There was a point last year where I decided that I needed to focus on making myself the best I could be. I had some bad habits from mental and emotional baggage that I needed to jettison and heal from. If I wasn’t careful though, I’d reach out and pull those bad habits back in. So, instead, I started working on adding new, positive habits to replace the negative ones. That is when I found myself squarely in the world of Self-Help.
I use to disdain self-help. I thought it was all just a sham, and largely it is (but what industry isn’t that way?). My belief that self-help was not important was based on my religious experience. I had seen a number of religious people have mountain top experiences just to come back down into the valley and become the same person. That is what I saw in the self-help world. Also, much of the information sold in this genre is self-evident to anyone who is even slightly self-aware. So there just wasn’t any value that I could see.
As I have spent more time in the genre, much of my previous experience has been validated. People consume self-help books for the emotional high and never put in the hard work (much like we see in religion). I have actually heard authors of self-help books be upset that people consume their work, but never practice it, and therefore never benefit from it. If anything, self-help has become its own sort of atheistic religion. It is a self-centered worldview that allows people to answer all of the big questions without God (at the surface level anyway). And I have still had very few revelations from all of the content I have consumed. Actually just two that I know of.
Then I was listening to Zig Ziglar and he was telling a story about someone questioning him on being a motivational speaker and that it is fruitless because it is temporary, fleeting. His response was, “so is bathing.” He went on to compare how bathing is temporary but necessary for good health. This was when it clicked for me.
There is a difference between the commercial world of self-help and helping yourself.
The self help genre sells you the idea of going from mountain top to mountain top without any of the valleys in between. Helping yourself is hard work you put in in the valley. For example, exercising is helping yourself be healthy. Going to school is helping yourself grow more intelligent. I doubt many of us have considered those to be “self-help.” The difference is that both of these have a cost, hard work, where the self-help genre wants something for nothing.
We need to continue to better ourselves. We need to continue growing. We have to do it ourselves. There is nothing anyone can give you to make you magically a better person, or a happier person. Oddly enough though, we find our starting points in the self-help genre. There are folks that genuinely want to help people, not just sell them their book or online course. When you find one that you trust, stop and implement their methods and see if it works for you, don’t just consume it throw it away. These self-help methods are like having a trainer at the gym teaching how to do a squat properly so that once you are competent, you can do it on your own. The goal must be that, one day, we will do it on our own. Self-help is not somewhere we should live forever.