In this post we discuss how different factors contribute to a lot of people failing at “self-help” and personal transformation. The factors we discuss include the issues with the self-help industry, the unrealistic expectations from clients, the shortcut / optimization & productivity mindset, and the DIY mentality. You can also watch the related episode on our vodcast.
Taking the decision to help yourself is a big step for many people. After being stuck and suffering for years you finally decide to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and finally live your life. You feel inspired seeing the many people touting different self-help methods that have helped them turn their life around. In your excitement you go ahead and order a book or buy an online course. If you are feeling especially fired up you may even make greater investments because you are inspired and motivated by the dreams laid out before you, especially the way they contrast with your own misery.
You spend weeks and months working on the recommended exercises to break your depression, helplessness, laziness, procrastination, weight issues, money issues, and a list of other things that are “supposed to be your problem”. But even after following everything exactly as prescribed, investing time, energy, money, and being as hopeful as you can be, you start realizing that not much has changed.
If you stop “believing” what you have been told, you might very well be where you started — or at least not too far from the miserable state that you wanted to escape. If you feel this way, you are not alone. There are millions of people in the same boat. Including the coaches, therapists, healers, and influencers that may have inspired you. There is just a tremendous amount of pressure to keep that hidden and to keep going and showing up as a happy cheerful being — but don’t fall for the show, the reality is very different.
Before diving into the issues with the industry, I want to clarify that while I believe all this is generally true, it does not apply to everything, there are always exceptions. And Self-help in itself is not the problem, it is our attitude and expectations, along with the way it is marketed that becomes a problem. The techniques themselves can be very effective when they are complemented with something deeper.
The First Half of the Problem: The Industry
Claiming success and appearing on top of the world is a self-help industry technique to get clients. Some of those results may be real, but what they don’t tell you is that it only works for a small set of people for a short time. Most of it is not real. It’s a big show to get more clients and sell content. This recipe has worked well for years, and it is a recipe that is copied over and over till the well is not just dry, the well has collapsed and fallen in on itself.
Self-help has become some version of an MLM or Multi-Level Marketing scheme, also known as a Pyramid scheme.
The coaches get clients who then become coaches using the same marketing techniques to get new clients. But all there is in such self-help techniques is a marketing technique that worked well at one time and is gradually losing its efficacy. But it is still good enough to attract millions of people each year to spend billions on content that keeps them going in circles.
The Shortcut Mentality Issue
Most self-help is about giving you a shortcut or a quick-fix to a problem that is partially defined and completely misunderstood. The problem most coaches and teachers are fixing is not even the real problem in the first place. This is why most self-help doesn’t work. First, they define the problem in a way that their technique will look like the solution. But no one actually stops to think if the problem is well-defined or is it defined to sell a product.
And then when their prescribed solution doesn’t work for you, you feel like you are the one failing because you did it wrong or there is something wrong with you. But in reality you are a victim of an industry that is full of shit. And the industry will literally blame you when you cannot make it work. Perhaps you are the one who did not follow the steps, or you did not believe enough. And when you fall into that trap, they use their best technique:
“if that didn’t work; this other newer, fancier, trendier solution most certainly will, just give us more of your money and we will get you fixed up!”
The reason it doesn’t work is that in most cases the problem was never the real problem. It was just meant to sell something as a Pyramid scheme, which generally only pays out for the top few levels. As the pyramid keeps growing, the bottom levels are paying without receiving gains. And this is a known fact in all pyramid schemes. Calling the self-help industry a pyramid scheme is not a blasphemous exaggeration, it is a perfect depiction of everything wrong with this industry.
Becoming a well-qualified and effective therapist takes years of training, and the therapist has to do many more years of therapy on themselves to actually understand how to apply and integrate the lessons. All it takes to become a certified coach is a training that ranges between 20 to 120 hours (*edit added at the end of the post) depending on the institute chosen. And then this person believes they are equipped to transform lives and entitled to charge large amounts doing that.
Think about that for a moment. How do years and years of training and experience get replaced by a 120 hour course?
Think about why you give so much importance to someone’s “certifications” and credentials, the labels that make you think they are experts. Did you actually check what that label means, or just having the label is good enough? Just putting a few letters around a name changes the way people perceive them, and in my opinion this is a very dangerous mindset because people stop thinking for themselves. Most coaches, healers, therapists, have not done real work on themselves, they have managed to fix themselves enough superficially that they can cope and get by, but that’s all they can do.
Self-help coaches, healers, and also many therapists focus on fixing the symptom that manifests on the surface. Depression is a symptom, not a root cause. Addiction is a symptom. Emotional dysregulation is a symptom. If you are working with someone who is attempting to treat your symptoms, not only will you not get too far, you will also not treat the root cause which has other symptomatic manifestations. A single root can have multiple branches that manifest as symptoms. Without healing the root, symptoms will keep popping up, so fixing one symptom will not go a long way.
The Other Half Of The Problem: You
The problem is partially on the clients too. People today are looking for a quick fix, an easy way to kick years of suffering out the window and get moving with their lives. If it were that easy, mental and emotional health wouldn’t be such a big issue in the world today. If a pill could actually fix your problems, there would not be a multi-trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry. The industry is meant to keep you in the problem so you have to consume their product for the rest of your life. Most pills just suppress the problem and attempt to make you forget about it.
Real change requires real effort. Quick efforts will only give you short-term superficial change after which you will inevitably regress into old patterns of behavior. You can fool yourself for quite long. The self-help industry popularized the saying “Fake it till you make it”. Unfortunately all we have got so far is the fakeness. Because that phrase doesn’t work for real change. Faking it will only help you make it superficially where you can brag about how good you feel on Instagram/Snapchat/TikTok and whatever new app turns up tomorrow.
A single technique or method cannot do anything, and this is how many self-help giants have gained popularity – riding on a single great idea and adding a lot of not-so-great ideas later. But once someone becomes popular, people will listen to anything that comes from the mouth of a celebrity/idol.
Recognize your role and realize how you give your power to people who glitter — and remember that old adage: “all that glitters is not gold.” Especially today there are so many artificial ways to make things glitter. Social media is all about the glitterati, the only problem being that anyone can glitter with the tools available today. That doesn’t mean they are offering something of real value.
It is your responsibility to wake up from the spell the charmers are casting.
If you choose to keep following the glitter and feeling disappointed, only to go looking for something else glittery, what can anyone do for you? All I can do on my part is write such an article and
hope it reaches those who are ready to wake from the glitter spells that have charmed millions into a trance of self-helplessness.
The DIY Mentality Issue
Another reason self-help has gained so much popularity is the growing notion that doing it yourself is a respectable thing. But maybe we have to draw the line where DIY is a good thing and when it becomes toxic? I want to emphasize that self-help techniques can be very useful when applied in the right context and with the proper mindset and expectations. But if you want to do it all yourself just to prove to the world that you are independent, that you don’t need others, why? I literally just want to strongly ask “WHY?!”
Why are we buying into the narrative that DIY is a universally good thing? What is the issue in needing help, wanting help, or asking for help? This bizarre notion that needing help makes us look weak is pathetic. As pathetic as the one desperately trying to prove that they can do it all themselves. Who the fuck is going to give you a trophy at the end of your life for being a lone wolf? Whose approval are you seeking for being this strong, independent human? And who gives a fuck if someone even validates you for this? This version of the world just becomes more isolated, lonely, and depressing. Go out there, get help, and balance it with independence. I’m never advocating for a polarity, so I am not saying you should be desperately seeking help all the time. Where applicable and appropriate it is great to be independent. But, after suffering for years as a rebel who had unconsciously lost hope in humanity, I am so glad to be reconnected to my own humanity and to see that having help and support is deeply invaluable.
The biggest issue comes down to trust, and this is based on my own experiences and insights. After being disappointed over and over when seeking help and not getting any effective and real help, we turn to the other polarity and go into the lone wolf mode. But I recognized that this disappointment was not just about others not helping me, it was the way in which I was seeking help. I was basically rejecting any real help to fulfill an unconscious prophecy that nothing and no one can help me. And the only ones from whom I would accept help were the ones who would either say no or fail to provide it in an effective way. This mentality keeps us looking for shortcuts and solutions that don’t work.
Why Rush When You Have Time?
The optimization mindset tells us that we have to “get there in the shortest, fastest way” — if we do that, we are
good great, we are winners, we got it right! So we go looking for shortcuts and hacks to fix ourselves and become productive members of society. How can you waste a second of this oh-so-precious life? You must be productive! You must make the most of the little time you have on this beautiful planet, must you not? We are given all kinds of directives on what “the good life” looks like, and we just buy that narrative like little children at the candy store. Wake up! Think for yourself — question the narrative.
Another reason for the rush and hustle is because people believe they need to be fixed before they can move in their life. There is a deadline to how soon you must heal. Have you ever questioned this? You may believe “I must be healed before I can follow my dreams”. This is a myth. Healing yourself is part of the journey of moving towards your dreams — that is how it is designed.
Every step you take in healing yourself will take you closer to where you want to be. It is not one after the other, it is one with the other. Taking your time to heal is important. Rushing it will only make it longer. When you allow the process to unfold organically you will find the shortest path to your dreams. Forcing it to be faster may give you a taste of what you want but you will be throwing up the results long before you can feel the satisfaction of digesting your success.
Allowing the process to unfold at an organic pace will give you fulfillment in the journey and you will enjoy the results in their wholeness.
To close, here is a quote from Osho’s book “The Path of Yoga”:
“Yoga says the more impatient you are, the more time will be needed for your transformation. The more in a hurry, the more you will be delayed. Hurry itself creates such confusion that delay will result. The less in a hurry, the earlier will be the results. This very moment the thing can happen because it is not a question of time, it is a question of the quality of your mind.”
*Edit: A friend informed me well-rated coaching courses are 300 hours, but we both feel that doesn’t change the sentiment expressed. Whether it is 20, 120, or 300, what changes mostly is the money spent and the size of the con. Experience is irreplaceable.
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