“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
– George Carlin
Self-help books don’t work
A few people have sent me emails asking if I’ve read various business and self-help books.
The answer is almost always “No.”
I brought What To Say When You Talk To Your Self on my trip, but I haven’t even opened it yet.
While I used to be huge into self-help and entrepreneurial culture, my interest has really dwindled.
I’m not going to say that self-help books don’t work, they can be effective, but you should never treat them as gospel.
The cult of self-help
There are a lot of linear subjects that people struggle with.
Saving money is one of these.
If you want to reduce your expenses you can read a book like The Total Money Makeover or Bachelor Pad Economics. I like both of them and think they’re incredibly useful.
You can take a seat, read through each one, and have all the information that you need.
Yet a lot of people use their new found knowledge as a way to avoid responsibilities.
“These books were good, so I need to read 15 more before I can tackle my debt.”
Instead of solving the problem, they join message boards and get wrapped up in the community that surrounds a particular issue.
The issue is never resolved, taking a backseat to their quest to B.S. with other do nothings.
Places like the Warrior Forum are bogged down with wantrepreneurs who have thousands of posts on business and zero real life experience to back it up.
Unrealistic expectations force you towards worthless goals
Back in late 2012, or maybe it was early 2013, I read Good to Great.
The book has some useful lessons and quality information, but it actually made me feel awful about myself and reduced the quality of my life.
In it there’s a story about a man who was super loyal to some farm implement manufacturer that he worked for.
He was always on the job early and left after everyone else.
When he was about 19, I think he’d worked at the place since high school, there was an accident that caused him to lose a finger.
Instead of going to the hospital or taking time off, he finished his shift and even came in early the next morning.
Eventually all of his hard work paid off and he was promoted to CEO.
This story always made me feel lazy.
I didn’t really like my job and just wanted to spend my time writing and traveling.
Yet this stupid story made be beat myself up over my disinterest.
I’d try and do extra work and take on more responsibilities, but it caused me to feel worse.
Looking back the book’s story was incredibly stupid, and reads like the tale of Soviet laborer Alexey Stakhanov, but it made me convinced that I had to be just like this unstoppable corporate cog.
Being inspired by someone is great and everyone needs heroes.
However, trying emulate a person who shouldn’t be looked up to, like a guy who sacrificed his finger so that a company didn’t have to give him vacation time, isn’t a particularly good idea.
Self-help books that work
Not every book about improving yourself is a scam or useless.
Most of them are even pretty good.
As long as you actually follow the advice, and make distinctions between what will work for you and what won’t, self-help can be a powerful tool.
My personal favorites are the classics. Books written by men who actually knew what they were talking about. Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, stuff like that.
How to Get Rich is another great book because it shows you both the advantages and disadvantages of success.
I’d personally recommend that men avoid products like The Secret or conventional dating books.
My all time favorite self-help, if you can call it that, book is Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. It’s easily the most inspirational book that I’ve ever read.
I dare you to pick it up and not feel motivated. Say what you will about Arnold, his newer book kind of sucks, but the man had drive and knew how to go places.
If you have a book that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments section. I’d love to check it out.