For the first time in seven years, I voluntarily cracked opened a fictional book. The last story I read that wasn’t set in reality was Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons. The book I’m reading now is…fine, albeit a little cheesy. But it’s been nice to get back on the horse, and I’m already looking to add a few options to my reading list.
This fairytale hiatus can be attributed to two things: 1) I got lazy around the age of 17 and substituted reading for Netflix and weed. 2) I got back into reading four years later, only my re-initiation was in the form of a self-help book, and I was hooked.
Self-help books are empowering. A good one can leave you with a rush, ready to seize the day, and overpower any and all obstacles that happen to fall in your path. There have been self-help books that have completely changed my perspective on life. However, immersing yourself too deeply in self-help books can be counterintuitive. It becomes easy to convince yourself that this leisurely activity has become a necessity.
Before we get into them, let me clarify what I consider to be “self-help.” Self-help books cover a considerably broad spectrum. Tony Robbin’s Awaken The Giant Within obviously falls under this category because it centers around taking control of your life and being the best you can be. But so does Walter Isaacson’s Ben Franklin, as we can all learn from the biography of one of the greatest minds in history. If it’s non-fiction that can teach you something new about life, I like to file it under “self-help.”
Here are the some of the biggest traps of the self-help rabbit hole.
Reading A Book On Productivity Does Not Make You Productive
It’s very easy to skim through the pages of The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People and feel the infectious energy of the people in this book. Unfortunately, this feeling can linger, while the call to action that comes with it does not. Sure, maybe you made your bed every morning for the first three days, or you spent the first week not answering emails in the morning (both suggestions you’ll find in every other self-help book you read). But these trends rarely hold place, while the belief that we’re actually being productive does. This in turn creates an internal pass to be lazy. It’s like the person who goes to the gym for the first time, then comes home and happily scarfs down a cake as a reward. That slice of cake can become particularly addictive, because all of a sudden you’re pursuing that feeling of productivity over actually productivity.
Regurgitating What You Read Does Not Make You Smart
Remember, you bought this book to improve on yourself, not to impress others. It’s so easy to quote Robert Greene’s description of Ben Franklin’s social intelligence, but no one cares, yourself included. Finish the book, let the facts that stuck with you sink in, and add your own opinion to them. Anyone can repeat a sentence they read in a book, but the point of self-improvement is to supplement your thoughts, not create them.
You’re Chasing The Dragon, Not Your Dreams
When you first delved into self-help, you did it to better yourself and eventually achieve the future of your dreams. There’s no get-rich-quick scheme. As all of these books have showed you, it’s about hard work and a pragmatic approach. But you start to wonder, what if there’s something else? That last book made such a good point about money management, what if the next one tells you exactly how to run your at-home business? Maybe the one after that will give you the perfect morning routine that will then give you a head start on the competition. All of a sudden, you don’t want to take action, because you think there’s more information out there that you might be missing. What was initially a form of motivation has now become a roadblock between you and your goals.
You Are Not Malcolm Gladwell
The most obvious statement in this article actually hit home the hardest for me. Malcolm Gladwell stated that he believes everyone should have a small breakfast. For him specifically, he has half of a croissant and a quarter cup of oatmeal. I tried a rough version of this for about two weeks and was very confused as to why I hated everyone and everything by 11 a.m. Malcolm Gladwell is 5’8”, 150 pounds, meanwhile I’m 5’10” and 185 pounds of PURE MUSCLE, BABY. To assume that I should emulate someone’s diet just because they used to write for The New Yorker is ridiculous. More important, it made me realize that everything I read is not one-size-fits-all.
Everyone Is Different
Just because Jocko Willink gets up at 4:30 a.m. to work out doesn’t mean you need to. Tim Ferriss goes on airplane mode after dinner and doesn’t turn if off until the next morning. Let’s be honest, that sounds awful. Tony Robbins jumps into 57-degree water every single morning. No thank you. Casey Neistat sleeps three to four hours a night. That’s a stroke waiting to happen.
A lot of people in these self-help books do things that seem inhuman, and probably have played a large part in creating the people they are today. That doesn’t mean that they are better than you, nor does it mean that it will work for you. I used to wake up at 5:30 every morning to do yoga before work. You know what that made me? Tired. After several months of waiting for my body to “get used to it,” I realized that I performed much better with the extra hour of sleep and just did yoga when I got home for the day.
Self-help books are full of suggestions, not facts. If something catches your interest, give it a try, but don’t be dismayed if it doesn’t work out. These books aren’t meant to create a whole new person, just help find pieces to the puzzle that is you.
Despite the treachery that can come with them, self-help books are incredible. While I plan on cutting back on them and mixing in a little fiction every now and then, they will still remain an integral part of me. Since I first cracked one open, my life has taken an immense turn for the better. Yeah, I live with my parents, but I’m super entrepreneurial about it. No, I’m not employed, but I’m going to be SO successful when I am. Okay, I also haven’t received my degree, but like, whatever. Fuck, what am I doing with my life?
In all seriousness, self-help books have made me a much better person. I’m in the best shape of my life, much more grounded than I would have been without them, and all around, I’m simply happier.
Go read some self-help books. Below are some of my favorites. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to read them in the comments section or you can always tweet me.
- Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz
- There really is nothing like your first time. My first self-help book is near and dear to my heart. Psycho-Cybernetics is all about developing the ability to “steer” your mind toward your goals, and showed me just how much the average mind is capable of.
- Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
- This book taught me to question every initial thought I have, and has strengthened my bullshit detector tenfold.
- Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
- It was a beautiful thing to gaze into the mind of a man who shaped the world we live in today. Wow, what an asshole, though.
- Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss
- Basically a transcript of approximately 200 interviews with some of the most successful people on Earth, divided by “Health,” “Wealth,” and “Wisdom.” There is something in this book for everyone and it’s the one I would recommend if you had to choose one.
- The Four-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss
- This book still impacts me to this day with all it taught me about diet and nutrition. Most of my love for this book stems from its intense diet, The Slow Carb Diet.
- How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie
- The mother of all self-help books, many of the lessons on human interaction still hold true today, despite being over 80 years old. Warren Buffett’s favorite book, if that means anything.