We Need to Talk About Self-Help


That advert still lives inside my brain almost five years after it came out.

If you’ve seen the video – I apologise for reminding you of it.

If you haven’t seen the video, and are wondering what the hell I am talking about, here’s a link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv1RJTHf5fk

The advert belongs to a guy named Tai Lopez who is one the most famous business gurus on YouTube. Allegedly, Lopez was broke until well into his 20s, before earning a fortune in ‘investment’ – and is now living the good life driving Lamborghinis up in the Hollywood Hills. He also lives in a great, fuck-off big mansion alongside actors and rock stars overlooking the Greater Los Angeles area. He truly is the personification of a rags-to-riches story and, by buying his 67 Steps program, you can be, too.

Well, not really. But, hey, it sounds nice – doesn’t it?

Lopez is just one example of the so-called ‘experts’ who have cropped up on the Internet over the years. Using shady, vague practices, rudimentary business jargon, and an endless list of famous quotes – these people offer their ‘expertise’ to those hoping to escape the 9-5 grind and make a living drinking cocktails on a beach. All for a limited time offer!

I remember the Summer of 2015. It was the time where I got infatuated with self-help and personal development. I can’t remember exactly what kicked it off, but I remember buying book-after-book, watching video-after-video, and listening to podcast-after-podcast. My brain was flooded with a surge of dopamine after buying the latest product or listening to the latest idea. My infatuation quickly turned into obsession – my desk was sky high with books by Tony Robbins, Daniel H. Pink, Cal Newport, and Richard Branson. I was able to apply the knowledge I learned in each book, started my own business, used my extensive knowledge to get a leg-up over my competitors – and by the end of the summer, I had accrued thousands of pounds in profits.

Ok – that didn’t happen.

Instead I just read a bunch of books and listened to a load of TedX talks. I did nothing. But I felt I had.

That’s the problem with self-help addiction – it makes you feel like you’re being productive when, in actuality, all you’re doing is firing dopamine in to your brain and then calling it a day. The term mental masturbation applies here, I think, as your brain is stimulated by the idea of productiveness rather than the actual act of doing things/ That’s how I felt when the latest book arrived – I got a surge of productive energy in my brain every time I opened that first page – and I’d, in the words of a famous rock band, proceed to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.

This went on for the whole summer – and I have now forgotten almost all of the knowledge 19-year-old me acquired in that time frame.

The Shady Business of Hope

We exist in a ‘quick fix’ world. We always have and will always will. In my case, I was looking for that elusive one tidbit of information that would change my life. That one piece of financial information that would swell up my bank account, or that one motivational video that would give me 24/7 drive to start a business, develop an app, or write a bestseller. I even bought a few courses by ‘gurus’ online – whose videos I hope would contain that one nugget of information to set me on my merry way to materialistic nirvana.

Of course, the whole time I was doing this I was merely lining the pockets of those who profited off the most lucrative on human emotions – hope.

Hope is what keeps the human engine running and self-help professionals are more than aware of this. They inspire hope – yet their worst nightmare is you actually achieving hope and abandoning your need for further self-help content. Like a junkie, I was always seeking my next ‘hit’ of self-improvement – ‘‘maybe this course has the answers’‘ ”maybe this book has vital information”, ”50% off?! wow! I better jump on this offer before it runs out!”

It never runs out. Trust me, it never runs out.

Pure scarcity marketing – I should have known better.

But the allure of hope was too strong – offer hope and customers will be at your mercy.

Toxic Positivity

There’s a lot of garbage floating around around on the Internet stating you have to be positive all the time if you want to be considered anywhere close to a success.

This is, again, an illusion which is exploited by the self-help industry to the absolute maximum. Once the idea of perpetual happiness is implanted in your brain, you’ll constantly think of all the ways that your life doesn’t measure up. This makes you sad. This makes you feel like you need something and, look, this self-help ‘expert’ is selling a course which you can buy to help you achieve ‘the good life’. This cycle goes on and on until your wallet is sufficiently drained – just as it was in my case.

Another trope of the self-help industry is the phrase ”never give up”.

If you have a dream – you must vehemently pursue that dream with all your might if you have any hope of catching it. If you even think about giving up – you’re worthless. This dream, and only this dream, is your only calling in life and you must do whatever it takes to get there. Sleep on your friend’s couch. Sleep on the street. Eat dust if you have to. Hijack Nakatomi Plaza. Jump out of an airplane with a burlap bag full of money. Cause a mass riot. Whatever. It. Takes.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not saying you should have no ambition, desire, or to crumble at the first sign of adversity, I’m saying some dreams are just bad ideas. Failure can teach you many things and can lead you down a path that you never would have considered. Dreams and ambitions can change as one ages – and there’s no shame in giving up on ideas if you’re really not feeling it.

Unkle Adams is a rapper out of Saskatchewan, Canada. He’s not giving up his dream until he makes at least a million dollars out of his music. He’s never given up, stuck to his guns, and is now over $200,000 in debt. He’s sold his home, his car, and has been ripped off by nefarious characters at every opportunity. ”Failure is not an option, I have to make it”, he states in the video. His music still hasn’t blown up and, sadly, it looks like it never will. Unkle Adams bought in to the ‘don’t give up’ spiel, and is now paying the price for it. It’s sad.

Managing Self-Help

I think there’s a time and a place for self-help. There are some out there who do offer good content, and have proven experience in whatever field you are looking in. It’s probably a good idea to read a Warren Buffett book if you want to get into investing – it’s probably a good idea to study Bill Gates if you own a software company – and it’s probably a good idea to read Michael Jordan’s autobiography if you’re an athlete looking for guidance. Unkle Adams could have benefited from listening to others in his field and perhaps could have gone about things smarter.

The self-help industry will continue to expand, I have no doubt. Especially after we all crawl out of our quarantines and seek inspiration. The industry is probably already rubbing its hands together as we speak as it waits to bombard us with ”how to get rich after the pandemic” content.

Improving yourself is always a good idea – it just needs moderation. Working hard is always a good idea, if it’s intelligent work based on measured improvement and results. Positivity is always a good idea, as long as you’re willing to wake up and smell the coffee sometimes and accept a bad or poorly thought out idea.

The self-help industry needs you more than you need it. So keep that in mind next time someone offers you the ‘secret’.

The secret is – it’s probably bullshit.

Have you ever been scammed/deluded by the self-help industry? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to like, share, and read more of my posts!

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