Five Ways Motivational Books Lie To You

Self-help and motivational guides are a multi-billion dollar industry. Americans alone spend roughly $8 billion per year on the seminars, books, online courses, related apps, knickknacks, and paraphernalia. That’s a lot of cash up for grabs to anyone able to come up with a catchy title and slogan for solving all of life’s problems.

At the risk of sounding like a cynic, there are literally countless better ways to spend that money, and infinitely more helpful solutions out there than the latest Dr. Phil book. That seminar at the hotel down by the airport isn’t going to turn your life around. The evidence that motivational and self-help books are doing more harm than good is mounting. Check out Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless by Steve Salerno for a more in-depth examination.

Motivational speakers and authors can become very famous, and very wealthy. Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, Gretchen Rubin, Stephen Covey. You’ve heard of at least one of them. Their books spend months – if not years – on every bestseller list imaginable. They give us detailed instructions on how to get and stay motivated, how to visualize our goals, how to think, what to think, why we think the way we think, and everything in between. It’s quick, concise, and convenient.

That’s part of the problem. Motivational books and authors, either intentionally or by accident, have been lying to us. And we’ve believed them and bought into it all because so many of us are desperate for solutions. Far be it for me to point any fingers at any of them. I’d like to think that every single one of them sincerely believes in what they’re peddling, but that doesn’t change the outcome. What’s that expression about the road to hell?

Motivational books might help some us, but they lie to all of us. Here are just 5 ways that they do.

See Also: How to Stay Motivated All Day, Every Day

1. Promoting The Idea That ANYTHING is Possible

Too many motivational authors promote the ridiculous notion that literally anything is possible if you believe in yourself. And I use “literal” there in the literal sense of the word. These authors would have us believe that anyone can write a best-selling book, become a Hollywood superstar, or launch the next big thing and retire as billionaire at age 28. That’s just not so.

A serious dose of reality is never a bad thing, but motivational writers don’t want you thinking about that. They preach that whatever you imagine, you can do. Whatever you dream, will be. If you believe something strong and long enough, it will become true. Hogwash. Having a dream is healthy, and we shouldn’t only go after them if we know we’ll succeed. Failure is a part of life. But pretending that success is guaranteed by the strength of your conviction is irresponsible.

2. Convincing Us That Change is Possible in 200 Pages

Or 12 steps. Or one “simple change”. Or at the end of their patented 3-week course. Change is almost always possible, but it takes a lot of time, energy, and commitment. You can’t start a book as an introverted, underachieving nice guy and magically find yourself the exact opposite by the time you read the last page. It just ain’t gonna happen. And if motivational books made that clear, well then, no harm no foul. But they don’t.

They promote themselves as the quick fix that we all want so badly. Start here on page 1, finish there by page 327. What’s worse, they treat everyone exactly the same. As though my issues, background, baggage, personality, and emotional intelligence are the same as yours. And his. And hers. We’re all different and unique, so believing or implying that the “solution” and timeframe is equal for everyone is misguided at best, and an outright deception at worst.

3. There is No Secret

woman with finger on mouth


Now we get to the meat of the criticism against motivational and self-help literature. There is no “secret” that an author can reveal to us. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that was known to the ancients, lost for millennia, and only recently rediscovered by the guru du jour. You want the secret to success? It’s hard work. That’s it. Anyone telling you differently is lying or wrong.

4. Unproven Ideas and Questionable “Experts”

So, what qualifies someone as a motivational or self-help author? What credentials do they need? As it turns out, none. Sure, some of them are certified psychologists, psychiatrists, and other therapists, but many are just regular folk from various backgrounds. Stay-at-home moms, businessmen, yoga instructors…and that’s not meant to take anything away from any of those groups.

But do they have the authority to guide us and tell us how to live? Not really. Their advice and credos can actually be dangerous, too. Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, claimed that she cured her farsightedness by believing that she could. She even shares an anecdote about a woman that cured her breast cancer the same way. That’s not just delusional; it’s borderline criminal. To suggest that someone with a life-threatening disease should forgo medical treatment in favour of “thinking themselves healthy.” Much of their advice and steps have limited or no scientific support, so take it all with a very large grain of salt.

5. It Must Be You

Motivational books beat us over the head with the idea that anyone can do anything. So what happens when we fail at something, then? We feel inadequate. Like losers. Like we’re somehow deficient in something that everyone else has in spades. If we can’t follow a simple plan, steps, or solution, what other conclusion could we possibly reach? These books and their cookie-cutter systems fail to take that into consideration, and so ultimately end up doing more harm than good for John Q. Public.

Everyone reads this and wakes up with a successful career, loving relationship, wealth, and happiness…except me. What’s wrong with me? What’s the point? The book and author must stick to an “it’s not me, it’s you” attitude towards their motivational technique. If it doesn’t work for you, you must have done it wrong. Otherwise, it’s basically admitting it’s a bunch of crap.

See Also: Where Does Your Motivation Come From?

Again, if you personally find motivational and self-help books beneficial, have at it. It’s like religion: it may not be for everyone, but if it helps you navigate the trials and tribulations of everyday life, then who am I – or anyone – to judge? The danger, though, comes from the prevailing opinion that everything can be solved and made better if you just have the latest manifesto from the current “it” speaker or guru. It can’t, and it won’t. Our success, motivation, and happiness should come from only one source: ourselves. Not Tony Robbins. Not Eckhart Tolle. Not Oprah. Not even Beyonce.

There may be a place for motivational books and speakers, but only as one tool in a very large toolkit. Don’t rely on them exclusively. Don’t buy into the hype, and glamorous promises, and catchy mantras. Just add whatever “knowledge” they have to offer to your growing collection, filter, and use appropriately.

Motivation can only come from within. Nothing in life can or should be reduced to a pithy quote suitable for framing. Things are more complex than that.

Have motivational books and authors been a boon or a bust in your life? Share your experience in the comments below…

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