Thousands of self-help titles are published every year with the promise of helping you lose weight, manage relationships, cope with stress, or solve personal problems. Almost all contain glowing testimonials by people whose lives have seemingly been transformed. However, taken as a whole, are self-help books merely empty assurances designed to sell a product?
Self-Help Books Bring Hope that Change is Possible
Even though self-help books have been accused of promoting the “false hope syndrome” and contain many exaggerated and untested claims, by exposing readers to a sizable dose of hope and promise, these books help readers cope with their problems and challenges, even if the books don’t necessarily make readers thin, rich, and ecstatically happy.
Self-help books can be classified as those that offer general-purpose advice (e.g. on personal growth or career success) and those that offer advice on specific, well-defined problems (e.g. transition into a management position, seeking and using advisers, managing a life transition such as pregnancy or divorce.) It is the second type of self-help books that are most effective, especially in combination with some counseling or mentoring. In fact, psychologists use the term “bibliotherapy” to identify therapy that involves reading specific texts with the purpose of healing.
A Matter of Discipline, Not Motivation
The helplessness of self-help books is not so much with the books themselves, but with the readers. Most people who buy dieting books don’t seem to lose weight. They feel no outcome whatsoever from reading the books and tend to dismiss the books as “not working.” Often, they don’t realize that losing weight and getting in shape comes not from buying and reading these books, but consuming the recommended food and practicing the weight-loss strategies and fitness regimens contained in these books.
Self-help books that offer a framework for thought and action can be effective only if readers can translate the motivation from the book to a discipline to take whatever action necessary to achieve what they desire. As I mentioned in my previous article comparing discipline and motivation, people who actually get things done are those who find a way to work at whatever they are interested in even when they do not really feel like doing it.
Idea for Impact: Self-help media (just like mentors, therapists, counselors) can motivate and teach specific skills that can produce real change, but only through discipline and regular practice.