The self-help industry is mired in promises of enlightenment and quick-fixes, so much so it brings in over $10 billion dollars a year – yes that’s with capital B. As a society, we are primed for developing ourselves both personally and professionally and this is good thing. Being the best version of ourselves is one goal and aspiration that can be a self-rewarding process but what happens when it doesn’t go exactly as planned?

There is so much information out there it can be utterly confusing for the best of us to navigate as to how to begin, what we need and where to find. Take a deep breath (and say “OM” for extra credit) because I am going to break this all down and let you decide what’s best for you. This article will cover the following:

  • What is “self-help”
  • The pitfalls of self-help books
  • The realities of personal development & what you need to know
  • How to move forward

I have spent the past 20 plus years developing myself and others. Along the way, I have worked with coaches, therapists, by last count – read over 90 plus self-help books, meditated with monks, practiced mindfulness, read blogs, listened to podcasts, studied NLP, tried hypnosis, studied psychology, practiced yoga, attended too many seminars to count, walked on coals (which I don’t recommend) and my personal favorite, an eight hour sweat lodge and guided meditation. To say that I have tried a lot would be an understatement but with all of these experiences, am I any better for having done it? The answer is yes but admittedly this is a lifelong process and the road to enlightenment has been bumpy at times which is why I wrote this.

What Is Self-Help?

Webster’s states it’s the action or process of bettering oneself or overcoming one’s problems without the aid of others; especially: the coping with one’s personal or emotional problems without professional help.

The challenge I have with this definition lies in “without the aid of others.” Last time I checked, most of the people who I know, worked with or spoken to have interacted with someone at some point in their self-help journey. Ideally, the definition implies that you (i.e.: “self”) are doing it all alone but you don’t have to and that’s the point.

Where is it written (no pun intended) that you need to figure it out all by yourself?

That is why “books’ happen to be the quickest resource for those truly looking to do it all on their own. The challenge with this avenue is that not all books are created equal.

Not All Books Are Created Equal

There are so many books in this genre (624,000 to be exact upon last Google) so if it feels like there is a new book coming out every day promising you how to quit your job, make millions, better your sales ability or increase your happiness etc. – you would be right. Some are written by Ivy League professors while others are by the person down the block no real credentialing in the space but a simple story to tell. Understanding who is “selling you something repackaged and over hyped” versus “practical and obtainable” can be mind numbing but is 100% worth your investigative efforts. To name just a few would be a disservice to the many that are true staples in supporting and bettering people’s lives. I am currently reading an excellent book called “Happy Is The New Rich” by Tank Sinatra. An easy read that doesn’t push a complex theory or model, but instead takes you on a colorful journey through his personal experiences and learning. Should this sit on the bookshelf next to Chicken Soup for The Soul or The Secret? Maybe, it’s not for me to decide and that’s the point. It’s entirely up to you. A book can be a powerful tool but it ultimately comes down to:

  • Why are you reading it and what are you seeking to gain from the experience?

Once you have the answer to this question, I would imagine you are ready to dive in but not so fast. Here are the highlights from the exceptional article by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst which breaks down what you need to know before purchasing that book:

  1. Check out the author’s credentials.
  2. Think of the book as your therapist.
  3. Look critically at the quality of the writing.
  4. Decide whether the book will motivate you. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to give it a critical reading.

I highly suggest reading her full article to fully understand the importance of this topic.

4 Realities To Self-Help

  1. Take It Personally (& be responsible): To often we enter into things with a half-ass attitude and full amount of skepticism. The skepticism is okay (to a degree) because you are most likely navigating unchartered emotions and areas in your life that you have either neglected, denied or simply didn’t know existed. Either way, this “is” a personal journey and with that comes the responsibility of taking control of your actions and reactions as you press forward. It’s normal to be scared but it’s never okay to be irresponsible and careless in your process to learn. Speak up and reach out if you need additional support but don’t take down something that may not have worked for you but is working for someone else.
  2. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable: Life’s learning and development takes place outside of your comfort zone. The level of uncertainty when exploring the outer banks of what you know to be true can make the bravest person hide like a turtle in its shell. The amount to which you can be with the unknown and your current breakdown (/situation) will ultimately dictate the level and degree of your breakthrough. What we resist, persists.
  3. Do it for you first over anything else: Wanting to change for a loved one or for a job is noble and commendable act but the truth is, if you aren’t clear on why you are doing it for yourself and the potential benefits it will bring to your life then the likelihood of this journey ending short is quite possible. Take care of yourself first, before you try to help others. Seriously, this isn’t you being narcissistic but rather responsible. William Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Your greatest responsibility is towards yourself first.
  4. Take your time (you will need it): Anyone who claims to have a quick fix is selling you snake oil. Personal development in the form of self-help is a marathon not a sprint. Sure, you can run a marathon with a sprinters mentality but pace yourself otherwise you will run out of steam and ambition. If you’ve gotten to the point of realizing you need help, kudos to you! Personal development can take many forms such positive or negative but as long as you keep going, you will grow, even if you hit a road bump along your way.

How To Move Forward

Before you rush to the bookstore, pack your bags for a weekend retreat or sign up for that Groupon Mindfulness Class, I would encourage you to pause and ask yourself the following questions (which I found here)from Deepak Chopra. I feel these are both powerful and pertinent to this topic:

  • Who am I today?
  • Where am I heading?
  • What do I want my future to look like?

He goes on to state:

  • These are not abstract or airy-fairy questions. Self-help exists to offer a new direction but can only happen when the old way of thinking and acting gives way to the new. Old habits and conditioning need to be transformed, and that isn’t possible except at the level of consciousness. “Who am I?” really means “How do I see myself?”
  • Self-help doesn’t work because you found a wise, all-knowing teacher or a quick fix for a tough problem. Self-help works if it wakes you up, either a little or a lot. The best way to wake up is to know who you are, where you’re going and what the future could be. Present reality is the foundation. The future is a vision open to all possibilities.

Final thoughts: We all want to improve certain areas of ourselves and create the best life possible. The reality is that (lasting) change can be challenging because we have conditioned ourselves and developed strategies and habits that are core to our being and don’t always serve us the way we had hoped. The good news is that even the most stubborn, deeply ingrained behavior can be transformed. It will require both effort, persistence, openness and courage but it is possible to help yourself.

The floor is yours: Where do you find the best resources for self-help?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

Joshua /

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