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5 Reasons Why Self-Help Doesn't Work

Let's explore why self-help doesn't work.

Have you ever watched any inspirational video on YouTube?
Or read a self-help book?

Or attended a personal development workshop?

If you have done any of the above, you will know that after seeking self-help advice, you feel uplifted. You may even have gotten new ideas to make your life better.

But after a while, this motivation starts fading and you are back to your daily routine. Sounds familiar?

This cycle of spurt in energy and the continuation of the mundane is common.
If self-help mediums do not seem to be working, why you should read this article?

Does that mean that self-help does not help at all?
Well. Self-help can indeed be powerful – if and only if done RIGHT.

If you are wondering why self-help advice does not work, this article is totally for you. There are 5 solid reasons behind it. On the bright side, you will also learn ways to allow ‘self-help’ work for you efficiently.

Reason #1: Information Overload!

Do you know all the colors of the rainbow? How do you remember it?

Perhaps, you used a memory trick?

For instance, you might have used the comic character “Roy G. Biv” where each letter in the name of this character corresponds to the beginning of a color like red, orange, yellow, and so on.

It is essential to organize what you learn so that your brain can adjust and use that information easily in the future.
Have you ever come across mind maps?

A mind map is a visual representation of how your brain organizes the information. Thus, organizing what we learn or read or watch is very important for our brain to successfully make use of when needed.
How can you avoid the disorganization of information?

Whenever you have any questions at hand, try not to google search the same.

Well, because the internet gives us information in bits and pieces, thus making it hard for us to actually remember and implement it. Instead, opt for a book or a video which completely covers your topic of interest.

Let’s take a simple example. Say you want to bake a pie. But you don’t know its recipe. What do you do? Browse and find 5 recipes which, according to you, are good to go, right? Then, you try and mix these 5 recipes together, and in the process, probably end up messing your pie.

Thus, it's true that ‘less is more.’ This expression means that it is better to follow one path at a time rather than 5 different ones, all at the same time.

Reason #2: Less is More

There are times when you attend a motivational seminar or watch an inspirational video or meet someone who gives you a bunch of tips on how to elevate your life.

When you come back, you start brainstorming on how to make your life better and happier. Suddenly you decide to work out and get into good shape or determine to improve your finances or try to fix your relationship or develop healthy habits etc. All of a sudden you have a positive impulse to transform your life for the better.

It’s indeed excellent that you are eager to make positive changes in your life. But is it really that simple to change so many things altogether? It may seem easy but it is not.

For your example, changing your identity entirely is nearly like a psychological suicide. The primary purpose of instinct is to ensure your survival so that you will reproduce and allow your genes to carry forth in the next generation. That’s all that your instinct cares about.

Instincts have nothing to with your happiness or satisfaction in life. Therefore, whenever you try and change a lot of things simultaneously, your instincts kick in and push you to feel like what you have done so far has worked to some extent. In turn, it will shift your attention to the fact that changing your life entirely towards unknown roads might not work. This might leave you demotivated and dejected.
Don’t worry there’s a solution.

Desmond Tutu once wisely said - “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

This quote tells you that everything in life that seems overwhelming or impossible can be accomplished gradually by taking one step at a time.

It is not always necessary to change many things for the betterment. Often a single change can bring about a revolution.

If you decide to exercise for 30 minutes daily, after a few years, you would be much more energetic, healthy and beautiful. Therefore, even one thing can make your life better, over time.

A little shift in your life can lead you to a totally different destination. For example, deciding to save 10% of your salary may initially seem insignificant; however, over time, these very savings will translate into financial security.
For instance, even if you lose your job or resign, you can survive on these saving 6 months or a year. If you decide to stop doing your current job because you have lost interest in that, you can take your time to rediscover your interest.

Using your savings can also enable you to start a business. All this is possible because you have a financial reserve. That’s how saving 10% of your salary, eventually, can lead you to a different destiny.

Reason #3: Great ideas are WORTHLESS without execution

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.” ― Steve Jobs

Whenever we find good ideas, we tend to collect it so that one day we can implement the same and benefit. However, no idea is worth anything – it is only execution that can be valued.

Executing your idea is a lot more challenging because that takes discipline and hard work. You have to deal with different situations.

You have a Pareto Principle (80-20 rule) at your rescue. The rule suggests that only 20% goes in learning and the rest of the 80% is execution. That is, if you are working on something for 10 hours a day, then, you must spend 2 hours learning and 8 hours on execution.

However, it is observed that most people only execute 5% of their good ideas.

So, what’s the point in acquiring new knowledge when you are not executing it?

“Dreams don't work unless you take action. The surest way to make your dreams come true is to live them.”  ― Roy T. Bennett


Reason #4: Analysis Halt

Motivation is like an adrenaline injection. It inspires but doesn’t last long. You feel boosted when you come across any motivational material but it doesn’t stay for a long time.

Finally, only the inner motivation can drive you.


When you read any of these self-help books or listen to motivational speeches, they give you tons of advice but hardly talk about how to apply them.

Your core beliefs shape your destiny. The stories you tell yourself shapes your personality and influence your behavior.

Advising superficially can lead to psychological trauma. For when you have conflicts, superficial changes do not resolve them. Instead, you have to get to its root to resolve it. It does seem scary but then that’s how it works.

In fact, because change is scary, we try and avoid such situations.

For example, why do people smoke? They are aware of the health hazards but still don’t stop. Why?
In fact, today, there are many remedies to quit smoking but these remedies only work physiologically and don’t eliminate the root cause - ANXIETY.

When we feel stressed, we simply start smoking, because it is an excellent relaxant.

Hence, without addressing the root cause, an attempt to quit smoking will not work. Similarly, you can resolve your problems permanently if you eradicate the root cause.

Sometimes, it is necessary to ask yourself painful and scary questions. Because that’s how you can skyrocket your results.

Reason #5: Unrealistic Marketing

When you look at the titles of a motivational blog post or self-help course, they promise to deliver great results in a short period of time.

Like, lose twenty pounds of weight in a month or have perfect six-pack abs within a month or become a millionaire in a month. You will see that marketers are always making impractical promises.


But when you actually start pursuing a particular program, you achieve results – but this achievement is nowhere close to what was promised. This, in turn, makes you think that you’re going wrong somewhere.

Finally, a drop in motivation leads you to quit and look for another solution. The cycle repeats.

Bill Gates has something thoughtful to say about this – “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

We know many well known, highly successful business companies. But what we are not aware of is, they took approximately eight years to start generating profits which were significant enough to start paying dividends to their shareholders.

Moreover, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in the field of your interest. So, 10,000 hours or 40 hours a week for 5 years! So, yes, big results take time.

Impractical marketing strategies mislead us into believing that unrealistic goals are achievable in unrealistic periods of time.

So what do you do?

Rather than believing in marketers’ impractical ways, you can try this practical solution. Take baby steps. If you have observed babies, they learn new things very slowly but with time they learn so many skills.

All you need to follow is to use the ‘Spiral of Success’ strategy. Initially, you can set small attainable goals and when you achieve the same, you will feel motivated. Thus, you went through one quill of the spiral. This will propel you to move forward to your next quill of the spiral. Ultimately you go on to reach the end of the spiral of success, successfully.

Now, isn’t that an inspiring as well as a realistic approach?

Observe what helps you, along the way. Don’t get trapped in comparisons with someone else’s vision.
Self-help will help when you live your life on your own terms.

PS: Tell us what are your views on the self-help industry. Does self-help work for you or not? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

Igor Smirnov

Igor Smirnov

Psychologist, blogger, chess Grandmaster, Internet entrepreneur. Follow Igor on Facebook

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