The trap of self-help books and articles

Imagine that in the recipes you were not given the ingredients, or that to learn to dance a tango you were told in writing “6 tips for dancing a tango”, without pictures, photos, videos or drawings. Nothing. I could explain to you why you should use the pan and not the oven, but without the ingredients it will be quite difficult to cook the recipe anyway, right?

Well, if that seems difficult to you, I assure you that anyone can learn how to bake a carrot cake in just a few attempts, and everyone can memorize the steps of a tango by repeating on their own feet over and over again. And conversely, there are people who spend years trying to overcome depression or a personality problem. And yet, if a written article doesn’t present any way to teach you how to dance, if they believe that just five minutes of reading it can change your life. But no. And though it’s hard for us to admit it, it’s the same deception as self-help books.

    The importance of experiential learning

    Let’s see, to walk you learn by walking, to speak you learn by speaking, to write you learn by writing, to swim you learn by swimming. Based on this, reading a book is unlikely to allow you to overcome a problem that you have carried around for much of your life. I don’t mean to be scary, but these kinds of issues lead to emotions and behaviors. Just like a book won’t teach you how to dance or drive, a book won’t teach you to practice behaviors that aren’t even your regular repertoire of behaviors. No book teaches you to deal with fear, nor can it do it for you.. It is something that you have to do and it is not easy because if we could choose we would not feel sadness or fear or anxiety about certain things and our life would be easier. If you could choose, you would surely lead the life you want because no emotions would stand in the way.

    Self-help books tell you things like ‘do things that encourage you’, ‘seek support from those around you’, ‘be more positive, look at everything from the perspective we tell you below’. But this has two drawbacks.

    Lack of individual treatment

    First of all, have you given any thought to whether the behaviors the book talks about are going to help you? I mean, if they want to help you personally. Psychological treatments are individual for a reason: He analyzes what this patient appreciates and what causes him discomfort, how and why. To him and not to another. Self-help books are sold as holy water for everyone. For example, the behavior of building relationships and creating a larger support network: That idea of ​​displaying our gregariousness that many self-help manuals bring together isn’t really for everyone.

    Although studies show that people with more positive social relationships are generally happier, introverts don’t particularly like meeting large groups of friends to do things together, in fact, they like more than a good one. pound and weak external stimulation. So maybe the problem with your sadness isn’t that you need more people in your life or need to relate to them more.

    What if you have the right people near you but don’t know how to express yourself to them on certain occasions? For starters, this is a different problem that some may associate with not having adequate social skills, but it could actually be because you experience anxiety in certain contexts and then the problem. is anxiety. But this is why it is necessary to analyze in depth what is happening and to propose concrete solutions for this problem. Getting in touch with people outside your circle is therefore not the solution, nor is it to maintain interest in someone who does not really interest you. More is not better. Not to be happy, not to tell a better story, not to have less anxiety, not for nothing. And sometimes what is missing is not what, but how. Self-help books are generally general enough to cope with certain difficulties and therefore insufficient.

    Lack of experiential learning

    Second, these limits involve learning attitudes that a book does not provide. No reading can adequately teach learning behaviors, emotions and attitudes. The knowledge conveyed by the readings is semantic and can therefore produce learning at the cognitive level. It’s like a book that teaches you to drive: it’s procedural learning, you have to practice to learn to drive, no book is enough.

    This means that the self-help texts and tips teach you a new theoretical perspective and allow you to store knowledge about what could lead you to happiness, but do not integrate them into your behavior model. It’s like a teacher with a lot of rhetoric telling you the story. Okay, you might remember it phenomenally, but it’s still semantic knowledge (of objective and foreign data and facts to you, because no self-help book is personalized).

    What really produces a change, a learning, is a personal experience, Your autobiographical memory, because it has a strong emotional charge, both good and bad. And it is that your virtues and your faults come from here, it means that the environmental opportunities (situations, people …) in which you believe and what you do in each situation that you face, have a greater impact and influence on your your personality and your personal and attitude changes that any self-help book will ever have.

    Now, think that every day you go through more or less the same situations, you relate to more or less the same people and you act in front of your environment in the same way more or less than yesterday or the day before yesterday. Einstein said “if you want different results don’t always do the same thing” and this obscures the terrifying reality that you are an active agent of your own personal change, not a passive agent, Your behavior is the only thing that matters to land the prize: being more social, being happier … well, your behavior and your environmental opportunities is a 50/50, but you can’t control it. environment, just the way you react. Thinking differently is not synonymous with acting differently, because there is a barrier between thoughts and actions: emotions.

    In other words, I might be aware that I need to study to be successful (I know the behavior I need to engage in), but the emotion of boredom, apathy or demotivation keeps me from engaging. in this behavior. I might know that in order to get a job I have to go for a job interview with my boss, but talking to my boss causes me anxiety and fear, and I decide not to. A self-help book says “talk to your boss” or tells you “talk to strangers to be more social” or “get out of bed first to get over depression”, but it doesn’t tell you how to get over it. emotional barriers to doing what you already knew in advance what you needed to do. And I’m talking about really overcoming them, I’m not talking about a motivational speech that disappears from your head the next day. If this talk was effective, you would no longer need a self-help book. But to overcome them, you have to do things. And this “doing” is expensive.

    There are no magic recipes for self-help

    It’s a lot easier to read a book, right? How tempting to hope that without too much effort you and your life will change forever. And so immediately, when you start reading, you gain more control over your own life. You are already doing something for and for yourself, and it makes you feel better, but it doesn’t change you, it doesn’t make you more social or more happy in the long run, and that’s why you read over and over again and Because momentarily it’s negative reinforcement that alleviates your discomfort and gives you a certain sense of control (the illusion of control, a habitual cognitive illusion derived from ‘a bias of optimism). It is, in short, a placebo.

    The most sociable and happy people don’t read these books or articles, but they never needed to read them, because to be happier and more sociable, you learn with experience. There is no correlation between being sociable or happy and the amount of self-help books you read. It is something that we build by telling stories, living experiences and trying to act in accordance with our personal values ​​and the life we ​​want to lead. And change your behavior when you’re not getting the results you want.

    Progress takes effort

    There is another reality that you don’t like either: change hurts, restructuring your mental representations about the world, about yourself, about society, it hurts. There are restructuring therapies aimed at reconstructing the conception of the Self and of relationships with others which profoundly modify the meaning of many knowledge and behaviors, risk our cognitive identity. Changing these representations for more effective representations of oneself is very costly, demanding and even a cause of anguish.

    The discomfort that we feel that prompts us to change our ideas and behaviors is part of this learning: it means discovering and rethinking our representations by seeing our implicit expectations of the world violated. And it’s complicated in the social and psychological world. For example, to modify the idea that the earth is flat by the new representation which is round, was difficult a few centuries ago (in fact it is difficult with a lot of semantic ideas on the theories of the world: homeopathy is -Is it effective? Is the evolution of species real? Many people will give you one answer and some will give you another regardless of what the data says, and what are their representations, their interpretation of the world).

    however, much harder is to come to terms with other types of ideas such as that your partner is unfaithful to you and you have to leave it, that you are really not comfortable with the people around you and that is why you don’t have good communication with them, that your friends are not really comfortable because deep down you have different values, or that the path you have chosen professionally has stalled and you should devote yourself to something else … all of these ideas hurt and all of them hide underlying issues that can affect happiness or happiness. social skills, indirect issues that are what they really should be addressed more than “how to be a more outgoing person” or “how to be more positive”.

    To make matters worse, it is common that when we detect those inconsistencies that cause us discomfort between the social world and personal representations, these are so reinforced and consolidated. implicit learning processes that are very difficult to change. Change is even more costly.

    in conclusion

    Changing is not easy. Believing that change is simple is an easy idea to sell because it is what many would love, but accepting this advertising slogan also comes at a cost: guilt. After reading a self-help book, you must be asking yourself “if it’s that easy, why can’t I understand it?”

    Guilt is also an easy trap, for not one writer sells you this idea, not many, not all psychologists, not “coaches”; this is the company: from those who sell adventures, from the free spirit and the youth when they sell perfumes and cars (“if you buy that, you will be cooler”), those who support that the world is a meritocracy and that you just have to fight you have to get what you want without getting up (like positive psychology), even people who make mistakes under the pretext of having neither problems nor limits, nor in their life social or anything because they do such a thing and advise you no matter who you are, that is, without understanding your emotions or your circumstances.

    I here they are, everyone’s emotions, fears and anxiety play a crucial role that everyone decides to ignore. Conveying learning isn’t just about explaining your side of events, no matter how much scientific and empirical support you have. I can tell you that in order to start a car you have to enter the key, turn it, remove the handbrake and the like, and these are objective and real facts, but until you enter the key and until if you don’t do it multiple times, you yourself won’t really know how to start a car. And in the same way, don’t tear yourself away from your happiness either.

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