When I have an idea for a new book, the first thing I do is engage in extensive research. I have no agenda. I go wherever the research takes me. I place the highest value on peer-reviewed research found in reputable journals. I am amazed at the number of times I have been unable to find support for theories or "facts" that many assume are not subject to debate. The self-help industry is a prime example.
No one could quarrel with the success of those in this burgeoning industry. By some estimates, as much as $10.4 billion is spent on motivational “self-improvement” programs and products that seek to improve us physically, mentally, financially or spiritually. Unfortunately, much of this advice is either not supported by credible research or flatly contradicted by it. Steven Novella, an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine observed that, despite the ready availability of a vast amount of research dealing with the subjects discussed in self-help books, the big sellers "seem to be completely disconnected from that evidence. What they are selling are made-up easy answers, personality and gimmicks."
Among the popular self-help theories that fit into this category are:
1. Raising your self-esteem will lead to success. There is actually data indicating that low self-confidence (but not extremely low) is a better predictor of success.
2. Simply visualizing your goal will increase your chances of achieving it. Visualizing the tasks it takes to achieve a goal is much more likely to help you achieve it.
3. Positive thinking can help you achieve success. Blaming yourself for events not within your control is counter-productive. Walking on hot coals without getting burned demonstrates nothing about your state of mind. The irrefutable fact is that wood burned down to coals is a poor conductor of heat.
I found those who rely on quick fix, unsubstantiated self-help "tips" may be doing harm to themselves by not focusing on things within their control that could be beneficial. Among the suggestions that have research backing their efficacy are:
1. Understanding the difference between positive expectations (which are useful) and positive fantasies (which are not).
2. Working on self-compassion rather than self-esteem.
3. Visualizing actions and not results.
Trying to improve yourself is admirable. It's sad so many go about it in a way that will ultimately be disappointing.