It’s one of the largest book markets in the world, at $2.5 billion a year in the United States, but lots of self-help books still occupy the realm of pseudoscience. Can you read yourself thin? Is it possible to make yourself more dateable by browsing a Kindle on the sofa? For the average consumer, negotiating a wall of books promising to help you overcome all your quirks in a matter of weeks can be comforting. But there are a few pitfalls to be aware of.
Whether you read it after purchase or not, a self-help book can still represent a step in the right direction; it’s a break in a pattern or simply an intention to change something. Inevitably, though, personal discipline will determine the effectiveness of even the most celebrated tome – or fitness regime, cleaning rota, etc. – so self-help books are rarely a quick-fix for anything. You might still need to put in months or years of work even after you’ve read it, cover to cover.
But do they work?
The initial reaction to reading a self-help book is happiness; it cheers you up. “It’s so exciting that many people stop there”, writes Cristofer Jeschke for social journalism site Medium. Put another way, hearing good advice may have a similar effect on the brain as eating chocolate or exercising, and one that’s just as temporary. Buying self-help books can, therefore, become something of a hobby rather than a salve for all your woes. Psychology Today claims that the content of self-improvement books should resemble something else entirely: professional therapy.
The art of healing through reading is called bibliotherapy and, based on adherence to certain rules and guidelines, it can work. Books should be chosen according to the scientific credentials of their author, its ability to motivate and, perhaps more importantly, its suitability for you. For instance, the top dating book on Amazon, The Tao of Dating, is written by Ali Binazir, a doctor and master of philosophy, while the list of titles on the website Reading Well is backed by the UK’s NHS. Then, there are books written by celebrities, like Steve Harvey’s Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, which can vary in quality.
Leaving the Comfort Zone
Inevitably, self-help books are not for everybody, and some people may simply need to be torn from their comfort zone to solve problems in their life. The Android app Find a Player, for example, matches up teams with players in 14 sports, while Badoo does the same in helping people find relationships, adding 10,000 new people each day and letting its users search by location, intention (dating, chat, or making friends), and age. There are also AR games available online – like the upcoming Minecraft Earth – that encourage people to leave their house and make new friends.
If you’re determined to read yourself healthy though, the idea of a reading ‘prescription’ might appeal. The School of Life provides self-help books and counseling worldwide, and covers areas such as sociability, marriage, business, relationships, and work. However, it’s worth stressing again that it’s not possible to detach yourself from the process – simply owning a self-improvement book or tape is not self-improvement, after all, and willpower and motivation can be in short supply. Learning how to foster discipline is therefore essential to turning over that new leaf.
In any case, good luck on your journey.