This article was originally published on Seth Rose Life several years ago.
There are many people out there who are looking to improve their quality of life and don’t know where to start. Instead of getting down to work, they head to the bookstore or Amazon and check out the ‘Self-Help’ book section.
In these books they hope to find the answers to their chronic problems whether it be poor financial disposition, a pitiful love life, or why nothing in life seems to go their way. Whatever their problem, I can guarantee that they’re going to fail to change anything in their life.
I say that with confidence, because after working in a book store I know what kind of people buy particular genres of books. For example, buyers of romance novels tend to be exclusively 60+ year old, overweight women.
People who buy self-help books are usually not the type of people I want to spend time with. They appear to be agitated easily, unhappy and disheveled in appearance. Of course, this state of being would justify buying a book on how to improve oneself, but alas, that’s not how things work.
Much like diet books, people who purchase self-help books are well aware of their problems. They really do want to take action, but for a myriad of reasons are subconsciously avoiding what it takes to actually solve the problem.
These people are buying the book so that they can try to justify to themselves that they are actually taking the steps necessary to make their lives better. However, because of the lack of actionable advice in these types of books, most of these people will remain unchanged.
But it’s a whole lot more than that. The main reason why most people fail to better themselves is because they have no concrete dreams, goals or plans.
Many people buy self-help books so they can be ‘rich’ or ‘happy’. The problem though is that they don’t define those goals.
What does it mean to be happy?
What does it mean to be rich?
If you walked into the self-help section at a bookstore and asked what their specific goals were, they’d have nothing for you except a blank stare. This clear lack of direction is what holds so many people back.
What’s Your Motivation?
In my room, tucked away in an atlas, I have several pages of travel plans I wrote when I was 16. I wanted, and still want to see as much of the world as possible while I’m young. Every few weeks or so I’ll pull this atlas out and pour over my ‘travel plans’ and the atlas and plan my future adventures.
That’s what keeps me going. That’s what made me start this blog and it’s what makes me constantly look for ways to make money online to help support that dream.
Sure, I’ve read a number of self-help books that have made a difference, but I think an equally good use of time is to read books that reflect what your goals are. Since I want to travel, I read a lot of travel memoirs as they inspire me to work my tail off so that I can fund this dream.
If your dream is to come up with a revolutionary medical technique, don’t pick up a self-help book that is going to give you a pat on the back and tell you how smart and talented you are. Instead, pick up a biography of someone who made a dramatic impact in the field of medicine. Soak in how it made them feel and how it impacted others.
I Feel Like I’ve Read This Before
One big problem with self-help books is that there is only so much that can be written. I mean how any ways can someone possibly tell you to “stay positive” and “work hard”?
All of the self-help books I’ve read are classics that you’re probably familiar with. These include books such as:
- How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Both of these books are timeless classics, and much of the self-help books you’ll find out there were probably inspired by the two books. More than likely, they’re also ripping off some of their ideas.
Take a book like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. The book is just stoicism repackaged for millennials.
What Makes a Great Self Help Book
These two books are great, but for different reasons.
How to Make Friends and Influence People should be the standard for self-help books. The book is full of actionable advice such as smiling and remembering people’s names; simple ideas, but effective.
Think and Grow Rich is one of the most motivating books out there. I believe it was one of the first books to harp on the law of attraction.
And guess what? Now there are probably hundreds of books on the law of attraction.
How to Choose a Self-Help Book
I’m currently doing the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge and if I were to read 52 self-help books, I don’t think my life would change dramatically. Some people equate reading as many self-help books as possible to being successful, but that relationship is anything but linear.
When choosing a self-help book to read, you want to stick to two main criteria:
- It’s a classic, and/or
- You’re like the author’s ideas.
Do you know when How to Make Friends and Think and Grow Rich were written? In 1936 and 1937 respectively; that’s over 75 years for each book.
These two books are considered classics because they have withstood the test of time. You don’t have to whittle down a list of books, because generations of people have already done that for you.
For the second criteria, before investing your time and money in a book, you should be well aware of the author’s ideas, but more importantly agree with them.
I’ve heard a lot of about James Altucher and his book Choose Yourself on many blogs I read. In fact, his book was listed in the top 12 business books of all time. It’s a book I think I’ll check out soon because I’ve read some of his works and wholeheartedly agree with them.
Self-Help Books Take Advantage of Naive Readers
Did anything strike you when I mentioned that those two classics were written in the 1930’s? What is significant about this is that it was during the height of the Great Depression.
Could it be that these books were written to attract people who were down on their luck?
Just as church attendance rises during economic turmoil, I wouldn’t be surprised if self-help book sales increased as well. People are always looking for shortcuts out of misery.
That is not say that those two books are invalid, but there were likely dozens or hundreds of books like this written during the 1930’s, yet these were the only ones to stand the test of time.
This article is not to dissuade you from reading any books related to self-development. Rather it is to encourage you to choose wisely from your choice of reading.
Use the criteria I laid out above to find the best books in this genre; one’s that will truly make a profound impact on your life.
Now, get to reading.