Recently a Facebook friend inquired about self-help books and wondered if others found them helpful. There were comments on both sides of the answer.

It got me thinking about this short piece I wrote some time ago.

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When I first discovered the literature of personal growth and development there weren’t many titles to choose from. I read The Power of Positive Thinking, Think and Grow Rich, The Power of Positive Thinking over and over.

That’s all changed, of course, and today there are thousands of self-help titles. I always have a title or two in my current reading pile since there’s so much to learn.

However, the self-help movement has spawned plenty of dropouts. Why don’t all readers find this genre helpful? Here are some thoughts on that.

° Refuse to abandon skepticism. Hanging on to cherished beliefs is a guaranteed way to prevent growth. “I tried that positive thinking stuff once. Didn’t work,” is the motto of the self-help dropout.

Simply reading a single book (except, perhaps, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield) is not going to produce visible change. It’s more a process of chipping away at limiting thoughts and behaviors that have taken hold over the years.

° Exercises are too much trouble. Most of us think of reading as zooming from the beginning to the end of a book.

Self-help books invite us to slow down and take a slower journey. Exercises are like rest stops along the way, causing us to pause, reflect and apply.

° Right book at the wrong time. Personal growth is an evolutionary process and we expand our receptiveness one concept at a time.

Sometimes a book arrives ahead of our readiness. When that happens, don’t abandon self-help. Try a different book.

° Miss the point. As Henry David Thoreau said, “A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

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