~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


Do Self-Help Books Really Work? ~ Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The common sense answer would be "no." As with the weight loss industry, the self-help industry continues to thrive--where, one would imagine that it would be a shrinking market if each book were truly the panacea it claimed to be. But, as with any genre, there are those who read self-help books (guilty) and those who do not--which would reinforce the notion that the books do not work, for the related reason that those who read them keep coming back for more.

But, as with the weight loss industry, the question is not a simple "does it work or doesn't it?" Because there might indeed be a small subset of clients for each who are able to follow the principles of one or another program and who are duly improved and move on to healthy, productive lives. Others may follow them but enjoy "top ups." They would therefore return to their favourites, or to new ones that that provide different spins on the same ideas.

But the issue is bigger than that, also. I think it has to do with our prevailing attitude. I'm as guilty as anyone in, at some level, wanting a quick fix--a true panacea. Though most of the books state, over and over again, that the ideas they promote *will* work if they are applied, practiced and learned with some considerable measure of persistence, few of us are willing to commit to that kind of persistence. We read the book, apply the ideas for a few days, then fall back into our old habits and complain about how nothing works (read: nothing works well enough to jolt us out of our quick-fix mentality, to make us persist and push through without any evidence of results. We've lost our sense of short-term deprivation for long-term gain).

The big new trend seems to be the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approach. The theory is that instead of targeting behaviour (e.g. a task-oriented book on lists and organizing life strategies for combatting procrastination), they target thought and attitudes (e.g. *why* don't you want to do this? If you don't get to the root of the question of where your resistance lies, no number of lists or goals will help you--you'll just fail to meet them and feel all the worse). It makes sense--never mind that this too is not a new idea.

But it doesn't address the widespread sense of entitlement--the attitude that says "I should be able to lose weight *and* have that McDonald's supersize meal with an extra sandwich on the side." Ahem. It's that whole matter of facing the fact that some things that need to be done simply aren't fun, but they *have to be done*. It's not negotiable.

So, it becomes a chicken and egg questions. Is it that self-help books don't work, or that people don't stick to them long enough to discover whether the methods outlined will actually address their issues? And if that's the justification given, it's ultimately irrelevant where the method breaks down ("If you had followed my method and persisted with it, it would have worked like a dandy. But you didn't--so how can you expect results?" And, on the part of the reader: "the ideas are great, but the book didn't motivate me to follow through--maybe this next book will resonate with me more deeply"). In which case, the answer to the question is reduced, once again, to a simple "no." :-)

Now I'm off to read my self-help book about ceasing to procrastinate by becoming more self-confident. It worked for today, at least. And for that, I can be very glad indeed. :-)

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 4:34 PM::::


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