Why I Hate Self-Help Platitudes

One of the most delightfully frustrating experiences I get is receiving book review requests. Normally, I don’t mind receiving these requests. If your book is brilliant, I’m more than happy to promote it without any compensation.

However, I’ll often get press release emails for books which advocate an idea I’ve explicitly argued against on this blog. I’d like to hope that the sender of that email is simply sending me spam, and that they haven’t actually read my blog to see that I completely disagree with their book’s thesis.

But part of me worries, that in having a website with a tagline, “Get more from life,” that people believe I automatically subscribe to every piece of self-help nonsense that gets published.

A Brief List of Ideas I Don’t Support

Just for the record, here are just a few ideas I don’t feel are important, am skeptical of, or actively disagree with (links are to articles explaining my disagreement):

I did say brief. I believe in the broad idea of self-actualization. I just disagree with a lot of the advice out there on its implementation.

Advice Needs to Mean Something

Advice needs to have the possibility of being wrong. It needs to suggest one thing at the expense of something else. And, when the evidence is mixed, it should polarize some people to agree and others to object strongly. If advice can’t be wrong, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

If I look back over my archives from the initial months after I started this blog, I’d wager that at least 80% of the older articles I wouldn’t have written today. In some cases, I still agree with the main idea, just that I would have written the article completely differently. In other cases, I’ve completely reversed my opinion.

But, isn’t that the point of advice? I would be far more worried if I didn’t disagree with some of my early posts. Either that means I’m stubborn and unable to change my point of view. Or it means that my advice was essentially meaningless. If it couldn’t be made wrong later, it couldn’t have meant anything to begin with.

  • Kr3

    Natural herbal medicine has proven itself time and time again to work. Most of the modern medicines have so many side effects that we are effectively poisoning our bodies on a daily basis the only ones to profit from this are the companies that produce them.

    Maybe you should do a little more research before making inconclusive decisions.

  • Armen Shirvanian

    Hey Scott.

    I agree with you solidly here. I have the same thoughts about some of my earlier material, so it is a good sign that we are learning and implementing our new knowledge.

    There is a lot I didn’t know that I now take for granted as knowing, and then material I have yet to absorb and implement.

    I like how you linked to like 15 of your own articles in the section of ideas you don’t support. The point is well-received. The help has to be tangible or actual for improvement, instead of just saying something like “make sure to breathe 20 times a minute”.

    Thanks for this.

  • Scott Young


    Exactly what research have you been looking at?

    Certainly not the wealth of double-blind studies that point that many traditional herbal medicines do not out-perform control groups. There are certainly flaws with the existing pharmaceutical industry in how it warps the practice and education of medicine.

    When herbs are proven to work, they are isolated and become medicine. That’s how science works.


    I actually linked to my articles where I specifically argue against the ideas I mention in bullets. Just to show that my rallying against common self-help stereotypes isn’t a recent fad but a dedicated effort of mine over the last few years.


  • Kr3

    Sorry dont think I was attacking you.

    But the research you are looking at is fabricated.

    Let me start of by asking you what you think of Hemp?

    A simple yet effective plant that can be used to as a replacement for Crude Oil, Paints, Paper and Fabric.

    However the American Law has deicided to make the cultivation of this plant illegal. Yes thats right they think they have the right to make a natural plant illegal. Morally and ethically incorrect.

    This plant alone could save the world with climate change at an all time high. When grown this plant consumes large amounts of Carbon Dioxide and releases Oxygen. Which is exactly what we need.

    It also makes four times as much paper as trees would make if planted in the same place.

    Whats your opinion on that?

  • eric

    Kr3, I’m confused. You start off attacking pharmaceutical companies for falsifying information regarding clinical trials and use the outlawing of hemp as your example?

    Whether or not hemp should be legal is of no consequence to your original argument. That’s quite a leap of logic there the I just can’t follow.

  • Kr3

    Sorry forgot to mention one of its main uses as Medical Marijuanna. If used in the right way by which I mean not smoked. It has to be vaporized which heats the substance to the right tempreature to activate the active ingredient.

    It has many uses the main one being pain relief also now after much research it is showing to have many positive affects on the body with no negative side effects.

    If you look at the right place and stop following the media you see everything under a new light.

    I follow this blog because you are open to new things and comment alot of positive things, I definetly think you are a positive person however some of your views are wrong.

    If you think im wrong, i’ll gladly take any criticism if you can back it up with proof.

  • Kr3

    Please look at the following link for more info:


  • Kr3

    Sorry if I keep commenting but it seems I may have targeted on something you have researched. I love your topic on Confidence and rather is Courage to overcome the fear of something new rather than Confidence.

    Yes you are right on alot of things. I would love to see a post about the things you have yet to research and what you think of them Like Herbal/Natural Medicine and NLP.

    Those are two that I look forward to. Hope you will post something on them.

  • Kr3

    you havent researched*

  • David Turnbull

    Although I disagree with a few things you disagree with I still love this post because, while I wouldn’t consider myself a personal development writer, it reminds me not to just go back to the standard, generally accepted advice by default. 🙂

  • Armen Shirvanian

    Hey Scott.

    Thanks for clearing that up. I had missed the concept there, and would not have known unless you pointed it out.

    It sure is a long-term effort of going against the common phrases that is shown through those examples.

    Cool material.

  • Scott Young


    Hemp is an interesting case because, while it may have medicinal value (many other illegal street drugs have sister compounds that have accepted medicinal value) the system is already heavily invested in outlawing it’s usage.

    However, when most people refer to natural medicine, they aren’t referring to the illicit marijuana but St. John’s Wort, Echinacea or similar perfectly legal (and perfectly ineffective) herbal medicines.


  • Gordie Rogers

    Homeopathy is a load of crap. Does that come under natural medicine? I like your views here, Scott. I haven’t researched about of the areas you disagree with, but I can also see flaws and disagree with some of these areas. I’ve only been blogging six months, so I need more time to research properly. Cheers.

  • Eugene

    Hi Scott,

    You mentioned that if you look back over the archives from the initial months after starting this blog, in some cases, you still agree with the main idea, while in other cases, you’ve completely reversed your opinion.

    Would you be as bold as give examples of major ideas you’ve expressed early on, that today you’ve completed reserved your opinion on?

    You’re fluid, changing, evolving, like a creature in some ancient primordial sea, and that’s a good thing. The full extent of your evolution in your ideas that have flipped dramatically, like a sea creature that grows feet and walks out of the water into the jungle, now THAT would be a great article for you to blog IMO!

    Hope your journeys in France are bearing fruit in good experiences and new friends!

    Best regards,


  • KR3


    Yes hemp is an intresting issue. However there are other instances where these can be true.

    You see when buying herbal medicine just like anything it takes alot of research and reading. You have to check reviews of medicines to see how effective they are.

    Most herbal medicine availble at local herbal stores is a load of rubbish sold to the blind public for profit. People who dont know what they are buying.

    As an example a couple of weeks ago I was searching for herbal medicine for Anxiety. The reason for this is simply because modern medicine for Anxiety has way too many side effects. Well after alot of searching and going through all the mess I found what I was looking for yes it took an hour but it was worth it.

    The herbal option for Anxiety has an 80% success rate without any side effects whereas the Modern Medicine option has a success rate of 50% with a large amount of side effects.

    I hope you get my point.


  • KR3

    this can be true*

    Note to self I should really reread my comment before posting.

  • Scott Young


    My point is simply that the pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars every year on one goal, to find drugs that will outperform placebos in clinical trials. So, if a common, unrefined herb had medicinal qualities for, say reducing anxiety, that significantly outperformed placebos in controlled studies, big pharma would be the first group of people to jump all over those findings.


  • Duff

    While I don’t necessarily agree with all of your criticisms, you are one of the few personal development writers that actually has opinions and stated reasons for disagreeing. That is something I admire about your writing and wish there was more of in our field.

  • David Safar

    You wrote:
    “I’d like to hope that the sender of that email is simply sending me spam, and that they haven’t actually read my blog to see that I completely disagree with their book’s thesis.”

    I’m surprised to hear this from you. Given what you’ve written in the past, I’d like to hope that they HAVE read your blog, and are appealing to your sense of the importance of reading things that you disagree with.

  • AlsonP

    Intersting article. thanks – I see what you mean. I feel better about the possibilities. I have bookmarked your site to examine later.

  • Jim in Texas

    I have always hated platitudes. They minimize, dismiss and I think are largely rooted in denial. One I heard all my life was “This too shall pass” (usually falsely attributed to the Bible). This phrase never comforted me and always sent the message “Quit your complaining.” While it may be true that many of life’s speed bumps will simply pass with time, many won’t. And merely pretending that they will won’t effect them in any way. Simply lumping all problems into one category that is supposed to magically disappear with time is false. But, beyond that, even those platitudes that are intended to inspire never do. I follow some people on FaceBook who do nothing but spout these all day. I often get the impression of someone whistling past the graveyard when I read these, and seriously doubt the person posting them even really believes them. I really get the message “This is what I WANT to believe.” Or worse, “This is what I want YOU to think I believe.” And they are seldom ever original. When was the last time someone shared a platitude with you that you hadn’t already heard about 500 times? I hate them. I find them shallow, saccharine, and insincere.

  • Robin

    You can’t patent a naturally occuring chemical. You couldn’t make very much money selling an herb compared to a proprietary compound that does the same thing. This is why big pharma reformulates their drugs whenever the patent is about to expire.

  • Robin

    You can’t patent a naturally occuring chemical. You couldn’t make very much money selling an herb compared to a proprietary compound that does the same thing. This is why big pharma reformulates their drugs whenever the patent is about to expire.