self help gurus

Self-Help Gurus Suck. Here’s Why And How To Choose The “Right” Ones

Noam LightstoneSelf-Improvement 7 Comments

Self-help and personal development is an over-crowded market.

I knew this coming in. There’s tons of people trying to give advice, feedback, coaching, etc.

You can usually trace each site or resource down to one person, or so-called “guru”. Not every person likes that label, but let’s stick with it for now. It could also be mentor, teacher, or something else demonstrating wisdom and knowledge.

Two Kinds of Self-Help Gurus

From all of my own reading and following, I think you can divide the gurus into two very broad categories:

  1. Those that show their screw ups and hard ships.
  2. Those that don’t.

In my opinion, you shouldn’t pay much attention to those in category #2. In fact, doing so could lead you to wasting thousands of dollars or countless hours. Let me explain more about how this can help you.

We all fuck up in life. It doesn’t matter how happy or positive you are, you still get scraped a bit and mess up – whether in your relationships, work, or otherwise.

But the thing with self-improvement is that, unfortunately, many sad, lonely, or damaged people have a deep desire to be told that they are good. They feel like they are broken, there is something wrong with them, and that they need “fixing”.

I used to be one of them and definitely still slip into this mindset from time to time (“Why am I scared here, I’ve done this a billion times?”, “Why can’t I be more productive?”….)

When you are so desperate to fix something in your life, you will cling on to anyone who promises you redemption. It’s how a lot of dating companies make money with lonely men. If we only see the rosy side and hear the positives, we don’t hear any of the negatives.

Self-help gurus who seem to have everything perfect or amazing will seem like Gods to these people.

Wow, he gets so many girls… I’ve got to buy his book.

She lives on that island in Thailand and works online whenever she wants… I’d better take her course.

But it’s all branding. It’s part of the marketing to make you interested.

I COULD tell you how I’ve had to get rejected thousands of times and become extremely tough emotionally, and how I sometimes wanted to cry from nobody loving me… or I can show you how good I am with women and how you can take them home from clubs.

I COULD tell you I can only live in South East Asia because I don’t make enough money to be truly location independent (around the world) and how sometimes I have to work 16 hour days on freelancing to make ends meet… or I can just show you that I live on a city with a beach and you could too.

This isn’t to discount that some of these folks don’t have good things to say, but sometimes the story is only told in partial truths.

We don’t see the struggle, the hard ship, and all that. It’s branding of the magic pill solution that we all want so desperately.

Do X, get Y. No questions asked.

Now of course, as someone who tries to sell products myself, I don’t expect people to really put this in the sales tag. I mean, unless they think it’d help. “I used to cry myself to sleep from getting rejected so many times, but now, I can get some girls!” But, I would like to see honesty in where the person came from in their biography and in what they output (writing, videos, and so on).

Self-Help Gurus I Trust

To give some examples, I have never really been attracted to Tony Robbins. I think he has some great stuff, but he always kind of seemed fake to me. He seemed to be REALLY good at motivating people and cutting through mental BS, but I never heard a lot about his struggles and how he got to where he got. I also never hear about how these days, he shuts down at times. And I don’t care how amazing you are, EVERYONE shuts down sometimes.

In Quiet, Susan Cain talks about going to Tony Robbins’ seminar and during the break, him being centre stage caressing and staring into his wife’s eyes… then suddenly a banner for his relationship seminar coming on screen and Tony’s assistant advertising it, and many people signing up.

Not saying it’s not worth it, but I wish these people also knew the problem with making emotionally-based decisions…

On the other hand, most people who read this site know I am big fans of Tim Ferriss and Mark Manson, not only because of the knowledge they provide, but because they show they aren’t perfect and that they came from places of pain/messing up.

Tim Ferriss talked about almost committing suicide, working 80+ hour weeks, and sometimes not wanting to get out of bed:

Mark Manson wrote a long post about the negative parts of being a pick-up artist, how all he used to care about was women even though he slept on a couch and didn’t have enough money for a computer, and being incredibly lonely even while travelling the world and seeing things that some people would never see in their entire life.

The point is that these two “gurus”, while being well-respected in their fields, show that they mess up and aren’t perfect, but still do well in life and want to help “us”. They seem more human, and that definitely makes me trust them way more – and like them too.

I’ve never bought a Tony Robbins product, but I have from Tim and Mark.

It’s also why in the site and in my products, I try to give examples of where I came from. I mess up relationships, I get anxious with confrontations, sometimes I’m still hard on myself for no reason. But I keep trying to improve myself and teach others how to do the same.

I hope I get the point across in everything I do here:

You can be much happier and relieve much anxiety and depression by improving your life in terms of being able to connect with yourself and others, have relationships, pursue projects that are valuable to you…

But you will have to work your ass off, it will be hard at times, it will be painful, but you will become much stronger and better because of it.

Just because someone promises you a dream relationship, one night stands, and a $3,000/month business doesn’t mean that there isn’t something else there, that you won’t have to work, and that everything will be A-OK.

Don’t just believe everything at face value – look deeper into the person you are trusting.

Where have they come from? What gives them the right to be an authority on the topics they are discussing? Do they admit their flaws?

I’m not saying I or you should expect everyone to be 100% open – there are some things that should only be shared with the most trusted friends and family we have, or even kept to ourselves.

But all I can say is…

Trust the people who seem human.

Comments 7

  1. As a foreigner whose mother-language is not English, I spent hours to read this article completely. Fortunitely, I got the meaning of it and I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you Noam.

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  2. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I have read your book. However I must disagree with your comments about Tony Robbins in this post. I don’t think he comes out as a person who hasn’t gone through hardships despite his products being advertised as awful informercials. In fact he always comes back to the story on how bad his life used to be, the struggles he’s been through and what he did to change it. I have much appreciation and respect for both Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins. Maybe it’s just a difference of opinion. I do agree that some gurus are just for show and give advice just for the sake of giving it without even trying it themselves. But have you listened to Tim Ferriss’s interviews with Tony Robbins on Tim’s podcast?

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      Hey Jesse, thanks a lot for the support. It really means a lot.

      Like I said, I haven’t read much or followed much on Tony Robbins – he never gelled with me. But these are just my opinions/what I gain from a glance. It’s quite possible he talks about where he came from and the hardships and all that, but he never rubbed me the right way as a person.

      Listened to a bit of that Podcast – mostly about the cryo-chambers and some of his morning routine. Anything specific you really liked?

  3. Couple things:

    “I’m not saying I or you should expect everyone to be 100% open – there are some things that should only be shared with the most trusted friends and family we have, or even kept to ourselves.”

    What things must remain hidden? What’s wrong with nakedness?

    Second: Which guru makes more money / has more fans and why? The guy who LOOKS like he’s got it together, or the guy who shows a fuller picture? Money isn’t really the point, but it’s instructive that people want to be actively lied to. Some people appreciate greater honesty, but the masses demand lies, and I don’t blame them.

    And finally, a quote you might like from U.G. Krishnamurti:
    “If anyone makes you believe you can get somewhere, he’s taking you for a ride. He may be honest. Distrust all honest fellows! Throw them out! There is no one who is honest in this field. No outside agency can help you.”

    Good post.

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      Complete nakedness:
      Nothing wrong with nakedness if you choose it, but there are things I personally like to keep to myself. Maybe I have thoughts on where my life is going, or about how the world works and such that I don’t really need to or want to share with anyone. I like stewing in my mind at times as an introvert.

      The problem is when I have stuff (actions or thoughts) I’d LIKE to express and am either scared to or can’t find anyone who will listen.

      Money and Lying
      That’s a pretty shitty view. You are saying that most people would rather be fed lies and nonsense? I kind of get what you are getting at though: From a marketing stand point, if you really pull at people’s emotions and the problems they have, you can get them to buy… Of course persuasive sales and writing is all about that, but hopefully not being used in a malicious way.

      It is true that if someone isn’t that smart, they can be sucked in with visions and delusions of grandeur for sure, as I talk about in the article. But I’m hoping most people are reasonably smart, can sniff out BS, and will only buy if they think something can deliver. Unfortunately, many self-improvement gurus pray on the emotions of people to make sales… Talked a lot about this in my article about PUA and dating coaches, personally being a victim:

      But still, nobody likes being lied to. So thought I might agree good sales/image could make money and sell well, I’d rather show the fuller picture and make less… potentially.

      It’s true… No PERSON can get YOU anywhere. They can help you with resources but you’re personally responsible for all your actions and what you get/don’t get. You can seek out information and people to help you, but it’s still your life.

  4. Tony Robbins is by far the most compelling guru in the industry. His life story is beyond inspiring. He was once broke – stealing food – working as a janator. He survived an abusive childhood. He has gone through a tough divorce. He helps people because of his story. He is genuine and a beautiful soul. He puts his shit out there. Some just have selective hearing.

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