Just walk into any bookshop, and you will find yourself surrounded by plenty of self-help books. This fast growth in self-help books is fuelled by our endless appetite to “fix” our life and live “more fully”. We love the idea that we can fix what’s broken, by ourselves.
But does it really work?
Of course these self-help books vary in both quality and appeal. But does the most appealing book really give the best quality?
Research shows that some self-help books perpetuate some common myths (Paul 2001):
1. When we are angry, go vent our anger. It will go away.
Wrong. Research shows that venting our anger will only keep it alive.
It is better to do “something that’s incompatible with anger”, like listening to music, watching a movie, having a laugh, or enjoying a novel.
2. When we are depressed, think positive thought.
Wrong. Research shows that trying to think positive thought when we are depressed can make our current unhappiness more obvious.
It is better to talk to somebody to help you think about other things, or go to places where people are enjoying, like the park or a shopping mall, to lift up your spirits.
3. Visualise our goals. It will come true.
This works only partially. Focusing only on the end result (the goal) enables us to enjoy the feeling of being successful without actually achieving anything. This takes away the power of the goal.
In order to reach the goal, we need to focus on the obstacle that is stopping us from reaching the goal.
4. Use self-affirmation to improve self-esteem.
This might not work. Changing how we feel about ourselves is more complicated. It seems that we do not believe in our own phrase, but need praise from others to raise our self-esteem.
We need to surround ourselves with people who think positively of us and tell us so. Stand up for ourselves and be patient. Self-esteem is a result of our interactions with others during our lifetime and will not change overnight.
5. “Active Listening” can help you communicate better with your partner.
Intuitively yes, but practically couples completely ignore this when they argue.
Research shows that men are more likely to listen when their partners present their complaints in a calm way, and that women respond better, when they see that their feelings and opinions are taken into account. By working together to break away from this tense moment, like taking a breath, both will be given space to reflect and be better off.
So no matter where we seek for information, we still need to exercise critical thinking!