6 Dangerous Self-Help Myths You Need To Beware Of

Self-help is everywhere. On YouTube, Instagram, and various social media platforms, and not to mention the dogmas propagated in yoga classes, speeches, training programs, TV shows, and Soul Cycle classes. It accounts for a total of 2.5% of book sales in the U.S. Self-improvement and, by nature, self-help advice seems to increase towards the end year. So, if you are on the journey to self-improvement, beware of the myths. Gurus and books peddle so many differing ideologies, and some of them may not prove effective. 

Despite the growing popularity of self-help advice, professionals advise against them because the books are filled with semi-effective advice. Most purchasers chase after another book within eighteen months. Though this says nothing about the quality of the advice received, but it does point out that one piece of advice cannot possibly apply to everyone.

  • 10,000 hours rule

A popular self-help myth is the 10,000 hours rule. The 10,000-hour rule states that to become a master in a particular field, you must invest 10,000 hours. This technique is supposed to make it easier for you to reach success. This idea was popularized by self-help gurus like Malcolm Gladwell and others.

There are two problems with this theory. The first is that it does not take into account a myriad of factors that also contribute to your success, such as field, natural abilities, environmental conditions (lifestyle and availability), level of competition in the field, etc. The second problem is that this idea does not encourage you to come up with your version of success. Also, success is not dependent on how long you practice but on how much you have changed since you started. Think of it like this, s= d/t. I know, it’s the formula to calculate speed, but let us say that s equals success. Let d equal change (delta d, to be more specific) and t is time. Success is measured by the change in distance (from your original point to where you are now) over time. 

Practice does indeed make perfect, but you first need to figure out what perfection or success means to you and then act. Never compare your journey to someone else’s, even if you both are in the same field because although the goal is the same, the paths are different. 

  • Mantras and Incantations

Mantras and incantations are part of the Hindu and Buddhist practices. The practice involves repeating a word or phrase over to aid concentration or meditation. However, this religious practice has been taken out of context and used as a band-aid for self-esteem issues. The use of mantras has been popularized by Tony Robbins and gurus like him that tell you to repeat a phrase until the problem goes away. Unfortunately, they are only useful for about three minutes. 

Studies show that for people who already have self-esteem issues, mantras are not useful at all. It is difficult for someone with self-esteem to accept positive words from anyone, let alone from themselves. One positive thing mantras have highlighted is the role that toxic narratives play in our development of self-esteem. Toxic narratives are the things you, sometimes unconsciously, tell yourself. Regardless of where these ideas originated, the best way to override them is by challenging them. Figure out what they are saying, why, and challenge them with counter-evidence. For example, if you hear yourself say, “Ugh! I’m such an idiot!” (this seemingly innocuous and arbitrary statement does hurt your self-esteem), challenge it by remembering times where you did something clever, insightful, or intelligent.

  • Plasticity

The brain’s plasticity has been a controversial and exciting topic of discussion among psychologists for a while. However, recently, neuroplasticity has made its way into self-help books and seminar topics. Unfortunately, there seems to be a misinterpretation.

Neuroplasticity refers to your brain’s malleability. Your brain can reorganize itself and form new neuron connections. It is a process that allows short-term, medium-term, or long-term remodeling of neuronosynaptic organization. This reorganization aims to optimize the function of neural networks during several process of physiologic learning or injury.

However, according to self-help books and websites, neuroplasticity can also allow you to redesign your brain in a way that helps you to absorb information faster, improve your focus, and cognitive functions. It is amazing! Neuroplasticity, to an extent, can create new neural pathways. However, self-help books often portray neuroplasticity as something out of a science fiction movie. Unfortunately, we do not live in The Matrix where we can download things into our brains.

Neuroplasticity can compensate for injury and disease and even help activate certain regions to improve function. However, it cannot allow you to learn taekwondo in two hours. 

The reason that neuroplasticity is popular in the self-help milieu is that it makes you feel empowered. The thing is, you can improve upon anything if you want, but this statement doesn’t sell. It’s not sexy. What sells is the idea of one day picking up and doing a complete 180 on your life in the span of a few months.  

  • Focus only on the positives

Of all the self-help advice in the world, this is one of the most harmful. The idea that by focusing only on the positive things in life, you will be happier and more successful does not make sense. The advice is not entirely wrong, and to an extent, there is a degree of connection between your mind and body. There is plenty of research to back it up. 

However, thinking happy thoughts is not enough to get you to where you want to be. Also, it can be incredibly suffocating. Although positivity does have its benefits, there are benefits to skepticism and negativity (to an extent). Skepticism and negativity act as defense mechanisms against upcoming stressful or anxiety-inducing events. 

  • Visualization

Visualization. I am sure you have heard of it before. The technique is mentioned in the book The Secret. The basic rule of visualization is the more you visualize winning the closer you are to winning. Though visualization is effective for athletes and used in sports therapy, most of us get caught up in the process of visualizing that we do not do any work. Visualization becomes unhelpful when you spend more time on Pinterest daydreaming about your future apartment rather than saving money for the future apartment. For most of us, our goals will cost us something–time, effort, and sometimes money.

Work is what determines a winning outcome. 

  • Peak performance 24/7

This piece of advice disguises itself in many ways, but the gist is consistency– consistency in performance at all times. As a reformed (or in the process of reformation) perfectionist, a part of me would agree. Yes, you should strive to deliver high caliber work. However, maintaining that level of performance at all times is exhausting and almost impossible without burning yourself out. 

Perfection is great and all, but after a while it gets boring. A good performer has variability. Instead, strive to be a little bit better than what you were before. It takes some of the pressure off and prevents you from getting discouraged. 

Self-help advice is only helpful if it is useful and applicable to you. Do not be easily swayed by quick solutions to problems that took years to develop, and remember that it takes time to get better so be patient. 

I hope this article has been useful. Let us know in the comments below what kind of self-help tools have helped you! 

Take care! 



Brower, Vicki. “Mind-body research moves towards the mainstream.” EMBO reports vol. 7,4 (2006): 358-61. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400671

Buffalmano, Lucio. 13 Self-Help BS & Myths: Updated List (Plus, Fixes). 10 June 2020, thepowermoves.com/self-help-myths/. 

Kayes , Christopher D., and James R. Bailey. “4 Self-Improvement Myths That May Be Holding You Back.” Harvard Business Review, HBR, 31 May 2018, hbr.org/2018/02/4-self-improvement-myths-that-may-be-holding-you-back. 

Murphy Paul , Annie. “Self-Help: Shattering the Myths.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 1 Mar. 2001, www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200103/self-help-shattering-the-myths. 

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