Why is there a stigma with “self-help?”
How did a positive phrase end up with negative implications? Is it because it’s an admission of weakness? Or is it because it’s grouped with pseudo-science, in the sense that it’s subjective and cannot be proven? Or perhaps, it’s because it’s associated with those self-help gurus on late-nite infomercials that’s giving you the hard sell with their patented self-help systems, with a sales pitch similar to other get-rich-quick systems being sold on other infomercials?
However, I don’t feel the same way when I hear “personal development” or “productivity systems.” I have a theory about why.
I’m trying to figure this out because I created a list of productivity and personal development systems that I intend to learn about (also, thanks to those who gave me feedback, because my list has grown since the original post). In the process, I had to differentiate between productivity (such as Getting Things Done), personal development (like Law of Attraction), and self-help (an example given later).
My opinion is that productivity systems are simply sets of rules and don’t ask for significant adjustments to your values. Productivity systems is more of an external change, while personal development is fundamentally an internal change, and the external improvements in your life is a byproduct of the internal improvements. In my opinion, self-help is personal development to the extreme.
The Original Self-Help System
Perhaps one of the original self-help system was the 12-step program by Alcoholics Anonymous. Started by a doctor and a businessman in the 1930’s, they helped develop the 12-step program during a time when society considered alcoholism as a weakness in morality and virtue. The 12-step program was so effective that it’s been adopted by other self-help systems such as Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. In fact, I came across a book on stock market trading (Trading for a Living by Dr. Alexander Elder) that recommended the reader to adopt the A.A.’s 12-step program and switch “alcohol” with “stock market loss.”
The common thread to productivity systems, personal development, and self-help seems to be the willingness of the person to acknowledge an area of weakness and to follow a course of action to fix it. Seems that the differences is with how deep the changes will be with the prescribed course of action.
Back to the stigma… I think one main reason why self-help has the stigma is because people group productivity systems, personal development, and self help under this one umbrella term. Using something like the 12-step program to help clear the clutter off your desk is like trying to swat a fly with a sledgehammer, so people will be naturally turned off if they hear about a new productivity or personal development system.
Of course, the self-help infomercials don’t help either. A persuasive salesperson with a product that promises a lot of value that is hard to prove is a recipe for a scam. That’s why I feel compelled to give this quote yet again:
no matter where you read it,
or who said it -
no matter if I have said it -
unless it agrees with your own reason
and your own common sense.