Self-help books and the people who read them often get a bad rap. The books are thought to be mostly useless, and the readers are thought to be mostly people who buy a bunch of books but don’t actually do anything of significance.
Those aren’t completely unfair descriptions.
As a bit of a self-help junky myself, I know how easy it is to keep spending money on motivational tomes while ignoring the fact that my life is not showing any noticeable signs of improvement. I also know how disappointing it is to plunk down your hard-earned cash on a book that promises to FIX ALL THE THINGS, only to walk away 200 pages later with a sense that all the things are mostly the same.
Before you invest your time and money on another self-help book, there are a few things you should know.
1. There are no answers, only ideas.
As the author of a new self-help book, I feel fully qualified to tell you this:
We are making a lot of this shit up.
Sure, we are putting our best ideas forward, and we are tapping into our own gifts of insight, instinct, or research. But the fact is that there is no fool-proof guide for how to live your life.
None of us has The Magic Answer. None of us. Because there is no such thing.
What we do have are ideas that have worked for other people. We have suggestions. We have stories, experiences, and perhaps a gift for conveying messages in a way that will make something click for you.
Do not buy a book hoping to find The Answer. Buy a book knowing that The Answer is somewhere in you and that reading a book might help you access it.
2. Ideas alone can’t change squat.
Self-help books are a collection of ideas – hopefully some really great ideas – and ideas are totally and completely useless unless you do something with them.
Authors are not magical beings that can make you do stuff in the real world. (But oh, the luxury vacations I would go on if that were the case!) We can’t make you feel, think, decide, or act a certain way. We can’t make you follow through or do the work. We can only put the ideas out there and hope that you’ll be encouraged and convinced to act upon them.
Do not buy a book if you’re not willing to suffer through change. Or, I mean, go ahead and buy a book, but don’t expect results. Books don’t produce results; people do.
3. If you think the book is crap, you’re right.
The Alchemist is supposed to be a life-changing book. I hated it. I couldn’t even finish it because it was so damn boring. As far as I’m concerned, that book is crap. Most critics would disagree with me, but that doesn’t make me any less right.
I know a lot of people who feel the same way about The Happiness Project, and there will certainly be people who feel that way about An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. All of those people are right, too.
A book that doesn’t resonate with you is crap for you. You’re not wrong. You’re not too stupid to get it or missing the point.
You’re reading the wrong book at the wrong time.
Give that crappy book to someone else for whom it might be the right book at the right time. Move on. Don’t try to force someone else’s ideas into your life if they don’t feel right, no matter how well respected or seemingly enlightened the author might be.
Read a book knowing that your gut instincts matter and are completely true and right for you.
4. One book can change your life – a little bit.
Not every book will resonate, and no book will have the magical secret to life, and mostly what you’re getting in self-help books is ideas. OK. But the right book at the right time can absolutely be a catalyst for real change in your life.
Reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People taught me how to live with intention by consciously considering my values before making a decision. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love encouraged me to value my own happiness, something I’d been fighting for a long time for fear of being a bad person. The ideas in these books weren’t necessarily new, but they came at a time when I was ready to change how I thought and lived.
There are moments in our life when we are eager for new ideas. We’re standing in front of the door, key in hand, simply waiting for the right combination of encouragement and guidance to move us forward. It’s pretty freaking amazing when what we’re looking for shows up, and the possibility of being a part of that moment is why some of us write.
Read knowing that magic is possible and that might show up looking like an ordinary line in an ordinary book.
5. One book will never be enough.
As long as we’re living, some of us will always be looking for new answers. We’ll constantly be tweaking and learning more about ourselves. We relish the experience of figuring out something new. Again.
For us, the search will never be over. The search is why we’re breathing.
No matter how much you loved the last book, no matter how much it moved you forward, there will come a time when you realize you want to go further still – and then you will be glad for ceaseless river of self-help books. Then it will be time to find a new one.
Have you ever read exactly the right thing at exactly the right time? Tell me about it in the comments!