Biz Features

Why Self-help Articles Can Be Bad For Entrepreneurs

by . February 2nd, 2013

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The solid numbers haven’t come in yet, but as of the end of 2012, the self-help industry is estimated to have a worth of around $11 billion, growing from $10.5 billion the previous year. As a matter of fact, a lot of our customers come from this line of work. As life and work issues get more complex, there’s no shortage of opportunity to cash into this growing industry.

I’m not going to knock the self-help business – but you have to just look around and ask yourself if you’ve seen that many people turn out better for it. There’s plenty of useful information and motivation to be had from any of the thousands of self-help books and motivational speakers out there. But are people doing better in life now than they did before the industry got so big?

Instead of dismissing self-help guides as cynical attempts to part the desperate with their money (which some of them are), I feel it’s much more useful to assess the real reason why these guides aren’t as helpful as they should be:


Change Comes From Within. If at All.

We all want to be something else: thinner, fitter, smarter, richer, better lovers. Personally, I want to be more organized. But as a general rule, it’s a lot easier to give advice like some jerk on the internet rather than to actually follow it- even if it is your own.

St. Augustine once wrote “the mind gives an order to the body and is at once obeyed, but when it gives an order to itself, it is resisted”. I find it impossible to add anything more to that, and the truth is, things have been pretty much the same for the 1,800 -odd years since he observed it.

And if you know St. Augustine’s life story, you’ll know the guy was all about changing himself and resolving the conflicts that came with it; coming up with gems such as ” “Lordgive me chastity… but not now”. He knew just how difficult is is to change one’s self. Hardly surprising.

Use Your Illusion

The problem with many self-help guides can often be a crutch and aid in fantasies with overly-optimistic ends. What’s so bad about being overly optimistic? A 2002 study by Oettingen, Gabriele; Mayer, and Doris cited on the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that too much fantasy can have negative effects on achieving goals.

How? Over-fantasizing primes your brain into enjoying most of the success in the here and now, even before you’ve even begun on doing anything. Bad self-help guides sell fantasy and provide no shortage of fuel to fire up the hopeful. Just like lottery tickets.

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Speaking of which, the hopeful who purchase lottery tickets are overwhelmingly from lower-income backgrounds. Now ask yourself who the market for self-help books would be, and the answer would be *drum roll* people with social and financial problems. Unsurprisingly, they too would mostly come from lower-income backgrounds.

The next time you buy a self-help book, or drop a chunk of change to listen to a motivational speaker, think really hard. Are you genuinely interested in them because they give you tools to help you succeed – or will you end up just  kidding yourself?

While all these self-help articles can be great, they can only help you if you’re in the right state of mind. In any case we all learn more from trying and doing than from anything else.


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Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.