Self-development is amazing. It’s invited the masses to become more self-aware, to speak openly about mental health issues, and to prioritize personal growth.
But for those of us “self-help junkies,” there’s a dark side.
I began noticing that I didn’t know my own thoughts from those that I’d read. I was following systems and advice from leaders I respected, but whose philosophies didn’t align with my own. I was attempting to imitate the lives of those I’d never met instead of listening to my own inner wisdom.
So, if you like me, have an Amazon recommended list a mile long with self-help books and an inbox full of webinars that promise to change your life, then this might be for you.
Here are 10 signs that your love of self-help has become a buffer and distraction keeping you from authentic joy in your life:
1. You KNOW more than ever but still feel discontent.
We KNOW knowledge doesn’t automatically mean we’re happier. We KNOW being right isn’t the goal. We KNOW about different personality tests, different mindfulness techniques, different philosophies or ways of achieving success, but what is the use if the practical application doesn’t lead to a life that feels good to live?
We say things like, “I understand that intellectually, but how do I implement it?” We treat our lives like a puzzle to be solved instead of an experience to be fully welcomed.
2. No one can live up to your standards (including yourself).
Expectations in our day and age are already high with social media. Self-development books give us a glimpse into a more ‘enlightened’ way of thinking and it’s easy to start seeing “better” as the goal instead of “happier” or “more authentic.”
We can create distance in our relationships because we’re pushing our ideals onto our loved ones without their invitation. We get frustrated that they don’t know their Enneagram type or don’t seem to care, instead of getting curious about how THEY seem to find contentment in THEIR lives just fine. Self-help practices are only a tool, and tools lose their merit the moment they become unhelpful.
3. You keep searching, convinced the next book, the next webinar, the next blog article, will finally help you make that shift you’ve been searching for.
You’re a seeker. You’re hungry. You’re curious. These are probably qualities fundamental to your own self-perception and identity. They are powerful attributes, and they mean you probably have a higher self-awareness than the average Joe or Jane. But like greed or gluttony, wanting without ever feeling satisfied will defer happiness indefinitely. If the NEXT thing is THE thing, you will never be satisfied.
4. Your anxiety keeps getting worse.
Self-help tends to take our lives and intellectualize them. This can be incredibly helpful at times, but too often we let it divorce us from our physical bodies. This disconnection can start to increase our intellectual stress, creating anxieties out of every problem that comes our way.
My own anxiety continued to rise the more self-help I read, which led me to read even more, searching desperately for a solution. It wasn’t until I reconnected with my body and re-established a balanced mind-body connection that I began to release that buzzing pressure in my chest.
5. You’re afraid of making mistakes.
Reading self-help can make it seem like everyone out there has it figured out except for you.
If you find yourself hesitating to write that book or do that thing because some self-help guru you follow on social media is already doing it better and obviously has-her-life-together-better-than-you-so-why-bother, then it’s time to consider taking a break. If it’s self-development content that isn’t helping you develop yourself, that’s a sign to step away!
6. You’re not sure what YOU believe because you have so many other voices in your head.
If quotes, affirmations, and thought-work modalities galore are on constant repeat in your brain to the point that you’re not sure if you’ve had an original thought for a while, then you’ve invited too many cooks to the kitchen. Getting inspiration and advice from wise and seasoned folks who have been where you’ve been and risen to a new level is the amazing opportunity the self-help craze provides, but in the end, you are the one living your life. You must be able to distinguish your own thoughts and wisdom from the sphere of influence surrounding you.
7. You do things you don’t want to do because a self-help leader you respect says it works for them.
I’ve fallen into this trap so many times, pushing myself to think a certain way or try a certain morning routine just because some guru I admired swears by it.
Anyone who’s creating self-development material at a high level has learned this truth: you have to do what works for you. The saying, “The best workout is the one you’ll do,” is true in all areas of life.
8. You haven’t been creating, just consuming.
When was the last time you wrote something or made something or created your own system of helping yourself? When did you last experiment with eyes wide open for the sake of seeing what works in your own life? Have you given up your art, your creativity, because you’re too busy consuming others’? This is a major red flag that you need to drop back into yourself and step away from consuming others’ work for a while.
9. You feel like you’re watching life more than living it.
If you can look back on the last few years in awe that you didn’t feel connected to yourself and your life, if you remember what it was like as a child to be totally present in your lived experience and are worried that time is passing too quickly, those are signs that you’ve intellectualized too much of your lived experience. The goal of self-help should be practical, to help you LIVE a more satisfying, more alive LIFE.
10. You’re afraid to trust your own inner wisdom.
You’re afraid you don’t have it right, that your own thoughts are inferior to those of the self-help experts and gurus. You elevate their wisdom above your own, forgetting that they are just people too and the life you live can be no one else’s but your own. Beyond forgetting to listen to your own wisdom, you’re afraid of trusting yourself. You’ve been wrong, and everyone else seems to say things so eloquently.
One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In the minds of geniuses we find once more, our own neglected thoughts.” We are our own best sources of wisdom. We are our starting point. The thoughts and reflections of others are important to challenge our limited perspectives, but they are only additional.
I get it; I’m a coach. Self-help is my life. But the ultimate goal of coaching, of reading self-help, or any of this self-development work is to come home to yourself.
Your wisdom must be ignited, listened to, and honored as sacred. Your deepest inner mind is where you alone reside, so if it ever feels like it doesn’t belong to you, like you’ve let too many people move in and throw their motivational posters up on the wall, then that’s a sign to step back, sign out of Amazon, Instagram, and delete those webinars. Just for a bit.
Give yourself space to realign with your own thoughts, and you’ll start to see things more clearly. That clarity is a gift that will help you create the change you truly desire in your life.