5 Problems with the Self-Help Industry

George J. Ziogas


Image by alphaspirit on Adobe Stock

Personal growth, personal transformation, change, self-help. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s a goal that most of us aspire to. We want to improve our self-esteem, we want to lose weight, we want to maintain strong, healthy relationships, we want to be more successful, we want to find happiness, we want to get rich, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter what it is, there’s always something we want to change or improve.

Whether you’re capable of achieving your goals will depend on how effectively you can change your mindset, behavior, emotions, motivation, or feelings as you attempt to pursue your self-help goals.

If you look back on your life, is there anything you’ve pursued as hard or as vigorously while getting poor to no results? You’re in luck! If you’re struggling with helping yourself, there are plenty of people out there who are willing to help you on your way. In fact, the self-help industry is a billion-dollar industry.

According to Medium.com,

“in 2016, the U.S. self-help industry was worth about $9.9 billion dollars, according to a report from Research and Markets. Market researchers have predicted that the industry will be worth $13 billion dollars…by 2022.”

If you wander into the self-help section of your local bookstore, you’ll find self-help for anything. The fact that it’s a billion-dollar industry should tell you quite a lot about humans. We’re desperate to find the answer and motivated enough to spend money to find that answer.

The problem is that many of us are happy to spend the money to find the answer, but the answer requires work, and we’re not quite prepared to put that work into meaningful change.

Ouch. It’s true, though.

The Self-Help Industry

The reality of the matter is the self-help industry has got a bad name. It’s become a parody, especially in the last decade or two. With untrustworthy self-help champions on television to comedy sketches making fun of personal growth, it’s become a mockery.

The truth is, there are a lot of dishonest and disingenuous self-help gurus. A lot of the industry is built around grifters who are simply out to make money offering their products and services. You have to sift through an awful lot of nonsense to find people who really want to help.

If someone is making an outrageous promise about how quickly you’ll lose weight with a magic tablet, then they’re a charlatan. If there’s a service promising overnight improvement, it’s an outrageous lie.

When someone swears they have the secret or cloak a lot of their claims using scientific language to make it sound more legitimate, then you need to dig in deeper to research the reality of what they’re saying.

The Problems With The Self-Help Industry

If you’ve been tricked by self-help lies in the past, don’t feel bad. Even the most logical people can fall prey to excellent marketing campaigns. Here’s the thing, when you want something bad enough, it’s easy to convince yourself you’ve found the solution that will help you on your way.

If you’ve reached the point where you’re searching the Internet for self-help advice, then I believe you do want to change and grow.

I believe that you’re ready to make improvements in your life. If you’re serious enough about it to search for solutions, then you’re ready to work to improve your life.

The problem is the self-help industry has a lot of swindlers looking to take advantage of you. Which brings us to the main point of this piece, the problems with the self-help industry.

1. It’s A Business

It’s an industry, it’s a business. There’s nothing wrong with creating a business, but ultimately, when you pay for a service the business benefits and they’ll maximize profit over helping you help yourself. That’s why it’s up to you to be discerning with what content you choose to consume, especially if you’re paying for it.

When profit is the motive, there’s an incentive to avoid real change and instead, simply create a perception of change. You know more than you think, and you need to learn to trust your gut when you’re looking at self-proclaimed experts promising radical change with little work or effort.

2. The Conflicting Advice

Create a plan, set your goals, be disciplined, and rely on your grit to grind it out. Be more mindful, be more present, make time for rest and relaxation. That’s conflicting advice. The reality of the matter is we’re all different. You might be fully invested in your career and that’s what you want, which means the first set of advice is perfect for you.

However, if your priority is your family, then the second set of advice is more appropriate. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to self-help. You’re a unique person with different wants, needs, and desires and sometimes you have to make the right decisions for you based on what you want, not on what other people think life should look like. There’s no simple solution to the complex problems we face in life.

3. It’s Outcome-Oriented

Humans have desires, that’s normal and healthy. But when you attach outcomes to those needs, that changes things. For example, “I’m important which means I need this house. This house will show other people I’m successful and will form part of my identity.” Or perhaps, “I need a romantic partner in order to be happy.”

Often, we look at others and decide that’s what we want. That beautiful woman with the Louboutin heels, stepping into a luxury car and driving off to the mansion you assume she lives in. That’s what you want. Yet, you know nothing about her. For all you know, she’s profoundly unhappy. You saw it, though, you wanted what she had, and you built your life around that. That’s not going to make you happy.

There’s nothing wrong with setting milestones nor is there anything wrong with treating yourself, but what’s it all about? What you’re saying is unless you reach that goal you’re an abject failure.

That’s not a healthy view of life, but it’s one that’s prevalent in the western world as highlighted in the spectacular New Yorker piece, “Improving Ourselves to Death.

4. There’s No Peace

Self-help can’t tell you how to help yourself when you don’t understand what you’ve striving for. It doesn’t help you figure out what to do next when you get what you thought you wanted, but you still feel empty inside.

Self-help doesn’t have the answers when you deal with the consequences of chasing something that wasn’t right for you. It’s a culture of “look at me, look at what I did.” A lot of it is about ego, and when something revolves around ego, you’ll never find peace. It puts too much pressure on a person.

5. Over-Simplified

Perhaps the greatest problem is its over-personalization problem. There are truths to be found in self-help, but it over-simplifies. It’s true that you can’t help others if you don’t first love and look after yourself. It’s also true that there are things about you that could use work.

Unfortunately, many of the solutions are over-simplified, they don’t consider socioeconomic disadvantages or cultural issues. They often aim the help at your symptoms, instead of digging down and getting to the real cause of the problem. The solution is incomplete.

Final Thoughts

If you want to improve, then read books written by people who hold different viewpoints. If you want to improve, then read books written by minority voices.

Challenge your ideas so you know how to defend them and whether they’re worth defending. Volunteer in your community, put yourself out there.

You can embrace self-help and self-love, while still pushing yourself into the world to know and help others.

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HR Consultant | Life Coach | Freelance Writer | Delivering content with the reader’s interests in mind.

New York, NY

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