The Myth of Self-Help Books

I’m a sucker for self-help books.

It’s my favorite section at Barnes & Noble.  Maybe it’s because they all promise solutions to everything I struggle with.  Fitness, relationships, communication, success – according to the titles, everything I need is right there.

I shouldn’t complain – that’s usually the section where my books are found.

But there sure are a lot of them.

That leads to some logical question:

  • If the self-help books worked, why are there so many of them on the same topic?
  • If one worked, would we need others?

Asleep in bookstoreEvidently, people buy a book because of the promise on the cover.  But when it doesn’t work, they’ll try the next one.  And the next – and the next.

Even if those books don’t work, we keep buying them like lottery tickets, hoping the next one will be a big winner.

If the self-help books on weight-loss worked, everybody who bought those books would be skinny.  If the self-help books on marriage worked, everybody who bought those books would stay married.

But what if the problem isn’t the books?

What if the problem is the reader?

The problem is that we’re an independent bunch, us humans.  We want quick solutions, and we want to do it ourselves.  We don’t want to admit that we need assistance; we’re proud.

Thus, the rise of “self-help” books.

There’s a problem: We’re designed to need others.

I don’t know everything, and don’t have all the answers or resources.  Neither do you.  But I know a few things that you don’t.  You know a few things that I don’t.  When we work together, we get stronger by drawing from each other.

We need more human moments, where we look each other in the eye and do life together.

Haven’t you ever been totally bummed out about something, and you feel stuck in your emotions?  Then you have a conversation with someone else who’s been struggling.  All you say is, “Wow – I’m so stressed.”  The other person says, “Yeah, me too.”

And you both feel better.

Maybe we should swallow our pride and ask for help.  That’s tough for me – and I’m guessing it’s tough for you, too.

But when two people work together, the results aren’t doubled.  They’re multiplied.

What if, instead of buying self-help books to help ourselves, we used them as a curriculum for growing with others?

Barnes & Noble should change the name of the section from “Self-Help” to “Together-Help.”  Or something like that.  While there’s value in independence, there’s much greater value in interdependence.

So, should we buy self-help books?  Absolutely (especially mine . . . )

But we can’t view them as “the answer.”  We need to see them as a “resource.”

Maybe we need more “help” and less “self.”

If we want to change our lives, let’s do it together.

Have you had a time when “together” worked better than “alone?” Comment below . . .

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"