Why Self-Help Books Don’t Work

For years, Ryan and I read dozens of personal development books in efforts to learn more about procrastination, fitness, nutrition, and building positive routines.

While we’ve learned all about the science, case studies, and facts behind these topics, reading books like this didn’t magically change our habits. Here’s why self-help books don’t work.

why self-help books don’t work

While you may feel rah-rah and hyped for your new life after reading a motivational book (or a motivational Duo Life Letter), inspirational words alone won’t create lasting change. The reason for this isn’t willpower or motivation, it’s actually based in neuroscience. 

Work by the UC Institute for Prediction Technology shows that only by taking action will prove to your brain that there’s a better way to do things. You need to actively lead your brain in the right direction.

Your Habits Are Like a Pathway in the Snow

Routines form as a way for your brain to conserve energy… it’s all about “laziness,” am I right?! With more routine (like taking the same route to work every day, your brain can put your driving on autopilot so that it can save its brainpower for more pressing issues and avoid decision fatigue.

That’s why you often arrive at work without any recollection of your drive there. So, how does this relate to proving to your brain that it should create a healthier routine?

Think of the neural pathway analogy that your habits are like a path in the snow to your mailbox. You have a trodden path (your current habits) which make it easy, both physically and mentally, to get to the mailbox. However, if you want to create a new path (a healthier habit), you’ve got to step into fresh snow to make a new course.

Of course, this is more challenging. Your shoes are getting wet and your feet are getting cold! You probably had to fight to overcome analysis paralysis just to take the first step.

However with time, as you continuously take that new path to the mailbox, you’ll eventually pat down the snow so your shoes will no longer get wet. Soon enough, your new path (healthier habit) will become the path of least resistance.

Once your new path becomes “easy” through repetition, your brain starts signaling to your body that it’s the preferred neural pathway and action. So, to create new habits, you have to lay down new tracks and show your brain that it’s not hard to travel in this new direction.

And repeat, repeat, repeat. Even if the going is tough, remember that each time you perform your healthy habit strengthens the neural pathways in your brain.

So Self-Help Books Can Work?

Yes, they work if you put what you learn to work. We enjoy self-help books and they often teach us what aspects of our lives we can improve. But, we only benefit if we take action.

As the old adage goes, “action speaks louder than words.” So, the next time you read a self-help book or email, make a plan of action. To help with that, download and print out our free habit tracker.

We use this to record our action items and check them off each day of the month for accountability. Cheers to lasting, healthier habits!

Monthly Habit Tracker (PDF)

Ever commit to a new habit yet find, just two days later, you can't stick with it - no matter how small? Download and print this free PDF to help you commit up to 15 new healthy habits a month. Leave it on your nightstand and track your accountability daily.

Free

Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “happiness engineers.” After eight years working as corporates engineers internationally, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — leading couples to engineer their best lives. The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship, as a couple.

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