Is Self-Help a Scam?

I came across an article by Steve Salerno called “Tony Robbins, Donald Trump and the continuing self-delusion of our self-help nation” and it sparked some thoughtful conversation.

First, let me ask this: Is there a difference between self-help and self-improvement?

The definition of self-help is:

“the use of one’s own efforts and resources to achieve things without relying on others.”

The definition of self-improvement is:

“learning new things on your own that make you a more skilled or able person.”

The two definitions are similar. Both are kind of vague when you think about it – what kind of help/improvement? Being a certified NLP Practitioner, I understand the power of language and being very clear about what you mean. I like the definition for self-improvement  better because it’s more specific and action-oriented. It’s about being inner driven or motivated (that’s how I interpret the “on your own” part of the definition) to make some change. It’s a process that requires action and you will be a different (i.e. improved) person as a result.

The problem I have with the definition for self-help is the “without relying on others”. I believe we are all students and teachers in life. We have this cultural myth about the “self-made” person but the truth is that no man is an island. We are all influenced by our social norms, upbringing, religious indoctrination, friends, teachers and experiences. It is what gives us our unique perspective of the world. The truly successful seek out mentors, coaches and partners that can help them gain the skills they need to move forward. No one knows it all, the learning process and growth we experience is what the journey of life is all about.

Many people at the forefront of the self-help/improvement movement provide motivation and the information can be a catalyst for change. But it’s up to you to implement it. You can buy all the books, tapes, workshops, etc you want, but unless you act  nothing’s going to change.

Side note: Too many people – and I was once in this category – think they should keep doing the same thing, that the reason they’re not getting the results they want is because they aren’t trying hard enough. It’s this kind of thinking that prevents change because it keeps you in a blame/shame mentality. If you are not getting the results you want, don’t “try harder”, try something different.

That’s the part that they don’t talk about. I don’t think it’s their message that’s wrong but their marketing. But then again, it is human nature to try to take the easy way out. Who wants to cut out cake or soda and exercise when you can just take a pill? Most people have goals and dreams and truly want to achieve them but they don’t want to do the hard work (mentally, emotionally and physically) necessary. So you have a bunch of people who become evangelists, who buy the books, seminars, workshops, conferences, etc without ever applying the message. All they are buying is the appearance of change. They get all the “feel-good blather”, as Salerno calls it and no substance. They can talk the talk but never walk the walk.

The bottom line is this: it doesn’t matter whether you want to call it self-help or self-improvement, the only way to elicit positive change is through action. You’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone. It’s going to take work and the understanding that human behavior is complex – our thoughts, beliefs, habits and impulses control our behavior though most of us aren’t even aware of it. We try to use willpower, rational and analytical thinking, but they are ineffective. Just look at the failure rate of dieters. There is good news though, once you have the motivation and understand how to tap into and leverage your inner resources to your advantage, you can create the positive, permanent change that the self-help movement preaches.