Why Self-Help Doesn’t Work

So many of us love self-help. We ravenously consume the latest and greatest, hoping that with every page we read, we will become a better and better person. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably experienced the moment when you realize, “Wait, nothing has changed despite having read all these articles and books”. Now sure, some of you out there will have taken these books and become a better person, which is great. But I can bet that there are many of you out there that have wondered this same thing. 

So what’s happening? Well a few things. Have you ever noticed the content feeling you get after deciding to chase after a goal or how good it feels to make a to-do list for the next day, the decision that tomorrow is the day that everything changes? It feels great! It feels so good to say to yourself this is it, this is the moment that I’m going to be different.

But then you wake up the next day, look at that to-do list and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”. Sometimes we can get started and keep the momentum going through the next day, or maybe even a few days, but for many, the momentum doesn’t carry us very far.

When we read self-help books, they elicit a similar response, we resolve to do better and are inspired to be successful. Many times though, that’s as far as it takes us. What’s happening is a brain response that creates a feeling similar to the one we get when we accomplish something. Essentially, we feel as though we’ve done something and therefore do not need to continue.

What I liken these responses to is a study done by Peter Gollwitzer and colleagues where they examined what happens when we announce our goals and the effect that has on our goal completion ability. 

This study looked at individuals pursuing higher education. The students were given a questionnaire regarding how they felt about their chosen field and their intentions in pursuing this field. There were two groups that answered this questionnaire, one whose intentions were recognized and those whose intentions were ignored. 

The study found that those who had their intentions recognized regarding their field worked less than their ignored counterparts. Those that had been recognized were more likely to end their studying early and feel a sense of completion sooner than the group that had their intentions ignored. Having our goals affirmed by others makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, leading to an internal sense of accomplishment.

I know for myself, I can create this feeling all on my own. Sitting down and reading an inspiring and interesting pop psychology or self-help book honestly makes me feel accomplished. Watching motivational Youtube videos? Yep, same thing. I feel as though I’ve done something, my brain rewards me with a rush of dopamine. All the while, I’ve accomplished nothing. 

This is why it’s easy to get in this self-help, motivational loop. We’re seeking that next hit to make us feel good, make us feel accomplished. We read another book, watch another video, make another list. All the while we’re accomplishing nothing.

What needs to be cultivated is self discipline. Self-help books can provide a framework, but they will not put the work in for you. Sometimes the books we read provide us with really great advice or anecdotal evidence we can take and apply to our own lives. More often than not, we don’t do this. Being able to put into practice all the information we’ve gleaned on how to stop procrastinating or how to save money, would lead to more success than just reading it and hoping it somehow changes your life.

Self-help books won’t help you unless you act on them. We all want a quick fix, a quick change, instant gratification. We are hardwired to find the easiest way to do something. We’re also hardwired to seek out things that make us feel good. Videos, books and articles won’t do the work for you, but they’ll make it feel like you’ve done the work. If you find yourself reading all these motivational, inspirational, how to improve your life books, but you don’t see any change, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Maybe these books actually do nothing for you and that’s fine. Maybe these books could do something for you, if only you put the work in.

Take a step back next time you put on an inspiring video or read an article on how to study better and ask yourself, “What can I take away from this?”. Then work to apply it. See how different things in your life will be once you are able to self-reflect in this way.

Seven Things to Prep the Night Before for Successful Mornings

Breakfast and Coffee

This is probably the easiest thing you can start with for prepping yourself for a great day. Having your coffee and your breakfast ready to go within minutes helps speed your morning along. Currently, I’ve been enjoying overnight oats with protein powder and a bit of hot cocoa mix. With my coffee, it’s usually some sort of iced latte made with cold brew that we make every week. There are so many breakfasts that you can prep ahead of time and the recipes are so easy to find. If making your coffee is part of a morning ritual for you, keep on doing that! For me, it’s not much of a ritual and I like to be able to just grab my coffee and get to it. Cold brew doesn’t have to be cold either, it can be heated to give the warmth of a nice cup of joe. If cold brew doesn’t do it for you though and you still want something to help out your mornings, a programmable coffee pot might be your next best option.

All Your Outfits

This is another one that many people do but you can take it a step further and prep all your outfits for the day. Laying out your workout clothes, work clothes, after work clothes, can eliminate time spent looking for these outfits. Having an outfit ready to go for you the minute you come home can help you relax and jump into whatever activity you have next or get rid of an excuse to not go to the gym. It can also help if you are working or studying from home. Having a work outfit, you can change into instead of staying in your sweats all day can help put you into the right mindset to start getting work done.

Lunch and Snacks

Usually, I would prep my lunches at the beginning of the week but I understand that it’s not for everyone. Another thing you can do is when you make supper, make a bit extra so that when you are cleaning up you have some food to pack up for your lunch tomorrow. Gather whatever snacks you would like as well with your lunch items so that when you go to grab your lunch in the morning everything is right where it needs to be and you aren’t searching around for something to eat. This has saved me many a morning by preventing me from panicking while scrounging the kitchen. This is another habit along with setting out gym clothes, that can help cultivate healthy living habits.

Out-the-Door Items

These are things like keys, sunglasses, umbrella, wallet, phone charger, you name it. The items we generally need but often forget. A great solution for this would be to have a dish or basket where you keep these things. Essentially a station for when you need to head out the door, everything you could want would be there. Put your bag there so that you can easily grab it on your way out the door. Many of us spend way too many mornings crazed because we can’t find our keys or get to work only to realize our phone charger is still plugged in at home. Make a habit of placing these items in their new home the night before and you’ll be less like to forget these important items.

Daily To-Do

Make your daily to-do list the night before so that you aren’t trying to remember everything you need to do that day, that very day. Often, we have more clarity on what we need to get done tomorrow. And while things do come up that may change our plans, it is still smart to make a list the day before to keep your mind clutter-free the next morning. Simply review your list the next morning, add anything new then or throughout the day and you are good to go. I find that unless I have plan to have the extra time in the morning to make my list, I prefer to make it the day before so that I can simply start reviewing it right away in the morning and get to work.

Podcasts/Audiobooks/Playlists

This might sound small and insignificant but I find that I end up wasting more time than I ever intended looking for something to listen to. And sometimes, I even end up so distracted that I end up on another app altogether, not even looking for something to listen to anymore. I like to make sure I have something ready to go before my morning commute or workout the next day. Any time you would spend listening to something you should plan and make a playlist of the things you want to hear. It will also prevent you from looking at your phone while driving.

Gym Bag/Workout Clothes

If you go to the gym to workout, you’ll want to make sure that your gym bag is packed with everything you need. Many times, I’ve gotten to the gym and didn’t have my pass, so I need to manually check in, throwing me off and frustrating me. Or I get into the locker room and realize I’m missing workout pants, so I just decide not to workout at all. Make sure you have everything in your bag the night before to make your workout smooth and easy. If you leave packing your gym bag until the morning, you’re more likely to forget or just flat out say forget it. By making sure it’s ready to go you make it that much easier for you to hit the gym the next day.

Let me know if you have anything you like to prep the night before. I love hearing new suggestions and others would as well! I hope these tips were helpful in starting your morning out right.