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Self-help might not help

Self-help is a form of content most of us see every day in one way or another. Maybe you stumbled upon a video late at night promising that you could fix all of your negative habits in 30 days. Perhaps a friend or family member gave you “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Either way, we’re familiar with self-help as a positive, but we forget we can have too much of a good thing. We should acknowledge that self-help can’t help everyone, and it may even hurt some.  

Self-help is hugely popular and useful for many, but it is a business. According to estimations suggest that by 2022 the self-help industry could be worth $13 billion. Publishers and writers package self-help as a “one size fits all” product, but that doesn’t always work. Since authors write self-help books and guides with this standard, the information that they provide is often generic. Many books offer the same advice and information as others, such as mindfulness, patience, gratitude, positive thinking. These decidedly un-revolutionary ideas are repackaged over and over to extract money from a vulnerable population. Sometimes the common methods can even be harmful when used by the wrong people. 

One method used commonly among self-help sects is positive affirmations. This is a practice wherein a person tells themselves positive phrases to help build confidence and motivation. A 2009 study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that this method may only work if the person utilizing it already has healthy self-esteem. Otherwise, it could make the individual feel even worse about themselves because they do not already believe what they are saying. Repetition of the phrases only reminds them of that fact. This can even cause a person to create a feeling of inferiority within themselves because they feel like they aren’t living up to what they keep saying.

Self-help also regularly promises more than it can deliver. These books and videos and podcasts all promise that they will change your life, but the truth is none of them can. Rather, self-help can perpetuate the procrastination of problems. They create a side-stepping option where people read and think about them for a little while and then immediately fall back into old habits. It creates a cycle; people believe that if they buy a book that it will change their life. When their life doesn’t change, they move on to another book. 

Does this mean all hope is lost? Absolutely not. People don’t need a book, article or motivational speaker to tell them to get their life in order. One of those things may help or even become a catalyst in the situation. People who want to improve their lives will do so not because someone told them how to but because they want to. It is fantastic if self-help material helps you, but if it doesn’t, don’t feel bad. There is no solution that will work for everyone.

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