I stay far away from self-help books and videos, as I’ve yet to find any that aren’t—to be frank—dreck. I admit that I do seek out stories of people who have structured their lives in a way that I feel would benefit me, I am not going through this life completely alone. But media that is specifically dedicated to self-help often falls into cliché, completely unrealistic mechanisms, and unproven methodologies.
What you’ll often find from those who author1 self-help media is that these people are already in good shape. They may not have been (though many times they always have been.) And thus, they are laying out a system of thinking that is quite easy for them to grasp. The sheer majority of these authors do not currently have mental disorders that build walls around the rosy-painted enclave of go-get-that-good-life.
My avoidance noted it is difficult to completely remove oneself from this mode of communication. Even for someone like myself, who only uses social media sparingly. Facebook is littered with this stuff to a level where one would really need to confine themselves to their own page to avoid self-help images and sayings. It even permeates—greatly—business social media like LinkedIn. And that is a platform I use for practical sales and hiring purposes. I cannot avoid that.
Most every time I find myself looking at these attempts at inspiration, I can only think: “if it were simply so easy.” I don’t even know if this is entirely coming from my mental disorders—if I put myself in the shoes of someone who is not afflicted with what I have going on in my brain, I believe I’d feel the same way logically.
Now don’t get one important thing wrong about me—I am not a stronger person than the endgame solutions which these self-help mechanisms are selling. I need help. I think that is clear in that I write about my mental illness, and generally not in a solutions-oriented manner. I am not strong-arming my way through things I wish you to feel are lesser than my brain in terms of the final goals. No, quite the opposite. I am in search of, constantly.
The root of the problem is that self-help completely ignores complexity and nuance. Yet, this is what life is made of—for all of us. Let’s look at some sample self-help quotes. We can trim them down to sentences, though entire tomes have been written about each example2.
“Do whatever it takes to achieve your dreams. Don’t wish, do!”
I see variations on this theme a lot. It is completely empty, when you boil it down to the broad audience it is intended for—which we can assume is everyone and anyone. Guess what—most everyone is doing whatever it takes to achieve whatever they wish to achieve. This concept ascribes laziness on those who aren’t fulfilling their “dreams,” as the reversal of this logic—which is apt logic—is straight-up saying those who are not in a good place are not doing enough. That is BS. The sheer majority of people are not lazy in life.
We are animals, we all have animalistic compulsions. Some of ours are warped by things like the fog of anxiety, or in my case constant obsessions filling my head. But to a person, we are all doing what we can. I truly believe that. The complexity and nuance lie in the power we don’t have over our brains, and even actions stemming from our brains.
“Believing your excuses is a sure-fire way to bring you down.”
The concept of “excuse” here paints a broad stroke over the complicated way the brain works. Guess what, many of us are beaten down by the universe around us. I think I’m a pretty observant person. I am not perfect in my observations, but I think I generally get it right when I feel the world around me is much more powerful than me. Yet, this line of thinking here assumes such observation is an “excuse.” Indeed people do come up with excuses for small things they wish to avoid, and many of these things—if not avoided—would improve the lives of these people. A little. But when it comes to the big stuff, the stuff involving the power of the whole world, its people, and everything else you believe goes into that outside your brain… you’re going to lose pretty much every battle.
All of my above examinations are taken from the mind of the average person. Add to that mental illness, and you’re really looking at losing a lot more than winning. That’s no excuse—that is the complexity and nuance of living with a brain that works against you!
No, there’s reality. That’s about it.
That there is me speaking. I choose to live in reality. Actually, I am forced to, we all are. In reality, that which proclaims to boil down problems and solutions into nicely-worded packages are the stuff of ignorance. We already take in the world and interact with it solely through a brain that is far more complex than any book can handle. Couple with that the outside world where cause and effect are a grand set of fuzzy connections, not quite understood, and vastly more powerful than any individual… what you have with self-help is empty words.
Oh, I completely understand these words can spark a good feeling in the brain when read or viewed. We have chemicals in the brain just for that. But those chemicals and their reactions are not solutions. In fact, these chemicals in our brain come from a place so myopic that not much is going to happen beyond the counterfeit “ah-ha!” we instantly feel from self-help authors’ work.
Why? Because of the complexities of life—which are not excuses, and which are not laziness—put up proverbial thick walls unaccounted for. Mess. Blockages. And most importantly, and most ignored: impossibilities.
And that is the key to all of this. There are myriad impossibilities in real life. Some of this comes from diagnosed disorders of the brain, most of it from the fact that all of our brains are not ordered properly enough to walk into solutions simply and easily.
Self-help does not help. It may not hurt, I would never go that far. Certainly walking the line of ignorance of reality isn’t the greatest way to spend one’s time… but I won’t say self-help is damaging. However, I will say that the universe of it, its inspirational messages, its pablum… dreck.
1 I use the term “author” broadly here, as I include everything from actual books, as well as video, images with inspirational phrases, really anything in this realm. [BACK]
2 You’ll note from self-help books, that generally, the process of writing is to repeat the same concept over and over to fill pages. At least this is my experience. Do note I have non-prejudicially read self-help books in order to get a grasp of what they offer. [BACK]