Why Self-Help Doesn’t Necessarily HelpPosted: July 18, 2011
If you’re anything like I used to be, you may be addicted to self-help books. I used to devour self-help books left and right, on topics ranging from love and relationships, business and career, fashion and style, dealing with difficult life situations, how to be rich, and especially on how to be happier. I used to even exchange self-help book recommendations with my girlfriends.
This all changed when I met with one of my old law school classmates a few months ago. I hadn’t seen him in five years, so we had a great time catching up with each other. When we said goodbye to each other, he said something to me which has not left my mind since that day. He said, “Be compassionate to yourself.”
While what he said was hardly revolutionary or unique, it influenced me in a way that completely caused me to look at myself in a new way – something that no self-help book had ever done.
His words really resonated with me. I thought about them long after, and I realized that I was being too hard on myself for a really long time. I was my own worst critic, and it was getting to me. And someone who I hadn’t seen in a long time, and who didn’t know me that well, could sense it.
After my meeting with my old classmate, I started to accept and love myself in a new way. I started to realize that I, with all my flaws and insecurities and fears and weaknesses, was an absolutely beautiful person just as I was, and that I didn’t need to “work” on myself anymore. I had become a perfectionist and was increasingly critical of myself. Over time, I started feeling like I was trying to be someone I’m not – the version of myself that society or culture wants me to be, instead of the true version of who I am. And I constantly was striving for something that I could never do – be someone other than me. This created an unhealthy cycle for me, and made me start to feel bad about myself since I kept striving and failing to achieve something unattainable. And the more I failed to achieve that unattainable ideal, the worse I felt about myself.
Notwithstanding all this, I certainly believe that by striving for improvement in my life, I was able to make certain decisions and take action to improve the quality of my life by reading self-help books and by getting inspired by the authors who wrote them. I have made countless good decisions that benefited myself and those around me because of things I learned by reading these books. My point is, if you find yourself reading tons of books on a certain topic, but you don’t find yourself applying those principles in your life, you may have to try a different approach in addition to those books. Or, you may have to accept that there are certain things you cannot change, and you just have to learn how to make the best of it. Sometimes that just comes with life experience.
While I still have many areas of my life that I could improve upon, I have come to the realization that maybe there are certain things about me that make me who I am, and these qualities just might not be ones I can, or frankly, want to, change. I realized all this after hearing just those four words from my old classmate – “Be compassionate to yourself.”
So every once in a while, put those books down and go out and meet people. Talk to people you know or strike up conversations with people you don’t. Do things you enjoy. Experience life in all its absurdities, oddities, and beauties. Along the way, you may gain some great insights that might not reveal themselves in the same way if they were written on a page (or even on a blog). The written word, while full of wisdom and knowledge, is incomparable to the impact of life experiences on a person.