Self-Help Books and Anxiety: An Unfortunate Paradox
Human beings are wired to move forward — to get better, faster, stronger, and evolve.
One can learn from their own life experience, or, if they’re looking for a fast track, seek counsel from coaches, mentors, podcasts and books.
Self-help books are supposed to help us stand on the shoulders of giants, but the thing about self-help books is that they inherently suggest that we need help and therefore, that something is wrong with us.
They are full of ideals to aspire to, and ideals that ultimately leave us with internal conflict when we compare them with how we’re living our own lives.
Anxiety, at its core, is about the struggle to reconcile what is with what should be.
Peace ultimately comes when we are content with what is, rather than forever striving for what should but might never be.
And we might delude ourselves into thinking that should we reach a certain goal, then we’ll be happy, but we are all on a hedonic treadmill, and once we reach that goal, we’ll be content for all of five minutes before a new goal presents itself. We are forever chasing, and self-help books, if used recklessly, can leave us chasing more goals than ever before and in a state of constant tension with the world.
This was a revelation I had to come to myself, when I compared the relative calm of my 20s, with the angst I felt in my mid-30s, after having devoured hundreds of philosophy, self-help and motivational books. Things I never even questioned became things I needed to work on — notwithstanding the different stage of life, with its own stressors.
Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Indian speaker and author, essentially said that to escape suffering, we need to escape the Self within us that is a byproduct of biology, upbringing, past experience and so on. That Self is constantly chattering, filtering and observing the world through a very unique lens, and more often than not, a lens that tells us we’re inadequate.
While most, if not all, self-help books have good intentions, one must be careful to focus on solving specific problems they have in their lives, and careful not to find themselves with even more conflict and anxiety than ever before because of the myriad new ‘should bes’ and ideals that they are now faced with.
Ignorance, to a certain degree, is indeed bliss.