15 Darned Good Reasons Why Self-Help Actually Helps

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The other day a friend proudly announced to me that she never reads “self-help” books or blogs.

“Why do I need someone else to tell me how to live my life? I know how to live my life,” she countered when I suggested that many self-help materials actually provide transformative information. She is a practical, no-nonsense person who feels that no one is better at solving her problems than she is.

There is certainly truth to her opinion. Ultimately it is up to each of us to make the changes and take the actions for improving our lives.

And there’s also truth to her assertion that a certain type of “touchy-feely” person (her words) reads self-help materials more than other types of people. I’ve actually noticed that myself.

If you look at the 16 Myers Briggs personality types, it seems (anecdotally) that the types with the NF (intuitive, feeling) functions tend to be more inclined toward self-reflection, personal development, truth seeking, and other introspective pursuits for overall life improvement.

But as a touchy-feely type myself, I think everyone can benefit from personal development reading and study — even the non-NF types (maybe especially the non-NF types!).

Those not inclined toward self-examination may never realize that something needs fixing until it is broken (like a relationship problem, getting fired from a job, sinking into a depression). Sometimes the areas where we are weakest are the places we need to focus the most attention.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here since most of you are “touchy feely” types as well! But “self-help” does get a bad rap sometimes, and it’s good to reinforce the real benefits that reading, seeking, and reflection offer everyone. Plus, I’m sure you know someone like my friend who just might benefit from this post!

In one regard, I do agree with the anti-self-help crowd. At some point you have to get your nose out of the book or blog and actually do something.

It’s one thing to have an “ah ha” moment but quite another to transform that moment into an actionable strategy for life change. (That’s where our practical non-NF’s might come in handy!)

You can’t just sit on your enlightened butt. As the old African proverb goes, “When you pray, move your feet.”

And any personal development or self-help writer or blogger worth their salt isn’t going to leave you at the “ah ha.” They’re going to give you the next steps toward creating a better life. They are going to offer you possible ideas and strategies for taking action. Of course, foot-moving batteries are not included.

Here’s what I’ve gained from being a personal development and self-help devotee for most of my adult life. Feel free to add to this list of 15 darned good reasons why self-help actually helps!

1. Joy of learning. I have a profound curiosity about people, the meaning of life, our purposed here on Earth, and what different people have to say about it. Learning about these things makes me happy.

2. Humility. The more I read, study, and learn, the more I realize that I do not have all of the answers. In fact, pulling one thread of questioning often leads to the unraveling of your entire life philosophy. Which in turn leads to more study and reflection. I have learned that I am not the final word on anything.

3. Self-acceptance. This is one of the most liberating results of my self-help pursuits. Through all of my reading and study, especially of from people like Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle, I’ve come to like and accept myself just as I am.

4. Conflict resolution. Learning to handle conflict, especially in your love relationship, is a skill that must be mastered. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Left to our own devices, we are like children fighting over candy.

5. Prioritizing. Personal development reading has helped me prioritize what is most important in my life. You can’t do or have everything, and this knowledge has forced me to sit down and make tough decisions about where I want to focus my time and energy. But I am so much more productive now in areas I really like.

6. True happiness. It took a long time of study and introspection to really grasp that sustained happiness didn’t come from a lot of money, a big house, or nice things. It comes from relationships, experiences, altruism, creativity, and meaning.

7. Meaningful work. Without personal growth and self-work, I never would have discovered the work I feel passionate about and that is meaningful to me. Loving my work has hugely impacted my life for the better.

8. An easier life. Through reading personal development blogs, I’ve come to embrace that simplifying your life in all areas makes life much easier, less stressful, and much more enjoyable.

9. Freedom from anxiety. I’m still working on this one every day, but I’ve learned through my reading that living in the moment frees you from anxiety about the future. Rarely is there something in the moment that is anxiety-producing (except fear of the future).

10. Appreciation for people. I have learned that you cannot control or change other people. So you can choose to continue to battle against their “flaws” or accept and appreciate them for who they are. The latter is much nicer.

11. The power of perception. My friend and fellow coach Steve Chandler really helped me with this one in his books. How you perceive things defines the reality for you. Change your perceptions and you change the situation.

12. Creative impetus. I’ve learned you don’t have to wait for life to come to you. You can create what you want rather than react to events. And if you can’t create for some reason, you can be creative in your reactions.

13. Freedom from struggling. Through my learning, I’ve discovered that struggling against anything isn’t nearly as productive as flowing with. When I find myself struggling, I’ve learned to stop and find a path with less resistance.

14. The real art of attraction. For a while, I was all over “the law of attraction.” But I’ve since learned that “the law of action” works far better. In fact, when I act, I become more attractive.

15. A constant support system. I have stacks of great books, lists of amazing blogs, all at my fingertips whenever I need inspiration, reminders, emotional support, guidance, and wisdom. Having access to self-help materials is like having a stable of wise and loving counselors at your beck and call.

Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without them!

What about you — how has self-help helped you? Please share in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. really nice blog post… I always say that self acceptance is the biggest hurdle one has to cross in order to be happy..

  2. Hi Barrie,

    I know people like the friend you mentioned who feels she doesn’t need self-help. And I agree with you, there is truth to her opinion if she has everything under control. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with life that suits their natures and their circumstances. Who is to say what is right or wrong? I personally am just concerned with the results.

    I think there is always a need for reflection. Only by being alert will we avoid becoming complacent and blindsided by unexpected problems. I agree with you. While reading self-help is helpful, we must apply what we learn and read. Otherwise it is useless. Thus we have to blend theory and practice before any lasting change can happen. I love your 15 points. Here are my thoughts on the ones that stand out most.

    1. Joy of learning

    As an INFJ, I would fall under the “touchy-feely” kind of people haha! I am certainly interested in the weightier issues of life and I love to get to the heart of things. I love to see beyond the surface and I love to know and to see the big picture. From there I can draw up my plans to manage most situations. All this is only possible with learning. The more I learn from various sources, the more creative and thorough my plans become. Who can say where the insight I need to solve a problem will come from? Thus I have to keep learning.

    13. Freedom from struggling

    When I was younger I struggled a lot. I went against the currents instead of flowing with it. Today, thanks to the I-Ching, I have learned to flow with the currents. There is still struggle because life isn’t easy. But at least I struggle in the right way where it counts instead of engaging in a futile struggle. Most of the time anyway.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Irving, I think you have made a critical point, and I have just had another ah ha moment!! Struggle is part of life, but we can often create our circumstances so that our struggle is productive rather than futile. Yes! I love that. Looking forward to learning more about the I-Ching.

  3. Noch Noch | be me. be natural. says:

    I never read self-help books. i used to despise them. thinking i can do what i want to do on my own
    eventually when i went into depression i started reading them, and found lots of truth. not every book hellped. but it got me thinking again. sometimes just need that picking up point to get back on track
    Noch Noch

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, I think it’s when we are suffering that we reach out for help. Sometimes well-timed words are enough to get you back on track. I’m glad you found them helpful.

  4. Hi Barrie: Great post! I agree that those of us that do not fall into the traditional categories of touchy-feely (read: Type A) may actually need it even more. Those “bull in the China shop” tactics only take us so far. I would say that it is nearly impossible to “know” yourself if you are not listening.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Colleen,
      Haa! The bull in the china shop approach isn’t conducive to a lot of introspection for sure. And the introspective types might never leave the china shop for trying to decide what to buy! :) We both need a dose of the other medicine for balance. I’m glad I have my practical, take-action friends who can light a fire under me when I get lost in contemplation.

  5. Very comprehensive list of why self-help can actually help us. A lot of good self-help literature borrows from science and psychology, so there is a lot of evidence to back-up why self-help can make a dramatic difference in one’s life – if you pay attention to the right lessons.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are right Steve, and the right lessons for me are the ones that actually work if you apply them. I spent too much time reading hocus pocus during part of my self-help studies. But you have to read it to find out what resonates with you.

  6. Hi Barrie,
    Thanks for sharing your insights..A very good compilation of thoughts!

  7. Great post. I am a touchy- feely person also and find that as many years as I have been studying and reading self help material, I never get tired or don’t learn something from each book. They lift my spirits, give me things to think about and open my heart and mind to a great understanding of myself as well as others.
    Also, with the new scientific discoveries, there is always something new to be revealed about our health, our emotions , our environment etc that supports a joyful life experience.
    Keep up the good work. I enjoy all of your posts.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I am the same way Carole. All of the topics are endlessly fascinating to me. I love understanding what makes us tick. And I also love the new discoveries in science and the implications for us as humans. Thank you for your kind comments.

  8. Since I can remember, I’ve been attracted to self-help books / articles / etc. I could write a book on what I’ve learned and how it’s impacted my life. Or should I say “learning” – glad to see I’m not alone in #2’s humility. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know!

    Am happy to have you as part of my support system…

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      So Angela, why don’t you write a book?? I’m sure your knowledge and perspective would be very helpful to people. It’s easy now with self-publishing. :)

  9. Hi Barrie,

    Thank you for specifying true happiness comes from “relationships, experiences, altruism, creativity and meaning”. There’s no limit to the depth and breadth we can delve into these so no wonder we ‘NF’ types are hooked on self development and the like. I am now gleefully learning that putting our insights and plans into practice is the other half of the success equation.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Anita,
      I love that you used the word “gleefully” — because that’s how we should approach life. Like a big box of chocolates as Forest Gump would say!!

  10. Barrie, self-acceptance and conflict resolution for me are almost one and the same! I have found that when I fully accept myself as a beloved child of the Creator, I pretty readily see ways towards peaceful conflict resolution with others around me! Your other steps here are ones I am having a fair degree of success putting into practice, Thanks Be to God! Be well! Walk in the light towards peace.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That’s wonderful Rose! Self-acceptance clears the way for a lot of enlightened thinking and creation. Good for you . . .

  11. Hi Barrie,

    Touchy feely here too! (INFP through and through!) I remember when I first read a self-help book. I was 23 years old, living in Japan and my roommate bought a copy of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I remember thinking it was a funny thing to buy, but I was intrigued. Next time I was in the English bookstore I checked out the self-help section for the first time. I felt like a huge door had opened to me. And now I have a whole library of self-improvement books – baby sleep, toddler behaviour, mindfulness, creativity, yoga, how-to write, etc…! Why struggle along “as is”, when there is someone who’s been there before and can give you a helping hand?

    Also, you can have a few self-help books on the go at the same time. I like to just dip in every now and again for a snippet. And they’re not mutually exclusive to good literature: I am often reading a good novel at the same time as I momentarily dip into blogs and self-improvement books. (Not one in each hand, obviously, but what works for me is a combination of daytime snippets of self-help, and “proper” reading just before I put the lights out.)

    I love self-help books. They are my guilty pleasure. It’s kind of embarrassing to have things like “Feel the fear and do it anyway” shouting out from your bookshelves -but oh so powerful!

    Now, to answer your question: self-help has supported me through a whole number of things I never dreamed of doing before: a career in international business (albeit short-lived), post-grad studies in Hispanic literature -in Spain!), and now an almost full time writing career. I am happier, I know myself better and I am infinitely more fulfilled than if I’d never walked into that self-help section of the bookstore.

    Thank you for yet another spot-on post.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is a great testament!! You shouldn’t be embarrassed about your bookshelf. You should be proud of all of the great reading and insights you’ve discovered. Learning is learning — whether it is about archaeology or your own psyche. :) I often have two books going as well, one for pleasure and the other for growth. I try to do a little growth reading before the lights go out!

  12. Hi Barrie,
    there is truth on both sides of ‘the argument’. One needs to be open to learning &a helping hand is always valuable via books, blogs etc,……in fact, all of us need a helping hand at various point through our lives whether we know it or not. Thankyou
    be good to yourself
    David

  13. Self-help has helped me discover that being authentic is the greatest gift you can give the world. You have your own unique view and talents—the world cannot benefit from your existence unless you share yourself. Be vulnerable, be yourself and the world will respond to you in a much nicer way than you expected.

    That is what I like about your blog. You share yourself and your experiences with us. I feel like we are good friends talking over the kitchen table. You are open and so kind. Keep it up.

  14. Dwayne@TWC says:

    You’ve come up with some awesome points here, Barrie. Accepting aand enjoying who you are and what you do makes life so much more ful filling. Keep them coming.

    • I have to agree. I think we should never stress much. Read but only believe or grab what you think you can apply or true to yourself. We are the best judge, we are the ones who make the call. I’m glad you make such good points Barrie. Thanks for posting this. I’d like to post something the same perhaps the best self development books in my blog

  15. This is so refreshing. You wouldn’t believe how many article titles I’ve seen questioning the benefit of personal growth.

  16. Hello Barrie,
    This is a beautiful read for my Sunday morning. Personally I believe that everyone can benefit from another person’s experience and knowledge. Just as a Bible verse states: By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another. (Proverbs 27:17) So no matter how sharp one is there are always some rough edges that can benefit from another person’s knowledge or perspective.
    Good day.
    Murigi

  17. Paige | simple mindfulness says:

    This is a wonderful list that reminds me of how far I’ve come in my own personal development journey.

    I’ve never considered myself to be the touchy-feely type (last I checked, I was an INTJ) however I’ve been a personal development junkie for the past 12 years or so. I was at a very low point in my life with little to no support system so I started searching for books to help me see things differently and give me ideas. I was hooked. Because of all the personal development information that I’ve consumed over the years, I feel that I have evolved significantly more than I ever would have without it. And I’m infinitely happier. Whenever I get off track I read a blog post or re-read a book that reminds me how to deal effectively with the situation and I’m back on track, happier with the reminder.

    When others ask how I’m so calm and seem to deal with things so easily, I offer what seems like very basic advice. I’m always surprised when that advice seems like a revelation to the person I’m speaking with – someone who hasn’t considered the benefits of studying personal development.

    Regardless of anyone’s personality “type,” personal development is for everyone. There’s no way one person can have all the answers. But we each make our own choices for ourselves.

  18. Fran Sorin says:

    Barry,

    As I read your article, I thought ‘Uh huh’ after each point you made. I consider both Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle to be my teachers and guides. Each morning I do 15 minutes of spiritual reading. They, along with Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh are who I turn to. Even if I’m rushing and have only a few minutes to read a few pages, their words help me begin my day with a loving/compassionate mindset.

    Barry, I’m one of those people had an aversion to the word ‘self help’ for years. It did have a strong ring of ‘New Age’ (a term I’m still not fond of). But imagine becoming an Ordained Interfaith Minister (as I did) and not have people think that I am so New Age. This is the problem. Words provoke can provoke strong images and responses.

    ‘God’ is one of those words that also can be misinterpreted. If you ask someone if they believe in God, it’s usually either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. BUT if you ask someone if they feel a greater presence when they are in nature or gardening, I’ll often get a resounding ‘yes’ and then they’ll proceed to explain how it feels.

    Because I know that certain words are triggers, I’ve learned to use them selectively….and sometimes I fail miserably.

    I’ve printed your list and am keeping it handy to look at whenever I need a reminder.

    Thanks Barry. Fran

    P.S. Byron Katie is coming to Israel ..of all places.. in February for a 2 day workshop on Forgiveness. Can’t wait.

  19. “Know-it-all”s are clueless. Especially on what matters.

    The more I am in control over my life, the more I realize what understanding I lack. When I was about 20, I thought I was hot shit, knew everything. That prevented me from asking for help when it would have benefited me. That was pretty dumb. Now I seek help all the time, though I struggle with it, and I will never stop. I am hugely content; yet, I know everyone has something to teach me.

    Thank you, Barrie, for the good article. Now I know it is possible to write a good list post!

  20. I think you really hit the nail on the head here. There are many great benefits to reading self-help books. I personally have read a bunch and recently (since starting at audiobooks.com) I have begun listening to the books. The one thing that really needs to hit home for people is that they have to want to change, they have to recognize an issue in life and approach them with an open mind. A lof of self-help titles are more about the author making money than helping people. Choosing the right title can make all the difference.

    Can you delete the previous post please, this has the proper feed in it.

    Thank you!

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