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The trap of books and self-help articles

The trap of books and self-help articles

September 14, 2022

Imagine that the cooking recipes did not put the ingredients, or that to learn to dance a tango they will explain you in writing "6 tips to dance a tango", without images, or photos, or videos or drawings. Nothing. I could explain to you the logic of why you have to use the skillet and not the oven, but without the ingredients it's going to be quite difficult anyway to cook the recipe, right?

Well, if that seems difficult, I assure you that everyone can learn to make a carrot cake in a couple of tries, and everyone can memorize the steps of a tango repeating them with their own feet over and over again. And on the contrary, there are people who spend years trying to overcome a depression or a personality problem. And yet, while a written article does not even appear to teach you to dance, they do believe that in five minutes of reading they can change your life. But no. And although it is hard for us to admit it, it's the same deception that self-help books .


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The importance of experiential learning

Let's see, walking is learned by walking, talking is learned by speaking, writing is learned by writing, by swimming you learn by swimming. Starting from that base it is unlikely that reading a book can overcome a problem that you drag from a good part of your existence. I do not want to be a party pooper, but this type of problems drag emotions and behaviors. Just as a book is not going to teach you to dance or to drive, a book is not going to teach you to put into practice behaviors that are not even in your usual repertoire of behaviors. No book teaches you to face fear, nor can it do it for you . It is something that you have to do and it is not easy, because of being able to choose, we would not feel sadness, fear or anxiety before certain things and our life would be simpler. Of being able to choose, I am sure that you would take the life you want because no emotion would be an obstacle.


Self-help books tell you things like "do things that encourage you", "seek support in your loved ones", "be more positive, look at everything from the point of view that we explain below". But this has two drawbacks.

The lack of individual treatment

First, have you thought if the behaviors that the book talks about are going to help you? I mean, if they're going to help you personally. The psychological treatments are individual for a reason : what is evaluated by that patient and what causes him discomfort, how and why. Him and not another. Self-help books are sold as holy water for everyone. For example, the behavior of establishing relationships and creating a greater support network: this idea of ​​showing off our gregariousness that many self-help manuals collect does not really go with everyone.

Although studies show that people with more positive social relationships are generally happier, introverted people do not particularly enjoy meeting with large groups of friends to do things together, in fact they enjoy more of a good book and low external stimulation. So maybe the problem of your sadness is not that you need more people in your life or that you have to relate more with them.


What if you have the right people close to you but you do not know how to express yourself with them on certain occasions? To begin with, this is a different problem that some people may associate with that does not have adequate social skills, but in reality it may be due to experiencing anxiety in certain contexts, and then the problem is anxiety. But for that it is necessary to analyze in depth what is happening and propose concrete solutions for that problem. Relating to people outside of your circle is not the solution then, nor maintaining interest in someone who does not really interest you. More is not better. Neither to be happy, nor to relate better, or to have less anxiety, or at all. And sometimes what is missing is not what, but how. Self-help books are usually quite general to deal with certain difficulties and therefore insufficient.

The lack of learning based on experiences

Second, these limitations involve attitudinal learning that a book does not provide. No reading can adequately teach you a learning of behaviors, or of emotions and attitudes. The knowledge transmitted by the readings is semantic and therefore can produce learning at the cognitive level. It's like a book teaches you how to drive: it's procedural learning, you have to practice to learn to drive, no book is enough.

This means that self-help texts and tips teach you a new theoretical perspective and allow you to store knowledge about what could lead to happiness, but you do not integrate them into your behavioral pattern . It's as if a professor with a lot of lipstick explained history to you. Okay, you may remember it terrific, but it is still semantic knowledge (of data and objective facts and unrelated to you, because no self-help book is personalized).

What really produces a change, a learning, is personal experience , your autobiographical memory, as it is endowed with a strong emotional charge, both good and bad. And it is that both your virtues and your shortcomings come from there, that means that the environmental opportunities (situations, people ...) with which you cross and what you do in each situation that you face, have greater impact and influence in your personality and in your personal and attitudinal changes of what no self-help book will ever have.

Now think that every day you spend more or less for the same situations, you relate more or less with the same people and act before your environment in the same way more or less than yesterday or the day before yesterday. Einstein said "if you want different results, do not always do the same" and this covers the terrifying reality that you are an active agent of your own personal change, not a passive agent , is your behavior the only thing that matters to obtain the prize: to be more sociable, to be happier ... Well, your behavior and environmental opportunities, is a 50/50, but you can not control the environment, only the way in which you respond. Thinking differently is not synonymous with acting differently, because there is a barrier between thoughts and acts: emotions.


That is, I can be aware that I have to study to pass (I know the behavior I have to carry out), but the emotion of boredom, apathy or demotivation prevents me from carrying out that behavior. I can know that to get a job I have to do an interview with the boss, but talking to the boss causes me anxiety and fear, and I decide not to do it. A self-help book tells you "talk to your boss" or tells you "talk to strangers to be more sociable" or "get out of bed to get over depression first", but it does not tell you how to overcome emotional barriers to do what you already knew in advance what you had to do. And I'm talking about really overcoming them, I'm not talking about a motivating speech that vanishes from your head the next day. If that speech were effective, you would not need a self-help book again. But it is that to overcome them you have to do things. And that "doing" costs a lot.


There are no magic self-help recipes

It's much easier to read a book, right? How tempting the hope that without much effort your life and you are going to change forever . And so immediately, when you start reading, you gain more control over your own life. You are already doing something for and for yourself, and that makes you feel better, but it does not change you, it does not make you more sociable or happier in the long term, and that is why you read another and another and another ... Because momentarily it is a negative reinforcement that diminishes your discomfort and gives you a certain sense of control (the illusion of control, a habitual cognitive illusion derived from a bias of optimism). It is, in short, a placebo.

The most sociable and happy people do not read those books or articles, but they have never needed to read them, because to be happier and more sociable you learn with experience . There is no correlation between being sociable or happy and the amount of self-help books that are read. It is something that one builds by relating, living experiences and trying to act on their personal values ​​and the life they want to lead. And changing your behavior when you are not getting the desired results.



Progress requires effort

There is another reality that you will not like either: change hurts, restructure your mental representations about the world, about yourself, about society, it hurts. There are restructuring therapies aimed at reconstructing the conception of the I and the relationships with others that profoundly modify the sense of many knowledge and behaviors, risking our cognitive identity . Changing these representations by others more effective for oneself is very expensive, demanding and even causes anxiety.

The discomfort that we feel and that moves us to modify our ideas and our behavior is part of that learning: it means discovering and rethinking our representations when violating the implicit expectations we had about the world. And it is complicated in the social and psychological world. For example, changing the idea that the earth is flat by the new representation that it is round, was difficult a few centuries ago (in fact it is difficult with many semantic ideas about theories of the world: is effective homeopathy? the species is real? Many people will give you an answer and some will give you another regardless of what the data say, and are their representations, their interpretation of the world).


But nevertheless, much more difficult is to accept other types of ideas such as for example that your partner is unfaithful and you should leave it, that you really are not comfortable with the people around you and that is why you do not have adequate communication with them, that your friends are not real because in the background you have different values, or that the path you have professionally chosen has stalled and you should dedicate yourself to something else ... All these ideas hurt and all of them hide underlying problems that can affect happiness or social skills, indirect problems that are the ones that really need to be addressed rather than "how to be a more sociable person "or" how to be more positive ".

For more inri, it is frequent that when we detect these inconsistencies that produce discomfort between the social world and personal representations, they are so reinforced and consolidated with the Implicit learning processes that are very difficult to modify . The change is even more expensive.


In conclusion

Change is not easy. Believing that changing is easy is an easy idea to sell since it is what many would like, but accepting such advertising slogan also has a cost: the fault. After reading a self-help book, you may wonder "if it's so easy, why am I not getting it?"


Guilt is also an easy trap, because it is not a writer who sells you this idea, nor many, nor all the psychologists, nor the "coach"; is society: from those who sell adventures, free spirit and youth when they sell perfumes and cars ("if you buy this, you'll be cooler"), those who defend that the world is a meritocracy and that you only have to strive to achieve what you want without getting on your feet (like positive psychology), even people who deceive themselves under the pretext of not having problems or limitations, neither in their social life nor in anything because they do such a thing and advise you regardless of who you are you, that is, without empathizing with your emotions or circumstances.


Y there they are, each other's emotions, fears and anxiety playing a crucial role that everyone decides to ignore. Transmitting learning is more than explaining your version of events, no matter how much scientific and empirical support you have. I can explain to you that to start a car you have to enter the key, turn it, remove the hand brake and so on, and they are objective and real facts, but until it is you who enter the key and until you do it a few times in You will not really know how to start a car. And in the same way, do not start your happiness.


The DANGER of SELF-HELP!!!! Must see!! (September 2022).


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