The Biggest Self-Help Secret Ever

June 22, 2012

You want to know a dirty little secret?

I don’t know if anyone else will tell you straight on this.

But have you noticed the size of the self-help section at your bookstore?  It’s huge!  It seems like if there’s one thing we’re obsessed with, it’s personal growth, change, or transformation.  There’s got to be a billion different ways to improve your inadequate self.  Maybe you want to make more friends, make more money, get healthy, or become enlightened.

But, here’s the thing.  The whole self help thing depends on keeping this one little secret, and hoping no one ever finds out.  It’s the biggest self help secret there is!

You want to know what it is?

How Much Help Do We Need?

Self help is a $10 billion a year industry.

There are endless books to read, DVDs to watch.  Subscriptions to subscribe to.  Conferences to attend.  Each one has a smiling face on the cover, promising that this will be what you need to change your life.

It seems that we are positively addicted to self help.  So why do we seem so helpless?  Why do we buy more products than ever, more gym memberships than ever, yet we seem to be losing ground?  We are less healthy, less happy, lesseverything that we want to be, despite all this help!

Let Me Help You Help Me Help You

Isn’t it ironic that it’s called self help?  Are we not supposed to notice that?  Why would we need all these products if we are the ones helping ourselves?

Here’s the thing.  Self help is all about change.  And change is difficult.  Because people are creatures of habit.  We don’t like change.

So we’re willing to pay someone to goad us into changing.  We’re willing to pay someone to give us some “strategy” to transform ourselves.  And when the strategy doesn’t work, there’s another expert waiting, with another version of the strategy to complete happiness.

Self Help Yourself

I think the whole self help industry depends on us not noticing that word self. 

We are the only ones who can help ourselves.

That gym membership will not make you healthy.  Americans spend billions of dollars on unused gym memberships.

That patch won’t make you quit smoking.

That book won’t make you more charismatic.

That conference won’t make you a better leader.

That DVD set won’t make you more wealthy.

That next sermon won’t make you spiritually enlightened.

That next blog post won’t make you better at whatever random thing it’s preaching.

Even that next government regulation won’t stop you from making bad choices.

You want to do some self improvement?  You want transformation, enlightenment, health, and contentment?

You have to start helping yourself.  And stop relying on someone else to help you.  The people who are helped the most by the self help industry are the people making money off of books and conferences and DVDs.  Find out what you want to change…and change it.  That doesn’t mean you can’t buy a book or anything.  You just can’t expect that book to do the heavy lifting.

What do you think?  Are we addicted to self help?  Why does it seem like we’re so helpless then?  What’s the last big, positive change you made in your life?

26 responses to The Biggest Self-Help Secret Ever

  1. I used to read lots of self help marriage books. Doesn’t work so well when only one partner takes the advice.

    Of course it takes God to really make big changes. He pushes. We respond.

    • Actually, studies have shown that it _does_ help if only one spouse is doing the “right things.” Not as much as if _both_ spouses are invested, but definitely more than if neither does. It sucks, but it does help.

  2. car2ner pretty much nailed it. Only God can make the big changes. Let Him.

  3. Amen. I have friends who are addicted to the next conference, the next laser light church service, the next osteen book needing a spiritual fix to keep going. Truth is at some point they need to step up and make a difference and stop relying on holy spirit xanax. I love to be motivated by others but i must take the next step. We spend so much time in the ministry motivating others but in the book of Acts it says that the disciples “devoted THEMSELVES!”

  4. Somewhere I heard this observation:

    “Do you really think a self-help solution is going to work when it is YOU that got you into this mess?”

    Makes the argument for accountability doesn’t it? :)

  5. Help myself? As in, make myself do stuff to get better? But that requires so much work! 😀

  6. How about “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame…”

    Many years ago, in a women’s Bible study, the study we were doing asked us to ask God for our life verse. God gave me Hebrews 12:1-2. Thanks God, that sounds like a lot of work! I focused on the first verse until one day, God told me to switch my focus to verse 2. That is the one piece of self-help advice I am still working on achieving.

  7. We could skip the whole self-help experience if we would stop trying to fix the “old man.” Paul said there was a “new man.” (Unnecessary quotes intentional.)

    Maybe we need to access the new man and let the old one die? God does have a perfect plan for us, but we are too busy helping ourselves to whatever it is that we do for ourselves: good or bad. Oh, and ten we have our own ideas on what is fun, good, and not sinful – or at least not as sinful as someone else.

    If you want God’s destiny you need to hear his voice. And you know what, only new man will respond to that. If you want to be religious then pick some Bible verses to conform to – hell, try to get everyone around to conform to them too. It worked for the Pharisees.

    What most people seem to want is painless self-improvement. Everyone wants to be something they are not. We just need to be what God wants us to be.

    The self-help question was settled on the cross. He can, so let Him.

  8. So timely, Matt, as always. I tried yet another self-help, self-improvement regime this year…and slipped…and tried again…and slipped again…and will undoubtedly try again before the year is over….

    And I have been wondering why all the routines and regulations I put on myself were failing to make me feel like I had really achieved anything. Or to make me feel more fulfilled, or happy, or…you pick an adjective. The immediate obvious reason would appear to be, “Well, you didn’t stick to them long enough to see the real life-changing results that would bring happiness.” But I have been gradually coming to see that there is a deeper reason, which has to do with community, or the lack of it, in this endeavor. I’m not speaking so much of accountability as a lack of someone to really share progress and hopes and goals with on an ongoing basis – which leads me back to that word “self” – self-improvement IS great, but who are you really doing it for? It has to be about more than you in the end.

    At least that’s what I think these days. I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

  9. Great post! That helped me a lot…..or did it? 😉 I used to spend a lot of time/$$$ in the self help section looking for life’s magic formulas, yet never found any REAL help (although “The Power of Positive Thinking” was a raindrop in the perfect storm that brought me to Christianity). Real self help comes from self – You have to really want to change bad enough to make the changes necessary and then keep making those changes even when it messes with your comfort level.

  10. I think the fact that every yard sale I’ve ever been to consists of primarily 1) old gift baskets 2) VHS tapes and 3) self-help books in equal measure pretty much speaks for itself.

  11. Clearly no one has the answer or there wouldn’t be $10 billion a year spent. Everyone would buy the one product that worked and by “fixed.” You were totally right, the profit makers are helping themselves but that’s about it. If we could fix ourselves why didn’t we do it in the garden and avoid all this crap?

  12. I have a friend who was well past obese. He has made some awesome changes in his life, coming to some amazing understandings of many things….but I wonder how much of his new regime is just an addictive personality latching on to a new addiction (i.e., going from being addicted to food/eating to being addicted to dieting/exercising). This is a healthier addiction in many ways….but now instead of focusing on food, he’s focusing on self-improvement. But that’s not what the Bible says “seek first self-improvement…” it says “seek first the kingdom of God…” Is he healthier physically? Absolutely. Has he really “improved” anything though? Eh…yes and no…I’ve heard him talk a whole lot more about weight loss, exercise, and healthy eating than I have the kingdom of God.

    But then how much do I talk about the kingdom of God? I wonder if there’s a book to help me with that?

  13. Great post, and so true! We are the only ones who can help ourselves. If you rely on someone else (even God at times), you will continue around the same mountain over and over. The answer always lies within, and God whispers it all the time. We just need to stop and listen, and then act.

  14. Thank you! You’ve really helped me! 😀 What I find sad is the number of folks who see Jesus as a self-help guru. “Have faith in Jesus and he will give you effortless success, and make you wealthy, healthy, and good looking.”

  15. We expect “reading” or “watching” something will make us better. But no book or DVD will work until you DO something that’s on the DVD or in the book.

  16. First a person must find contentment in who they are. Who are we? Well one must become as a child and think on these things. Jesus said, [contrary to the biblical version(catholic ruse)]” I know the way. The way is truth. The truth is life.” As children what do we know is true(?) We need to eat. We need a safe place to use the bathroom. We need to be warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. Once as adults we reach a homeostatic position where those basic needs are met then we can be content. Once we are content in who we are and have secured our basic needs for life by acknowledging those truths that will keep us alive all other expectations are luxuries. In conclusion I’ll say this; if we are always aware or our basic needs for life, grateful and respectful of those simple truths that keep us content then bad habits, harmful obsessions, and picking bad paths for our personal development will not be a problem.

  17. Jason Cormier July 2, 2012 at 10:01 am

    I read a self help book as often as possible, it is called The Bible.