The Bitter Truth about Self-Help

What if I were to tell you that, as a man, if you’re happily married then you failed? You betrayed your biological purpose.

The right strategy is to have as many partners as possible, to ensure the passing down of your genes. To have as many children with as many different women as possible.

Would you agree with this statement?

It depends, I guess.

That’s a simplistic truth. Most people think in simplistic truths, which is sad.

Because, yes, you can adopt that strategy and have as many partners as you can. But it’s not the only way. You can also take a different approach, and choose to be in a life-long monogamous relationship, and do your best to raise your kids in order to ensure they have the best chance at survival.

That’s the nuanced point. The almost-paradox.

What I mean to say is that there’s always more than one way to do something, and that the truth is never simple.

But what about self-help? What about all the gurus and their teachings? What are the simplistic truths they preach?


1. If you want it, you can have it.

People read Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and then sit on their couch, watching TV, eating popcorn, but trying to attract wealth into their lives and hope a million dollars will materialize on their coffee table.

No. It does not work like that. There’s no magic law of attraction.

Yes, you do need to want it in order to get it. Pretty simple. I don’t suppose you’ll ever go to sleep without wanting to do so. Even though it might happen that you accidentally fall asleep, which stands testimony to live’s chaotic nature.

The simplistic truth is this: you want it bad enough, you can have it.

The nuanced point is: you want it bad enough, you’ll probably have it. If you work hard for it. If you adapt to your environment, if you improvise, if you are willing to learn from your mistakes. And, even then, even if you have the best strategy and do your best, it’s still possible that you can fail.

This is something that no one teaches you. It’s possible to fail even if you do your best, because life’s unpredictable, because stuff sometimes happens for no reason at all.

2. Positivity and optimism are the keys to success.

A lot of so-called self-help experts are trying to teach bits and pieces of Eastern Philosophy, and adapt them in a way that makes sense to most people.

Just think happy thoughts, and it will all be okay.

It’s not.

Life is suffering. And you can only choose to accept it or not.

But, while I do understand that being in a good mood is important, it’s not the only emotion that you can use to get what you want from life.

It’s not as if some terrible, terrible people ever managed to build some of history’s largest empires, no?

How did they do it then?

Because anger is just as powerful a motivator as anything else. You wake up angry at yourself, because you could be dominating. You could be doing a lot more than you currently are. You could be earning more, enjoying more success, being more influential…

You could be conquering the world, yet you are not doing so. This pisses you off to the point that blood is boiling through your veins. And then you act.

Sadness can make you act…

Didn’t it ever happen for you to write a great post when you were sad? Let the feeling feed your words?

All emotions are meant to make us act. Depression is meant to keep us out of harm’s way. Anxiety to make us act when there’s some form of danger.

And we fail because we never act, which leads me to my next point.

3. You need to act.

You ruin your life by not acting. Here, that’s self-help advice worth at least a thousand bucks.


If you want to change something, you need to stop thinking, stop planning, and just act. The more you act, the more you change your state, your emotions, your life…

If you’re sitting at home with a bunch of cats, crying yourself to sleep because you’re single, maybe it’s a good idea to go out and meet people. Who knows?

If you are unhappy with your weight, just start moving. That’s a good idea.

Just do something.

Listening to self-help gurus only makes you feel better for a short while. Like a drug, you need your fix. You’ll need more. And more. And that shit can cost you a lot of money.

You only need to act in the direction that you want to go. At whatever speed you’re capable of.

But then again, self-help gurus wouldn’t be earning that much money if they only gave this advice to people. Not enough for a three day seminar.

4. It’s more about you than you realize.

Why else would it be called self-help then?

You need to help your own self. Social conditioning can dumb you down to the point that, yes, you believe you can’t change who you are or where you are at in life, but that’s possible only if you change your mindset.

It’s all you, you, you…

We’re all self-made, but only the successful among us ever admit it.

If you expect Tony Robbins to change your life, you’re going to have a bad time. After you’ve paid a ton of money to attend his program. Then you’re just going to blame him for your problems…

This is the funny thing about self-help aficionados: they need more self than they need help. They need a stronger sense of self, more self-awareness. They need to stop being like some leaves in the wind.

They need to know who they are, and what they want. The how kind of takes care of yourself as long as you keep acting.

5. Failure is the default.

The self-help industry has long capitalized on the broken and the downtrodden. The failures. The ones who feel like they live in a world that’s not to their liking.

Life’s tough.

Imagine me walking on a stage to deliver these lines.

Life is pain.

The world is ultra-competitive and tough, and it will beat the crap out of you for no particular reason, other than the fact that it can.

It honestly doesn’t make any sense.

Ever had something bad happen to you and you kept asking why? Maybe in the form of a prayer, maybe when staring at your own reflection in the mirror. Why me? Why this? Why now?

Why, why, why?

And you know life’s only answer: Why not?

If something bad can happen, it will happen. If something good can happen, that will happen as well.

Life is pain, and everyone who is telling you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but there’s no magic formula, no secret how-to guide.

Life is all about sweat and blood and tears. Life is all about how you face failure, adversity, rejection. Life is all about being strong enough to overcome obstacles.

And life certainly does not make much sense. There are paradoxes everywhere you look. There are things that we know nothing about, and we’ll probably never figure them out.

Life is all about the experiences you have. Good and bad. And how you choose to react to them, what you choose to learn from them.

That’s it.


11 thoughts on “The Bitter Truth about Self-Help

  1. My grandson came up to me the other days and asked if Army Basic Training was hard. I looked at him and said, Well, if you’re not used to getting before the sun does, if you’re not use to making your own bed, if you’re not used to pushing yourself to the edge and little beyond, then it’s Hell on Earth. I was a cowboy and so it was actually easy for me.
    But like I told him, it’s difficult as hell, but the system is rigged for you to make it, BUT THAT’S ONLY IF YOU WANT TO MAKE IT. It’s designed to make it both easy to finish, but just hard enough to make you want to quit. If you sit down and quit you’re no use to them or yourself.
    He asked why that made it hard and I told him the truth. Because you train for war, and war is hard. There are no second place winners on the battlefield.
    Life is tough as nails, and if you think you’re not going to have setbacks, you’re mighty wrong.
    All it boils down to one thing, and it’s advise every cowboy knows. if you get tossed off the horse, you get up, dust your pants off, pull the cactus thorns out of your butt, pick up you hat, and get back on.
    The measure of human being isn’t how fast they can be thrown off the horse. The measure is how many times they’ll get back on.

    Liked by 9 people

    • Wow. This is a great comment. And fantastic analogy as well.

      I think that’s the issue. With self-help gurus, with a lot of other stuff. People want it to be easy, and they’re willing to pay a lot of money to anyone that tells them that. Or makes them believe that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “No. It does not work like that. There’s no magic law of attraction.” <–The sooner people realise this, the better. Great post. I'm a big fan of self-improvement – but the industry that's sprung up around it is pretty awful. Seminars, coaches, books containing nothing but gimmicks and empty promises. I recommend going back to someone who can no longer benefit from you buying their products for practical philosophy – the Stoic philosophers, or Plato or Kierkengaard. Read great literature. Be introspective without being self-obsessed. What do you think?


  3. The problem with self-help books is not that people buy them and read them… the problem is that when they have finished reading them, people tend to think “that was interesting”, but they then don’t take action to put the advice they have just read into practice. They essentially do nothing and don’t make any changes to their lifestyle.
    Change, in itself, can be very threatening. Often, I find that people prefer what has become familiar to them, even if it is making them miserable.
    It’s the same with going to therapy or seeing a psychologist… people return to sessions over and over again and they talk and talk and talk…. but they fail to actually implement any of the advice they are getting. Pretty much the only thing people are willing to do, if they are depressed, is to pop a pill. That’s because it’s a quick fix and easy to do. Plus, pill-popping becomes someone else’s responsibility, not their own. It’s the “doctor’s decision” and not something that a person can take control over themselves….which is an extremely appealing scenario, to a lot of people.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post. Harsh, but accurate. And just the kick in the ass that we sometimes need to remind us to put the self-help books down and get moving. Do something, anything,

    I really liked your point (I’ll paraphrase) “Why me? Why not you?” It’s another healthy slap to remind that none of us are bigger than the game, and we’re not the star player – we’re just seeing the game from our perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve adopted the idea that if I want advice, I’ll look for the people who have made better decisions, and achieved — and most importantly, sustained, those results. Research an author’s claims before buying their books, if you can.

    I expect the material to have real, useful strategies and wisdom. For example, if I wanted to learn how to overcome frustration, I would look for an author who has done just that, and proven it. Sure, we’re not perfect (and an author who admits that is more believable), but it’s better than the author who just tells me to “get over it” and “think positive.”

    I started reading self-help because the influence I had as a child, and the environments I was in, were filled with negativity; people who had given up and just blame “the system” or “they”; essentially, people who didn’t educate themselves. They likely came from similar circumstances.

    At the moment I’m reading Principles, by Ray Dalio. He failed miserably, and was humiliated publicly, early in his career. He came back to be one of the most successful investors, financially, and spiritually, because of how he runs his life and business.

    So, really, when it comes to gaining advice from others, it’s a fool’s path to believe the poor man about how to get rich, the sad man about how to be happy, and the chain smoker man about how to be healthy.

    Liked by 1 person

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