Self-help literature gets a bad rap. I like to think most literature, and especially non-fiction, is self-help in some way or another. After all, we tend to learn real world facts and lessons from them. Or generally hope to enjoy whatever we read. Preferably both.
Self-help literature in general falls within a spectrum, and some the most blatant output is obviously in the fishy end. There is obnoxious and malignant material, and some authors seem to have lost their marbles. Finding the realistic and personally best-fitting material from the noise can be difficult.
The best self-help would be that which is not explicitly trying to explain something directly. Some examples that come to mind are the fictitious Zorba the Greek and non-fictitious Meditations. Stories, whether fact or fiction, help us to better remember entireties and relate to situations. This is because the context is wider and it might be entangled with other stories or actual history. Some religious texts are just like that, though others plain outdated, unhelpful or malignant. In any case, the input from those stories alter our behaviour on a deeper level, whether we realise it or not.
Explicit material with no real-world links or dry storytelling have a disadvantage of being unmemorable. Self-help doesn’t necessarily have to be disguised, though. To help with memorableness, use esoteric and perplexing methods of teaching (as in rituals, group gathering, seminars, etc.). These construct a personal story for the student.
The best kind of help sparks an interest, alters one’s thinking by however little, modifies behaviour even less, but ultimately nudges one on a path that is off course from the original. This might not have a clear effect until much later, but it will be more permanent.
Like with diets, exercise, monetary policies, etc., the get-x-quick schemes seldom have any lasting effect. They may provide quick inspiration or motivation, but those will let you down. Discipline and habits won’t.
That’s where most of this genre fails. The help either lacks a framework for lasting effect, and people cannot follow though. Though one motivation power-up after another sells better than infusing lasting discipline, I don’t think this is a sinister conspiracy. It’s safer to contribute the situation to incompetence rather than malice. Still, the landscape feels like we are caring for symptoms instead of a disease.
Instead of looking for something usable or beneficial, many have a no-nonsense attitude towards anything even remotely bordering the notorious self-help genre. Absolute conviction is rarely the best approach with anything, and here too, people miss out. Who wouldn’t want to help themselves? Rarely can one generate the required (let alone the possible) help solely from within.