The Self Help Deception

10 years from now, I had acquired some really bad eating habits. That coupled with bad academic habits made me the laziest person I ever met. Eyes glued to TV and hands dripped in packets of chips, my only physical activity were treading the distance between TV room and bathroom. Exercise? I hated that word. In school, my heavy self used to be stuck to the chair for hours and hours anticipating recess time. When it finally arrived, I would pull out the sandwich from my bag, head on towards my favorite lone corner and sat there for another half an hour chewing that hamburger made from frozen patties brought from the market, deep fried in lump of oil which sank 5 centimeters in the pan! Consuming that piece of meat was a daily indulgence for me. More important than school work, it could definitely be added to my timetable. I grew up that way all along my adolescence. Finally it dawned on me that I needed help. That’s when the world of self-help books was opened before my eyes.

Your story might be completely different from mine. But if you read self help books, there must be a reason for it. Maybe you know you have problems that need to be solved or maybe you just want to enhance your understanding about life. Perhaps it might be working for you.

But it’s been 10 years now and I am still over-weight. And I still lack smart academic skills. What went wrong? It’s easy to allude that I had been a reading freak all those years and never actually applied any of the tools written in self help pages, I never took action. I thought that too. And here arises the paradoxical situation which many self-help professionals don’t want to address: Self-help’s basic thesis is to make you want to do things you don’t want to (like eating vegetables to lose weight) and achieve success. Along they say that you must take action in order to reach your goal. The question which must be popping up in your mind too is that how are we going to take action if we don’t want to? Doing that would be against self-help’s teaching.

Traditional diet industry stands on the same weak pillars. They always tell you to stick to the diet. Just stick to it until it works!

Many authors will first psyche you up with motivation, positive thinking, goal setting etc. And when these “tools” fail you, they say it’s because you failed to apply them. In the end, your self esteem suffers injuries because you think you are the reason for your failure.

Let me confess that self-help’s teachings are great. They intend to make our lives happier. It’s just that they’ve got the sequence wrong. Because it worked for them, they assume it’ll work for the masses. They work hard to cease the effects, without changing the causes that produced those effects. Consider the following analogy: A water tap is left open (cause) which results in flood (effect). Now you can spend your entire fortune into draining out the water. But if you are intelligent, you’ll definitely think about closing the tap. The sequence here is important. Which precedes the other, causes or effects? Feelings, behavior, action, implementation are all effects. Causes can be anything; from external situations to your own internal triggers. Similar effects can be obtained from different causes. Both of us might be smiling at the same time. You are smiling because you are genuinely feeling happy. Whereas I am smiling because my job interviewer is standing on my nose and I don’t want to squander my future by sending negative signals!

Popular self-help misguides by teaching that changing effects can change causes too. On a neuronic level, yes. Practically, no. Let me debunk this misconception right here and now before going any further.

A typical cause and effect scenario is the one observed by Sir Isaac Newton. He deduced the gravitation equation when he saw apple falling. Fortunately he wasn’t a self-help guru; or he would’ve discovered that gravity can be created by forcing an apple down!

Try joining two like-poles of magnets. The only way this can be achieved is by sticking them together by glue or tape just like the way we sometimes stick artificial smiles on our face! To make the magnets join without any effort or resistance is very simple: change their directions. Let the north face south. This is what traditional self-help promises us; to make us want to do things without effort and resistance (like quitting junk food without feeling deprived).

Here’s another confession. Self-help does work for some. Those significant some are the ones who are naturally successful at everything they do. And for the rest of us, is there no way of fooling ourselves into wanting something we don’t want?

Othman was born on 19th May 1986 in Bahrain and is pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering. He enjoys designing websites, newsletters and delivering public speeches. Moreover, he is an avid reader of books mostly non-fiction. Psychology has a special place in his heart! Apart from these diverse interests, Othman is an aspiring writer. He believes that the written word is more powerful than the spoken! Othman can be reached at

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