Are you a self-help addict? Check for these 4 warning signs

I love self-help and I'm guessing you do too. All those books, courses and workshops can genuinely help increase your happiness, success and wealth (they have mine).

But how much is too much? When have you become a self-help-aholic?

See if you recognise these signs in yourself or anyone you know:

It all starts off innocently enough with buying a self-help book or three. The books get you excited; some of them change the way you see the world, and help you believe you can do, have, and be more of what you want.

Fired up by this, you book yourself onto a weekend workshop, perhaps more than one. You come away fizzing with energy... but somehow after a few days the excitement drains away and life largely returns to normal.

So... you take the plunge and invest some serious money on an expensive programme with your favourite coach, mentor, or guru. And yet you still come away unsatisfied; it wasn't quite the solution you had hoped for. So you buy another programme or hire another expert. And another and another.

Now you're an addict.

The Self-Help High

Self help is addictive because of the high it gives you - the hit of excitement and insight, and the hope that things are about to change for the better. (It's not so different from the high the gambling addict feels with the rush of dopamine and norepinephrine every time they place a bet.)

The self-help high can be a good thing if you use it to jump into action and implement what you've learned.

Here's the kicker: insight and excitement are wonderful but if they don't result in you taking action and making changes, then you are just an addict.

I'm going to be tough with you here for your own good...

You are an addict if:

  • you keep seeking the next self-help hit, only to watch it drain away a few days later.
  • you keep looking for the next book, programme or guru to give you the perfect solution before you start doing anything.
  • you haven't taken all the advice you've received so far and jumped to put it into action - as incomplete and imperfect as it is.
  • you're using self-help (or even therapy) to avoid your problems, as an escape from thinking about the parts of your life that make you unhappy.


Welcome. You're amongst friends here.

And the first thing to realise if you want to recover is that the self-help high we love is not inherently bad. Just as prescription medicines can be used to solve a problem or can be abused, so can self-help.

Secondly, you need to accept that no book or guru at this point is going to give you the perfect solution or some magical strategy that you can't google for free right now.

The thing is if you're a self-help addict, you're not short of books you already own that could create wonderful changes in your life if you actually put them into action.

The common themes in self-help works have actually all been around a long time (some of them for 2000 years or more!)

The central theme of all self-help

Here's possibly the most important theme of all self-help. (Read this instead of buying another book!)

Take complete responsibility for your own life and the results you get.
Don't waste time blaming others or complaining about your situation.
Instead, take the actions required to get the results you now want.

Taking those actions of course can be uncomfortable, frightening, or downright unpleasant if you haven't done it before. Daring to express what you want, to make a change, or to take a risk to take on a new role or project can be pretty intense. If you're hoping another book or course will show you some way to avoid all the discomfort you'll be searching forever.

Don't keep looking for a pain-free answer, look for support to take action despite your discomfort. If you're looking for a coach or mentor, look for one to encourage you, console you, and most importantly challenge you to take the actions you need to take.

As soon as you're in motion and taking action, you're no longer an addict. Welcome to recovery!

Let us know what you think

Please leave a comment and give us your opinion. Feel free to confess your self-help excesses and your own recovery stories.

This month, we're all about getting you moving. If you've been wanting to make a big change to your work and haven't yet done it, stay tuned because we're going to help you beat that block and get on the way to getting paid to play.

And... on top of that we're kicking off our biggest project ever very soon: The 30 Day Challenge

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  • HA! Yes .. been there and am now entering recovery. I read loads of Top Ten Tips and here are mine:

    1.
    2.
    3.
    4.
    5.
    6.
    7.
    8.
    9.
    10.

    In other words - fill them in yourself, your way is the only way which will suit you best.

    My message to anyone who thinks they would like to create their own career is take small regular action steps. Don't just think about it, I made that mistake and I wish I'd started doing much earlier.

  • Totally agree with what you say - reading yet another book and expecting that to change things is optimistic beyond reason. Most self help books give you exercises and activities to do and most(?) people don't get through them to find out if they work.
    "Screw Work Let's Play" does in fact ask you to work at your happines - because otherwise you don't get to the playing stage, but in a way that isn't off-putting.
    In "The Real Secret" we suggest that getting into Happiness Habits is one way to do it, because when you've embedded the habits you no longer have to work at them. We're running an experiment at the moment - check it out at http://www.therealsecret.net/The-experiment.html

  • Brilliant! I love it Jenny - that should be a post on your blog (if it isn't already)

  • Julia

    Yes I recognise that I am a self-help addict who has found only disappointment in both myself and some products. I don't buy anything more or do anything with the ones I've got - still planning when to start!!!

    I am now in recovery after reading this and your advice makes sense!

    THANK YOU!!!

  • Argh.. guilty - but recovering also. I've just updated my business website after agonising over what to put on it for over a year! In the end I just bunged up a few pics and a bit more info and moved on to updating linked In. who knows - I might actually start promoting my business instead of reading another six books on how to go about it!!

    I found this random musing in a diary entry - seems apt to share it:

    I want to find the ultimate panacea – a self help book you can just read instead of all that painful self awakening stuff. Give me a book that does it for me – while I’m sleeping or at least while I’m reading it so that when I’ve finished reading I will be an effortlessly improved and successful person – all my bills will be paid, I’ll be doted on by a fabulous lover and the kids will play nicely and tidy up without guidance – whoopeeee !!!

  • Olly

    I enjoyed the mail about the 'high' you get from self-help. It's easy to come away from a session feeling like you've made progress, when actually all you've done is thought about or talked about it. Real progress doesn't happen until you act upon those thoughts and realising that is an important part of the process.

    I guess thats what Kipling meant when he said the following?

    "If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim"

  • Aneta

    Yea... How to this and How to that... I actually made the diagnosis even before this email today. For me it's the fear of the curse of abundance. I have too many ideas and find it hard to choose only one and iplement it. I love all my ideas so much. It has happened in the past that when I took some first steps in, say, 2 directions, I was successful in both areas and then found it even harder to choose one on which to concentrate. I know it's best to JUST DO IT because otherwise all this thinking, speculating, the 'what if's' are killing me.

  • Hi Aneta, sounds like you're a Scanner!

  • Great quote - thanks Olly!

  • I really relate to this and confess that I am a lifelong subsciber to learning and development. I am also an excitement junkie (better that than more harmful addictions like drugs, alcohol or cigarettes!
    New things just hold interest for me particularly new experiences and meeting new people, (more so than objects). I feel quite happy, progressive and active and feel that the self help journey follows a most interesting route of self and people discovery. It is far more linked to creating independence and being motivation than sitting back and accepting less than what makes us happy, well or prosperous (in it's broadest sense). The best self help though is linking with others in a solutions focussed way and then offering love and support to others in a non co-dependent manner whilast promoting the gift of acceptance of what is as it is in the light of all the abundant possibilites that are ever present.

  • Avoid problems? Who, me?

    Reminds me of an Irish quote I recently saw. Something like: a field does not plow itself because you did it in your mind.

  • Don't worry, I meant everyone but you Charles! 😉

  • Alreadyperfect

    I think this post might beat the "I hate Bono" post. Content is very funny and magnetic.

    Dammit I got sucked into posting a comment.

  • Oliver

    Well I have a lot of trouble getting through books (I'm a scanner, yep!) but usually do get through self-help books. The inspiring stories and ideas in them does put me on a high, and even though the books say a lot of the same sort of things, I always have a feeling that maybe the next page/chapter will have some "holy grail" and once I've read it everything will change for the better, immediately. Ironically the books do have the power to change our lives around, but as John said, we have to take action...and reading another book doesn't count! "Just do it!"

  • Guilty as charged. And of getting hooked on crewing for self-development courses (still takes up time, but at least you don't have to pay). Now, if I crew, I'm not looking to get a high from the course content, or the camaraderie of the crew, I'm looking for what's working that I can put into action for my own workshops. That way, I get my fix, AND I get stuff I actually use.

  • Joe

    You are so right, I have a fantastic collection of Self Help Books/Tapes/CD’s put together over many years, some I have not even listened to or read….I want to stand up and say ”I am a Self Help Addict”.
    I have used them hoping to find the “golden ticket” the answer to why my life is not how I imaged it would be, hoping that they would make the penny drop inside my head.
    Not to say that they are all bad, lets face it I wouldn’t here now If I hadn’t picked up John’s book. But I now understand that all this information is wasted and of no use if you don’t take Action.
    The Self Help book/CD will not do it for you so get of your bum and take action now and enjoy the process, you will look back and be pleased you made that change.

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  • Guilty as charged!

    I can completely relate to turning to self-help books/courses in order to mask underlying discomfort i.e. like a sticking plaster. Of course, it never lasts - plasters have to come off at some point after all!

    I think my approach now is to just have a go. After all, as you say, John, that's what the self-help books are really trying to say in the end - have a go, try something new. Also, I'm less worried about whether the 'time is right' and just go for it, one step at a time. By using this approach, I think I've got more done in the 2 months since the year started than I can remember!

    However, I think that have a good support group is important, and that's what I've found through Scanners'. Keep up the great work!

  • Varun

    That's really helpful .. For me High motiovation = more daydreaming. Never imagined this can be an addiction .. yes .. I will translate this to action right now 🙂

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  • apprc8d

    I started off with "Monk who sold his ferrari" about 8 years ago that my friend suggested to read... And I was immediately hooked up. Googling for it, I landed up with more names in self-help category from Robin Sharma, then to Dale Carnegie, the chicken soup guy, Napoleon Hill.. oh, how can i miss Antony Robbins and somewhere down the line, I started picking books by its attractive titles.. don't sweat the small stuff... yep. And then before I know, I started replacing my technical (work) related books with more and more self help books. Then it wasn't enough, I added Marshall Goldsmith, HBRs, Jack Welsh and so on for leadership subject... And now, I am surfing in the spiritual zone with Eckart Tolle, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Deepak Chopra... and can't believe I started even digging Bhagavad Gita. I must admit that some of the concepts did help and took many years to absorb... but like this article hints, I couldn't slow down to understand a book in detail and give it a few days but instead, I was compulsive to hop onto the next book... hmmm. that doesnt sound right. And what really pisses me off is that some of the authors come up with a sensible book or atleast the first reading is good and then before you know, they release back to back spin off of similar title to keep us hooked. And I really start repelling when I sign up for their email subscription that starts with innocent friendly advise but ends with a exciting offer on a book, program or audio book that promises to change my life. fortunately I did not fall for that and most of my spending (mney) & time has been limited to books. And yes, I switched to audio books that i listen to while driving to work. having read close to hundred books and many hundreds of articles, I try to behave enlightened though somewhere at the bottom, that "dude" is still hiding with his bad temper and attitude to give his piece of mind to anyone who messes with him. BUT Nooo.. I am the peaceful soul and i have learnt from the gurus to let go. phew... Bottom line, I am honest that I lack "taking action" and do more and more of thinking... and then think about thinking, over think about thinking that leads to overthinking about overthinking and then I need another book to help me surface from this vortex

  • johnsw

    I think you need to do a play project and actually produce something! 🙂