The self-help phenomenon

12 Mar

I’ll admit it: I’m a recovering self-help junkie.  Give me any article, book or video that claims to possess the tools and know-how to transform your life into a shinier, sparklier version and I’ll be hooked.  My love of everything within the self-help/ personal development arena has led me into some slightly surreal situations including taking part in a three-day course at a hotel next to Gatwick, where I was made to massage the strangers sitting next to me and karate chop a piece of MDF with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blaring in the background.

And it’s not just me who seems to have been sucked into this self-help phenomenon.  With the economy pretty much having been rubbish for the last few years, sales of self-help books have soared even when other genres have suffered significantly.  That’s not exactly surprising – people generally feel lower during times of recession so are more likely to turn to books that help to inspire and motivate them.   If the industry is profiting by making people feel more inspired and hopeful about their lives, surely that can only be a good thing?

Many argue that the self-help industry has a dark side – the side that exploits vulnerable people and convinces them with false promises that they will be able to attain whatever they want.   Critics of Rhonda Byrne’s international bestseller, ‘The Secret’, state that this can lead readers to believe that everything is attainable if one merely wishes for it, which can steer them away from effective solutions to their promise.   Indeed, much of the advice in self-help books has not been scientifically tested despite the authoritative authorial tone that is often adopted, with some advice being downright dubious – just look at Byrne’s potentially damaging view that ‘Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts.’

I guess my penchant for the self-help genre is slightly strange considering I’m an innate cynic; experience has taught me that great expectations often lead to great disappointments.  Life rarely goes to plan and it’s important to realise that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Perhaps, then, this is what attracted me to the shiny world of self-help; it’s the opposite of everything I am.  At one point, I used self-help books as a sort of comfort blanket, something to cling onto when I was feeling vulnerable as I believed they would be the tool to allow me to become this amazing, new and exciting person.  However, these are categorically wrong reasons to read self-help books.  In fact, obsessively reading self-help books can actually be viewed as a manifestation of my own self-hatred.  I didn’t like myself and I turned to these to try to find ways to change who I was and become the person I thought I should be.  Constantly looking for a quick fix or solution to my unhappiness has shown me that a self-help book can never offer this – it requires internal reflection and maintaining a sense of purpose, among other things.

Despite all of this, I definitely feel that self-help books still have their place.  It’s a testament to people’s desire to improve themselves and keep developing to be the best they can be and that’s not to be frowned at.  Instead, I think that a lot of advice should be taken with a pinch of salt and without blindly assuming the  author is an expert – after all, how does one become an ‘expert’ in personal development?  As in any genre, there will be good and bad books and you should appeal to your commonsense principle to decide which book best suits you.  Self-help books and articles can be an amazing tool to help give you a lift and point you in the right direction but they do not provide a magic cure for everything.  They should inspire you to make positive changes in your life rather than make you feel bad at having done things a certain way thus far.

This is why I am proud to say I am a big fan of personal development and any tools, whether they be books or articles, that help me in this journey.

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