photo by Jill

People seek self-help for a reason, to help themselves, duh. But like all good things, self improvement has it’s disadvantages. Some people take it too far. Instead of improving their lives, they become delusional.

1. Tony the Tiger… err Robbins

Before I got into personal development, I always thought of people like Tony the Tiger.. I mean Tony Robbins and Richard Simmons as the epitome of self improvement. I guess like many people, I confused self improvement with motivational speakers.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Tony Robbins, I think he’s a great guy and I’m sure he’s helped a lot of people out. But it’s just not my style.

The whole chest pounding, firewalking thing always threw me off. I understand the idea is to get pumped up, but can’t you do that without burning your feet to a crisp? Also, is that really sustainable? If I have to walk on hot coals everyday just to find motivation, something is probably wrong with my life.

These are also the people that remain positive under any circumstances.

Volcano eruption? The heat will help you sweat and detoxify.

Hurricane? Now I don’t have to wash my car.

Earthquake caused a gaping hole in the middle of your house? We could make a swimming pool!

Denial Anyone?

2. Productivity is the opiate of the masses.

There are certain things you must do. This includes things you need to do to not die and stay out of prison.

Some people just have a problem with these things and turn to productivity gurus for help. But it can often be taken overboard. When you can’t enjoy yourself without doing something productive, you have a problem.

3. Self Improvement is your drug of choice

There’s nothing wrong with ferociously pursuing personal development and new contexts. The problem is when “improving” has become more of a drug than means to an end.

Some signs of this deadly illness may include:

  • Lack of friends, social life, or connection to the outside world
  • Improving has become more important than living
  • Spending half your day reading lists such as “4,000 motivation hacks” and “12 ways to super power ultra charge your brain” but can’t recite a single sentence from any of them.

4. Hacking your life is more important than living it

Some of your favorite conversations include: a new method for color coding your to do list (purple is uber urgent, black is ninja important!), how you turned your watch into a fork slash writing utensil slash stapler, and how to turn your dishwasher into a plasma tv.

You also think that hacking your life includes using cashew butter instead of peanut butter on a jelly sandwich, using a clothes iron to make grilled cheese, and hacking your sweatshirt.

Although I do have to admit, if I could pull off the sweatshirt hack without looking extremely flamboyant, I might give it a go.

5. Um, it’s your turn. Move.

Imagine you aspire to be grandmaster chess player. You study the game, your read books, you watch other masters play. You’re so engrossed with learning and improving your game, you never actually play. You’re just stuck on “what’s next.”

When you’re so gung-ho on improving, it can be easy to lose sight of the reason for it in the first place: to make life better. But if you’re just preparing to live and not actually living, what’s the point?

Some honorable mentions were…

Not being able to feel good about yourself without listening to a tape of “Because I’m special and I’m worth it” and the guy that thinks Lao Tzu was a Zen master.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Alaia Williams/One Organized Life July 2, 2008 at 4:17 pm

You’re right – some people take “self-help” to the extreme. I think the whole self-help genre in general is a good thing, and has helped a lot of people (speakers, classes, blogs, books, whatever) – but as you said, when consuming all this self help “stuff” becomes more important than, I don’t know, actually TRYING some of the things you’ve read and LIVING your life – it just becomes kind of useless.

I think if people paced themselves more, and didn’t just take in every personal development/productivity/self-help article/book/blog they could get their hands on and took time to pick out something that speaks to them, digest it, and APPLY it, maybe they’d see some real changes in their lives.
(that sentence was waaay too long)

I think it’s important to be productive and do the things that need to get done (things that keep food on the table, etc), but you’re right, if someone doesn’t know how to RELAX or take a day off and veg out – yeah, that’s a problem. I’ve had that problem. Over consumption of self-help “stuff” can be a self-control issue, just like shopping too much, eating too much, etc…. and unfortunately a lot of great information goes right over people’s heads once they’ve buried themselves in a sea of 3-day workshops and top 10 lists.


Alex April 12, 2011 at 8:38 am

Well said. A well recommended book to a close friend is the best way to help. Couldn’t have said it better.

Jon Bishop July 2, 2008 at 4:39 pm

The one that really sets me off is ‘The Secret’. I read half the book then watched the movie with my dad. The ideas in the book are pretty cool but people need to start taking credit for their accomplishments instead of attributing their successes to a book.

Worst part about self-help and motivational speakers is someone is making a lot of money off of the unstable and weak minded.


Budo7777 October 8, 2013 at 1:00 am

Jim you make sense. I just don’t agree with your one point. Believing in the secret does in no way mean you are weak or or unstable.(I did not even enjoy the book that much as it smelled of commercialism.)But I would bet thousands of people became successful because of the book because just like the Bimble Bee who is never told he cannot fly…he just flys anyway! I suppose you don’t have a self help coach, don’t go to therapy and God forbid…do not have a mentor you check in with every week or even every day. Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali did. They weren’t brain surgeons. They did pretty darn good with “THE SECRET” philosophy before it even came out. Now…do you notice Anthony Robbins was not involved in that project and you can bet your last glass eye they begged him to be in it? So all self help is not created equal. But as I said in my other post, I am enrolled in his certification program so I cant go into detail or toot my own horn. I would like to make a bet here though. Yes I believe 75% of self help coaches would not help all of you. But most would help ONE of you! And I would like to ask all of you a question on this thread. If A.R. offered each of you a bet, that in one year he could double the enjoyment you have in life or at least double the potential you thought you were born with to succeed….DOUBLE IT…..!!!! and if he loses the bet he must pay you $25,000 in cash. But…you must pick the winner like red or black on roulette. Will Tony Robbins succeed with you, or not? Would anyone dare to bet he could not do what he said? Now think of this…how sick would you be if you bet against Tony( which means yourself and coaches as well) and you win and get handed a roll full of $100 bills and you for 5 seconds are jumping in the air. Until you look at the 20 other people who bet he could do it and they are already giddy and laughing and the girls are hugging and crying, and the guys are just hi-fiving because they sense their biggest dream of the past 5 yrs is going to come true!!! Would you throw up immediately or wait until you got home? LOL

What i am saying is, life coaches often do not work for that specific individual, but the payoff if they do, is like winning the lottery.. Imagine if a shy guys dream was to have sex with 10 exotic women in one year. And thats it. he had no further goals. And while A.R. helped him achieve that goal, one of those women wound up falling in love with him,encouraged him to start that business on the beach” he always tinkered with in his mind, and she gave him beautiful children, a new social life and every one of his friends couldn’t deal with visiting him because they kept asking them-self…”Why him? I was the High School Quarterback, and look at what I got waiting for me back home. Why this F*&^cking GUY!!!! Yep, it happens every day, one “meaningless” goal(to you anyway) turns into a home run for the person wishing for it and DOING something to get it. And if he just had the 10 women and went back to his cubicle…that would be so bad? -) Imagine if every Dictator, Oppressor and President of a nation had 3 life coaches and one was Anthony Robbins. Would you bet on world peace? I don’t know about that, I truly don’t. I definitely would bet it all on total world improvement,though!!! By the way, when you have a dream and no confidence in it and all your “buddies” agree with you, it is as good as dead right there. You better get new buddies or a new goal. Your association determines your destination, wouldnt you say? And who did we all hang out last week with that was so damn wonderful? ROFLMAO!

Andrea Hess | Empowered Soul July 2, 2008 at 6:41 pm

So true! Self-improvement definitely has to be the means, not the end itself.

Over on the spiritual development side of things, we have our own delusional types. My least favorites are the “I’m too enlightened to deal with money” and the “If I intend it, I won’t actually have to ever do anything” people! And then there’s the “I’m more evolved than you, look at how much I meditate” types …



rc July 2, 2008 at 7:00 pm

You are right I never liked self help people either. Well I like you and StevePavlina. I listened to this guy called Larry Winget. Hes kinda kool but looks like a jackass in his crocodile boots, “he has over 200 pair even pink ones”. The message is always good but never seems realistic to normal people. Who gets up ready to walk on coals and glass etc its ridiculous. So thanks for being real, real about drugs real about life and marriage etc. Those are whats important relating to the people who read your blogs, not going off on some wild tangent about the same thing over and over. Keep it real.-=ro2


Budo7777 October 8, 2013 at 12:25 am

I have a strong feeling that since 95% of those who walked on coals loved the experience there is more to it than meets the eye. I now am training to be certified by Tony so I wont toot my horn here. Suffice it to say that it was meant to be a one time “crash course” for the brain, an anchor if you will that will always leave your brain with the memory that yu did something so scary 995 of the people on earth would never attempt it. So… what? If you actually walked on coals instead of read about it, going into Donald Trumps office and getting thrown out until he finally gives you 3 minutes to change tyour life doesnt seem so daunting now, does it? Joining the Army when you haev asthma doesnt seem out of reach does it? If youre too lazy to walk on fire, there are many things you can do in its place. But you have to do something. Some things you do one time, some things when they come up, and others every day of your life.

Did any of you know that before Jim Carrey made it he carried in his wallet a check made out to himself that said “payment for services rendered.” And he looked at it every single day for a long time and he told himself, “One day Im going to be able to cash this check.” If doing that for 5 years would give you 10 million, would you do it and answer all the silly questions along the way about “Do you really think doing that is going to give you 10 million dollars?”I would.

Mary@GoodlifeZen July 2, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Mmmm…I don’t agree, Jonathan.
It’s true that on the fringes, self-development has turned into a cult – and a great money-spinner.

But there is also a middle ground which I prefer to call ‘personal growth’. Because I think we can grow and change. I know that from personal experience. At one time of my life when I was heavily into karate, the sharp edge of my character was to the fore – and I extremely focussed, but not very kind.

After I became a Blackbelt, became immersed in Zen practice, and trained as a psychotherapist, I began to change. Now, a chunk of life later, friends see me as a kind, patient person. That’s what personal growth has done for me.


Andrew Scotchmer July 3, 2008 at 12:21 am

The best self-help is when you help yourself. I think too many on the self-help speaking circuit are so engrosed in themselves and the showmanship of their act, that the meaning of why people have come in the first place is lost.

A lot of self-help guru’s promise too much. They promise instant big life altering changes if you follow their methods. In reality it’s the small “tweaks” we make to our lives that have the biggist long-term impact.

Take the tradition of making New Years Resolutions on January 1st. To be honest very few keep them because the change is too great to manage in one go. There’s a much greater chance of success however if you break your goal down into small steps and work on each in turn over the coming year than trying and do everything from the word go.

Self improvement is a journey that is best taken in small, gradual and easily-managable steps.


Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map July 3, 2008 at 9:29 pm

It’s true that some people go for personal development workshops but not do a thing after that. They are just addicted to the adrenarlin rush while attending it. But there is much personal work to be done after that.

I am an advocate of using self help techniques for personal transformation. It’s one thing to talk and understand that one needs to change but what about the application? To know the techniques ourselves is self empowerment. I share many of these tips and strategies of how various methods and techniques have helped me on my site. Transformation is definitely faster, when one is equipped with the right tools.



Kenneth Williams July 4, 2008 at 7:57 am

Bravo, Bravo the crowd screams emphatically! People become self help addicts because they lack ACTION in their lives!People put their belief in the messenger instead of believing the message and taking action.You are right Self help can ruin someone’s life! How? Because they become dependent on the words of someone else instead of listening to that small voice inside of them.Not even a child can commit to a life of dependency! There has to be a point in all of our lives when we will pave our own road, run our own race, and build our own castle! Check out this post

I do believe motivation and self help is needed, because living a successful lifestyle has to be learned. No one is born with a map instead we must be guided and directed, that”s why we have parents, teachers, and mentors along the way. Yet for the person who has never had anyone, a motivational speaker is the next best thing! Love the post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Iron sharpens iron, and words inspire words.


Mark D July 4, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Couldn’t you say that you’re being productive by relaxing?

I usually find myself lost in all the self help garbage out there and have to take a step back. Moving all that stuff out of my grasp just puts me more at ease and in the mood to improve myself by… myself.

Your list really put it into perspective for me though. I never thought about how much of a waste it is to try to cram in as much as you can, rather than find a few good ones and stick with them. Thanks.


K Stone July 4, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Your description in number 4 is so funny you really had me laughing. Glad to have found your blog. It looks great!


Al at 7P July 5, 2008 at 3:12 pm

That skirt is really a sweatshirt?

For some reason I think that information will be valuable in an emergency, even though I’m a guy.


Sara at On Simplicity July 10, 2008 at 10:52 pm

When you’re spending money to listen to tapes where someone else talks about their experiences instead of just experiencing them yourself, self help is ruining your life.

I’m all for growing and learning, but at some point, you’ve got to try to put it in action, even if you fall on your face. And an amen to the idea that it’s okay to do nothing–it’s time well wasted.


4 Mind 4 Life July 18, 2008 at 8:11 pm

Ha, nice article Jonathan. I liked how you stated the truth when it came to how you feel about Tony Robbins. I think he’s a great guy…

Favorite line: If I have to walk on hot coals everyday just to find motivation, something is probably wrong with my life. I like how you called out self-improvement.

I saw that this article was tagged with “sarcasm” – but a lot of things you stated were the truth. Definitely entertaining to read and I noticed your blog is coming along nicely.

Keep up the good work man.

4 Mind 4 Life


Monica Ricci July 27, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Dude, I totally dig your stuff, even though productivity is a key brick in the wall of my career. The important piece is that my wall also has a lot of other bricks… joy, simplicity, quiet, fun, choice and confidence to name a few. Thanks for another great post Jonathon.


nirvana diva September 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

wow…cynical much? you know ,cynicism is an addiction also. and in fact, it’s just another form of “venting”. i absolutely LOVE your blog though and i agree with almost everything. Glad i found it and now get the rss feed. Thanks!


Deniro October 5, 2008 at 7:42 am

lol @ Anthony…that aint my style either..


Umbratikus December 1, 2008 at 8:10 am

You know, I was teetering on the brink of unsubscribing from your blog. Yes, you spout a lot of pop wisdom and truth, but for the most part, it wasn’t anything I haven’t heard or read before. What you are doing is great, but I wasn’t getting as much fresh thinking as I was looking for. Until this post, that is. I agree with you wholeheartedly and I thought I was the only one who felt this way. The whole term “hack” has an extremely negative connotation for me.

One of my guiding principles is authenticity. Some people are so focused on “self improvement,” that they lose sight of who they really are. Never lose sight of who you are. Learn and grow, but don’t trade yourself for someone else’s vision of who you should be.


Adrienne December 4, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Your column is uber funny. You have described me to a tee. I dunno, it beats playing scratch offs. I like your style, keep up the good work–on the hurry up if you don’t mind. :-) Adrienne


Molly May 11, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I have to admit–I am a self-help junkie. I’m trying to ween myself from this, as the benefits are never really outweighed by the feelings of dependence on these books. I think I picked up my first one about 5 years ago, and everytime I think one seems to be working, I am great for a month or so, and then inevitably return to the great search of finding the next book that will fix me. It makes me feel even more helpless, complacent and powerless, rather than “pumping me up”. I think I live up in my brain a little too much, and ruminate until the cows come home. Self-help books then just seem to add fuel to the fire.


Peter Toth August 29, 2009 at 8:12 am

Hi Jonathan,

I am new reader of your blog and I wanted to get idea what are your teaching about so I am reading all your articles. It seems pretty good so continue :).

I would like explain something you here. I am studying Tonny Robbins work because he got results. Point of fire walk is not motivation. Point of fire walk is to show people that they can do what they thought they aren’t able, to show them how incorect could be their beliefs about world. Motivation is just result for some people. I really like the whole idea because it is real experience which is great way how to make someone thinking about his belief of world.

Second of all I also thought about Tony as motivational speaker, but after studying him and his work I found there is much more than that. Don’t forget that his work is based also on NLP(not only) which he learned from Grinder him self. There is deeper meaning to it.

I recomend you get Creating Lasting Change program where he teach about his work.

Take care, Peter.


Random Chick August 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Okay…you just described me. Now what do it do to stop it? I’m serious. I think I’m addicted to self help stuff. Any suggestions?



Alex April 12, 2011 at 8:09 am

I suggest take a mini vacation. No internet, no books. Just you and some friends/family. Get away and your life back home will come in better focus.

Ramblings of a Woman September 7, 2010 at 5:09 am

Like was said by several others in earlier comments,so many ‘self-help addicts’ get stuck in analysis paralysis, and never actually go and live their dreams. You gotta figure what is right for you and then DO something, even if that something is to decide it is time to do nothing!


Vanessa January 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Number 5 is really important. What do you want to do? Try? Experience? What is WORTH doing to you?

Personally I’ve been on the self help rampage since I was … well for 4 years maybe. Ready to stop. Seriously.


Alex March 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

I agree. I have gone full circle with self improvement. The books have helped me with confidence issues in High School. Didn’t help in college however. Now out of college, I don’t read them anymore. Taking a little time to see how things worked out and listening to close friends/family that care about you are priceless.


Jifdc October 22, 2011 at 12:50 am

This is my first time at Illuminated Mind. You guys rock! Using your free guides had my goals established and excited about my ambitions again. My dreams are still possible. Thank you so much.


Amel Belguith November 10, 2013 at 11:07 am

I’d like to know more about what you think of self-help speeches


Self Improvelent help November 2, 2015 at 9:26 am

Can I simply say what a relief to uncover an individual who actually knows what they are discussing over the internet. You actually know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people have to look at this and understand this side of the story. I was surprised that you’re not more popular because you most certainly possess the gift.


ivan November 11, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Pretty sure Lao Tzu was a Zen master. Hence why he wrote books about the Dao, which is at the centre of Zen Buddhism (now corrupted beyond belief from its primordial form).


Toby Jensen December 29, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Self-help makes you feel worse. Yes, it is supposed too. In a good way. That pain helps us to change. Especially since nobody wants to change. Yeah. Let’s be honest here. If given the choice of whether to change and remain constant – even Newton’s Law says – people will remain in their current state.

What you focus on expands. If you only focus on what you feel without helping yourself through it then the depression only just gets worse. Focus on feeling your feelings to do something about it instead. Then you get through it.

If you want to change your feelings, you have to feel your feelings.

Here is a short process that took forever to figure out.

The example I like to start with is that forgiveness cures anger. If someone is angry and they forgive them then their anger dissolves away. It is not repressed or denied. It is simply gone. It takes emotion to resolve emotion. This is the basis of gutap. And the best anger management there is around.

When someone is angry they naturally direct their feeling of forgiveness into their feeling of anger. The two emotions must connect to be resolved. False beliefs though often have a couple of emotions that have to work together. Complicated but not impossible.

Gutap – The three steps described:

1 – Feel the feeling of your limiting belief. If you want to change your feelings you have to feel them. (Everyone already knows this step.)

2 – Insight: Find what the positive answer is that it actually wants you to know. What does your limited belief want you to know that is positive? What is the good thing it wants for you but trying in a negative way? (A slight shift on the insight people are seeking.)

3 – Connect the feeling of what it wants you to know and let the feeling of that answer flow into the feeling of your limiting belief to change it. The positive feelings changes it – not you.

That is as simply as I can put it.

Gutap by Toby Jensen


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