The Self-Help Fairytale

I love reading self-help books. It’s like crack for the soul. The first pages of a self-help book always make you feel like everything is possible. Like maybe this is the book that is going to change everything in your life. Like this book is going to finally help you sort out your life’s action plan, the master plan guaranteed to bring you happiness and joy.

The self-help books ask: “Why shouldn’t you have everything you’ve ever wanted?” even though it should be obvious that a great number of the world’s population can’t even have enough food and clean water. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” the self-help book says, although it has always mattered everywhere else in your life before. But now, somehow, you have stepped into the magic circle of this book, the one that is going to help you overstep any boundary. It’s like being told that you will shortly gain access to the magic potion used by Asterix and Obelix. You’re about to find out that there is a world beyond your wardrobe. You’re going to wake up and find Prince Charming and half a kingdom yours for taking. You’re only moments away from becoming the Real You, the one that attends red carpet events, uses words like debonair and travels around the world. Self-help books are like fairytales for adults.

The books always make a point that it won’t be easy. You are going to have to work. This isn’t one of those books where you’re just supposed to get everything without even lifting a finger. No! This book is going to make you sweat, and there will be no gain for no pain. At this point you’re still nodding your head up and down, while sitting on your comfortable sofa with a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. Of course! I wouldn’t dream of getting something for nothing. That’s just not realistic.

So you read on, excited. Usually there are exercises and tests to take. It’s delightful to discover your problem solving style or write a letter where you forgive the boy who bullied you at school. You really feel like you’re gaining some insight into your psyche and growing emotionally. You make a list of all the things you might ever want to do in your life (adding some out-there items just for the fun of it, like marry prince William, or stop cruelty towards cats), and then just pick the three you knew you were going to pick anyway. Doing this gives you the sense of doing something towards achieving your goals without actually doing anything at all. You can hatch up your plans for taking over the world, without even so much as coming into any contact with the world.

Achieving any goal is easy as pie. There is absolutely no magic involved. This is the procedure:

  1. Know what you want.
  2. Plan how to get it.
  3. Execute plan.

The problem most people have (and at the same time the reason why self-help books sell) is the fact that most people know fairly well what they would like to do with their lives. So item number one is pretty much sorted. Item number two is usually not the real problem either. People do know how to do those two. Part three is the really tricky part. The execution. Reading and writing down your goals with colorful felt-tip pens is not going to be enough. You’re going to have to go against human nature and do things that are way beyond comfortable, and not just once but constantly. That is some heavy shit.

But would a book called: “How to be More Uncomfortable” sell? No. How about: “Working your Ass Off Morning, Noon, and Night?” No. No one would buy that book. The reason for that is simple. People buy self-help books because they are sick and tired of not being comfortable enough and of working their butts off morning, noon and night. People buy self-help books because they see themselves in some more or less distant future sitting on a deck chair, sipping a margarita and looking like a million bucks. No one sees themselves sweating at the gym, exhausted after a long day’s work, turning in early and refusing that second drink since you have to go to bed early in order to start working on your goals at five a.m. sharp. Achieving your goals in life might mean that you will have to become the kind of person who rarely does anything fun, who works more than others, who doesn’t take that holiday and who has no idea what’s happening in Netflix. So you should be careful what you wish for.

As I mentioned, I love reading self-help books. At their best they offer fresh perspectives into my life, give me some useful tools and offer overall inspiration. All of these are great things. But no self-help book is going to change my life. I’m gonna have to do that all by myself.

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7 thoughts on “The Self-Help Fairytale

  1. Well said!Actually I chucked all mine years ago. Every person is different from everyone else. I don’t believe there is one solution that fits all. We can wear ourselves out trying to do what those books say. I got myself a lot more together and was happier when I quit reading them… (just my opinion)

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  2. I’ve only ever read one self-help book called “Hardcore Self-Help: F*ck Anxiety” (written by a friend of mine) and I found it really helpful. If only because it was more or less relate-able and made me laugh. And we all know laughter is pretty much the best medicine 🙂

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