The self-help movement seems to be taking over the world. If you are into reading of podcasting, then it is likely you have come across some self-help content at some stage. Of the top 10 most popular books on Amazon in 2018, seven books focus on the topic. Personally, I read 5 self-help books in 2019 and I do not read that much (weird flex, I know!).
I’m not entirely sure what to think of such a movement because there are obviously positives and negatives attached to it. However, as a self-diagnosed addict to self-improvement, I have some thoughts to share. I would love some feedback as well so make sure to comment below what you think about the self-help movement. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts regarding the self-help movement.
Society Wants More
One of my favourite Bible commentators writes about the God-shaped hole in the heart of every person that, until filled, leaves emptiness being the undercurrent of one’s life. Self-help seems to be the latest remedy to this emptiness with significant implications. One natural implication appears to be an unintentional (or perhaps intentional) shift towards playing God in our own lives. Whether or not you are religious, self-help is a humanistic notion that says ‘you can be your own hero’ and make yourself better. It can either be empowering or discouraging depending on your self-understanding. The self-help approach to personal improvement can either fuel our own egos to the point of narcissism or discourage us into deep insecurity. Either way, our self-esteem is determined by our performance, and dependant on us. I do not know you, but if you’re anything like me, that is neither a stable nor reliable place to secure our worth.
It would not be fair to focus solely on the negatives of society’s craving for more, because there are significant advantages as well. Evidently, many are discontent with where they and society are at. Surely it is a good thing that the world around us wants to be better people. This desire for a better future is an open door to the Christian tradition, which has—in my experience—the greatest help ever readily available to anyone who wants it. In Jesus, I have found a friend that loves me so much that He met me where I was, but did not leave me there. The irony of the Christian approach to self-help is that the first step is to stop trying to help yourself. The Bible calls for us to die to our own ambitions and desires so that Christ can begin a work in us, which will be brought to completion at His second coming. Clearly, this is a counter-cultural approach to self-help.
The Undercurrent of Insecurity
Comparison is one of the most efficient ways to fuel your insecurity. Many self-help books lead us to reflect on where we currently are, and speak life into the notion that who we currently are is not enough. It is this sense of self-depreciation that many authors use as a mechanism to motivate the reader to want to improve. The source of this motivation, in my experience, is unsustainable because talking down to oneself is never a reliable motivator for change. People only change when they want to or when they have to. Coercion is never a good motivator. God takes a different approach that is riskier and requires much more effort. He chooses love as a motivator for self-improvement. It is out of the overflow of His love that God’s spirit convicts His followers to grow into His likeness and to live like the hands and feet of His son, Jesus. God loves us as we are and speaks life into what we can become by His grace. For me, that is a far more powerful motivator to change than any self-depreciation.
Whether we like it or not, the undercurrent of the self-help movement is ‘you will never be enough’. It seeks to motivate us towards a perfect version of ourselves that doesn’t exist on this side of eternity. Worse, the perfect self we are working towards is not truly perfect if we can achieve it on our own. Living in the unknown and insecurity is the safest way to ensure you are relying on God’s strength rather than your own. It is not wrong to try and improve yourself. In fact, it is Biblical to work with God as He brings transforms us into the person He desires for us to be. We are not to sit in silence once we are saved and wait for God to fix every part of our life. Growth takes action and faithfully walking in the promises God has given us. What a follower of Jesus must be careful of, is making self-help the God they worship. At times, I have been guilty of this; taking advice from authors and trying to implement it into my life without prayerfully considering if it aligns with God’s plan for me. This might seem pedantic to some, but I believe God always funds His ideas. Whether that funding is financial, relational, or equipping us personally. And that might be through something we learn from a self-help book, but we need to consider God’s plan for our lives before trying to ‘improve’ ourselves by our own methods and research.
Perhaps the most significant impact the self-help movement has had and is having on society is that it feeds into the ‘made-it’ mentality. This approach to success is defined by setting goals and believing that by achieving them, success and contentment will also be achieved. The problem with such an approach is that we may never become the best at anything and end up spending our lives working for the approval of people that don’t actually matter to us. Why do we insist on striving to be enough when God has already called us enough? No ‘success’ or achievement can add to or take away from the value He gives us. For God, success is not a destination on this side of eternity. Rather, His followers must live in the unknown by faith and make sanctification a daily pursuit. As we find the pace of grace God has for our lives, may we walk in it and experience the peace and joy that comes with walking alongside our saviour.