Are self-help materials a waste of time?

by Captain Walker

Categories: Humanities, Psychology & Philosophy

The way most people will answer the question is like – ‘Well it depends…‘ or ‘They may help some people but not everybody‘. And that right there represents the market for people who will more than likely purchase self-help books (SHB). Now calm down – I’m not saying that SHBs are bad. This post will focus and apply to a range of self-help materials (SHMs). The prime issue is ‘time‘. I’m sorry but time has a cost, which is also valued in monetary terms even if people don’t see that or like it. Your scratching in front of a computer has a cost even on a Easter Bank Holiday when you’re not at work. You just don’t know it – and you don’t need to believe me!

What are SHMs?

SHMs cover a whole range of things like:

  1. Books: Self-help books offer insights, guidance, and practical advice on a wide range of topics, including personal development, relationships, health and wellness, productivity, and more.
  2. Audiobooks and podcasts: These provide a convenient way to consume self-help content, especially for those who prefer listening over reading or have busy schedules.
  3. Online courses and workshops: Websites like Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare offer self-improvement courses on various subjects, from personal development and goal-setting to communication skills and mindfulness.
  4. Seminars and conferences: Live events offer an opportunity to learn from experts, engage with like-minded individuals, and find inspiration for personal growth.
  5. Personal coaching: One-on-one coaching sessions with professional coaches help clients set and achieve goals, overcome challenges, and improve various aspects of their lives.
  6. Therapy and counselling: Mental health professionals provide guidance and support for individuals dealing with personal, emotional, or relationship issues.
  7. Support groups: Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Weight Watchers, and other peer-led organisations offer camaraderie, shared experiences, and practical advice for overcoming specific challenges.
  8. Meditation and mindfulness apps: Apps like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer help users develop mindfulness practices and improve their mental well-being.
  9. Fitness and wellness apps: These apps, such as MyFitnessPal and 7 Minute Workout, promote physical health and well-being through exercise, nutrition tracking, and habit-building.
  10. YouTube channels and blogs: Many self-help experts and influencers share free content, tips, and advice through their YouTube channels or blogs, covering a wide range of self-improvement topics.

Who wants SHMs?

At 2021 the self-help industry, which includes books, seminars, coaching, courses, self-discovery, and more, was estimated to be worth around (in US dollars) $11 billion to $13 billion globally. It’s big business to say the obvious. There must be loads of people who are so unsatisfied with their lives, that they’re seek something to help them out. Some of them will seek or have sought: gurus, teachers, mentors, counsellors, psychoanalysts, health clubs, gyms, fat-fighters programmes, retreats, religious guidance – and the list is endless. In essence SHMs are covered by a big industry. The overall transaction is transfer of something, from those who have something to those who want that something – and there is exchange involved. Usually that exchange is in the form of money.

There are of course free SHMs, which means that the transaction involves no tangible exchange from those who need, to those who provide. The people who receive free SHMs are unaware of the new economy of the internet i.e. that for every free thing several others may pay (imperceptibly). I have no problem with free SHMs and I do not wish to be distracted by that. The issue is ‘Are they a waste of time?’ Focus! Chrysst!

How useful are SHMs?

It is a difficult issue to quantify because there are too many variables. The extent to which people are helped by self-help materials can vary significantly depending on several factors, such as the quality of the content, the individual’s receptiveness, their commitment to applying the advice, and their specific needs and circumstances. Some ways that self-help materials can help people include:

  1. Increased self-awareness: Self-help resources can prompt introspection, helping individuals better understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, which can lead to personal growth and self-improvement.
  2. Skill development: Many self-help materials provide practical tips and exercises for developing valuable skills, such as communication, time management, and emotional intelligence.
  3. Coping strategies: Self-help resources can offer tools and techniques for managing stress, anxiety, and other challenges, promoting overall well-being.
  4. Inspiration and motivation: Success stories, expert advice, and motivational content can inspire individuals to pursue their goals and overcome obstacles.
  5. Social support: Engaging with self-help materials can create a sense of belonging and camaraderie among people facing similar challenges, fostering a supportive community.

However, the effectiveness of self-help materials can be limited by certain factors:

  1. One-size-fits-all approach: Some self-help resources may not take into account individual differences, so the advice may not be applicable or effective for everyone.
  2. Lack of professional guidance: Self-help materials are not a substitute for professional help when dealing with severe mental health issues, complex emotional problems, or other serious concerns.
  3. Overreliance on self-help: Relying too heavily on self-help materials may prevent individuals from seeking the appropriate professional help they need.
  4. Quality and credibility: The self-help market contains a wide range of materials, and the quality, accuracy, and effectiveness of these resources can vary significantly.

To maximize the benefits of self-help materials, individuals should approach them with an open mind, be willing to apply the advice, and understand that self-improvement is an ongoing process. It’s also essential to critically evaluate the credibility and relevance of self-help resources and seek professional help when necessary.

Why or how do people struggle with SHMs?

The difficulty people experience when learning from self-help materials can vary greatly depending on several factors:

  1. Relevance: The effectiveness of self-help materials depends on how well they address an individual’s specific needs and circumstances. If the content doesn’t resonate with the person, they may find it hard to learn or apply the advice.
  2. Quality of content: High-quality self-help materials are typically easier to learn from, as they present information in a clear, organised, and engaging manner. If the content is poorly structured, confusing, or lacks credibility, it may be challenging to learn from it.
  3. Learning style: People have different learning styles, such as visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic. Some individuals may find it difficult to learn from certain types of self-help materials if they don’t align with their preferred learning style.
  4. Motivation: A person’s level of motivation can significantly impact their ability to learn from self-help materials. If someone is not genuinely motivated to change or improve, they may struggle to absorb and apply the information.
  5. Complexity of the topic: Some self-help subjects, such as emotional intelligence or cognitive-behavioural techniques, can be complex and require a deeper understanding. Learning these concepts may be more difficult than learning simpler topics like time management or goal-setting.
  6. Commitment and consistency: Developing new habits, skills, or thought patterns requires consistent effort and practice. Individuals who struggle to maintain commitment may find it difficult to learn from and apply self-help materials effectively.
  7. Emotional barriers: Some people may have emotional barriers, such as resistance to change or fear of failure, which can hinder their ability to learn from self-help materials.

In general

The captioned question, “Are self-help materials a waste of time?“,  is out there on the net and obviously the question invites a ‘general’ response. My response to the generality of people is that SHMS are a waste of time. How very dare I say that?! Well I dare and I do say it!

Since other people can use the ‘everybody’ thing, I can do that tooooo! Right – so if ‘everybody’ could read one or more SHMs and sort themselves out, there would be no problems in life for those sorts of people. It’s the dream – isn’t it – that some guru out there writes a lovely book or gives a great podcast to help people, then people read, take it in and they’re sorted. It is the dream that gets people buying these things, or spending their time on free materials.

To increase the chances of learning effectively from self-help materials, individuals should:

  • Choose resources that are relevant to their needs and goals.
  • Look for credible and high-quality materials.
  • Identify their preferred learning style and seek materials that cater to it.
  • Be genuinely motivated and committed to personal growth.
  • Practice the techniques and strategies consistently over time.
  • Seek support from friends, family, or professionals when needed.

More specifically

Most SHMs give some insights that may be useful and they also give a lot of structured suggestions for action. Ahhhh… and that’s the problem right there! Yep – action, or rather lack of it. If ‘everybody’ could just take the actions necessary – after their self-discovery through these materials, then life would be fine! The suggested actions for improvement usually means a change in behaviour or thinking. Sounds good. Changing behaviour and thinking is not easy. Why? Because most behaviours and thinking is the result of patterns developed over many years.

Patterns are not easy to break out of or to modify. Understanding ‘why’ doesn’t give the punter (SHM-purchaser) any greater power to shift patterns. How? Why? Because realistically, the only way to change a pattern is to do something new or different and that’s has little to do with understanding. But there is a grand social delusion (aka myth) that once somebody understands, they’re half-way there to solving their problem(s). Sorry – I disagree. It’s about DOING! Washing out a dysfunctional or repeatedly self-defeating pattern means doing something new over and over again, until the old pattern is washed out. It takes time and effort. Wut? Who want’s that? Time and effort? Life’s too short – right? So after the punter spends time and/or money taking in stuff from the SHM, invariably the SHM will be shelved. Effort? Who wants to do that?! What people want is stuff with no effort.

Winners and losers

But who are the winners and the loser in transactions that exchange money for SHMs? It’s YOU who are the loser! You’re not going to get your £5 to £40 worth, cuz you’re too lazy and undisciplined anyway to practice doing things differently. And if you’re satisfied to get the stuff for free you’ve wasted your time. Hey ho – if you’re just satisfied with an interesting read – then you got your money’s worth or time’s worth, and the author is delighted to have types like you around. Loveleeee – so the SHM author is happy for your purchase or patronage. You’re happy with the ‘purchase’ built on a dream. You’ll probably tell 10 other people what a great SHM or SHB you’ve ‘read’ – and guess what? A certain percentage of them will purchase/or access for free. So, you’ve just helped the author for free! Good on you – I should say. Have you helped yourself? I think not!


I’ve asked a question that contains a silent binary. The answer has to be either it is a waste of time or it isn’t. I’m not going into ‘it depends’. Why? Because ‘depends’ people are the types who are afraid to pick a side. They feel a need to be seen as flexible etc.

Well no – I do pick a side. I’m perfectly aware that SHMs may help some people. My belief based on long experience of people, is that more than an estimated 51%, waste their time and money.

So what does that mean? It means that it is good business for producers of SHMs.

I think that producers of SHMs gain more benefit from the punters who access these materials.

Disclaimer & Guidance

The reading of posts on this blog is subject to the Terms & Conditions. Unpalatable truths and personal experiences may be told. Nothing posted on this blog is directed at any identified person. On occasions individuals are quoted anonymously. That does not mean that they have been identified to the world. Should any person or organisation reading this blog find something that makes them feel or know that they  are being referred to – any such perceived identification does not mean ‘identified to the world’. ‘Stupid‘ is an impish figment of my imagination who occasionally is allowed to pop up – and does not represent any known individual, individuals or groups. The treatment of  ‘Stupid‘ is not representative of the way people are treated in real life. Adverse inferences made are dismissed in advance.  

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