The Utter Failure Of Self-Help Books

We live in the age of capitalism, where every new idea and project can be made profitable. And some industries rose to the occasion to gain maximum profits by selling not material things but ideas to people. One example of this is the self-help industry. What’s self-help? It refers to self-guided improvement in areas of life where a person seems to lag. And the self-help industry comprises motivational speakers, videos, seminars, and books. Let’s focus on this last part for this blog, as it is the one people invest a lot of their time and money on.

When we talk about books, there’s no doubt that some best-selling ones fall under the category of self-help books. Which is a tremendous success for the self-help industry itself, but does it even help the people for whom the books are supposedly written? The most common answer you’ll find, either through research or simple observation, is ‘No’. So why do these books fail to achieve the result they’re written with the intent of? I’ve discussed that below.

Oversimplified Sense of Reality

The major disadvantage of self-help books is that they give the reader false hope. More often than not, these books are written by successful businessmen, who have influential resources that will get their books published and become successful in the market. These authors talk about their experiences without noting their privilege. They create a false sense of realistic expectations and hope that the people who end up reading their books can’t relate to them. They speak from a subjective perspective, describing how things have happened for them and hence they will happen for everyone else too, without thinking of how the world we’re living in doesn’t provide many opportunities to the common man to accomplish success.

On that note, there comes another point of these books oversimplifying realistic scenarios. According to self-help books, every situation, no matter how big or small, is just a state of mind. The quickly you change this state of mind, the faster your problem will turn into a possibility for you. Just behave a certain way and you’ll have a room full of people inspired by you, say a few things, and people will fall in awe of your personality.

That’s not quite what happens in reality, and when this realization hits you, you end up becoming sadder and feeling more insecure than would be healthy for you. This cycle of oversimplification and unrealistic expectations ends up making you suffer rather than making you come up with healthy tactics that can help you.

Waste of Time

In all seriousness, self-help books are a waste of time. And money too. Being a writer myself, I’d call no reading material that consists of something good to be a waste of time. But when it comes to these books, you’d notice that they are over-padded. The writer may have wanted to explain something in a few words, with simple sentences, but publishers need a heavy manuscript for the book to sell. Hence, you get pages over pages about the information that would have either been explained easily in 5 lines or isn’t even relevant to the book. This leads to people reading chapters upon chapters looking for the parts they got the book for in the first place.

In such cases, the book seems more like an unnecessary brag about the author than one that will guide you toward self-help. It makes sense for them to do it, they need to earn more, and providing a little info about themselves won’t do them any harm, but for the reader, this is a waste of time.

A Form of Avoidance

In most self-help books, problems aren’t addressed as much as tips are given to get over them or move on from them. Self-help books become a temporary fix or another way for people to avoid their problems rather than making them confront it and take accountability and necessary actions. A book full of an already successful person’s life-hacks isn’t the solution to the mess your life is. Reading books is good for gaining knowledge, but reading a book doesn’t change the outcome of your life. Being aware of your problems and taking accountability to solve them is what leads to growth and progress in the long-run.

Self-help books don’t talk about all of this, rather they engage in giving you shortcuts to achieve your goals with ease. That’s not progress, and that’s not a surefire way to succeed. Successful people don’t become successful by taking measly short-cuts. Look at the size of their books alone, if short-cuts were the answer, their books wouldn’t be this huge. They’d have sent pamphlets to everyone’s home, as that’s a better alternative than writing a huge book who knows if it will even get read or not.


Many people believe that reading a self-help book alone is as good as changing your life. The words written in those books are so manipulative and speak so effectively about things that anyone with common sense would already know about. The books aren’t the solution; you need to realize that now you’re paying attention to the knowledge you weren’t aware of or weren’t considering before. You change because your eyes opened up to better possibilities that always existed in your environment, not because a book renamed common sense and sold it as a self-help hack to you.

These books are full of things you’ve probably heard hundreds of times before, through your entire life, it’s just that this time they’re being said by a famous person with a touch of glamour. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book and becoming satisfied with it, just make sure the knowledge being sold to you under the disguise of self-help and observe how much you’ve already known about it.

Contradicting and Unhelpful

In the self-help world, the basic belief is that you don’t need anyone’s help. You’re capable of doing everything on your own and thinking about everything on your own. But if that’s the case, it means we don’t need any self-help books either, do we? If we’re capable of doing every single thing on our own, we don’t need the help of a 300-page book. In this case, these books contradict their own purpose for existing.

Furthermore, humans need external sources to help them out with various things. We need support to move forward; we need someone to listen to us when we’re not sure about things on our own, and we need professional attention when our mental health is in severe danger. Those aren’t things self-help books consider in their subject of discussion, and that is one of the most misleading aspects of relying on these books.

Time Sensitivity

One of the biggest problems with self-help books is that they’re set for a specific time or a specific world. The books written 50 years ago won’t be as relevant in today’s technological and fast-paced world. The books written before 2020 won’t be of much use in the global pandemic world we’re living in. It takes a lot of time for authors to write their book, and then even more time is spent in the publishing house before the book is made available to the audience. By the time that happens, half the tricks and hacks the books describe may not even be of use to the reader. That’s always an important step to consider when reading self-help books.

Lack of Scientific Data

The one thing that provides as any hypothesis or theory a level of authenticity is the scientific data that validates it. For self-help books, this data is missing. Most authors become authors only because they’re successful in their businesses. They don’t have psychological training, they’re not well-versed about how the human brain works, and they don’t have expertise on life-coaching. With experience in studying psychology for years, I have an idea about the level of training required to even address people’s issues let alone present yourself as a guru with all the answers to those issues.

With this, one can even say that self-help books are just another way for the capitalist world to use people’s insecurities to their own advantage. Sharing your success story and experience is one thing, but making promises that have no scientific validity is something that no one should have to invest their time and money in.

People might lose themselves in those books, they might spend hours and days on end reading about tips, hacks, and suggestions that will make their lives better, but none of it will work unless people get up and DO something, which no one thinks of. It’s not wrong to read books that may end up motivating you to change your life and routine, but simply reading them will change nothing for you. And that’s the part most people avoid focusing on.

Life doesn’t change because you read a book that makes you feel positive today. That positivity may not exist tomorrow or the day after or so on. Life changes when you take active steps to change it. And that change is not as easy as these books describe. It takes months and even years to practice self-awareness and make it result in positive growth. It’s a lifelong process that requires your constant attention. And books don’t go a long way to provide you with this attention.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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