The Danger of Self Help
How Dangerous Can Self Help Be?
For seven years, I holed up in bookstores and read almost everything on the shelves of self help and personal development. I read everything from holy books, sacred texts, and ancient manuscripts to business books, entrepreneurship, and leadership how-tos. But somehow what I learned in these self help books didn’t prevent me from ending up broke, and failing in my work.
‘What’s wrong with me?‘ I thought to myself. ‘How can I be so unworthy that I cannot achieve what these books claim everyone can do so fast?‘
I didn’t achieve financial abundance instantly. No, I didn’t make a million dollars in 90 days, and the I-don’t-know-how-many steps to success didn’t lead very far. The secrets in the self help books turned out to be nothing more than common sense. The three, the four, the seven things ‘you have to know’ were not the only the things you must know. The instant success formulas were deplorable delusions that throw people in pain. I began to investigate the scientific literature to find out the truth.
Merging the Truths of Self Help and Science
After 400 years of research, scientists discovered that we have a truthfulness bias, a natural tendency to believe what we read, even when it’s not true. Every idea, every conversation, every human interaction changes our brain, and others can impose these changes on us against our will. When we receive new information, our brain’s instinct is to accept it as true. We can accept or reject the information, but only after we have initially believed it, and we are not always successful at undoing it.
In an article titled, You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read, Dr. Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, wrote: “Acceptance of ideas is passive and inevitable, it happens against our will, whereas rejection of ideas requires mental effort to undo the initial passive acceptance.” We believe everything, and then we must make a conscious choice that requires mental effort to undo our belief in the idea. To correct our automatic tendency to believe, we must take a step back and unbelieve. When we’re learning something new, and we don’t have previous information about the subject, we instantly believe what the others tell us.
Scientific fact 1 – We believe everything we read.
We sleep next to our phones, and we wake up in the dead of night to check our texts, e-mails, and updates. It is ever more difficult to delay gratification, and we want immediate pleasure or the instant removal of pain. We demand our lives to function like social media: I want it all, and I want it now. Technology has turned our every wish into an instant demand: on-demand movies, on-demand car rides, on-demand video games, on-demand dating, on-demand life.
Dr. Darrell Worthy, professor of psychology at Texas A&M University, discovered that immediate gratification has become the default response when we want something. Waiting is hard, and our unconscious mind has raised immediate gratification to be our main purpose in life. According to a study performed by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco non-profit that educates families on the safe use of technology, this growing need for instant gratification has robbed us of our most important ability: the ability to think.
Scientific fact 2 – We want it all, we want it now, and we can’t control it.
We make almost all buying decisions through the filter of our emotions. The impulse to buy a product is triggered by promotional messages that target our emotional responses. These include our need for love, our need for significance, our fear of loss and our unconscious demand for instant gratification. Research shows these impulse purchases, in about 80 percent of the time, lead to financial difficulties, family criticism, guilt, and disappointment.
Scientific fact 3 – Marketers craft targeted promotional messages
Marketers craft the promotional messages to target our emotional response, and our uncontrolled want for instant gratification. When products fail to deliver on their promise, we become disillusioned, upset, and disheartened with ourselves (not with the product).
These three scientific facts–our natural vulnerability to believing everything we read, our uncontrollable demand for instant gratification, and the marketing messages that target our emotional needs and promise a million dollars overnight, instant success, dramatic weight loss, the perfect relationship–combine into a dangerous marketing strategy that may backfire against us. We tend to also believe that if the instant success formulas don’t work, something must be wrong with us. Therefore, this is the same as saying that if a theory is not working, something must be wrong with reality.
Brains Do Require Self Help to Think Critically
The brain begins by believing the message written in the sales letter. When the product fails to deliver on its promise and things don’t work out as we expect, we don’t challenge the information; rather, we challenge ourselves, and our self-worth. Thus, something that was created to help, in fact, injures us, and we become more depressed than before.
Regardless of the passing circumstances, you find yourself in, your heart is still calling you to return to truth. And you do have infinite worth simply because the Divine created you; perfect just the way you are. Your worth is given to you by the Divine. Hence, it is not assigned by other people, not by what you achieve, and not even by yourself. Doing meaningful work takes time, and reality doesn’t obey our on-demand requests at a snap of a finger.
Dr. Dragos is an award-winning scientist, author, and speaker on six continents. He is the founder of The Amazing University, online teaching platform. It brings together the best minds in the world to inspire and empower one billion people in 140 countries to live their truth. It also transforms their dreams into reality anywhere they start. Forbes named Dragos’s team at Singularity University in Silicon Valley “among the smartest people in the world.” His work is translated into 20 languages. You can connect with Dr. Dragos at www.drdragos.co and join The Amazing University at www.theamazinguniversity.com