The Problems with Self Improvement Media

Have you ever read a great story that inspired you in a unique way? Maybe it was a piece of fiction you read when you were young or maybe a read through history about some military leader or adventurer who scaled obstacles and lived to tell about it.

Those stories were simple. They were directly connected to real life with details we could often relate to. It’s similar to asking someone in there 80s about life advice. I’d bet that they have been through enough to relate to anything you throw at them. Nothing beats life experience.

Fast-forward to today or really the last couple of decades and you’ll see the explosion of self-help/improvement. Bookstores, ebooks, online course, and anything else media has been saturated with new ways, shortcuts, and (the one I hate the most) “hacks” for better living.

Whether it’s living the good life on a six hour work week or learning the secrets of living big, I feel if you’re at all in the media space you’ve been bombarded with slick marketing about always optimizing. If you’re not first you’re last, right?

Promises, promises

I once overheard a student of mine talk of his roommate buying a huge stack of books. Everything he mentioned was from the self-help arena. Books that ironically were the answer he was looking for. It was as if he was more excited about reading those books instead of any action taken toward his goals.

The self-improvement industry relies on you never getting better. If you just buy that one book or course everything will be better, they say. Oh, and then here’s another, and another. Did they mention there is a five book series for sale?

I’m not special. I fell for it, too. I would buy, read, and repeat like the best of them. I don’t blame myself. It was a new genre of media that I had never been exposed to before. When you’re going through changes and challenges in life you tend to reach everywhere for answers. Self-improvement was right there at my fingertips. All I had to do was search, click, and read and I was able to spend endless hours “improving” my situation.

The sneaky truth

The reality is that very little was sinking in and working. Maybe it was me? Upon further reading (outside of the arena) I found my answer.

I read this piece from the New Yorker: Improving Ourselves to Death.

It explains a lot about the mechanics behind this whole improvement world. One size doesn’t fit all and I found that I missed reading authentic stories, adventures, and other people’s real life experiences. I thought back about the books that impacted me the most and none of them were specifically about self-improvement.

Autobiographies, biographies, stories from war, personal battles, and memoirs were the ones I remember most and now my reading list was void of them.

What happened?

I bought from the snake salesman. I drank the cool-aid. I believed it was too good to be true.

I can now look at things with 20/20 vision and I’ve observed a few things:

  • Most of these self-help books can be summed up into a long article.
  • Most use similar formulas: state the problem, list out solutions, and flesh it out into 250 to 300 pages.
  • One size doesn’t fit all and we are all have unique situations. The solutions presented don’t usually help the majority of readers.
  • Many strategies are difficult to put into action.
  • They all start to say the same things over and over.

And the one thing I learned from all of this is most-likely the most important lesson of all:

Take action.


What do you think?

16 thoughts on “The Problems with Self Improvement Media

  1. Greetings,

    I would like to thank you so much for posting a gem of an article! It has to be one of the best ones I have come across today!
    It has been an eye-opener and I’m glad I came across such a well-thought-out article.

    I am so happy to connect with you. I have followed your blog, and I must say you are doing a fantastic job.

    Kiran Kandel

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome! 🙂
        I cannot wait to read your future articles!
        Also, may I ask you for a small favor? As you have such wonderful writing, would you mind going through my blog? I would love to hear your recommendations. Thank you so much!


      2. It looks great. Two quick things.
        – Keep writing helpful advice. Consistency is key.
        – I would write some type of tagline on the front page regarding what specifically your blog is about. Something unique and your own – to set you apart.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. So your perspective here is interesting. Sounds about right to me. Self-help is a huge category. I think we’re all touched by someone’s personal story. They’re powerful.
    The link you shared looks interesting so I plan to read that later.
    One guy I like is JS Park, a hospital chaplain who is honest about people hurting. Often he helps them by hurting with them and not sugar coating reality. Because when your world is rocked, there are no magic formulas to fix it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely agree! It’s a 13 billion dollar industry by 2022 now. So, selling the fast fix that doesn’t work is lucrative! Self Help mantras are new Starbucks; disposable cups and all! Loved the article. Efrona


      1. Yes! I just wrote a course that speaks of this subject where I describe the journey of self-help as “$10 bucks a click/step,” so by the time you finish, you could have bought a new life rather than try rebuild! I’m joking, but it’s sadly real! Nice to know I’m not alone! I’d love to know what you’re doing about it? I have to go back in and read more of your stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To start, I stopped reading those shallow books. Next, I want to read more biographies that show rather than tell. The real lessons are in history. In the meantime I just focus more on action. Reading is great, but action is the key.


  4. I just came across this blog and I thought it was an insightful read! One thing you mentioned which I could really relate to was when you said how one size doesn’t fit all and we are all have unique situations. Right now, I read too many advice pieces that don’t take into account that everyone is different, and what may work for one person may not work for another! Great blog and I look forward to reading more of your blogs!

    Feel free to read some of my blogs as well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Niraj! Thanks so much for reading. Yes, I’ve recently cleaned house a bit on all the self-help stuff. Most books could be long articles. They seem to say the same things over and over and just put the same principles in different lights.

      I’ll definitely check out your blog, thanks!


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