Self-help addiction: The toxic forces driving modern industry
The self-help industry knows just what our deepest desire really is: to be the type of person that gets sh*t done. In fact, they consciously exploit this innate vulnerability of ours, and fuel our self-help addiction for their own profit.
Hypocrisy, greed and lies. This is the dark underbelly of the self-help world. Hacks, tips, toolsets, bibles, cheatsheets. The pit of self-help buzzwords is bottomless, and the supply of self-professed gurus endless.
Do you want to achieve something great? Are you looking to improve your life? Have you had enough of having enough?
With this one trick, we can teach you to how be confident, flushed with cash, and rock the body of your dreams.
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It’s the same spiel each time, just packaged in a different way: We can teach you how to do the things you actually want to do, but that you probably don’t do because in reality they’re difficult and take time.
Your better judgement tells you it’s just snake oil, a quack remedy to make a quick buck. Yet you hastily buy that guide anyway, book your ass into a seat at the seminar, or watch their sponsored YouTube video (which also somehow has fifteen adverts?!). They tell you the formula is simple. Plan, execute, repeat. Never EVER give in. Set your beast mode status to ACTIVATED. Never sleep, never rest, ALWAYS WORK.
While consuming this content, and for a short while after, you feel amazing! You plan out a new routine, sign up to the gym, and start to get your shit together. You’re on the top of the world, a king amongst men, a mighty force of your own creation.
Then the inevitable happens. Two days pass and your motivation wanes. By the third day, the haze evaporates and your old, lazy habits have begun creeping back in. Two weeks on and the experience feels so alien it feels like a fever dream. With your ego significantly bruised and a new high score on your Internal Failure Counter, the cycle begins again.
When we consume self-help content there is a gigantic surge of dopamine to our brains, and that intense feeling of happiness is unsurprisingly addictive. I myself am a self-help addict.
Gary Vee, David Goggins, Joe Rogan, Mel Robbins, James Clear; you name it, I’m on it. Instagram models? Gimme that fitspo. Inspirational quotes? Hit me with that good mind-altering shit. Literally any video of the Rock? FUCK YEAAAAAAAAH.
In the last few years, I have devoured literally thousands of hours of motivational content via self-help books, audiobooks, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Instagram posts. I just couldn’t get enough, and this kind of content got me so fired up that I would actually crave it. Desperate to be unshackled from the heavy chains of stagnation in which I am bound.
I want to look like that, feel like that, be successful like that.
The truth of the matter is that the burst of motivation we feel from self-help content, while temporarily beneficial, ultimately hurts our long-term productivity and promotes reliance. It makes it almost impossible for the brain to see the logical fallacies of the repeated actions it is taking, and the addiction-traps it has fallen into.
Self-help content is carefully designed to activate this dopamine-response and to feel exciting. This encourages irrational, impulsive decision-making, such as buying a €200 course you probably wouldn’t have with your dopamine blinkers on.
“Self-improvement is masturbation”
– Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Read more about the powerful effects of dopamine and how to overcome them in my digital dopamine detox article.
5 Quick Facts About The Self-Help Industry
Just who is profiting from your from self-help addiction? Peruse these facts and decide for yourself.
1. The self-help products and services industry was worth 11 billion in 2018, and it’s set to grow to 13.2 billion by 2022. That’s 5.6% annual yearly gains. Should it really be growing this much if there is so much ‘good content’ already out there?
2. Not only is self-help content proven to reinforce feelings of inferiority and shame, most of it is just woo-woo bullshit that hasn’t been scientifically validated.
3. Most of your favourite self-help gurus are probably using ghostwriters. Consider Deepak Chopra, who has supposedly penned almost 100 books; that’s more than one book for each year that he’s been alive. Maybe he’s a super human who doesn’t sleep and only writes books when he’s not giving conferences, interviews or meditation sessions. Or maybe he’s getting some help on the sly.
4. Who really are the people behind the carefully crafted images we see? Take Tony Robbins for example, arguably the most famous self-help aficionado in the world. A litany of allegations have been made against him in the last year including claims of sexual harassment, bullying, and injury.
5. Do they practice what they preach? For example, do you think Tim Ferriss works only four hours a week? Of course not! In fact, as reported by Business Insider, he works at least 60 hours a week, and often more. I’m sure that Tim puts in a lot of real hard work, but that should be reflected more honestly in his branding. Similarly, Deepak Chopra promotes charity and the law of giving. Yet he still charges $350 for mediation glasses, despite having a net worth of $170 million.
Insider Edition: What It’s Really Like To Be A Self-Help Guru
Michelle Goodman, former self-help disciple and author of “The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube”, left the industry behind after burning out behind the facade of her fake successful freelancing life.
In her tell-all exposé, she sheds light on the real motivations of self-help gurus: “They are businesspeople — businesspeople with books, keynotes, and openings in their consulting practice to peddle.” Other interesting quotes from Michelle include:
“A book is just a means to an end,” one A-list blogger told me in the green room of a local TV station, where we awaited our upcoming live segment. Your book is basically your calling card,” she continued. To her, a book deal was a business plan — a stepping stone to ad revenue, keynote invitations, corporate sponsorships, consulting gigs, even startup capital. “
– Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide
“Publicly I was the poster child for the well-balanced, successful freelancer. Privately I was unraveling. Writing a book about creating a self-styled career you love had led me straight to a job I hated. I was supposed to be this emissary of work-life balance, the queen of controlling one’s career destiny. Yet Sunday evenings now gave me the same fetal-position dread my book claimed to help readers avoid. I’d gone to the hospital with chest pains in my 30s, for chrissake, racking up $4,000 in out-of-pocket expenses in the process.”
– Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide
4 Tips To Overcoming Your Self-Help Addiction
I have been addicted to many different self-help advocates over the last few years. Bouncing from guru to guru, always searching, never truly coming away with anything meaningful. Thankfully, I have managed to break my self-help addiction, and you can too. Here’s how.
1. Know Your Worth
The industry is reliant on you not being content in order to keep thriving, and you are most profitable when you feel inadequate and desperate. So now that you know the game, don’t allow them to prey upon your vulnerabilities. Besides, we all know the things we should do to make us feel better. So don’t BS yourself.
2. Do Not Trust What You cannot See
Is someone who built their brand on unparalleled productivity really gonna show you their daily panic attacks? Or the emails begging their landlord for one more extension on their overdue rent? No-one has all their shit together, and everyone drops the ball sometime.
Come to terms with the fact that you can never truly know what’s real, and thus question everything; especially those who say they have it all figured out.
3. Perfection Leads To Procrastination
If there’s anything you take away from this article, let it be this: done is better than perfect.
Self-help peddlers promote planning, not trying. Thinking, not doing. They prey on our sense of possibility like scavengers. Yes, you COULD be a writer, or an influencer, or a CEO, but if you don’t just pick one and try, you’ll never be any of them.
4. Try Something Different
Last month I swapped out my self-help books for Stephen King novels. Now, I read about Mother Abigail playing banjo eerily in the corn, and honestly I’ve never felt better. Sometimes a little escape is just what you need.
What did you think of this self-help industry review? Was it accurate? Too harsh? Not harsh enough? Let me know in the comments below! 👇
If you liked this article, you’ll probably also enjoy my piece on why self-improvement has become so popular. Thanks for stoppin’ by!