Most Self-Help Books Are Wastes of Time

Photo by Asal Lotfi on Unsplash

3 Common Traits of a Bad Self-Help Book

Note: my definition of a good self-improvement book is one that actually teaches you to become a better person. If you are looking for a fun read, a different perspective, or motivational materials, these books might be good reads.

Offers Unproven Advice

Imagine this: the author is trying to teach you a trick to make anyone like you instantly; after a brief description, she went on to tell you a story of how her popular celebrity friend uses this trick to win everyone’s heart at a high-profile party. Sounds familiar? This is a classic example of using pseudo-evidence to support an argument. Her friend’s popularity might be a result of multiple factors, and it is likely that many of these stories are made up.

Offers Conventional Wisdom

Another infamous category includes books that state the obvious. They usually frame it differently, but the main points are what you have heard a hundred times from your mom in grade school. For example, a book offers you the number one “secret” of successful people after interviewing 120 CEOs and celebrities — be proactive. Well, I know that already.

Offers Non-Actionable Suggestions

With well-grounded findings to supports its advice, a book may still be not helpful if what it recommends is not actionable. For example, simply telling you that working hard is the basic ingredient for success is not enough. A good book should also offer exercise or incremental steps that you can do to maintain a longer and more efficient work schedule.

Finding Your Next Read

If you are like me and looking for meaningful changes from reading a self-help book, consider these three points before picking your next read. I usually look at a book’s summary and reviews to make sure that:

  • The author uses sound arguments and evidence to show her points.
  • The advice offered is new.
  • The advice offered is relevant and actionable.
  • The author presents evidence from various scientific research and clearly explains how the conclusions are derived from the evidence.
  • The author shed new light on the topic of sleep and challenged some widely accepted myths.
  • The book offers action items for achieving better sleep and the reasoning behind them.



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Kayden Sung

Kayden Sung


Learner, Minimalist, Software Engineer. Writes about personal development.