Self help books and how to bullshit proof yourself

August 30, 2021 • ☕️ 6 min read

Image from instagram

I need every self-help book to come with a disclaimer like this:

Disclaimer: The ideas represented in the following text are what worked for me. It may or may not work for you. I’m not an authority on how every single person in this world thinks. I tried it out, it worked and that’s what I’ve reported.

Here’s the thing, self-help books could either be the best books you’ve read in a while which can turn your life around for the good, or they can be the most general, delusional, and self-centered pieces of literature (read unsolicited advice) ever written. We rarely have a middle ground here, at least from what I’ve read so far.

And I’ve realized some things about how to read a self-help book and how to filter out the good ones from the lot. I had to read a lot of them to realize this, and if only I had known any of this earlier it would have saved me a hundred(s) hours at least.

Everybody is different

The ideas presented in a book might work for you but also might not work for you, it’s called “self” help for a reason.

And if two people are not the same, they should expect similar results out of the same book. Never pick up a book only because it helped someone and you want it to help you in the exact same way. Use your head, read about the book to see if it aligns with your thinking first. Take self-help recommendations because of the ideas in them, not because of how it helped someone or who they are right now. If Elon musk recommends a self-help book, read it because of why and how it helped him, not because he’s a billionaire and famous, and reading it will help you become a billionaire and a celebrity as well.

Two people could follow the same fitness program and see different results. Two people could read the same book and walk away with completely different ideas about it in their minds. In the world of self-help, it’s all about ideas. Some will work for you, many won’t. Some will strike a chord with you and make you see the world differently, others would be just another stream of passable ideas.

So don’t blindly follow whatever the book asks you to do. Take the ideas in, play with them and see how can they be applied to you, if they can. Otherwise, ignore it. There’s no shortage of books really.

Self-help books are not a Gospel

Not every self-help book is helpful.

The self-help section of a bookstore has seen the light of some amazing books. I love a good self-help book. But seeing a really good self-help book is becoming rarer by the day. I don’t want to read a self-help book by a person who has seen mild success in a very niche field and preaching a sermon about how I should live my life.

I don’t want self-help advice from a person who hasn’t helped himself/herself.

The same is the case for business books, most of them should have been just a blog article or a tweet really.

Some self-help is just bad.

Not to name names here but one look at the self-help section and going through just a couple of pages of the book will make you realize that the rest of the book must be a load of, pardon my french, shit.

If a journalist is churning out a generic book with click-bait titles like ‘5 Secrets to success in Life’ without a track record of success for themselves, you can save your precious time and put that book down. Maybe I’m judging a book by its cover, maybe the book is actually really good, but most of the time they’ll just contain ideas you probably already know or are so generic that they can be applied to anything. Such books are more likely a form of self-validation for the author.

If he/she were to report something related to the field like how to improve your reporting skills or how to hack your way out of something, then it makes much more sense and can prove insightful. The problem is many people put themselves on a high podium and try to make themselves an authority on how to unlock the secrets of the universe.

It’s like a John Doe having a God complex and preaching from pages.

I’m having a conversation with the book, so either I want a really good teacher who knows what he/she is talking about or a student who figured it out and is telling me how he went about it. I don’t want a mix of it, a least common denominator.

Self-help books are just advice

It is your job to take it with a grain of salt, or sometimes more than a few tablespoons of it.

Never take advice from anyone without a moral compass or a track record of accomplishment. And self-help books are just pieces of advice really.

Reading a self-help book doesn’t automatically make you a better person. If you read a book on how to communicate better, you’re not going to become a better communicator just by reading it. Reading is just the start of the path. If you don’t apply what you learned, it is just as well that you didn’t read that book in the first place. You can’t solve your internal problems externally. You can only hope that reading such advice will push you in the right direction. Ultimately, you have to put in the work.

Remember that the self-help industry is the one that thrives on people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities. If you think about it, there’s no other genre that screams from the bookshelves saying you’re living a miserable life.

They’re not speaking the truth, we’re just vulnerable to listen to them. We fear that we’re not good enough, our (false) sense of inadequacy profits them.

How to know if a book is good

A good self-help book will read like a good teacher showing you the path. It won’t be screaming at your face saying how you’ve lived the past few decades of your life are worthless and miserable.

This is a sign of a good self-help book is: It won’t claim to know everything.

People writing generic books on success/happiness/secrets are successful because you’re making them successful. Read about the author, read about the book, and get an idea of what it talks about before picking it up. Don’t blindly follow suggestions from your friends/family.

If the author has a good track record of accomplishing something in their life or is good at reporting how others reached success — there’s a high chance that it’ll have some good ideas. Never pick books written by the so-called experts or preachers that haven’t done anything worthwhile themselves.

When in doubt, go for the classics. This is especially true for the self-help section. The classics are here to stay. Classic books in literature like Meditations, Pride and Prejudice, 1984 always have a market. Why? because they are good literature. They’ve stood the test of time and shone through. They don’t need anyone’s approval, they don’t need to sell more copies to feel enough - they’re there. Not everyone loves them sure but there are very few people who would hate them.

Personally, the books “How to Win Friends” by Dale Carnegie and “7 habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey have been my favorites. The wisdom in the practices outlined in the book has proven itself to me over and over again. Yes, they might get a little cringe sometimes but the ideas in them are timeless. The only diploma that hangs in Warren Buffett’s office is his certificate from Dale Carnegie Training, you can be sure that there will be something worth your while written in such books.

Read Next:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” - Murakami