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Do self-help books really work??

The self-help industry is huge, and shows no signs of waning. Self-help books can promise us rapid and dramatic transformations in our mental health. However, is there something they’re not telling us?

Self-help books can be hugely misleading in the messages they promote, and here are four of them:

1. “Working hard will get you what you want”

Whilst we might be told that if we work hard then we can “achieve anything” this is not realistic. Working hard and consistently at something is likely to increase the chances that we can achieve our goals.

However, life is unpredictable; anything can happen and there are no guarantees for us to get what we want.

When we don’t see results, we may become despondent and feel like giving up. We may feel that we’re not trying hard enough and push even more, which may lead to exhaustion and burnout.

Self-Help books are more popular than ever. They can be an affordable way to make our personal development goals without needing to have therapy or coaching. Self-help books can potentially help us to change our lives for the better. However, do some self-help books set unrealistic expectations when it comes to working on our personal development plans and mental wellbeing?

2. “If you’re not happy, something is wrong”

The idea that I see promoted in some self-help books is that happiness is the goal and that if you’re not happy then something is wrong with you.

However, consider how challenging life can be. Life is not easy and we don’t have a good day every single day of the year. We’re faced with many challenges; some may be minor and others more significant. Stress is a regular part of daily life.

Therefore, are we supposed to be happy all the time, despite these challenges? Or, is it healthier for our wellbeing that we give ourselves permission to feel whatever emotions come up in response to what is happening in our lives?

3. Giving unrealistic timeframes for things improving

I understand why some self-help books set such short time frames for people to feel better. After all, a title like “Emotional Freedom In 30 Days” is snappy and probably motivates more people to buy the book in the hope that they can “fix” themselves in such a short space of time. 

I doubt many people would be inspired to buy a book with a title that told the actual truth – that these things take time and effort.

When it comes to our mental wellbeing, self-help books are a tool to help us work on our wellbeing. They are not suddenly going to make everything better for us. We have to use the tool to increase our chances of improving our lives for the better.

Unfortunately, setting unrealistic time frames can set people up to fail. People may end up thinking that if they don’t feel better in 30 days then there must be something wrong with them, or they aren’t following the self-help book “properly”.

When it comes to working on your mental wellbeing, expect that it will take time and effort. Making small changes and being consistent over time is what will increase your chances of seeing a difference.

4. “Thinking about something will make it happen”

This relates to The Law of Attraction and manifestation.

I do believe that some of the techniques from manifesting can help motivate us towards creating the life we want. For example, vision boards can help bring us inspiration for how we want our lives to look.

Also, visualisation is something that elite athletes use to help them prepare for sporting events. We can use visualisation to help shift our mindset towards the goal(s) we want to achieve.

However, I don’t believe that merely by thinking about these things, the changes we desire will magically come into being. We have to take action if we want to see changes. 

The athlete has to train consistently to increase their chances of placing highly in their sporting event. If we create a vision board for our dream home, we need to take action (e.g., saving money for a deposit, ensuring our salary is enough, actually looking for houses) to move us closer towards that home.

Self-help books I have used and recommend

Here are three self-help books which I have personally used, and found to be really useful in my own life. The tools they describe have been researched over time and found to be effective:

Atomic Habits by James Clear. Clear takes us through tools we can use to help build consistent habits over the long term. Whilst we might not see the results of small changes initially, these have a cumulative effect over time.

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert. The way we talk to ourselves can have a big impact on how we feel. Understand more about why we can get into so much conflict with our minds, and learn ways we can be more compassionate with ourselves.

The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris. Drawing upon mindfulness practices (not necessarily meditation) to help us manage difficult thoughts and feelings, this book’s focus is to help us build a meaningful life while accepting the pain that comes with it.


Ultimately, self-help books can be really useful tools to help us make changes to our lives. Try to be mindful about the sorts of self-help books you buy and remember that there are no “quick fixes”. However, if you put the work in you’re more likely to see changes over time.

Is there anything you’ve found unhelpful and/or helpful about particular self-help books? Let me know in the comments!