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When Self-Help Doesn’t Help

March 20, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When Self-Help Doesn’t Help: Why Self-Help Isn’t Helping and What to Do Instead

Everyone wants to be their best selves, right?  But what happens when your self-help resources… aren’t helping? Our default reaction might be to assume that WE are the problem, but that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes, self-help isn’t helpful, and not everything is right for YOU.

We all want to be better people, right? Happier, more productive, and able to show up for the people we care about. And for many of us, we turn to self-help or personal development resources and experts as a way to do that. 

But there’s a downside to self-help — sometimes it perpetuates the idea that we need to “help ourselves.” Sometimes, it also makes us feel bad about ourselves when those tips and tools just aren’t helping. We must be broken, right? 

While so many of the resources out there are amazing and mean well, there’s something that happens when they don’t work for us: We start to think we’re the problem. If we don’t ace all the productivity methods we try (or we can’t organize our days or homes like that exactly like Joanna and Clea from The Home Edit), we start feeling guilty.

We start thinking we’re not good enough. And we think that there’s no way to change — because “nothing has worked.” 

Feel stuck in that loop? Many of us are. So in this episode, I want to have an honest discussion about when self-help is actually helping… and when it’s not. 

What is “self-help”?

Years ago, I thought self-help books were for people who were depressed or felt like their lives were falling apart. Since then, I’ve learned that time management, productivity, home organization, confidence, finances, leadership — those things all count as self-help!

And I’m sure we all have a stack of self-help books at home, just waiting to be read, right? It seems like every time I talk with a new time management coaching client, they confide that there’s a copy of Atomic Habits sitting on their nightstand, collecting dust.

But in addition to an expanded perspective of self-help books, I’ve also learned that self-help isn’t just books

It’s attending workshops that show us how to get the most out of our calendar apps. It means scheduling more “self-care time” because you read a blog about the importance of self-care. It’s taking personality assessments to learn your “attachment style” and love languages, or repeating daily affirmations to boost your confidence.

It might even be watching TikToks and YouTube videos on ADHD to learn more about your newest diagnosis. 

These are all self-help strategies — because ultimately, they focus on how to work on yourself or how to fix challenges that are affecting your work or personal life. And they aren’t all bad!

Those resources can be extremely helpful for breaking through some serious issues in your life, like time management or anxiety. But only at the right place and the right time. And only if that’s you know yourself first. Which is where self-help can turn out to be…well, not so helpful. 

Self-awareness and self-help

I know, pausing to try to get to know yourself before you dig into all the self-help stuff doesn’t feel productive. It doesn’t feel like you’re DOING anything or taking action (and that’s what the books all tell you to do).

However, if you’re working through self-help strategy after self-help strategy, constantly wondering what’s not clicking, it’s probably because those strategies don’t work for YOUR life. Not everything will work the way your brain works. It doesn’t mean the self-help authors or creators are wrong. It just means the tools might not be right for you

Not everything will work for you. And that’s okay!  The thing is, there are no “easy fixes” for becoming a better person. Transformation takes time and consistency, and it starts with knowing yourself.

And there isn’t one single way to do anything. Like my grandmother says, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” 

It’s easy to get that tunnel vision whenever you’re focused on doing more. If you’re reading a book about habits, you want that exact habit strategy in the book to work for you. If you’re watching a YouTube video about organizing your pantry, you want your pantry to look exactly like the designer pantry in the video. 

As a result, you end up becoming too focused on the end goal, rather than the process, which is what success in self-help comes down to. The power is in the process.

Because it’s in the process of trial and error that you can actually figure out what works for you, and it’s okay if you color outside of the lines or rearrange the steps if that’s what works for you.

How to do the internal work

So…how do you find self-help that helps? How do you get to know yourself? Personality assessments are a good start!

One of my first time management coaching clients loved to make big plans. Big elaborate plans for meetings, projects, trips, anything. But she struggled with the follow-through and procrastinated often. 

During our first session, she expected that we’d start by jumping into all of the problems and get into fix-it mode.

But instead, I had her take a personality assessment. Once we looked at her results, it was clear that her personality type indicated that she loved big ideas but wasn’t a fan of dealing with details (we knew that already!). 

However, with that information, we started changing how she approached her planning. Instead of giving her a one-size-fits-all, copy-and-paste strategy to try, we went straight for methods that worked with her personality, instead of against it.

Every project now had a purpose statement that motivated her to stay on track. She started assigning the super detail-oriented pieces to others on her team to play to their strengths. This is how we make self-help helpful — by knowing how to adapt it for our strengths and weaknesses. 

What if personality assessments aren’t your thing?

If you’re not into personality assessments, you can get to know yourself by assessing what’s worked in the past. Think about past moments of growth you’ve had. What caused the change? How did it impact you? What were some of the growing pains you faced? 

One of my favorite questions to ask my coaching clients is “Tell me about a time you felt really successful.” Then, I follow it up with “What was going so well at the time?”

When you look for clues about what’s worked well in the past, those clues can be a HUGE indicator of whether or not introducing something new can work for you now. 

Ultimately, you have to find what works for you

Remember: There isn’t one right way to do self-help. That’s the “self” part of it all — it has to work for YOU and not anyone else. 

Ultimately, you have control over what you consume — like the types of books you read or whether or not you attend a conference — so take advantage of that opportunity! It’s okay to be assertive here. It’s totally okay to be presented with a new piece of advice or self-help tip and say, “No thank you. I don’t accept that.”

You’ve got to step into the driver’s seat. Otherwise, you’re either going to spend a life lived for others, or stay stuck in the rut of never finding anything that sticks.

If you want help finding what works for you, check out It’s About Time Academy. We talk about time management strategies, productivity, and personal development that gets to the root of your values and challenges.

No cookie-cutter advice in the Academy! If you’re interested in joining, it’s just $29 a month. 

PEEK INSIDE THE ACADEMY

In this episode, we talk about: 

  • The reason why self-help isn’t helping (hint — it’s not you!)
  • Why you need to dig deep and get to know yourself first
  • Working with your strengths to find the best methods of productivity and balance

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