Evaluating Self-Help — Ask These Questions

3534516458_48e4e8595f_zWhenever you dip in to the multi-billion-dollar industry that we casually refer to as self-help, arm yourself with an ancient dictum: caveat emptor. This is often translated as let the buyer beware, and it reminds us of two inherent risks.

First, thousands of people have published books about how to “improve” yourself and “transform” your life.

Second, the ideas in these books run the gamut from clear, tested, and safe to unclear, untested, and possibly dangerous.

Following are acid-test questions that I ask to “crap-detect” any book in this genre:

  • Is it grounded in current research? Most self-help is not. Instead, it relies heavily on anecdotes and authors’ personal experiences. Both can easily lead us astray.
  • Is it grounded in theory? I like to read books by people who’ve taken the time to create a useful and accurate model of human behavior.
  • Can you test the ideas? If a self-help book does not suggest a meaningful change in behavior that you sustain for the long-term, then beware.
  • How much time and money are you asked to invest? Some authors offer useful content for free, or for the price of a paperback book. Others want you to invest weeks of your life and thousands of dollars in online courses. Don’t assume that the latter is better.

In future posts, I’ll explore each question in more detail. Please stay tuned!

Image credit: Marco Bellucci / photo on flickr

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