Self-help books are a multi-million dollar business. Ever since Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936, we’ve been turning to books for life advice.
The purpose of these self-help books is to guide the reader to an enlightened lifestyle. They do this with the aid of “How To” lists and bullet points. The best ones use scientific research as well as anecdotes.
But how helpful are self-help books? Your aunt might swear by The Secret, but can it work for you too?
Self-help books and courses can turn your life around, but you should be cautious with your approach. Check out our tips on how to weed out the bad stuff and make self-help books work for you.
Questions to Ask About Self-Help Books
There are three major questions you should ask when you’re picking out a self-help book.
1. What Are the Author’s Credentials?
People are weird–and they like to give weird advice. What works for your neighbor might not make any sense for you.
So when you set out to improve life with self-help books, you should know whom you’re getting advice from. Ask questions about their professional and academic credentials.
Also, try to learn about their lives. Jack Canfield made his living selling the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. He based the mentality behind this series on his moral code of ethics and helped a lot of people.
Unfortunately, he tossed his moral credentials out the window when he left his wife and family for his masseuse. This might not make him a terrible person, but you’re not going to read books from him on staying married.
Professional, academic, and personal life should all matter when you’re looking for advice on fixing your own life.
2. What’s the Science That Supports This Book?
The best self-help books will have scientific research to back up their claims.
Some of these books work with scientific research but take it a step further. For example, the AIP diet is a hot new elimination diet that will help the reader get healthier. But while there are some studies supporting the science of elimination diets, the results on AIP are inconclusive.
Do your homework and research some of these books before you buy them.
3. What’s the Quality of Writing Like?
No matter what you’re reading, writing quality matters. If the self-help book you’re reading has bad grammar and a shoddy organization, it’s a dud.
Bad writing is an indicator of poor thinking skills. If the writer is a poor thinker, you shouldn’t take life advice from them.
The Best Way to Approach Self-Help Books
Even if a book passes all the above hurdles, there’s still one nagging question: Do self-help books work?
The answer is that yes, they can work. But they’ll only do so within a framework of logical thinking, accountability, and outside help.
So how do you approach self-help books? Here are three tips.
1. Treat These Books as Inspiration, Not How-To Manuals
There are many self-help books on the market, and they all have different ways of approaching the same problems. Improving your life is going to be unique to you and your experiences.
There is no book that is going to give you a set map for your entire life.
So when you read self-help books, read them as guidelines instead of rules. This way you can take the lessons that will work for you–and toss out the rest.
Dave Ramsey is a popular financial self-help guru. His financial philosophies work well for some individuals, but not for others. It’s up to you to read the book and sort through the good and the bad.
2. If You Think Something Is Weird, Trust Your Gut
Again, the sheer number of self-help books available means there will be many different approaches to life. Some of these methods are going to be downright weird, toxic, or even dangerous.
Some people criticize the famous book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus for placing the blame on women for problems in a relationship. This book may help some people. But for a woman in an abusive relationship, this mentality could be dangerous.
If you’re reading a self-help book and you feel like something is off, it’s okay to stop reading. Trust yourself.
3. Don’t Expect a Total Transformation by the Last Chapter
Learning is a life-long process. If you’re open to it, you can be a student of life until the day you die.
But improving your life will take a while. We spent the first ten years of our lives learning about empathy and consequences. You’re not going to completely revolutionize your life by the end of a 200-page book.
Any self-help books you read that offer a quick-fix are not books that will help you in the long run. They might be useful for learning tips about staying healthy or working from home. But they won’t be able to affect any lasting changes all by themselves.
If you want to make your life better, you have to be willing to seek many avenues of help and put in the time. Read self-help books, but also speak to friends, doctors, and coaches. For example, The Avatar Course uses a multi-approach method to help you improve your life.
Surrounding yourself with good people will do more for your life than filing your bookshelves with self-help manuals.
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