When Self-Help Doesn’t Help: Doing What’s Best for You

Man Reading

“Your inner knowing is your only true compass.” ~Joy Page

Are you someone who devours self-help books, blogs, and articles?

Do you take pleasure in checking out the latest advice from this “expert” or that “guru”?

Are you someone who puts into play the advice proposed but are still left feeling somewhat unfulfilled afterward?

The Trouble with Self-Help

The trouble with self-help advice is that sometimes it leads us down the path of us not helping ourselves at all. Sometimes we get so caught up in someone else’s vision that we lose sight of our own.

Truth be told, what I consider to be a great life may leave you wanting for more (or perhaps less). What you consider to be extremely ethical I may consider less so. And that’s as it should be.

Our value system, beliefs, ideas, and ideals should be our own—informed by the outside, without a doubt, but we need to process and own them for ourselves.

Part of the problem with self-help type advice is that we can start to lose sight of what we really see as success or a successful outcome. We get so caught up in what we’re reading that we can start viewing it as the Holy Grail.

If I lose weight, then I should feel like this.

If I simplify my life, then I should be immediately happier.

If I run a marathon, I should feel the greatest sense of achievement I ever have.

Sometimes these areas do live up to expectation and leave us with a deep sense of accomplishment. However, sometimes they don’t and can lead us all the way back to square one, or actually make us feel worse than we did originally.

Falling into the Trap

I personally have fallen into the trap of overdosing on self-help and self-development books, blogs, and writers over the years—reading book after book but then not implementing the changes suggested, or implementing them but feeling underwhelmed by how I felt afterward. This often led me in circles.

I take my self-development seriously and I love to read about simplicity and lifestyle redesign, in particular. In fact, left unchecked, I could quite happily bury myself in books and blogs that fall under these categories all day.

However, in my quest for perfection, I have taken paths that were anything but perfect for me.

One example would be trying to be more minimalist than I am happy being. Reading about others living as minimalists, giving away most of what they own, or living with only fifty items, I had envisioned myself leading a similar life.

That vision helped me to a certain point on my own version of simpler living, but then I tried contorting myself a little bit too much.

I liked some of the stuff, even it was just stuff. I like the convenience of a car. I love going away on exotic travels as often as I can afford. I realized a little minimalist suited me, but not too much. Sounds contradictory, perhaps, but hey, that’s me!

Another example would be working on being more mindful. I read the work of people who sound like they live in a permanent state of calm. I liked this as an ideal.

I consider myself a pretty calm and patient person most of the time and see those as personal strengths, but I also have my limits, and I'm not above losing my cool at times.

Rather than accepting this as part of me, I tried to “fix” it. It didn’t work.

We’re human, not robots, and sometimes we lose our cool. I’m perfectly fine with that now but wasn’t for a time, as I saw it as a weakness. My expectations were unrealistic, and the advice, as well meaning as it might have been, didn’t completely fit me.

Although these experiences left me a little dejected at the time, they led me to a better place overall. I came to realize that I am the best master of my own destiny with regard to my goals. I learn and take from external sources, of course, but I own the goals.

I make the output suit me and know that no one person has all the answers. The result is a happier me, and something that I can implement into my own life, making any changes I make more likely to remain lifestyle changes rather than a five-minute fix that then gets discarded.

Through the above process I started to realize the problem wasn’t the books or authors themselves, but me and my own expectations. Sometimes I was guilty of falling into the author’s view of what a good outcome would be rather than being focused on my own needs and wants. I worked on that.

These days, I can still regularly be found leafing through books that fall neatly into the self-development area. And my bookshelves are full of such books. I still love the genre and indeed write in that genre myself.

However, now I am very clear about what it is I want to get from each read. I’m more selective about who and what I read. I’m clearer on the version of my life I’m trying to get to. If someone else’s experience can help me get there quicker, all the better.

What Does Success Look Like for You?

To answer this question, we first need to know:

  • What it is and who it is we value most
  • Who it is we want to be in life
  • What kind of life we want for ourselves
  • How we want to feel when we see ourselves staring back in a mirror

Only we can truly know what that version of ourselves and our lives looks like.

Self-help should help. Make it your own and it just might do that.

Make sure you’re building and supporting your own unique vision of what a great life is and are doing your best to make that your reality. Use what helps along the way, but don’t get caught up in comparisons or in someone else’s vision of what your life should look like.

Set your own compass and live a life very much in line with your own terms.

Man reading image via Shutterstock

About Carl Phillips

Carl writes short books full of big ideas. He is also the proud owner of Frictionless Living which is focused on helping readers find and live their own version of a simpler, good, life.

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