Self-Help is a Drug

Self-Help is a Drug

For most people, self-help is a drug. And no, that is not a good thing. Let me elaborate: For the last couple of years, my friend Mike from Ohio has been reading a bunch of self-help blogs. Blogs about working out and building muscle, blogs about dating more beautiful women, blogs about making money online, what have you. He likes his variety and he likes to become a well rounded guy. Of course, when his favorite bloggers started putting out books, he went ahead and bought them, to get a more complete picture of what they were all about. “Books are just better for that, more systematic, right?” My friend Mike is a pretty intelligent guy.

So now he has about seven to ten blogs he reads on a daily basis, one to two books he is reading on top of that and he is always looking for the next fix, the next new revolutionary book to come out, that he can order. Guys like Mike make the self-help bloggers out there very happy people and they in turn make Mike a happier person. It seems like a perfect symbiosis.

Except for, it’s a dealer-junkie relationship. “Oh”, I can already hear my regular readers moan… “Drillman! What is it with the addictions and you?! First you are telling us that the Internet is the Devil, then carbs are the new heroin and now self-help books? Come on.”

Well, eat it. Your favorite self-help blogger is telling you that self-help will get you high, and that is exactly what it does. Ever seen one of these Tony Robbins seminars? Go check them out on YouTube – no, not now. These things are an emotional rollercoaster ride. Tony Robbins is obviously a very charismatic person: He doesn’t just talk about concepts, he really gets you fired up. Suddenly, you see opportunities where beforehand you only saw grey routine in your life. You can change! You can really live the life of your dreams! At the end of his talks, you want to go ahead and improve your life so badly, it’s almost seems like a physical need. And the afterglow of this new found enthusiasm lingers for hours.

But what’s so bad about this? Someone like Robbins teaches you the tools and he also makes sure you get motivated! Isn’t that what a great teacher is supposed to do?


Historically speaking, this is simply not true. The great teacher figures of the Western world, people like Socrates, Montaigne, Shaw or Einstein NEVER did that. What they did is, they got you to critically examine yourself and others, they got you to truly THINK for yourselves and that ideally led to better actions. What they NOT did is to get you hooked on a few rather meager ideas about self-improvement by giving you a highly addictive emotional high.

This is what selp-help books are really selling you: an emotional kick. The feeling like you can suddenly see. The taste of oh so alluring freedom. They pretend to be all about ideas when it’s only about the chemicals in your head having an early Spring Break party.

And people like my friend Mike dig it. They read blog after blog, book after book, talking about improving your life – but NOTHING EVER changes for them. The miraculous improvements never take place, the books don’t deliver what they seemingly promise to do. Mike is still not big, he is still not banging Russian supermodels nor has he ever made a single dollar online.

What the books and the blogs DO deliver tough is the feeling of suddenly being elevated above this boring, mundane life. And this sudden influx of vitality in your boring, routine-driven existence is what makes you read the book and then another one. Because that’s the thing about addiction: You need to fuel it, the high never lasts.

Finally: Who is to blame? Is it the self-help junkie’s fault that he doesn’t see the books for what they really are and that he always foregoes real change for the quick high? Or is it the dealer’s fault, the writer / guru who understands these mechanisms (and trust me, most of these guys do) but exploits them anyway? I think it’s a much healthier attitude to look at yourself first and search for the fault there. You are in charge of your life, not some evil self-help genius. And if you discover you have this kind of affliction, it’s up to you to finally take responsibility for yourself and to become more critical of whom you allow to influence you. Kinda like, this really cool Nicholas Drillman guy…

4 thoughts on “Self-Help is a Drug

  1. Lol I love this article because I see evidence of it every day. It seems a bit cynical though. While it’s good to be skeptical and I am a huge advocate of thinking for yourself, I do think self help has its advantages. Like anything else, it all comes down to action. You could give 100 people a step by step guide to becoming wealthy, 50 would read it and of that 50 only 3 would take any kind of action, the odds are that horrible. But for those 3 people it made all the difference. And as for the gurus, its as MJ Demarco says, you make more money selling the secret of success than actually applying it. Speaking of him, have you read Millionaire Fastlane?

    1. Jeannette, you are definitly right, I just re-read the article and it sounds a bit cynical at times. Honestly, I think the reason for that is I’m still trying to find the right tone when writing / blogging. When I wrote my first articles, I got pretty preachy at times, kinda like a teacher telling the students what to do, and some of my friends pointed that out to me. So now I’m trying to write like I would talk to a close friend and I guess I tend to be a pretty sarcastic person in real life. Another problem is the missing context / body language. You say something in real life and you say it with a smile, and suddenly it doesn’t come across so harsh anymore. I have a very hard time compensating for that missing context in writing.
      I’m a big believer in self-help myself, IF done right. I mean, this blog is ultimately a self-help blog too, no doubt about it. But there is self-help and there is self-help: So many marketers are just feeding the self-help “high” without any real change taking place. But as you rightfully point out, even if you give people the right tools, only a very few will make use of them. Completely agree with you there.
      Don’t know ‘Millionaire Fastlane’ yet, but will check it out! Wish you a Merry X-mas!

  2. Follow-up question:
    – How do you avoid to read the “wrong” kind of self-help books?
    – How do you avoid to do nothing but reading?

    As concerns myself, I am rather skeptical of Tony Robbins, “The Secret”, …; while I like books and blogs that give specific advice.

    1. Good questions! Hm… I think I avoid the crappy self-help books by constantly asking myself the following questions: Is the text rich in overblown words like “purpose”, “passion”, “authenticity” that are hard to define (think Stephen Covey) or can the text convey its message clearly by using plain English? Is the material also talking about actual applications or is it just feel-good-about-yourself literature (think Eckhart Tolle). And at the other end of the spectrum: Is the author getting off on technical details (think ‘Mystery Method’) or is he able to focus on the few essentials? In summary: as soon as my bullshit detector goes off once to often, I will disregard the book very quickly, to not waste further time on it.
      As for your second question: I think you need to truly understand, that doing and trying ALWAYS has to take precedent over reading. There is no exception to that rule. You start doing as early as possible, otherwise you must not allow yourself to read further. It’s a little bit like the whole Steve Blank / Eric Riess / ‘The Lean Start Up’ school of thought: Get an idea of the minimum action you need to do to get started and then start right away! Don’t strive for perfectionism, adjust as you go. It’s easier said then done, I know. I’m huge sucker for perfectionism myself…

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