I'm Officially Done Reading Self-Help Books

They're just not doing it for me anymore

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Not long ago with the lights off, reading from my dimly lit Kindle, I came to a realization that’s been a few years in the making:

Self-help’s just not doing it for me anymore.

This is a big deal because for the past decade I’ve been immersed in that world. I’ve read BY FAR more self-help than any other genre, probably combined. I’m honestly afraid to go back and count how many I’ve read, so I’ll just say “scores” of books over the last 10 years (even though it’s likely in the hundreds).

For the longest time, I’ve held onto the idea that I needed to read self-help in order to improve myself. I felt like if I wasn’t reading about it, I wasn’t learning, growing, or changing for the better.

But alas, I think I’m finally hanging up my cape.

Here’s why:

I don’t need self-help anymore

The Untethered Soul was my first foray into self-help. I was 21, maybe 22, and it was recommended to me by my therapist at the time, who was helping me discover that I was, in fact, an anxious wreck.

I remember that book blowing my fucking mind. Every chapter, every sentence was an epiphany. After years of struggling with my inner-self, that book turned my world right-side-up.

Last year, more than 10 years later, I picked it back up from my bookshelf and started reading it out of nostalgia. I cringed at least 5 times during the opening chapter. I couldn’t take it. I slammed it shut and put it back on the bookshelf where it’s stayed ever since.

I remember thinking, “How did that ever have such a huge impact on me?”

But that’s the beauty of self-help. It’s there for you when you need it most. When you’re lost, feeling down, or just starting to figure things out. For me, it was a mandatory stepping stone to self-care and getting a handle on my anxiety.

For the last 10 or so years, I think I’ve just been holding onto it because I didn’t want to let it go. It was that important to me. But I don’t need it anymore. I’ve reached the point where the returns I’m getting are greatly diminished, if there at all.

Yeah, I’m beyond grateful for everything it’s done for me and for making me the man I am today, but it’s time to let it go.

It all starts to feel the same

Great self-help books are extremely hard to come by. A few of my favorites that I’ve read over the years are:

I’d consider these the best of the best. They’re self-help, but unique in their angles and storytelling. Enjoyable reads with a healthy dose of reality. Yet still, you can narrow down each of these books to one singular message:

You’re responsible for your life and happiness. Get off your ass and go do it.

My first few years reading books like these inspired me. I made huge changes that I’ve stuck with to this day. I exercise daily, I write and create, I’m vulnerable, I ask for things I want, and always try to take time to smell the roses.

Today, they just don’t have the same impact on me. It feels like I’m slogging through these kinds of books just to make it to the end. I know I’m not going to learn anything new — just more boxes to check off my reading list to tell my internet friends.

Not exactly a goal worth striving for with my reading habits.

What will I be doing instead?

The idea for this article actually spawned from a Twitter reply I sent to Alice Lemée a little while ago. She said swapping out self-help for fiction was one of the best decisions she’s made this year.

I told her this:

She came back with this:

Which is exactly what I’d rather be doing than reading self-help. Obviously, I can’t be going out and doing things at 10 PM during my bedtime, so reading fiction has become my main replacement for the habit.

I find fiction far more enjoyable to read. It takes me out of my head and into obscure, faraway worlds. I’m not naively waiting for that one snippet of information to change my life. Instead, I’m on an exciting journey that gives my mind a break from all the daily struggles. I’m generally sad when I finish a fiction book, not happy that I never have to read it again.

Daytime is a different story, however. Rather than give up self-help completely, I’ve decided to start doing two things (which have so far worked out extremely well):

  1. Get my "fix" by actually doing what all those books recommend — making shit happen for myself. I’m going out and trying new things, talking to people, building relationships, exploring, adventuring, and working on stuff I enjoy.

  2. Reading shorter-form essays. I'm currently compiling a list of a TON of awesome essays that take much less time to read and are far more impactful. Note that only 10% or so of the essays I've been reading technically classify as "self-help" but still wanted to mention this. Essays have been pretty great for me since most books should probably just be blog posts, articles, tweets, etc anyway. Looking forward to sharing this list someday.

My self-help journey isn’t over. It’s just evolved from reading to doing.