I Used To Try All The Self-Help Guides I Could Find. Why I'm Taking A Break

June 1, 2020

After finishing graduate school in the winter of 2017, I ended up moving back to my hometown to live with my parents—but I knew I didn’t want to stay there forever. I was itching to get back out on my own again and get a fresh start. Naturally, I began turning to self-help books and podcasts for advice. And while there was a time when I felt that reading lots of self-help genuinely did motivate me to change my life for the better, I’ve finally started to feel like that time has passed.

When I dove into the world of self-help, I was looking to improve just about every area of my life. I was trying to pay off my student loans and find new freelance clients so that I could save up to move in with my boyfriend, so I turned to personal finance blogs. I wanted to eat a healthier diet and start working out, and I began watching vegan YouTube channels to learn new recipes and follow their fitness routines. I read newsletters and blogs by other freelancers for career advice. And I felt anxious about my future, which led me to books about mental health and spirituality.

self-help

For a while, I felt like taking in all of this information genuinely helped me on the path to self-improvement. I started experimenting with new recipes and cooking healthier meals. I joined a yoga studio with my mom and began attending classes several days a week. I kept a journal on and off—it was a habit that I regret putting on the back burner for so long, and I was eager to return to it. I started volunteering at an animal shelter, which was very rewarding, and I found that it was impossible to feel anxious or depressed when I was spending my mornings playing with adorable rescue dogs. Eventually, I reached a point where I was bringing in enough freelance income to pay off my debt and support myself, and I was able to get an apartment with my boyfriend and move to a new city. I even ended up writing some pieces about different topics related to self-help.

I’m not the only one who looked to self-help to jumpstart changes in my life. In fact, the sales of self-help books have almost doubled since 2013, with millions of copies sold every year. It seems like more people are interested in self-help than ever before. But over the past few months, I’ve found myself clicking on the occasional self-help article, only to click away from it after reading for a minute or two. It’s not because I think I’ve got it all figured out and have no need for advice anymore! But once I got a handle on those basic adult responsibilities, I just got burned out on the self-help genre—and I finally think I’ve figured out why.

At some point, reading self-help content made me feel like I would never truly be “successful”—or that my vision of what “success” would look like for me wasn’t good enough. There was a certain pressure to optimize every aspect of my life: to create the perfect morning and evening routine, to meditate twice a day, to try all sorts of “life hacks” that would unlock the secret to long-lasting happiness. I began wondering if I was falling behind because I didn’t feel the same urge to structure every moment of my day the way that so many of these “gurus” claimed to. And putting self-proclaimed gurus on a pedestal certainly wasn’t going to do me any favors in the long run, either.

self-help

Eventually, it also became very clear that looking towards various gurus to give me the answers to my biggest questions about life was only going to lead to disappointment. Yes, there’s no denying that writers who genuinely wanted to help their readers live happier and healthier lives had given me a nudge in the right direction. But it was time to work on trusting my own intuition and carving my own path. No one else could hand me a purpose or deliver the secret to a happy life. The only way I would discover what I was meant to do next was by trying new things and going out of my comfort zone—I had to learn through experience. Sometimes, focusing on self-help content can actually be stagnating. Reading about making progress might make you feel like you’re making progress, even if your daily life still looks the same. 

There is an endless amount of self-help content out there. And there’s no denying that I genuinely learned some useful information from the self-help genre. But at a certain point, you might find that you’re better off putting down those books and turning down those podcasts. You’re the only person who can define what happiness looks like for you—and to do that, you’ll need to take action. 

Also by Jane: Can Spearmint Tea Clear Your Hormonal Breakouts? Results Of My Self-Experiment

Related: I Tried Monthly Challenges for A Year—And Changed My Life In The Process

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Jane Harkness is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. She writes about veganism, travel, and wellness, and her writing has been published on platforms like Thought Catalog, Student Universe, The Financial Diet, and Wholesome Culture. She blogs daily on Medium, and you can check out more of her work on her website.

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