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Am I Overdosing On Self-Help?

A man overwhelmed by the quantity of self-help books..
Knowledge stimulates, but it should also transform.

I enjoy the feeling I get when I learn something new, and the relief I experience when I satisfy my desire for the unknown. Growing up in the internet age has worked wonders for my intellectual development. Since high school, I have been a prolific user of Google and YouTube, researching new words, ideas, statistics and anything else that fancies my interest in the moment. Several years ago, when prompted by adverse life circumstances, I immersed myself in the world of self-help. I learned a lot of valuable knowledge in the process about a diversity of topics–like physical fitness, mental health, and sexual integrity. However, I also discovered that personal growth, especially as it relates to psychological and social development, is primarily experiential in nature.

Is Self-Help Beneficial Or A Waste Of Time?

Building off the previous paragraph, growing as a person is less about what we are learning, and more about who we are becoming. Today, we have access to more information than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we are the least bit more evolved as people than our predecessors. In fact, acquiring too much head knowledge independent of experience and application can have the opposite effect. In the worst case, too much head knowledge creates the illusion of forward progress and functions as a substitute for the real work needed to grow. In the worst case, it is a waste of time. Emotions and relational success, to my mind, are still the best metrics of personal growth. When knowledge is not being implemented, we get “smarter,” we get better at “talking the talk,” but we don’t grow emotionally or relationally.

Emotions and relational success, to my mind, are the best metrics of personal growth.

Some of the people I respect the most aren’t the smartest or the most well-read or even the most interesting; they’re the people who embody a few quality values and principles every single day. Even Jesus said that the ones who are blessed are the ones who “do,” not the ones who merely “know.”

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

John 13:17

If we are like plants, then knowledge is like water. You can keep giving a plant more and more water, but if it doesn’t get enough sunlight, if the temperature isn’t right, and if the root system isn’t deep enough, then you’re wasting your time. That water is going to seep right through the pot, and you’d be be better off just stopping and waiting for the conditions to be ready again.

Treasures from other people’s insight and experiences can be an aid to us as we navigate our own life challenges and opportunities. However, there’s a fine line between consumption and implementation. The best test of whether that balance is right, is whether we are making satisfactory progress toward our goals.

If the answer is “yes,” then maybe we should continue to do things exactly as we have been. However, If the answer is “no,” then some change in terms of how we spend our time may be in order.

For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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