Do Self-help Books Really Work? My answer…


I was at a dinner party last month. Someone said I had written a self-help book.

The host of the dinner, a psychiatrist, asked, “Oh? Are you a psychologist?”

I said, “No.” He immediately disliked me. I felt it. Whatever. I didn’t care.

But I don’t write self-help books. Most of my books are about how pathetic I’ve been, how pathetic I am, how pathetic I will be.

And then the things I do about it.

Some of the things I do are insane. Insanity is a good story. And I write it and move on.

I write about the time I figured out how to kill myself without hurting myself. Which is really hard to do.

I write about the time I found out she was cheating. He was a fraud. She was violent. He died. I almost died. I saw a plane crash. I was scared and small and hateful.

When I wrote “The Power of No”, it wasn’t because I trying to teach people how to say “No”. It’s because I’m really bad at saying “No” and I shared all of my experiences on learning how to say “no” better.

When I say “self-help”, I AM THE SELF. I’m just trying to help me.

Sometimes I read self-help books. A lot of them are garbage. 99% of them are garbage.

Just like anything: a few books are good. Books that give me one or two ideas that have changed my life.

Anything that tells me I should worry less (because worry never solves a problem) and I should take good care of myself (because the best way to save the world is to save myself first) are good ideas.

Everything else is garbage. Word vomit.


I read a book about black holes.

Nothing can escape a black hole. It’s so dense and the gravity so thick that not even light can escape a black hole.’s black.

When I am in an argument with my girlfriend I turn into a black hole.

I can feel the transformation. I go into the other room and even if the fight is over, nothing can come out of me. I go silent and even if someone is nice to me, the best I can do is nod.

I can’t do anything. No words, emotions, light from my eyes, a sincere smile, can escape the dark gravitational pull of my despair.

I’m a warfare of silence.

I even say to myself, “get out of this shell!” but I can’t. I’m stuck. For how long, I don’t know.

One thing about black holes (the “Hawking radiation”) is that information can escape a black hole. We KNOW that a black hole is there.

So something escaped. Knowledge. A thin invisible line that breaks out of the center of the black hole like a runaway slave and makes its way out into the universe.

It travels thousands of light years to our telescopes and then to our hearts and imaginations.

It’s the one lifeline inside a black hole that reaches out and grabs onto creation. And that is the reason we know black holes exist.

Because something reached for the positive. Something reached out and cried, “I exist!”

When I read that I know that I can get out of my emotional black holes. I can find something positive in my life, I can reach onto it and grab it and hold on for dear life.

I exist! I am here! I go to my girlfriend, who has been sad and waiting for me. I am here! I love you! Let’s not fight. Everything can be figured out.

Let’s not worry. Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s take care of each other.

I read that in a book about black holes.

Every book is a self-help book.

I’m on a train right now. Passing trees. The trees create the oxygen that feed the Earth.

I can breathe deep. I can breathe at all. I take a breath.

The building blocks of nature help the self. Just as we can help others.

The positive life lines exist in every moment, in ever book, in every tree we pass, in every set of eyes that looks at us, in everyone who loves us, in everyone we love.

I don’t always love myself. But I try to find the one positive that can let me escape my inner black holes.

I find those positives in everything.

Including the occasional self-help book.

Including that moment you first told me you had feelings for me.

Including that first spray of light through the window that lets me see your arm, your hair, your back. My hand. Reaching for connection.

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