The myth of self-growth books | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 19, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:41 AM, July 19, 2019

The myth of self-growth books

Students and professionals are always in the quest to improving their lifestyles. Life coaches have managed to build a million-dollar industry that thrives on this wish of individuals to enhance their individual lifestyles. Self-growth books are tools offered by the industry that guarantees to improve your condition. People suffering from productivity blockades, undisciplined routines and psychological struggles often consume these books with hopes to finding solutions. But is it always an effective effort to expect these books to eliminate your problems for you?  Let’s bust some myths that float around the concept of self-help books and their magical abilities to help someone in need. 

All struggles can be overcome

A general trend by writers of self-help books is to feature stories of personal struggles they faced and how they overcame them.  They also feature stories of inspirational figures who survived harsh realities and became successful against all odds. Facing systematic discrimination, overwhelming financial bindings, fighting mental illness and tackling unhealthy family lives are the most common themes of these struggles. The problem is that it gives readers the hope that no matter what their problems are, as long as they manage to work hard, they will be able to rein in the troubles of their life.  This is a concept that is not true for everyone. While it might be inspirational for many to find the strength to fight their obstacles, it comes at the cost of potential false hopes regarding guaranteed success that often leads to mental exhaustion for individuals who come out unsuccessful. Optimistic motivation often fails to acknowledge the ultimate reality of life that struggles are a part of the human experience and it might not be possible to overcome them even with the best efforts. 

Mental illnesses are easily curable

These books often falsely diagnose symptoms of chronic and medical illnesses as lifestyle choices that can be changed. Sleeping habits, self-doubt, eating disorders, social awkwardness, mood swings, etc. are all possible symptoms of a range of diseases identified by medical professionals. Self-help books quote these characteristics as choices that can be changed with a disciplined routine and guarantee improvement if the mentioned routine is followed. Readers who fail to achieve the promised goal after trying to follow a routine often end up worse than they were before they read the books. Sanjana Huq, a student of computer science in a public university says, “After my enrollment in university I was struggling with my productivity and sleeping habits due to the stress of a new environment. A friend of mine suggested me to try a book by a well celebrated motivational speaker to overcome my problems.  I tried following the suggestions mentioned in the books and ended up blaming myself when I didn’t get the promised results. Later, as I consulted a doctor, I was informed that I had chronic depression and bipolar disorder.  The book did not help me in any way to diagnose my problems, rather pushed me to believe that I was responsible for my situation.”

One solution works for all

The back covers of these books often promise secret strategies and life hacks that can be employed to achieve a disciplined life. What they fail to engage with is the diversity of the reader base and the unique circumstances demanding different fixations.  The readers fall prey to this myth and try to emulate the advice without customising the solutions to their specific need sets. The socioeconomic and geographical conditions of readers often dictate the kind of incentives that can work for them to effectively guide them to a routine lifestyle, but the lack of diversity in these books fail to acknowledge that. 


Noshin Saiyara is an aspiring conservationist who is deluded into thinking that she can save the planet from dying. Reach her at to bring her back to reality.

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