4 Self-Help Myths Shattered, Crushed, and Stomped into the Ground

Gratitude Meme

(This post is part of the Friday Night Kick in the Ass series. Check out the even more shocking follow up that utterly destroys 4 more self-help myths.) 

There’s a notion out there . . .  a misconception really; regarding personal development and what this self-help thing is all about. The idea goes like this: we’re suffering with depression and low self-esteem so we go to the local book store and browse the Self-Help section looking for something to make us feel better. Something to clear our troubles.

Seems innocent enough, right? Except that image brings with it a subtle implication . . . we’re looking for something to fix our problems for us. An easy way out.

And so we load up our cart with books about how gratitude and positive self-talk will help us feel better and gain confidence. We buy subliminal recordings to listen to while we sleep. We purchase prayer and meditation guides to help clear our mind and calm our soul.

What happens next?

We go home, devour the books and play those recordings every night in our sleep.

And it works!

By God it actually works. We feel great and everything seems to be improving.

For about a week or so.

Then the high wears off, the recordings have all been played, and it turns out things really haven’t changed at all. We fall back into a state of depression. Probably even worse than before – our lows always feel much lower when preceded by a high.

The problem here is our expectations. We believed – incorrectly – that these self-help materials were a cure all. As long as we took our daily dose of pep talks and visualization, our lives would just suddenly improve.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

That’s the passive approach to personal development. And it never works. Personal growth is about change. Real fucking change. Reading a few chapters from some book just ain’t gonna cut it. Change must come from within. It requires work and sacrifice. Determination and consistency.


Real change requires effort – an active approach. So in order to set the appropriate expectations, we’re going to examine 4 common misconceptions about personal development. We’re going to beat ‘em up and shake the truth outta them. Because Truth is the only guide we’ll ever need.


The 4 Misconceptions About Personal Development


1. All it Takes is Positive Affirmations to Change your Thinking

This one goes way back. It’s really at the heart of the self-help industry. If we can just keep our thoughts positive, tell ourselves how wonderful we are, and repeat our daily mantra of “I think I can, I think I can,” everything will be better in no time.


Simply telling yourself how great your life is means nothing if you don’t believe it. No amount of self-talk will convince you that you no longer fear speaking your mind and standing up for yourself.

It just doesn’t happen that way.

Sure, it’s better to tell yourself positive things rather than negative things. And what you repeatedly tell yourself will affect how you view yourself and the world around you. But the effect is portrayed to be greater than it actually is.

If you really want to put positive affirmations to good use, then go out and fucking earn that praise you heap upon yourself. Talk about reinforcement! When you’re out there busting ass and making real change, then all that talk will actually mean something to you. You’ll believe it because you’re living it. It becomes a positive feedback loop – you kickass and it feels great, so you tell yourself how much you kickass . . . which makes you want to go out and kick even more ass!

How fucking cool is that?

But to just sit on your ass while you continually tell yourself you’re on your way won’t get you anywhere. Let’s call it what it is: A big fat fucking lie.

Don’t lie to yourself.

Earn your self-respect. Earn your self-love. Do shit that makes you feel great about who you are . . . then tell yourself you’re turning things around. Let the Truth reinforce your words.

In return, your words will reinforce the Truth.


2. A Dose of Gratitude will Cure What Ails You

It’s a simple concept: be grateful for all that you have. It will help you to realize the abundance in your life. It’ll improve your mood. It’s going to put a spring in your step and change your whole fucking outlook on life. It’s just the tonic you’ve been seeking.

But it’s snake oil.

Oh fuck. He didn’t just say that!

I did.

We’re so often told to just be grateful:

Hate your job? Be grateful you even have a job.

The bank foreclosed on your home? Be grateful you and your family can move in with your in-laws.

Wife left you? Be grateful. She was a bitch anyway.

When you’re pissed and feeling like shit, nothing is more goddamn annoying than someone telling you to just be grateful.

Fuck you!

Let’s get one thing straight here. Gratitude is an emotion. It’s so obvious yet it’s somehow missed, so I’ll say it again . . .

Gratitude is a motherfucking EMOTION!

Just like fear. Just like anger. Just like love.

It’s an emotion. And emotions are the furthest fucking thing from rational thought. It doesn’t matter if you should be grateful. If you don’t feel it then you will never be grateful.

Do you want to actually feel grateful? Then go out and make your life something to be thankful for. Start living and loving. Do some epic shit. Make something of yourself.

And then . . .  I guarantee you’ll feel some gratitude.


3. Subliminal Recordings Work Like Magic

This is the most passive approach to personal development that I can think of. All you have to do is play some recordings telling you how great you are while you sleep and, over time, the constant repetition will convince you that it’s true.

This works on the same level as positive affirmations, except often touted as even more effective because the messages are delivered while your mind is supposedly more receptive to the ideas. Sounds pretty appealing right?

I tried this method waaaay back when I was 18 or 19.  Some Kevin Trudeau course. I don’t even remember what it was. But I remember the results I got.


In hindsight, it couldn’t have been any other way. I was expecting these tapes (yeah, I’m a geezer) to miraculously transform me into some other person. A better person. And what was I doing to go along with those tapes? Jack shit.

This is the worst of the worst. Promoters of these products give the impression that you don’t have to do anything but play theses recordings night after night and one morning you’ll just wake up confident and primed for success.


By using these recordings, you are simply looking for something to do the work for you. You’re looking for easy results. Results you haven’t earned.

Save your money.

You don’t need to try and trick your brain or manipulate your thoughts to better yourself. That’s not how personal growth works. It’s actually a step backwards. The journey towards self-improvement begins with an honest assessment of where you stand and a willingness to do the work necessary for change.

Looking for easy success via subliminal recordings is the last fucking thing you should be doing. You’re better off just sitting on your ass admitting you really don’t want to change at all . . . at least then you’re not lying to yourself.


4. Overcoming Procrastination can be Accomplished Step by Step

I fucking despise procrastination. Not because I’m some great go-getter, looking down on the procrastinators of the world. But because I’ve let it rule so much of my life. I’ve used procrastination as a means of holding myself back for far too long.

Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.

It’s an addiction. And like all addictions it can be overcome. All we need is a support group and a program, right? Twelve Steps. And by following the twelve step process we can begin to cure our addiction to procrastination, right?


Addictions cannot be cured. Procrastination cannot be tamed step-by-step. It does no good simply breaking a large task into smaller ones. People who say it’s that simple are not true procrastinators. We true procrastinators love this shit. Nothing makes you feel more productive than planning how you’re going to accomplish something by breaking it down into smaller chunks.

Sure, planning it out might have taken half the day, but now you have a roadmap. You’re on the right path. Or so you tell yourself.

Now I’m making progress! I’ve broken it down into bite-size pieces. I know what I have to do. It won’t be that difficult at all. But it’s getting kinda late now. And Breaking Bad starts soon. I need to give this project my full attention so I should just start tomorrow. It should be nothin’ . . . I have a plan after all.

It’s all a lie. You know it’s a lie. You’ve told it to yourself a thousand times, and yet you keep on telling it.

Here’s the hard truth about procrastination: it’s a fucking war. You’ll have to fight it every day of your life until you finally kick the bucket. It’s not something that can ever be overcome. It will always be in your nature.

No twelve-step program can fix that.

The problem is not how to manage a project. It’s not even how to get started. The real problem is actually getting started.

I’ve written about this before. It doesn’t matter if you know what you need to do to get started. That won’t help.

You. Just. Have. To. START!

At the beginning of any project you will face resistance. It doesn’t matter if this project is a chore you’re dreading, or a venture you’ve been wanting to start for years . . . you will face resistance getting started.

This is the battle you will have to fight. Every time.

I love writing articles for this blog. Once I get started, I can’t hardly stop myself – that’s why all my posts are so damn long. BUT, getting started is another thing entirely. Before I begin every post I struggle. I look at that flashing cursor and think:

Fuck. Now what? Maybe I should put some more thought into this. Plan my post out a bit better. I could think about it while I run to the store and get some cookies.

Getting started is the hardest fucking thing in the world for a true procrastinator.

You need to find a way to beat that resistance to getting started because it will never go away. It will continue to plague you your whole life. I use the “Fuck It” technique. But you can use whatever technique suits you best. All that matters is that you find a way to start.

You will never conquer that part of your nature that wants to procrastinate. But you don’t have to let it rule you. You can rule it instead. The more you beat it down, the stronger you get. And the stronger you get, the more you’ll be able to beat it down.

So don’t waste your time searching for the perfect method to overcoming procrastination. It doesn’t exist. Just find a way to get started. The rest will take care of itself.


Wrap Up

So there you have it. Four of the most common myths about self-improvement. Shot down.

When starting your journey towards personal development it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeking the easy answers. Looking for instant gratification. But you can’t avoid the work. You have to put in the effort or you will never get lasting results.

And there’s just so much information out there. Some good, some crap. How do you avoid stepping in the turds?

Find the Truth.

You may not like what you see, but the Truth will provide you with all the answers you need. The only answers you need . . .

The answers that work.


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  1. Another classic Trevor! I understand. I use a similar method as you do. Here’s the problem. You and I understand that the four myths you mention are a bunch of crap, however, I think books and gratitude can be helpful if you’ve already tapped into the ” “. And here in lies the problem. Some people discover the answer to their lack of motivation, depression, even psychosis, but to truly teach others how they did it is like herding fucking cats. A lot of people like you and I just start writing self-help books filled with the same crap as all the others and cash in on our blessings. I refuse. Why? Because as you said they don’t work. The problem with trying to change others is that it’s impossible. People can only change themselves. But big kick in the ass from time to time can’t hurt.

    • You are so right Dan . . . personal development can’t be taught. Everyone is different. What works for me may not work for you. May even be counter productive. The best thing we can do is open eyes. When people understand themselves, and can accept the truth, they can figure out their own way to improve themselves.

      I personally needed a big kick in the ass before I ever got to changing. And I had to deliver that kick myself. Not easy. But it worked.

      The worst thing is just repeating the same ‘ol same ‘ol because that’s what’s expected. It doesn’t help anyoneut , but it’s safe. No one can ever accuse you of giving bad advice when the advice you give is the same as everyone else’s.

      No thanks. I’ll stick with the truth. Truth is a cold cruel master, but it’s the only master I’ll accept.

      Thanks for you fiery words Dan. I appreciate ’em!


  2. Awesome, more brutal truth through the eyes of A Call to Action. I like point four because there is some truth to “Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.” That feeling doesn’t ever go away, but it can only be mitigated using mental tricks and other self-incentivizing acts. There’s no secret formula that makes it go all away and transforms you into a superstar.

    • True. I envy those who’ve always had that pep. The ability to just get shit done right away. No fuss. No putting things off. Just getting shit done. I want to be that way.

      But it’s not me.

      I’ve wasted more life procrastinating than I can stomach. This is my biggest weakness. And it doesn’t go away. But accepting it as a part of me has made it manageable. I know how to beat it. Struggle or not, the shit is getting done these days.

      And if I can do it, anyone can.


  3. It does my heart good to see affirmations and gratitude get a body-slam, along with the two others of course. It’s just that the use of affirmations and gratitude in getting someone to move their ass is so annoying. I did read and do prefer the fuck-it method. Well done, Trevor!

    • Thanks cj! Affirmations and gratitude need to be reserved for when you believe it. And you’ll only believe it when you’re proving it to yourself.

      I’m glad you like the fuck-it method. It just sounds wrong, but it works so well. Once you’ve trained yourself it’s like Pavlov’s dogs. You actually condition yourself to respond to the fuck-it trigger. This shit actually works! At least for me.


  4. Ha Trevor, I’ve taken out my boxing gloves for this one. Slamming gratitude really doesn’t seem like the you who has blogged so much about hard work and the pain that goes with it.

    Gratitude is an emotion but also a muscle that can be trained but only after one has probably lost it or hasn’t figured out it’s there. Calling it a myth to be stomped is wrong. First, the problem in our culture and probably modern society everywhere is that we’re so overwhelmed by the abundance all around us that now everyone expects it at no cost. So far, this blog has been and is about busting ass and the pain that comes along with that to attain what we want. What we want and deserve isn’t going to just fall in our laps we have to work for it and we get pissed when we have to wait and then nothing around us seems good enough, so we forget to be happy with what we have(gratitude). Your examples, oh she was a bitch anyway, let’s go live with the in-laws, were examples where someone is taking the responsibility of the situation off themselves(which is the opposite of what you write). Why did the bitch leave? Was the guy an ass? Why was the home foreclosed? Didn’t save enough money for an emergency? I can see how people are making life work all around me by busting their ass for it which I think at the very core stems from gratitude. They know better, they want to do the right thing so they don’t lose it, which I think comes from an unspoiled, grateful attitude. I think the idea of hitting rock bottom is different for everyone, but a person has to hit rock bottom, when they’re spoiled by privilege, and become humbled, before they experience gratitude. And that’s when the gratitude training begins. I was way too smart, talented and awesome to become homeless so how in the hell did that happen? I’m amazing so why and how did I end up standing in line for pita bread and peanut butter? We’re all immortal so why did it crush me to lose people I love to that natural change called death? Well. because I needed to learn about this life: that it owes me nothing and I owe it EVERYTHING and it’s shown in gratitude.

    Whenever I get pissed about the assholes who live around me who leave out their trash and my puppy digs out their chicken bones and I get scared to death she will choke, I go inside my apartment and am so grateful because I remember when my arms hurt from holding the steering wheel of my car for 13 hours looking for a parking lot to sleep in. Or I smell the delicious aroma of a prime rib and remember the times my fridge was completely empty and my child yelped how hungry she was. When I get pissed that I lost my car and have to take my fat, lazy ass to the grocery store by foot I remember my aunt who is an amputee who would do anything to be able to walk on two legs let alone walk a mile again, and even if it’s begrudgingly I’m thankful I can walk to the store.

    Sometimes life fucks you in the ass and traumatizes you when you thought it’d be fun but hurts more than you thought it would, but when the soreness goes away just put on some freakin ointment and get back out there.

    When life knocks you down sometimes you’re left with that amazing thing that makes you feel like the luckiest person in the world because you opened your eyes. And holy cow look at that gorgeous, blue sky. My breathing is coming easily this morning, look at the clear, delicious water I have to drink. Look at these crazy puppies who are so excited to see me, OMG, is that MY beautiful child growing up so healthy and happy despite all my misgivings?

    This life is worth living and fighting for but without gratitude, we will keep striving for something out there that still won’t make us happy and maybe eventually get a prescription for sleeping pills. Happy, the emotion that results from gratitude and what we want more than anything. Probably even love.

    And if there really is not one thing for the privileged bastard to be grateful for…well then a life is being completely wasted.

    • Holy shit Carmen! What an awesome fucking comment! More than a comment . . .

      You just schooled me in life. Thank you.

      I agree with you completely. We’re saying the same thing, just in two different ways. All the hardships you’ve gone through have shown you why you should be grateful. They’ve taught you a hundred lessons and now you feel the gratitude. My guess is that had someone told you to be grateful while your little girl was crying for food you would have told them to go fuck themselves.

      My examples were a sarcastic take on the same idea. When you lose your home and your wife leaves you it’s not because she’s a bitch (well, maybe it is). You need to look deep inside and figure out if maybe you were the problem. But when someone tells you to be grateful, you’re just gonna want to smack ’em right upside the head. Who the fuck are they to tell you to be grateful. Sitting there in their 5 bedroom 4 bath McMansion on 1.2 acres, with their perfect fucking marriage and their perfect fucking children. Telling you to just be grateful.

      Are you fucking kidding me?

      If you don’t feel it you don’t feel it. And no amount of trickery will ever get you feeling it.

      That’s why it’s useless advice. You’ll feel grateful when you actually fucking feel grateful.

      And you’ll never actually feel grateful until you have a reason to. You were homeless. You couldn’t feed your child. Now you have a roof over your head and put food on the table.

      You have something to be grateful for. And you know it because you’ve experienced the other side.

      Gratitude is a wonderful thing. I’m grateful every fucking day. I’ve been an ungrateful bastard in the past and I would never recommend it to anyone.

      But to try to force gratitude on someone who’s not ready to accept it is poor practice. It will only cause them more estrangement. More bitterness.

      Better that they turn things around. Then they might begin to feel a sense of gratitude. Then they might have a reason to be thankful.

      And just to let you know, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the most awesome fucking quote I may have ever read . . .

      “Sometimes life fucks you in the ass and traumatizes you when you thought it’d be fun but hurts more than you thought it would, but when the soreness goes away just put on some freakin ointment and get back out there.”

      Fucking poetic! Maybe that should be my next Friday Night post: Life Will Fuck You in the Ass . . . Get Some Ointment.

      Thanks again for the fanfuckingtastic comment Carmen. It really made me think. You’re welcome to disagree with me anytime . . . so long as you continue to do it with such fire.


  5. I think you just about mopped up every bit of shit that has been on the personal development floor there!

    I remember reading The Secret once, and if you know it then you’re aware of all the positive affirmations it preaches, but not once does it mention work. Positivity is part of the picture, but work is the true separator. I reckon Rhonda Byrne had the work part sorted, and figured that the affirmations is all that you need to get going, wrong.

    You’re spot on with saying that starting and keeping on is the key, the programs and and whatnot are that extra grease, icing or gilding to increase that efficiency and output. Like you, it’s the people who eat the icing without getting gritty with the cake who get me, what the heck are you doing?!

    By all means start with vigour and have no clue what to do, but when you’ve got that down – it’s time to learn. Menial labour won’t get you far, you need to take the action to become better, add more value etc. Then it’s just separating the BS from the stuff that’ll actually help, a bit of intuition and common-sense goes a long way.

    Brilliant post Trevor!

    • Thanks Nick! Appreciate it.

      I’ve never read The Secret, but I’m familiar with the Law of Attraction. I could’ve added that to this post. And I once wrote a post on the LOA’s kissing cousin: Intention Manifestation. Which I do believe in, but not for the reasons often touted.

      Too often, folks major in the minors. They focus on the “icing,” the shit that matters least in the long run. It may feel good for awhile, but if it doesn’t lead to lasting change then it’s about as worthless as a pile of crap. But if it does lead to meaningful change then it’s completely worth it, even if the hard truth and pain were difficult to face in the beginning.

      I’d rather just face the brutal truth and then move on to real change than lie to myself and half-ass my way right back to where I started from. What a waste of time.


  6. reading this book about how to improve your life, you may get excited, uplifted, etc. BUT, reading the book is NOT going to help you directly. If someone’s reading a book that motivates them, then they should stop as soon as they’re motivated and actually do something.

    Being grateful is dangerous because it inhibits us from trying better. If I hated my job, I’d be out of there in no time, not bloody grateful for it!

    Great post mate!

    • That’s a great point Sam. I can see how some might use the idea of “being grateful” as an excuse to continue doing more of the same ‘ol shit that makes them unhappy. Like a job they hate, but won’t leave because of fear . . . simply keep telling yourself that you’re grateful to even have a job. It’s a great way to keep yourself stuck. I hadn’t even thought about that.

      Thanks buddy!

  7. Trevor, wow, love the article. There is a lot of truth in this. Do you have a clean version of this? I cannot share this across my professional channels with the profanity…dropping f bombs is distracting and I want people to read the whole thing. I get it that you are freely speaking, I just wish I could share this but the profanity is preventing me from doing so. Great post, nonetheless.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you liked the article. Unfortunately, I don’t have a clean version of this for you to share. I understand why that’s not something you’d want to pass along (though I have seen a few posts on linkedin drop an f-bomb or two). Still, I’m glad you enjoyed it.


  8. Hi Trevor,
    I’m loving this post because I couldn’t agree more with your position. I say a hundred yes to your claim that some of the classic self-help dogmas are nothing moe than outdated stereotypes which mainly annoy us. We can use self-hypnosis to feel grateful, but the question is whether is it something that is worth doing. The same goes for positive affirmations. In this regard, I like what Stephen Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: when you are lost in an unknown city, you may believe in your success, but you will definitely need a map to find your way=)

    • Hi Diane! I’m glad you liked it. I love how you phrase it:

      “. . . the classic self-help dogmas are nothing more than outdated stereotypes which mainly annoy us.”

      That’s exactly how I feel. They ARE annoying, mostly because they are so often preached as an overly positive touchy-feely cureall. But in the real world things get a little more ugly. I’d rather focus on effective strategies rather than simply pretending things will get better if I say a few meaningless affirmations and remember to force gratefulness for every little thing.

      And I love that quote from Stephen Covey. It’s so true.

      Thanks for stopping by Diane!


  9. Tim Robbins says:

    Gratitude is not an emotion – it’s an attitude. Thinking everything is bullshit is an attitude – a negative one. You live with negative thinking, you become toxic. Addiction can’t be cured but it can be arrested by changing one’s behaviors and attitudes, by finding a spiritual solutions to Life. Or least it has worked for me. I changed the way I viewed Life, the way I behaved and, lo and behold, I stopped participating in my addictive behaviors. Today I am thankful for many things, even the opportunities I have to overcome adversities. I am grateful – period. I am not sure why you’re so uninspired but if you’d like I’ll send you an inspirational message each day and maybe you’ll change your attitude.

    • Hi Tim, gratitude is an emotion. And I’m sure you never felt it until you had a reason to. I agree that negative thinking is toxic. You need to change the way you view yourself and your world if you wish to break that chain, but you don’t simply say “I’m grateful” and then everything magically gets better.

      You need to take the actions necessary to start that change. Wishful thinking helps no one.

      And when you’ve begun to make those changes, you actually begin to feel better about who you are. You earn some self-respect. And then you begin to feel some gratitude.

      Gratitude is an effect, not a cause. But it is self-reinforcing. Once you begin to feel it, it becomes easier to feel. If that makes any sense.

      Thanks for your honest and bullshit-free response Tim. You’re welcome to send me inspirational messages all you’d like, but I’m actually quite inspired as it is. If you think otherwise, then you’ve misunderstood my message and my words.


  10. Great post! I can definitely tell it ain’t working for you!


  1. […] I wrote my first post blasting the self-help industry, I took on sacred cows like positive affirmations and even revealed the poisonous truth about […]

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