THE BLOG
05/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Does Self Help Really Help?

We spend billions of dollars every year on a variety of self help programs. The self-improvement segment of the book market alone is worth nearly $700 million annually, according Market Data Enterprise. You could then toss in another $354 million for audio books in the category. But are we getting our moneys worth? Do we really change? I mean really, really change -- not just in the days and weeks following the weekend seminar, the Wayne Dyer PBS Special or a book we read. Is the change lasting? And if it isn't, if we jump from the self help du jour to tomorrow's you-can-be-better blue plate special, could that have a negative effect on us?

I had a conversation recently with a few guys about what has really worked that led to permanent change. One of my friends is a credit card short of a self help junkie. He goes from Sedona Method to Marianne Williamson to A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if it Were Your Last. The truth is he doesn't seem to be any different. He has the same income he endlessly complains about, still has the ongoing contentious relationship with his adult child and his girlfriend, but most importantly, he doesn't seem to be any happier. He does not deny that his life is radically different as a result of all of the self improvement but he says he always learns something. Knowledge is good, but change is supposed to be the outcome of all this investment.

Another one of the guys subscribes to the pain theory of change. That is, we only modify our behavior when what we are doing becomes too painful. But does that mean we would only stop smoking when the doctor tells us we have a brown spot on our lung? Isn't a little too late?

I think there's a lot to the pain principle of change but I believe you can imagine or envision the consequences of your behavior in or order to act differently. Presumably you're smart enough to know that smoking can kill. The problem is, too many of us live in the land of deny and justify.

You may need to hit rock bottom, but sometimes the more mature of us can see where this is heading and put on the brakes of bad behavior.

What about the continued failure of self help programs to deliver what they promise? Does that not confirm the worst suspicions that many of us have of ourselves, that our problems are incurable and that we are doomed to spend the rest of our lives unhappy or unfulfilled?

I've spent more than a few dollars on self-help myself. Did it help? Hard to say. I've also wrote a book called What Men Won't Tell You, but Women Need to Know. I'm telling you this so I don't come off as too sanctimonious. I guess I'm looking for (and perhaps giving) answers like many others.

What about you? What's been your experience with self help? Or have you found some way, your own or someone else's to make tangible, lasting change?