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comment by mk
mk  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Ask Hubski: Are Self-Help Books Helpful?

Personally, I abhor them. I know that's an unusually strong stance, but I have a deep aversion to the industry. I find that most of their advice is just common sense wrapped in interesting anecdotes, and I feel that they can actually limit people by putting artifical boundaries on their thinking and definitions of success. IMHO literature and history has more than enough to offer in the realm of introspection and self-improvement, and self-help sells people short.

I feel that people are often blind to the possibilites around them, and to the limits that they allow to be placed on their behavior, to those they place on themselves, and I think self-help books just perpetuate this type of thinking, even when they are obstensibly telling the reader to rebel. Worst of all, IMHO are those that provide formulae for viewing the world. What an awful way to simplify people and ignore the subtleties that give social interaction meaning and possibility.

I hesitate to write this, as I understand that many people find them valuable. However, I just can't stomach the premise. IMHO life is too interesting and too complex for self-help to be worthwhile. I'm not saying that there isn't anything useful to be found in those books, but I think those qualities are wrapped in a premise of deception, one that both the author are reader suffer from. There's plenty of better ways to engage your world that will help you.




korey  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  
This comment has been deleted.
b_b  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    There's plenty of better ways to engage your world that will help you.

I'm with you, dude. I typically have a stack of books 4-5 high that I'm planning to read. God help me if I ever run out of actually interesting things to read and am forced to submit to the self help genre. With so much great stuff out there, who has the time?

AlderaanDuran  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I agree with your statements, despite what I said about having read a few "self help" books. I opened my comment with the statement "Does the whole book change your life? No, probably never, unless you're extremely naive." So I agree, many people take them entirely wrong and put far too much faith into them.

I don't believe people need to take the books as 100% fact and execute their teachines verbatim. I've done that ZERO times. Like you said, it's mostly common sense with some interesting anecdotes, but sometimes things are presented in a way that helps self reflect a bit, and ask yourself some hard questions that you would otherwise avoid or bury.

That being said, I only read the ones I mentioned, and it was all over the period of about a year, haven't really read one since. It's not a genre I keep with or feel the need to keep up with. It was a time when I figured why not, and gave it a shot, and some of them were fun and interesting reads, regardless of being actually helpful or applicable in the real world. I think as long as you read them with the right mindset, they are harmless, but like you said, many dilute themselves when reading them and are too eagerly looking for that "silver bullet".

mk  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Yeah. Like I said, I hesitate to state my opinion, because I don't want it to be read as casting judgement on anyone that reads or has read them. It's really a personal philosophy, and if there's one thing I've learned, my personal philosophy is best applied to myself (I guess that might underpin some of my disdain for self-help). I would just strongly suggest that people reflect on their motivations for reading self-help, and what the books have provided. I have very strong opinions on some other things that I keep to myself for similar reasons. :) But, self-help can get me going, there are so many different roads of success, and IMO they suggest limitation.

AlderaanDuran  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    hesitate to state my opinion, because I don't want it to be read as casting judgement on anyone that reads or has read them.

Nah, nothing to worry about. It's not offending to state your opinion in the least! I understand how many feel about them, and it makes sense. I know because I felt the same way for awhile, and I STILL kind of look negatively on people who use them for the wrong purposes and think reading a book will change their life. When in reality, at most, it just might help them question themselves a little more and lead to more positive things. But in the end, they still have to be the one getting motivated and accomplishing their goals, the book will never make that happen. Ever.

    there are so many different roads of success, and IMO they suggest limitation.

I was successful long before I read any self help books, and didn't read them for that reason. I was more curious in the motivational aspects, self assesment, and different philosphies presented in them. The whole idea of "questioning yourself". Some do recommend limitations, especially the faith based ones, and shitty ones like "The Secret". Most just spoke to assessing yourself, and what you want out of life, and some questions to ask yourself about how to get there. The only self help books I got anything out of, really, were the ones on Buddhism, and it's arguable if those are self help books, or books on philosophy, or beliefs in general. So I don't know if I really should count them as self help books, though I listed them because they were helpful. But like I said, I learned plenty about life and myself just from reading classic literature like Vonnegut and Fitzgerald for what it's worth.

A similar argument could be had with people who seek therapy, or take medication, and one could argue that they should just figure it out for themselves like we always have in the past centuries of humanity before those things were even labeled as condtions or disorders. But some people need that help, they need that third party pointing out their flaws and problems, they need that little reminder that what they are doing isn't healthy, and they may look to that help in books, therapy, or medications as a last resort.

mk  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    A similar argument could be had with people who seek therapy, or take medication, and one could argue that they should just figure it out for themselves like we always have in the past centuries of humanity before those things were even labeled as condtions or disorders.

I agree, but ideally, these should be done in a way specific for the patient's needs. Still, I do think that therapeutic interventions can sometimes turn counterproductive.

lil  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Thanks for replying! It's easy to get a hate-on for self-help books. What we really need is a Self-Help Guide Book to guide people past the simplistic formulae and into the mystery. (ha ha, just kidding) (kind of) (hmmmm Self-Help Books for Dummies? - I wonder if it's been written - probably)

The interesting thing about most of the leadership and communication and management self-help books is that they all end up getting to the same awareness although through different paths using different terminology. (more on this later)

supertod  ·  1424 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Wow. What you've said is absolutely spot on.

I'm interested in what you think about raptitude.com.

I've started following this guys blog recently and most of what he's said is really interesting. I feel it's less self help and more him carrying out experiments to improve the quality of his life.

I guess my point is that is it good to read stuff like that or will it eventually have negative effects?

mk  ·  1418 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I've read a few raptitude posts. From the tone of his writing, it seems that he is mostly just sharing his own. However, the subtitle of Cain's blog: getting better at being human could be read as instructional. It could also be read as simply reflective, so I guess it depends on the reader's perspective.

Since Cain promotes a minimalist, conscious-raising, zen-like approach to self-improvement, I find it much less offensive than those with instructions for fame and fortune. Even so, I just reponded to a raptitude post here (which made me remember this question), and in this case I think the strategy could work for some, but not others, although Cain doesn't suggest it. IMHO I suppose if you approach Raptitude as a source of new perspectives, it could be helpful. But there does seem to be an implicit buy-in there.

In short, I guess it always depends on the reader.