do self help books help?


Those who can, they do; those who cannot, they teach – thus goes an old maxim.

This can be a bit harsh to the teachers and coaches. Of course I include the writers of self help books and motivational speakers in this category. I say this even thought I myself have been and still do, off and on,  teach, give pep talks and write on ‘Art of Living’.

It does not mean that teachers are not successful. Only thing is that their growth, in the field that they are teaching now, has stopped.

Now  consider this. If somebody is passionate about science, he (she included) would go into the depths of science and come up with some invention or land mark scientific theory. He would not plunge into teaching science right after graduation or post graduation.

Players usually become coaches when they are well past the time when they could win at professional sport. In a sense they are teaching because now they can’t.

In fact I would rephrase the saying to say that  those who can should not teach, at least while they are still doing it and in the filed they are doing it. There comes a conflict of interest issue here. When a writer conducts creative writing workshop  I do not think she will honestly pass on all the secrets and tricks that has made her successful. Similarly, a professional payer cannot share all his secrets to others who are either his competitors or his potential competitors.

Today the book market is flooded with self help books. It is another issue that that the majority of the self help books do not help as was found out in a survey done some time back.

Before picking up a self help book one should do this simple probing. Did this author succeed in any thing other than in the field of writing self help literature. Recently, a book titled Success Mantra became a best seller in India. At least it was claimed to be so. The writer of the book is Mr. Subrat Roy and he wrote this book while he was in jail for his fraudulent practices. No doubt he has been successful. But what kind of success are we talking of?

Those who never worked in an office writer books about how to succeed in the workplace. Sometimes, people who failed in every field they tried their hands on, write books about how to achieve success and suddenly the book becomes a best seller.

Similarly,  I come across a number of motivational speakers whose only claim to fame is being a successful motivational speaker. Many of them chose this field because they could not stick to and persevere in their earlier chosen fields. Some of them might have been kicked out of their earlier jobs. Yet, they are hired by companies by paying hefty sums to motivate their employees to work hard and be more productive.

It is not that I have been a strict adherent of the wisdom I am dispensing here. I have also read a number of best seller self help books. One thing I have noticed is that if you pick any book, not only does it say why this book is the best book,  it also tries to convince you that all the other books are totally out of time and useless. Now examine another scenario. Suppose there are 100 self help bestsellers. Every books proclaims that other ninety nine books would not work. So by the authors’ own collective admissions 99% of self help books do not help.

But all self help books are not totally useless. Occasionally, you may comes across a book that dispenses wisdom and insights to uplift you.

I have come across friends and colleagues who are addicted to self help books. They do not read anything else. If you are one of them, remember: there had been successful people since the time of Adam, long before the Americans started flooding the market with self-help books.

Of course, you may take solace in this positive possibility. If you read enough number of books on how to become a motivated productive employee, one day you my end up becoming one of those motivational authors or speakers.

Well, what has been your experience? Please leave your opinions.

21 thoughts on “do self help books help?

  1. Self help books inspire and motivate but you can’t be successful just by reading and applying the strategies given in self help books. I am a big fan of Rhonda Byrne and have read all her books. But still if anybody could manifest anything through ‘Secret’ then won’t we all be successful by now?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have had experiences of reading self help books. The first one that I read was You can win by Shiv Khera. I was at school at that time and I would say that much of what is written in that book is practical and if someone really adheres to the words of prudential wisdoms given there, he will be at least successful at making his life more principled if not becoming successful at achieving materialistic trivia.
    Regarding people who teach because they have failed at everything else is changing as of today. I have had the chance of getting education from people who are at top of their career as researchers! People from DRDO, ISRO and CSIR have come to our institute for the sole purpose of teaching.

    Also, not everyone who has excellence at his field can have the knack of imparting education to others. I have also met people who are great in their field but pathetic at teaching. I would much rather learn the basics from a lecturer who can teach than a professor who can’t!

    That said, I have also read books like secret which are nothing but garbages of pseudo science dumped as some over the top secrets that Einstein and Newton knew as well!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, the saying – those who cant, teach- cannot have universal application. We cannot categorise people. There are many who do as well as teach excellently. But there are many who want to teach just for the heck of it.

      The market these days are flooded with self help books as these kind of books sell better than others and many mediocre writers have jumped the bandwagon. Even if a book is a best seller, it does not mean it gives sane or useful wisdom.

      Thanks for stopping by and elaborating on the topic.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. rationalraj2000

    Article makes interesting reading.Yet, tends to generalize too much.People who are good at nothing else or failed people become motivational speakers- Failure also gives insights learning from which can give success. Further , if a person is able to hold audiences and get them to listen intently, surely he/she possesses some skill. Sometimes we tend to trivialize roles that can be very daunting when doing it practically. As for example many people believe actors have a gala time and it is very easy to act…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you that those who write such books and deliver such talks are skillful writers and orators. They write interesting stuff and conduct interesting workshops even giving the reader / the audience a temporary high. And quite often, because their presentations are so interesting, we fail to to see through the fallacies they propagate.

    Thank you for stopping by and throwing more light on the issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have tried reading all kinds of books and succeeded. But self-help books have got to be an exception. Your example is stellar: imagine a crook like Roy sermonising you! I would recommend Steve Job’s biography by Walter Issacson to people who are searching for that elusive spark in their lives.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Never ever thought of the success stories of authors behind the self help books… But that’s a very crucial point…is it really possible to impart such knowledge without having any actual hands on experience. Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. richardjalba

    Like you said, self-help books don’t offer value beyond motivation and direction. It’s entirely up to the person to take action. And honestly, taking action is the *ONLY* thing that matters.

    If all the book does is validate your feelings and you don’t bother to actually take action, then all a person is accomplishing is mental masturbation. That’s why on my blog I encourage step-by-step action on top of awareness. Because like this post – people may read it, but they might not respect the value you intend for it to provide – selfhelp books are great, but the true value comes from the execution to pursue what you wish to achieve.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I agree that not all self help books are great. However, I do disagree with the stigma around it, I read self help books from other successful people’s “must reads” I think the most important thing a reader needs is an open mind and WANT TO change. Just like a diet it only works best if you put 120% into it. Reading a cook book doesn’t mean your a chef, it still takes time. It isn’t a cure all, it’s a boost to your spirit, a sign of hope. Great read though!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Very interesting. When I’m struggling with an issue, a good self-help book helps me by giving me perspective and hope that there’s a way out. I typically read self-help books by people who had success in another field or offer insightful perspective on the world and human behavior. Great post by the way, I haven’t thought much on this topic.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I feel a lot of self help books and videos, give you a momentary high and motivation. This momentary high is actually momentary and does not last beyond a few days, hours or even seconds at times. What more important on this subject is how to take one positive thought and make it a part of your life. Till you practice, theoretical knowledge is of no use.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Polkadotblonde

    I think what self-help books and authors do is to capitalize on people’s hope. You don’t have to be an expert for that, but you do need some insight into people’s minds and hearts for that. Maybe self-help books are like a placebo effect…they make you feel better because you think it’s going to help you.

    Liked by 1 person

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