Each Monday morning, I recommend a self improvement book to my Personal Development Ezine readers. But I’ve decided to stop. I’ve come to the conclusion that self help, personal development or self improvement books – whatever you’d prefer to call them – don’t work. For starters, Forbes estimates that $11 billion was spent in 2008 (that’s the latest reliable figure that I can come up with) on self improvement books and products. I can’t find a reliable breakdown of this figure between actual books that you read and other products, but if you consider that ‘The Secret’ – a book and video that tells you that, if you want something just believe it, don’t bother doing anything else about it and what you want will materialize before your very eyes! – has grossed in excess of $350m at last count, then you will begin to realize the size of the market that we’re talking about.

So what – if it’s helping people. But it’s not! The London School of Economics ranks the US – the ones spending all the money on self help – 46th in the world in terms of happiness, well behind countries like Ghana, Latvia, India and Croatia. According to US research by The Conference Board carried out in 2010, 55% of people are unhappy in their work – the figure is over 60% for those aged between 35 and 44 years. And recent surveys in the UK and US suggest that almost two thirds of people are worried about having enough money to live comfortably during this current year. Let’s round off our little spin around the statistics with the UK’s Health Service Executive’s estimate that almost ten million workdays were lost in the UK in 2009 as a result of stress! Oh and by the way, all these key indicators of dissatisfaction are increasing at an exponential research over the last two decades.
Now, here’s the key question. If all these people are buying self help books, why are more people unhappy than ever before?

I can suggest a couple of answers. First of all, people read what they purchase but do nothing about it. One particular individual that springs to mind has been recommending self improvement books to me for fifteen years and, from where I’m sitting, little has changed in his life – by the way ‘from where I’m sitting’ means that he constantly telephones me about his problems, his useless thoughts, his money worries, his sleepless nights, etc., etc., etc.! It’s akin to picking up an armful of holiday brochures, getting all excited about the exotic locations that you want to go to and then not bothering to purchase a ticket!

And that’s a key problem with self improvement books. They’re feel good books but make no difference six weeks later. You might as well read a good novel, thriller, romance – delete as appropriate! – or, God help us, even a true crime book! Even worse, you feel good about how someone else has benefited from sticking a ‘Universal Bank’ cheque to themselves for a million dollars on their fridge and the million dollars was beamed down from the clear blue sky (I can’t resist having another pop at ‘The Secret’) and then you feel rotten that it hasn’t worked for you. You end up thinking it’s all a load of nonsense, which, of course, ‘The Secret’ is. Sorry, I won’t mention it again!
The other problem with self improvement books is that, in the main, they’re written by multi-millionaire personal development gurus. It’s very easy to write nice feel-good things about how the universe gives you what you want if you’ve got it already! I don’t think the likes of Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins or Deepak Chopra are having sleepless nights about paying the mortgage or the kids’ school fees – but their poor unhappy readers are! And, of course, it’s a dawdle to practice the seven steps to enlightenment or the seven secrets of whatever if you’re rolling in money! These guys just keep churning out the stuff in name of self improvement – yeah, their own!

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d be far better off never recommending a self improvement book to you again – not even my own. These books don’t give you the instructions that you need to put what amounts to a few simple, practical steps, into everyday action. And even though I did my best to provide simple instructions in my own book, ‘To Succeed... Just Let Go’, many of my readers have yet to actually let go! On the other hand, if I bought a new electric saw, which I did recently, I’d be pretty annoyed if it came with a glossy book that told me how the saw had changed other people’s lives. I’d expect my saw to come with a user’s manual. I’d read it and I’d use the saw accordingly.

Unfortunately, neither you nor I were delivered with a user’s manual and there doesn’t seem to be one available – at least not in book form. Every Monday morning my Personal Development Ezine readers get a five minute video. And, from the feedback that I get, I think these are a little more helpful – I try to be to the point. I try to provide simple tips and ideas about the small things that you need to start doing every single day. Yeah, that’s another problem with your average self help book – no one tells you that this is a life-long, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, in fact, moment-to-moment commitment. But, if you do make the commitment – and we’re not talking about doing anything major here, we’re just talking about doing little things every day – then the benefits are enormous. I know – a small number of my clients know too. I’m no millionaire, no desire to be one. I have a nice life today and, as today is all I have, I’m happy and content. And that, my friends, is the purpose of self improvement.

Author's Bio: 

Willie Horton has been enabling his clients live their dream since he launched is now acclaimed two-day Personal Development Seminars all the way back in 1996. His clients include top leaders in major corporations such as Pfizer, Deloitte, Nestle, Merrill Lynch, KPMG, G4S and Allergan together with everyone from the stay-at-home parent to sports-people. An Irish ex-banker and published author he now lives in the French Alps from where he travels the world as a much sought after motivational speaker and mentor. All his work, his weekly Free Personal Development Ezine videos and articles, together with his highly-acclaimed Personal Development Workshops are online at Gurdy.Net