Are Self-Help Books Really Worth All The Money You Spend On Them?

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Susan Shim is a Jerningham Silver Medal and National Scholarship winner. She holds a BSc in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. Her first career was in Information Technology; she jokes that no matter where she worked, her job was the same: Chief Cook and Bottle-washer. As a coach, she is driven by the question “How can I help to create real change for the people around me?”

Susan is a recent contributor to Forward Forty, and blogs about wellness, success, and self-improvement.

Get in touch with Susan at

Why didn’t self-help work for me?

I’ve been buying self-help books since I was a teenager. I’m OK – You’re OK by Thomas Harris was my first. Then, in my twenties and thirties, it was Deepak Chopra, starting with Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, followed by numerous books on acupressure, shiatsu and massage. My late partner was an avid reader of leadership and management books. I read those too, just in case.

For me, there was a promise of fresh change in every self-help book. I searched for what might be of value, and I was eager to try it out and see if it worked. It opened a window of possibility; a feeling of hope that things could be different.

Did any of it help? Sure, some helped a little, but none of them were life-changing. What stayed with me instead were the things that I practiced. I return to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, again and again, and acupressure and shiatsu are now part of my daily health regimen.

So why – given that I was so invested in reading and bettering myself – didn’t self-help work for me?

In my own life, I’ve seen new habits create small shifts, but never the breakthroughs I’ve longed for. It was only when I started my life coach training, that I understood what was lacking. I was stuck. Constrained. Limited by my strengths and weaknesses, and the perspectives I’d spent decades constructing. I was seeing the truth and wisdom of other people’s stories and ideas through that lens, and not discovering them for myself. No wonder I could only take those tiny little steps!


So how do you go about creating big changes in your life?

By shifting to a radically different perspective on the things you want to change.

How the heck do you do that?

Get somebody – a real person – to help you. Take the connection off the page, and into the real world. Get a friend or confidant to infuse their energy, and life experience into your effort to shift to a different vantage point. While this seems like the very antithesis of self-help, think of it as an elevation of the concept. Yes, it’s possible to pull your self up by your own bootstraps, but more often than not, we aren’t sufficiently motivated to do that. The reasons why you’re in a situation, are usually complex, and you’ve probably spent decades working yourself into that spot. 

To get out of that place, you’ll have to do things that might not feel good:

  • Acknowledge that there’s something that isn’t right in your life
  • Admit you can’t fix it by yourself; that you need help
  • Come to grips with how you feel about that
  • Ask someone for help
  • Put something on the line – time, money, effort
  • Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and uncertain


If you want to make a big change in your life, ask yourself this question:

Are you prepared do all those things that don’t feel good – to get to a different place?

If the answer is yes, then find someone who can help you to see things in a different light. It might be a friend, a mentor or role model, a counsellor, therapist or life coach. Self-help books might be helpful in a lot of different ways, but big change usually comes from interacting with someone who can move you beyond your own limited viewpoint.

Today, I still buy self-help books, but my expectations are different. I try to find extensions of things I am already practicing, rather than search for a whole new framework. I work with books that speak to my personal philosophy on change and rediscovery, and use those principles to fuel my transformation.

After all, self-help has to start from the self.

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