ll have empathy for the characters and enjoy yourself in the process.
Although recently I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction, there are some fantastic fiction books to read–try these favorites of mine:
Moloka’i follows the life of a Hawaiian woman with leprosy in the 1900s. A gripping story of loss and love.
Not particularly a light read, The Thorn Birds is a wonderful story following several generations of women in an Irish family that immigrated to Australia.
An ultimate classic, Pride and Prejudice was the first and absolute quintessential rom com, set in the early 1800s in England.
4) Talk to a psychologist about your anxiety.
No one can put a dollar amount on actual, personal help.
Therapy is essential for someone who is dealing with addiction or obsession. You don’t need someone with an MD after their name to help you out–what you need is someone who will listen and give helpful insights based on what they know about the human condition.
They could recommend other strategies that might not have occurred to you and stop you from going down a destructive path.
5) Take a trip with family or friends.
Travel is diverting and refreshing. It revives our spirits and leads us to embrace our differences. It might even make you think your life doesn’t need all this improvement in the first place!
A short weekend getaway can give you the reset that you need. But when you get out into the world and experience new cultures, new ideas, and new people in your own first-hand experience–that’s so much more powerful than any book could ever be!
6) Read books for spirituality that focus on letting go and acceptance.
When you need a reprieve from all your hard work, learn how to let go. Reading this post is a sign that you know you need to get out of your head. Many Buddhist and spiritual books are written specifically for this.
Holding onto these ideas and ideals is causing you suffering and ultimately making your experience worse. Through compassion and meditation, you can learn to let go. Keep the good stuff, but let go of what makes you live in suffering.
7) Write a book about your experience.
Hole yourself up in your room and start to write. What’s coming out?
Someone somewhere can benefit from what you’re thinking. You know what works for you, and chances are, it works for someone else too.
When you’re done writing your book, and it’s published, be sure to let me know so I can reach out and give you congratulations for getting out of this black hole!
Are self-help books good? Maybe, or maybe they’re causing you more pain.
Don’t do this to yourself anymore! You can stop reading self-help publications: whether they’re books, blog posts, or podcast transcripts. They don’t always help you, and they can certainly make you miss out on the crucial moments.
What kind of book are you going to be reading next?