My view on self-help changed drastically over the years. What I once deemed necessary to practice every day if I wanted to have a healthy relationship, a thriving business, a kickass body, and overall a good life has now transformed into something that I can’t take seriously at all.
What could change my views so fiercely? Three simple realizations.
The realization that most people running their business in the self-help industry are charlatans. The realization that most self-help ideas are full of shit. And worst of all: The realization that self-help can often hurt you way more than it can help you.
Naturally, people give me a confused look when I tell them these things. Some even grow sulky. And others – more ill-tempered individuals – usually vomit some outlandish story involving my mom into my face.
I get it. Not everyone knows what’s going on in the self-help industry because not everyone does business in it. Most people merely luxuriate in what it has to offer. And the individuals who do work in self-help usually don’t talk about the dark underbelly of the beast since that could threaten their business.
I know that I might sound like a smart and pompous dick here, but please know that I’m not trying to sound like a smart and pompous dick. I’m merely stating facts.
One of which is that I’ve been working and producing self-help content and products since 2015. So, it’s only expected that I’ll know certain things about the industry.
Sadly, the things I do know will piss some people off. But on the flip side, these things need to be said. It’s the only way the world of self-help can get back to its equilibrium – by having people call out the bullshit engrained in it. So here goes. Below I’ll share nine solid reasons why self-help sucks.
1. Dream selling
The people who work in self-help – relationship coaches, dating experts, fitness and diet gurus, business consultants, etc., usually try to sell you people on a dream – one you can experience only if you buy whatever product they’re selling. At least that’s what they communicate.
These dreams can transpire in various forms. Below are some of the most boisterous and outlandish claims of these dreams I see tossed around the internet:
- How To Make 200$ – 2K/day working less than 90 minutes/day with a 15 year proven trading system. “Ditch your 9-5 and college plans: no previous skills, knowledge, or heavy investment required.” – By Cameron fous
- These “2 texts” make your ex obsessed with getting back together overnight. “Even if he isn’t responding to your call and messages.” – By Winexback.com
- Weird trick that targets the root biological cause of shynessso you can stop being nervous, awkward and quiet around people… – By Sean Cooper
- This is the only 21-day rapid weight loss system that allows you to easily lose an average of 1 lb a day for 21 days without feeling hungry or deprived. – By Theflatbellyfix.com
The harsh truth is that virtually no one who buys into these scams will achieve the lofty dreams the claims illustrate.
And even when sales claims are semi-true, meaning that a handful of people will achieve the result they communicate, they still strongly imply (or blatantly say) how everyone can achieve that result. Obviously, claiming that is BS.
2. predatory marketing
Many self-help gurus today exploit people’s insecurities and vulnerabilities for profit. An obvious example from my industry are the self-proclaimed experts who promise how their online programs will make your ex run back to you.
But let’s zoom out for a second.
There are many more instances of predatory (and plain evil) marketing on the internet. Here’s just one example that I came across recently.
What’s being sold in this video is a course teaching older adults how to defend themselves against muggers. Let’s think like a scammer for a second to get some perspective into how this ad was made.
What’s the biggest fear of the person watching our ad? It’s probably the fear of being mugged. How convenient. So, how would you start writing this ad? Easy! With a gruesome scene of an older gentleman getting mugged while he is shopping with his grandchild.
Next, let’s twist the knife into our viewer’s fear by adding intense horror music and weird sepia filters to the whole gruesome and disturbing scene.
Yeah… that will make the old fuckers spread their wallet.
Now, let’s make our product seem like a lifesaver for the viewer. Let’s communicate that the only and best way they can withstand a mugger assault is by buying our product. Then let’s make the offer really enticing.
For example: “These super simple one-touch death moves will KO your opponent in just seconds.” Oh, and let’s lie how we got these fighting moves from an ancient Japanese guy! That’ll make em’ buy! And let’s also make the narrator of the whole ad an older man so he can relate better to our target demographic…
As ridiculous as all of this sounds, it’s actually the real mindset behind most fake gurus who produce commercials like the one shown in the video above. It’s the mindset of, ad first, product last. Unsurprisingly, the product never delivers the results that the ad promised.
If you want a funny-as-shit commentary on this scam-ad, here’s a great video from one of my favorite Youtube creators.
3. Bough credibility
In the modern self-help industry, any 20 something-year-old dipshit can become a life coach, an expert business mogul, a love hacker, etc., by merely tricking people into thinking they are one. How do they do it? By buying credibility.
Ever seen the labels on someone’s website that read “As seen on [insert fancy publication].”
Well, most of the time, these labels are fake or bought. In fact, there’s a whole industry that’s built on selling counterfeit credentials, all from testimonials, comments, subscribers, and “as seen on” labels.
For instance, google Clint Arthur. He’s one of the biggest scammers in this field. And how is he making a killing? Well, one of the ways is by selling fake Harvard speeches to other scammy online marketers.
You pay him a few grand, and you can record yourself giving a fake speech, to a fake audience, on a fake Harvard stage, next to sellout-celebrities who were paid to be there with your money for boosting your clout.
Update: Clint Arthur recently shifted from fake Harvard speeches to fake CNN speeches because the actual Harvard faculty found out about his little scheme, and well… they didn’t like it.
Now, despite my riff on Clint Arthur, he’s only one example of the fraudsters of self-help. There are way more scammers with similar schemes out there.
For instance, here’s a random Facebook message I got a few days ago.
How do I know this is a form of a Clint Arthur scam? Well, weeks before I got the Facebook message, I investigated how to get my articles on CNBC or CNN – apparently, it’s “invite-only.”
Yet even if this Facebook persona had an inside connection to famous networks and could actually get my articles on their websites, it just proves my point further on how easily credibility is bought online.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Here’s one final example of how people can manipulate their credibility.
You’ve probably seen the label “best-selling author” next to certain self-help gurus. Most of the time, this refers to a person being the best-selling author on Amazon.
But isn’t that a solid achievement, Max?
No, not really. Becoming a best-selling author on Amazon is a joke today, mostly because it’s so easy to fool the system and become one overnight.
Just write a book, insert it into an obscure category on Amazon (so you’re competing against boring, low selling and shit books), and buy some ads on the platform until you get enough sales for it to rank on the “top-seller list” for that obscure category. The catch is that you only need a tiny number of sales to achieve this.
Still not convinced?
Here’s a video that proves my point. It’s about a guy named Mike Winnet testing out this theory by becoming a best-selling author himself with a blank book and only 49 sales.
4. self-help is rarely validated by science
A massive issue with self-help is that very few ideas and concepts are validated by actual science. Meaning they have little to no empirical studies behind them.
I categorize self-help topics into three categories: legit, semi-legit, and unproven bullshit.
- Legit: meditation, journaling, fasting, visualizations, positive self-talk, gratetefulness.
- Semi-legit: qigong, green juice cleanses, affirmations, NLP.
- Unproven bullshit: the law of attraction, angel meditation, spirit crystals, essential oils, chakra shit.
Moreover, there’s another dimension to these categories: what is true and proven doesn’t always positively affect one’s well-being.
For example, overly positive self-talk can hurt you just as overly negative self-talk would. Visualizations of your ideal life can hurt you just as much as visualizations about how the world is shit. And too many green-juice cleanses can make your gut healthier but simultaneously more vulnerable to unhealthy food since you’re not hardening it.
Be wary of these things: Every good thing, be that an activity, idea, or even a personality trait has a dark underbelly – a shadow, as Carl Jung would say.
5. Most self-help gurus imply how their way is the ultimate truth
The whole idea behind general self-help is that someone – some undefined authority – imparts superior information onto you. The authority tells you with absolute certainty (and with good or bad intentions) what to do, think, value, believe, chose, and by which metrics you should measure your life. In its severest form, the authority even tells you who or what to worship.
This is, in my opinion, the biggest problem of modern self-help.
How can anyone take responsibility for their thoughts, beliefs, and awareness if there’s some authority feeding them their thoughts, beliefs, and awareness?
I’m going to rant about David Deida here since he’s a pretty mainstream self-help guru at this point. Don’t get me wrong, he is a brilliant mind, and I personally like his books. I don’t agree with everything he says but a lot of his ideas hold water.
What rubbed me the wrong way with David is how throughout his work – specifically in his book The Way Of The Superior Man – he’s implying that his views, methods, and truth are The Truth. That is, the right and superior way to live and experience life. Consequently, he made me feel as though the way I’m living my life is inferior. And I know I’m not the only person with this opinion.
Now that probably wasn’t his intention, but the notion of “my way is the right way” is still implied. The same goes or Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle, the guy from V-shred, Tai Lopez, and just about any every other self-help guru.
Bottom line, If there’s one core skill that you should develop in this day and age of torrential downpours of BS and misinformation is self-awareness.
If you simply start being mindful enough to become aware of a) your immediate reality, b) the fact that you know little to nothing about anything, and c) that you’re always choosing what to worship – relax, we are programmed to always worship something – you’ll have a much easier time making self-help work for you, rather than vice versa, and thus you’ll avoid unnecessary suffering.
6. MOST low-cost SELF-HELP products are just funnels for to more expensive ones
You don’t need the self-help guru. He/she needs you. Therefore they have to get you to think that you need them. And one way of doing so is with cramming you into a funnels.
While there certainly are good ways to funnel potential customers, there are also shady and unethical ones. Here’s the gist of the ladder.
First, a guru gives you a free product: a video, a book, or an audio file, where they present a vague concept of whatever you’re trying to learn – making more money, getting over a broken heart, losing 10 pounds, etc.
There’s nothing wrong with giving out free products as long as you don’t market them as full solution to a problem when they’re not that. Most gurus avoid this rule though.
Next, the guru offers you a cheap product that is usually yet again marketed as a full solution to your problem. Of course, in reality, this is rarely the case. The product sold to you usually contains a fraction of the solution for your problem/pain point.
In the end, if you really want the full solution to your problem, you’re going to have to buy the gurus more (or the most) expensive product.
And this, my dear reader, is a funnel: it’s the process of getting a free product (usually in exchange for your email), then paying a small amount for the next one and a hefty amount for the next, and one and one it goes.
Think of it as climbing a letter. If a guru offered you a 1000$ service upfront, you probably wound’t buy it. But if they built a connection with you over three smaller products for 47-147$ each, it’s going to be way easier to sell you on the big products.
What makes my funnel ethical is that I’m not marketing each product with a tagline “this will save your broken heart.” Nor am I telling anyone that they need to purchase my consulting to fully recover from their breakup when they, let’s say, already bought my book.
Anyhow, here’s a concrete example of how unethical funnel schemes unravel.
When I was starting out as an online entrepreneur, I got involved in a local Ponzi scheme, or to be specific, an MLM. It was called PantaRei, and it had a pretty ruthless and cut-and-dry upsell/funnel system.
At first, I got invited to a free seminar on marketing tips. I fell for the trick so many times that I lost count.
“A free seminar that will teach me how to make 1000$ a day online?! Sign me up, man!”
Turns out that all those events were just pitches for a later paid seminar, with little to no actionable substance on making money online.
But, I was naive and stupid back then, so I usually went with the dream sold to me and paid hundreds of dollars for the exclusive future seminars that promised concrete tactics on making money online.
Did they live up to that promise? Never. Not a single one.
Even the seminars I paid for were just giant sales pitches for other, even more expensive, seminars or products.
Basically, you paid 500$ to sit there and listen to a bunch of unknown speakers pitch you their overpriced coaching programs, mastermind groups, and inner circles – a.k.a, scams, scams, scams.
And again, this is happening everywhere, in every industry, in every way.
Facebook and Youtube ads telling you to sign up for a free webinar/value-video/case-study? Usually, a scam. Random messages from people on social media who talk about this great opportunity? Usually, a scam. Stock short-sellers on Tik-Tok flashing stacks and racks of 100$ bills and telling you how you can make the same amount of dough? You guessed it! It’s probably, a scam.
7. Self-help promotes shame and unworthiness
Self-help promotes that more is always better and that you can always get to that next level in life – whatever the fuck that means. You can always have a better relationship, better health, a better physique, a better job, more money, more intelligence, more shit you don’t need! Hell yeah!
But here’s another mindset to chew on: shut the fuck up for once, and accept yourself for being imperfect and for not having every flavor of ice cream.
The desire to always want more and be more in life paradoxically makes you feel like you never have enough and that you’re always inadequate.
The truth is that you don’t always need to improve or have more of whatever… We, as a society, got this self-help thing totally upside down.
Sure, if you’ve been dumped, if you’ve lost your job, or if you’re in a crisis of some sort, self-help can do miracles. But you don’t need to indulge in it anymore when you’re over your disturbing predicament. At that point, what you need is acceptance.
If you fail to cultivate this acceptance, you’re just going to be chasing the next high that can help you avoid feeling shame and unworthiness. Don’t get me wrong, it will feel like you’re advancing in life, but in reality, you’re just spinning your wheels on nothing.
Bottom line, think of self-help as an Aspirin. You take it when you’re, let’s say, having a headache. But you don’t keep taking it afterward when you’re healed. That would be goofy!
8. Self-help promotes procrastination
This phenomenon was most prominent when I was still a pickup/dating coach for men. Most guys were so anxious about approaching women that they rather spent their afternoons reading books on how to do it instead of, you know… actually going out and doing it.
The same thing occurs in other industries.
- People buy and go over the “how to make money online” courses without ever applying the knowledge inside. They just keep looking for more tricks and tips without ever starting their online journey.
- People consult with professionals on losing weight, and – what do you know! – a year later, they’re on their fifth weight loss coach, yet their results are nowhere to be found.
- People read books on making their relationship better, yet they never use the communication or boundary techniques applied in them. Therefore, their relationship keeps causing them problems, and what do these people do? They buy and read more books as if that’s going to solve everything.
You can read, watch videos consult with professionals on a variety of your life problems, yet if you don’t take any action, you’re never going to get the results you want.
Unfortunately, this is what happens to many people; they consume, consume, consume, but never execute, take responsibility, and thus, they never get results.
And this toxic cycle of perennial information consumption brings me to another major critique: Self-help addiction.
Yes, you’ve read that right. Self-help addiction is actually a real thing. People can become addicted to self-help books, courses, fancy mastermind groups, and even Ponzi schemes. At that point, addiction therapy is welcome.
9. You don’t really need self-help
There’s a man I know who is the epitome of someone who made it big without digesting a self-help piece, as far as I’m aware. Let’s call him Jim.
Jim, eats like shit, he sleeps in, he rarely reads, and when he’s home, he’s watching the news and cussing at politicians or watching Tik-Tok and cussing at the daddy-issue ridden teens on the platform.
Yet, this man is still one of the wealthiest and leading business moguls in my country. And I’m talking mega-10 car-and-mansion-type-wealthy, with the addition of a beautiful and loving wife, and a pretty ambitious kiddo.
Jim achieved all that not through self-help but through consistent effort and good business decisions despite the adversaries. This man even mocks self-help and accuses anything semi-related as BS. And as I’m growing older, I can see why.
Let’s extend this point even further.
Did Steve Jobs buy a course on changing the world? No, he just did it.
Did Bill Gates go to a mastermind retreat at some Caribbean island to find his life purpose? Probably not. He created that purpose through consistent daily actions towards some vision.
Did Marcus Aurelius order a book on becoming a brilliant emperor? Hell no, he just got up his Stoic ass and went for it.
The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t need more self-help products or expensive coaching to be successful, happy, wealthy, healthy, or whatever.
Sure, those things help, but at the end of the day, your results are mostly dependent on how much effort you put into whatever you’re trying to achieve. And you’re also going to learn a lot more if you just let yourself fail a bit.
some final words
Self-help has a dual nature. It can make you close-minded and dumb, or it can make you open-minded and well-rounded. It can turn you into a narcissist prick or someone with a realistic and healthy sense of self-esteem. It can help you get clarity to reach the right dreams – ones where you and society benefit, or it can make you reach the wrong dreams – ones where you or/and society suffer.
Like I said in the beginning: Self-help can hinder you as much as it can help you. So digest it wisely.