Why Self-Help Books Don’t Work

Have you ever wondered why self-help books don’t work?

No matter how many you buy or listen to, or how many courses you start, they just don’t seem to deliver on what they promise.

For regular visitors to this site, you’ll see I read a lot of these sorts of books. Many of them come with the “this book changed my life” quote, which helps sell the book, but may not actually deliver the same result for you. Since this is a quote from a reader, it’s not actually a claim of the book, ergo no guarantee the same will happen for you.

And I would have to agree – in part.

No SINGLE self-help book or self-help course has acted as a lightning bolt from the gods and changed my life in 10 steps, three months or overnight. However, collectively, they are nudging the needle in the right direction. One works more than others, and some don’t really add anything to the equation.

The common-denominator? Me and my (lack of) desire to change.

I read the Third Circle Theory recently (review to follow) which presented a more scientific view of how we advance and develop in life. I don’t fully agree with all the points, but the principles are sound. Here’s the essence:

  • You are born into The First Circle which has three stages: The Birth, The Settler, and The Dreamer.
  • You may progress to The Second Circle which also has three stages: The Awakening, The Leader, and The Achiever
  • A tiny fraction advance to The Third Circle which has three stages: The Vision, The Purpose, and The Rebirth.

The majority of people live in the First Circle. Settlers are essentially people who are comfortable with their life (whatever it may be, good or bad), and Dreamers are those who aspire to something more but never really get round to it.

The Second Circle is populated mostly by business owners and their ilk, as well as coaches and self-help gurus (actual or self-proclaimed). As with the First Circle, there is a light and dark side to this and some fall into the latter and are classed as expert manipulators by the book. A lot of the (self-proclaimed) ‘successful’ coaches and trainers in this Circle understand that the Dreamer in the First Circle is the ideal target to buy self-help books and courses and so ‘manipulate’ their emotions by promising magic pills and quick solutions.

There are two directions we go from here when we buy into a book or program:

  1. Dreamers don’t get the escape-velocity necessary to break through the boundary of the Circle because they find the Snake Oil peddled by the manipulators to be just that and revert to being a Settler, disillusioned from their brief failed attempt to break out of the First Circle. Or they eagerly lap up the next Snake Oil that comes along hoping it will cure their problems. And yes, I have tried some Snake Oil in my time.
  2. Or Dreamers fail because the book is written by and in the style of somebody who has already broken into a higher Circle. The language often doesn’t relate to the Dreamer as they are of a different energy vibration (to follow the spiritual language) or just think a different way. So, no lasting change occurs and the Dreamer reverts to a Settler or dreams on and buys the next self-help ‘solution’ that comes along.

One thing we learn from most of the good self-help books and courses is that change takes time to happen and requires discipline and a willingness to take action at some level to move from where we are now to where we want to be. Many of the ‘rags-to-riches’ stories we read take several years to transition from a broken person to the successful one we see presenting the material.

If you have read my reviews on Home Coming, No More Mr Nice Guy, and more recently The Four Agreements (or preferably the books themselves), you will see that much of our psychological make-up is conditioned from birth and sets a framework for how we interact with the world. These ‘agreements’ as the latter book calls them (and one which I found most insightful) limit what we do and how we do it. The Four Agreements put it very well:

There is something in our minds that judges everybody and everything, including the weather, the dog, the cat — everything. The inner Judge uses what is in our Book of Law to judge everything we do and don’t do, everything we think and don’t think, and everything we feel and don’t feel. Everything lives under the tyranny of this Judge. Every time we do something that goes against the Book of Law, the Judge says we are guilty, we need to be punished, we should be ashamed. This happens many times a day, day after day, for all the years of our lives.

There is another part of us that receives the judgments, and this part is called the Victim. The Victim carries the blame, the guilt, and the shame. It is the part of us that says, “Poor me, I’m not good enough, I’m not intelligent enough, I’m not attractive enough, I’m not worthy of love, poor me.” The big Judge agrees and says, “Yes, you are not good enough.” And this is all based on a belief system that we never chose to believe. These beliefs are so strong, that even years later when we are exposed to new concepts and try to make our own decisions, we find that these beliefs still control our lives.

That is why we need a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs. Because even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true that we agreed to all of them. The Agreement is so strong that even if we understand the concept of it not being true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and the shame that occur if we go against these rules.

Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements

This is the second string to the bow, and by understanding our own limiting beliefs (agreements or paradigms as they can also be called), where they came from and why we have them, I believe we can start to unlock the subconscious limitations we carry with us and allow the self-help books and courses to carry us higher through the Circles. We can stop the Judge repeatedly keeping us in the past, and stop ourselves being our own victim. It is this decision, this willingness to uncover our self-limiting beliefs and face our fears that provide the foundation we need in order to improve or ‘level up’ our lives.

From my own personal experience, by constantly reading self-help books and courses, these often lead to more recommendations for additional reading which helps unlock more of my subconscious conditioning and helps me grow further. It might take one book or one hundred books (or courses), but each is a stepping stone that helps cross the divide between the First Circle and beyond. You will find some books or course resonate with you more than others, and these will be different from person to person because we all have different mental make-ups, different Agreements, and different conditioning.

Don’t stop reading the self-help books. Don’t stop taking the courses. But remember that no one book or course will be a silver bullet to solve the dissatisfaction you are feeling. You need to work diligently to uncover your own blocks, release your limitations, and grow into the person you can become. They do work (despite what I claimed in the title), but each is only one tool in your toolbox to a better you.

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