The self-help industry


I’ve just finished reading Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman’s new book ‘Help! How to become slightly happier and get a bit more done’. If you are looking to scale Everest, leap tall buildings in a single bound or achieve world domination by the weekend, this is not the book for you.

Burkeman has kindly sifted through the massive and never-ending supply of pop psychology and self-help literature on our collective behalf, and come to the perhaps unsurprising solution that a lot of it is dross. What he’s also done is test-drive the various systems and models which purport to change our lives, and reached certain understated conclusions (as the title of the book suggests).

Sadly it appears there is no magic formula or quick fix to life’s trials and tribulations. There are, however, small steps that can be taken over time and consistently to keep life vaguely under control. Now that’s not such a magnetic message as some of the ‘Change your life in 7 days’ proponents give out (Paul McKenna et al. come in for a lot of stick from Burkeman), but it seems to me to be a much more realistic path to take. Change is difficult for most of us. Making it happen and making it stick is not for the faint-hearted. For me, the chapter on productivity is worth the cover price alone. (The short version is you’ll never get it all done, but you can avoid feeling swamped and make progress.)

So if you need a guide to life that is funny and practical and definitely not mere hype, I’d go for these small-scale wins rather than ‘awakening the giant within’ any time.

For more on the self-help industry, (and the question of why the audience for this kind of book seem to be predominantly female while the gurus tend to be male) you can listen again to the feature on BBC R4’s Woman’s Hour  via iPlayer here (the feature starts around 11 mins 50 secs in).


2 thoughts on “The self-help industry

  1. Though I agree with most of what you say (haven’t read Oliver’s book, can’t comment) – change is slow process, something that must be worked at day by day, Tony Robbins “Awaken the Giant Within” works. Have you read it?

    • idcoach

      Hi Alison – yes I read Tony Robbins book some years ago. I guess it’s a personal style thing really – as long as you find something useful then it has served its purpose. Maybe I’m just a lower-key person, and with my training in psychology, I look for some research/evidence behind the claims?

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