15 Self-Help Books That Do More Harm Than Good

Self-help books aim to offer readers valuable advice and insight into various topics. Some of these have changed people’s entire perspective on life. Unfortunately, the self-help category is mostly plagued with quick cash grabs with unclear guidance. Following these books can do more damage than good.

1. Think and Grow Rich — Napoleon Hill

Think And Grow Rich — Napoleon Hill
Image Credit: Kindle.

Hill stresses the importance of desire and focus to achieve success. While his book has motivational content, it could be more practical and realistic. The author gives too much credit to positive thinking, saying it will lead to financial success. He even claims that refusing to allow his mute son to learn sign language led to curing his hearing loss.

2. Rich Dad, Poor Dad — Robert T. Kiyosaki

Rich Dad Poor Dad — Robert T. Kiyosaki
Image Credit: Warner Books (NY).

This book is a good starting point for people who want to rethink how they use their money. However, it cannot act as a complete guide for managing finances. Kiyosaki places great importance on taking a lot of risks. He doesn’t consider that not everyone has the privilege to handle these risks. The book’s format is composed of numerous conversations between the author and the rich dad. The writing fails to convince readers of the book’s supposed valuable advice.

3. The Secret — Rhonda Byrne

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Image Credit: Atria Books/Beyond Words.

Byrne oversells the belief that good things can be attracted through positive thoughts. Avoiding evil thoughts will indeed have an impact on how one views life. However, the book is too black and white when it oversimplifies the theory. Bad things don’t happen to people purely because they didn’t think good thoughts. By placing the blame on victims for not thinking positively, the book creates a toxic mindset among its followers.

4. Can’t Hurt Me — David Goggins

Image Credit: Lioncrest Publishing.

Knowing how to push through pain in life can be essential as long as one knows when to admit defeat. While Goggins focuses on the first aspect, he completely disregards the latter. There are multiple instances within the book where the author could have died if there hadn’t been people around to save him. Showing any weakness or vulnerability is portrayed as something to be ashamed of. While this book effectively motivates readers, it also makes life seem less dangerous.

5. Awaken the Giant Within — Tony Robbins

Awaken the Giant Within — Tony Robbins
Image Credit: Simon Schuster.

Although the book had some sound points, the focus remains materialistic. The stories Robbins shares for inspiration need more depth. It only touched the surface of the lives of rich people instead of digging into their stories. The author’s success is mentioned repeatedly within the book, and it ends up overtaking the actual ideas. The overall story lacks a balance between a materialistic and emotionally fulfilling life.

6. What Color is Your Parachute? — Richard Nelson Bolles

What Color is Your Parachute — Richard Nelson Bolles
Image Credit: Ten Speed Press.

The book is marketed as a job-hunting manual and was first published in 1970. It’s been republished a few times with updated information to keep it relevant. However, even with those changes, the advice is not practical or applicable in the modern age. There are more effective ways of getting a job than suggesting people look up jobs in a search engine.

7. Who Moved My Cheese? — Spencer Johnson

Image Credit: Putnam.

Johnson’s core message in the book is learning to adapt to changing situations. This theme is approached with tunnel vision because it disregards the contextual factors of the situation. The book encourages using the same approach in every situation rather than questioning why things keep changing. Some situations require standing up to the problem rather than conforming to it. Embracing change is not a one-solution-fits-all.

8. 12 Rules For Life — Jordan B. Peterson

12 Rules For Life — Jordan B. Peterson
Image Credit: Random House Canada.

Defining life in just 12 rules is simplistic, but the author tries his best to do so. Unfortunately, these rules are not derived from facts but only opinions. This book offers a biased approach to life. The emphasis on disregarding traditions was done without any research. Not every tradition is evil, and not every modernity is acceptable.

9. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari — Robin S. Sharma

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari — Robin S. Sharma
Image Credit: HarperOne.

It’s better to call this book a fictional story rather than a work on self-help. The storytelling narrative follows the protagonist learning how unhappy his wealthy boss is. While the story is packed with messages such as using time wisely, it doesn’t teach readers how to do it. Since the entire story is written as a conversation between two people, it’s not interesting enough to capture the reader’s attention. The solutions given for life are more quick-fix rather than long-term.

10. The 4-Hour Workweek — Timothy Ferriss

The 4-Hour Workweek — Timothy Ferriss
Image Credit: Harmony.

The book’s premise is about maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The advice starts with how to make yourself valuable and productive at work. This seems reasonable until readers realize how much it revolves around dumping work on others. The author constantly brags about the achievements that he gained by bending the rules.

11. The 48 Laws of Power — Robert Greene

The 48 Laws of Power — Robert Greene
Image Credit: Penguin Books.

The book is well-written as far as self-help books go. Unfortunately, all the advice it gives its readers only applies if one has no morals. It encourages its followers to believe in only the worst about the people around them. While pushing people down to get ahead can work, it’s certainly not the healthiest approach to life.

12. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind — Joseph Murphy

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind — Joseph Murphy
Image Credit: General Press.

At the end of the day, some things in life are out of our control. It can be better to leave it to faith instead of worrying about every aspect. However, that shouldn’t apply to not taking any steps by yourself to improve the situation. A more balanced approach might be to try your best while also having faith. Murphy overlooks the more balanced approach in favor of not doing anything but believing.

13. Maybe It’s You — Lauren Handel Zander

Maybe It's You — Lauren Handel Zander
Image Credit: Hachette Books.

Life shouldn’t be spent blaming other people for one’s mistakes. Growth can only come from self-accountability and awareness. Yet that doesn’t mean that holding yourself accountable must be harsh. It can include words of encouragement and acts of kindness. By skipping a gentler approach, Zander makes it seem that only a hostile environment can produce this output. Some people need kindness to grow.

14. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus — John Gray

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus — John Gray
Image Credit: Harper Paperbacks.

The way the book is written indeed reflects its period since it was published in 1992. It attempts to explain the stereotypes of each gender. To continue to use an outdated book for self-help in the present isn’t the best choice. It oversimplifies the complexity of humans by trying to fit each gender in one box.

15. The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists —  Neil Strauss

The Game Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists —  Neil Strauss
Image Credit: It Books.

Critics have continuously argued the harmful manipulative tactics this book encourages towards women. Instead of advice on relationships, it focuses on ways to boost one’s image in front of other men. Any relationship that even manages to begin by using these tactics will not be long-term and far from healthy.

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