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Are Self-Help Books a Waste of Money?

Personal change means letting go of who you are to become who you could be

Are self-help books a waste of money?

I’ve written two books which are designed as self-help guides so it won’t be a surprise if I say that I think self-help books can actually be very helpful to people.

From unsolicited correspondence and conversations I’ve heard stories of real transformation from people who have told me that what I’ve written has been genuinely helpful to them. It is heartwarming to hear their personal stories. I know from their stories just how valuable a metaphor can be, or a suggestion for an exercise to try, or a bit of advice gleaned from the research literature.

But why, you might ask, are the bookshelves groaning with the strain of ever more titles: if self-help books work why do people keep buying them? Well, in part, people keep buying them because they do help.

But that’s not to say that everyone always benefits. There are many people who have read self-help books who might say they got little or nothing from them. The fact is that no self-help book will make a difference until the person is committed to changing their life. Self-help books offer advice, wisdom, and guidance that is useful to those who have already made the decision to change.

Change is hard because it requires us to let go of old beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions about ourselves and the world around us. The person that we think we are and the values we hold are all up for grabs. It can be very uncomfortable to realize that how we have invested our time, energy, and thoughts is out of date, misguided, or incorrect. Change is threatening.

When people are not fully ready for change, but sense that things are not quite right in their lives, they may seek out self-help advice in the expectation that will reap benefits without having to really change. They want things in their life to be different without having to challenge themselves and question who they are.

I’m not saying that such commitment to change is easy, rather the opposite. It can take time for a person to work up to the realization that turning one’s life around comes at the cost of letting go of who you think you are, in order to reap the benefits of becoming the person you could be.

One of the ways in which people work up to this commitment to themselves is through reading self-help books. When the person is ready for action, self-help books can be part of a genuine life transformation, but they can also prepare the ground and lay the foundations for becoming ready to change.

There is an old zen proverb which says: ‘when the student is ready the teacher will appear’. For me, this sums up the value of self-help books.

We are constantly in the process of creating ourselves. You can change, but you might not achieve all you want overnight. For most of us, making a genuine life transition may take some time. But the starting point is the realization that personal change means exactly that, you can’t change and stay the same at the same time.

What are the books that you have found most helpful and which would you recommend to others embarking on their own journey of personal change?

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