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Self-help books keep you reading, not doing

I always loved curling up in a comfy chair in my favourite bookstore and reading self-help books. There was John Bradshaw, Deepak Chopra, Bernie Segal, Wayne Dyer and countless others. Each one gave me a new take on the human condition.

I soaked it up. It’s as if they’re speaking directly to you—like they see into your soul. I saw that I wasn’t crazy, my emotions were not wrong. These experts know how to validate our vulnerabilities and create hope. It’s fantastic!

That’s the short term payoff from these books.

But over the years I realized something was missing. The validation was great, but I was still stuck in my old cycles of anger and self-doubt. I worried about hurting others and was always putting my needs last. I’d learned to recognize my bad habits, but I couldn’t stop them. How come?

When I studied mindfulness and became a life coach, I learned that negative patterns resurface because we haven’t processed our emotions deeply enough. The missing link is to understand why and how we feel and act the way we do.

A bad diagnosis or abusive relationship is not the end—it’s the beginning of a new way of life. We’re more resilient than we think. I learn this every week from the women I coach at Up With Women, a non-profit group. As they face poverty, homelessness and a broken system, these courageous women are learning how to let go of fear and uncertainty, to challenge the obstacles that pushed them down. With new tools, renewed energy and steady support, they’re learning to build a new life and a new future, here and now in the present moment. They have no time to lose. They’re the ones teaching ME about resilience and courage!

This kind of ‘inner work’ is far less appealing than a popular ‘wishful thinking’ approach with an easy, quick-fix approach to happiness. Who wouldn’t like a plan that says, ‘think positive thoughts and ask for what you want. It’ll come.’ Trouble is, what we want isn’t always what we need.

The pursuit of happiness is a lifelong journey. As we age, our priorities change. The emotional tools of mindfulness, self-compassion, discernment, meditation and acceptance help us combat the fear and uncertainty we all feel at times.

Our wounds look alike but their root cause and the best ways of dealing with them are unique to each of us—as different as fingerprints.

Self-help books are a great way to begin the process of getting unstuck, but we need hands-on tools before anything changes. Seeing yourself grow and find joy is hard work—but it’s the best work you’ll ever do.

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