It’s common for your Facebook newsfeed to be flooded with posts dishing out mainstream self help advice. Crappy dating advice like: ‘if you don’t love me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best’. Crappy life advice like: ‘just emit your thoughts to the universe and you’ll attract what you want’ and anything that has to do with the law of attraction.
When I see articles like that, I quickly guess it’s going to be generic, bland unhelpful advice. If I’m curious enough, I’ll peek inside. Usually, I’ll end up with a mental facepalm.
I don’t like mainstream self help advice, in fact, I very much hate it. Whenever I hear friends use phrases like ‘living a life of abundance’ or ‘the law of attraction’, I don’t say anything, however, I almost always secretly do a mental facepalm.
Unfortunately, it’s what sells. Endless positivity sells.
However, if you’re like me, who secretly snigger at life coaches that are overweight or finance gurus that promise you 30% returns per annum, this site might be just for you. In this article, I debunk mainstream self help advice: why it sucks and why it may unhelpful.
1) Self Help is Not Scientifically Validated
Firstly, most of self help material out there isn’t scientifically validated.
Let me ask you, which advice would you rather? Tens of years of research or the ‘law of attraction’? Unfortunately, it’s the latter that gets shared the most, because the content is easy to digest.
Personally, I prefer concepts that are researched and put together by people who dedicated their lives to research. This is why I base my articles on psychological research and the application of these theories. I don’t like making claims.
2) It Reinforces Shame and Inferiority
Self help reinforces the idea that you aren’t fundamentally enough as a human being. That you got to be something more than what our current state is.
There are two types of people that get hooked on self help material. It’s those who feel something is fundamentally wrong with them and those who believe that they’re already a good person, but have blind spots and want to become better people.
This is good for the people who are overweight, got nothing going on in their lives and need a kick in the ass to get moving.
There was a point of time in my life where I had read tons of books, was well spoken and travelled, launched a couple of businesses, studied really hard, hit the gym regularly and yet I didn’t feel worthy of talking to some stranger. It came a period of time when I thought to myself: you know what, fuck this self help shit. I don’t care about feeling better. I don’t care about being more productive. I just don’t. No number of self help books is going to help me anymore.
Self help can be a supplement for the guys that already got good things going on in their lives. However, for people that feel fundamentally wrong with themselves, it may reinforce their shame and inferiority. The problem isn’t doing more or being more, it’s their perception of themselves and their world.
3) Self Help Ideas Can Hurt Rather than Help in an Asian Setting
‘Speak up’, ‘assert yourself and ‘pursue your passion’ at all cost. Instead of actually improving your life, you might get a backlash in certain cultures.
Self help in Asian cultures is a little different and nuanced. In my experience, some of the self help concepts in Westernized cultures can’t be applied to the Singaporean, Asian setting. Asian cultural values are one of sensitivity and inclusivity, whilst many self help concepts often promote individuality and independence.
In Asian culture, it’s ‘wrong’ to criticize your parents or question authority figures. You need to be sensitive in going about these things.
4) It’s Another Form of Avoiding Taking Real Action
When I was going at this attracting girls pursuit, there was a point where I was sitting in classrooms and reading up on theory where I should have been going out to clubs, socializing and practising my social skills. It’s ultimately a form of avoidance.
There’s a huge difference between writing dating advice and going out getting rejected by hundreds of girls night after night. This is one part of the pick up artist community got right, it motivated men to go out and fail.
In my first couple of years in entrepreneurship, instead of actually running a business, I joined networking events, took up freelance projects, jumped around jobs and joined more seminars than I required. It took me 4 years to find consistency in my business projects.
That’s how self help can be a form of avoidance. You end up sitting at home, thinking all you need is to read yourself into success.
5) Self Help Doesn’t address Grief and Loss
Since self help advice almost always consists of you ‘living your dreams’. That’s what I did: Chase more girls, build a business, travel solo, have cool experiences and read widely.
However, in another sense, seld help fucked me up as well. It taught me to ‘suck it up’ and execute.
I realized how I dealt with people problems was just to take it in and go ‘show them’ who is right at the end of the day. In moments of conflict, especially in relationships, I would hold in my anger and suppress it, under the ‘auspice’ of self development, where it would have been perfectly justified to have been pissed off.
I coped like this through the years.
There’s a difference between ‘sucking it up’ and confronting someone about something important. I am able to assert myself in social situations, however, if you asked me to sit a good friend down and confront him about something he did that pissed me off the other day, I’ll probably avoid it.
Confrontations in relationships are inevitable and necessary. You must be willing and able to piss someone off and be alright with it. However, for some reason, we spend our lives avoiding confronting these situations and relationships, living our lives in limbo, and stunting our emotional lives. The majority of the advice doesn’t touch on how to deal with the negatives.
I identified myself as the “self-development” guy. The guy that reads, gets into business, travel and ‘live his life to the fullest’. Hell, I even squatted a hundred kilograms once in 3 months. Underneath all that “self-development”, at times, I was quite an emotional mess.
To get true emotional health, you can’t willpower through it. It’s not about working harder or working smarter. It’s not about ‘self-improvement’ anymore. It’s definitely not about attempting to sleep with half the planet. You can’t achieve your way into self-esteem or self-acceptance. It’s about looking at your emotional realities, processing it and grieving through it.
I don’t think self help is all bad. There is actually good advice out there that can give you a kick in the ass to get you going. However, I think you have to be careful and objective about what you read and how you apply in your life. Generally, stick to the ones that are researched, doesn’t involve your sitting in a circle or purging your negative emotions into the Universe.
Ultimately, there is no guru. In many cases, you may transfer or project your feelings onto these ‘gurus’ and live vicariously through them. It creates the perception of progress and not progress itself.