Why Self-Help is Mostly Shelf-Help

Books going unused on shelf

Americans spend over $11 Billion a year on “self-help” products.

But I call it Shelf-Help — because that’s where most of it goes… on the shelf, along with all the other stuff you’ve bought.

If you’re like most of my clients, you’ve spent anywhere from $5000 to $50,000 in the last few years on “shelf-help”. But the REAL question is:

Why, with all this time, money and energy being spent on “self-help,” are so few people actually living the life they really want?

Like most vexing problems, to answer this question, we must first ask a deeper question:

What Really Causes Human Behavior?

Here’s the simplest answer I’ve found to that question. It’s a simple answer, because I’ve found (and I’m sure you have, too) that simple solutions lead to the best results.

Picture a balance, like the Scales of Justice in a courtroom.

On one plate, imagine you have Your Why-To’s. These are your motives or Reasons Why to do something. On the other plate, Your Why-Not-To’s – your Reasons Why Not to do something.

For example, why are you reading this right now? The answer is: because you perceive that there are more benefits of reading this, than cost of doing so.

Your perceived Why-To’s or Benefits of reading this might include:

  • I want to learn what the world’s most successful people do, so I can do that in my own life
  • So I can stop sabotaging myself
  • So I can make more money
  • And finally get my foot off the brake
  • And this will make me happier, because I can live the life I’ve always wanted
  • And quit this job I hate
  • And take more vacations
  • And have better relationships
  • And lose weight
  • And find the love of my life
  • And buy a new car
  • And a new house
  • And get out of debt
  • Did I mention I’ll finally get my foot off the brake?

And your Why-Not-To’s or Cost might include:

  • I have a million other things I could be doing right now.
  • Who is this guy, and why should I listen to him?
  • What if it works for everyone else, but not for me?
  • Did I mention all the other things I could be doing right now?

Your mind is like an infinite weighing machine — every moment, your mind is weighing your perceived Benefit against your perceived Cost of doing any behavior or activity.

Every decision you make is built upon your perceived Why-To’s and Why-Not-To’s:

  • Where you live
  • What you wear
  • What you eat (and how often you eat it)
  • What kind of car you drive
  • What you do for work
  • What you had for breakfast this morning

In fact, every decision you’ve ever made was based on your Why-To’s and Why-Not-To’s: the reasons you thought you should do the thing vs. the reasons you thought you shouldn’t do that thing.

“Okay, Noah,” you’re saying. “But if I’m holding myself back from the success I’m capable of, are you trying to tell me that I don’t want to succeed?”

After working with tens of thousands of people in our coaching programs and courses, I’ve never met one person who doesn’t WANT to succeed.

Yet we’ve already seen that millions of people are holding themselves back from the success they’re capable of… even though we’re spending BILLIONS of dollars trying to fix the problem. So what’s wrong with this picture?

The Hidden Reason You’re Stuck

Picture an iceberg.

Scientists at Stanford, MIT and other esteemed institutions have determined that the human mind operates like an iceberg: the 10% that’s visible (above the surface) and the 90% that’s hidden (below the surface).

Let’s call the visible 10% your Conscious Mind, and the hidden 90% your Subconscious Mind. Another word for Conscious is intentional, because it represents CHOICE.

Your Subconscious is a vast collection of unintentional, habitual thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Therefore, the Subconscious mind is NO CHOICE.

Your Subconscious Mind is like a completely dark room. We don’t know what’s in there, because we can’t see it — it’s hidden beneath the surface like the bottom 90% of an iceberg. And when you can’t see something, it’s awfully hard to change it.

Which brings us back to the original question:

Why Millions of People Are Still Stuck… Even AFTER Spending So Much Money on Self-Help Products

When you put together your Scales of Success and Iceberg of Consciousness, the answer becomes stunningly simple:

Your Why-To’s of Success are held in your Conscious Mind.

Everyone wants to succeed – on the Conscious level. Why do you think we’re spending all this time and money trying to be more successful?

But have you ever stopped to think about the cost of actually allowing yourself to succeed?

I’ve asked this question of thousands of people in my seminars, and the response I get is… dead silence. I can almost hear people’s minds whirring as they ask themselves: “Gee, I never thought of that before…What could be a cost of allowing myself to succeed?”

When I ask my audience members to give examples of their perceived cost of success, they say:

  • It’s going to take too much TIME.
  • I’m too BUSY.
  • I don’t want the extra RESPONSIBILITY.
  • What if my FAMILY doesn’t approve?
  • What if my FRIENDS don’t like me any more?
  • What if I go for it and LOSE it all?

Did you notice something about these Why-Not-To’s? They are all held in your Subconscious mind. Meaning: no one wakes up in the morning and says, “Today looks like a great day. I think I’ll hold myself back from success today!”

Nor does anyone say, “I think I’ll buy this book (or go to this seminar, or start this coaching program) so I can SABOTAGE myself better!”

Everyone wants to succeed — on the Conscious level.

But because your Why-Not-To’s of Success are hidden in your Subconscious mind, it’s like you’re driving down the road of life…with one foot on the brake.

The fastest way to get your foot off the brake is to see why it’s there in the first place. Here are four ways to do that:

1. List your Why-To’s and Why-Not-To’s of Success. On a piece of paper, list your Why-To’s of Success on one side, and your Why-Not-To’s of Success on the other. (If you get stuck on this, here’s a free resource to get you unstuck.)

2. Calculate your stuckness. When you have them all written down, score each one from 1-10, 1 meaning “it’s no big deal” and 10 meaning “this is a really big deal”. Calculate your totals on both sides to see how stuck you really are.

3. Share your list with a trusted friend. It’s critical to share your list with a trusted friend, coach or mentor, because they’ll be able to offer objective advice and see you more clearly than you can see yourself. (This is called the Loving Mirror principle.)

4. Ask yourself if you’re willing to pay the price of success. The fact is that every solution brings with it a new set of problems.

So, while it’s true that there is a price to pay when you allow yourself to succeed, only you can decide if going for the success you want is worth it.

I say: Go for it. Because when you give yourself permission to succeed, you also give others that same permission – and give yourself permission to be Who You Really Are.

[Ed Note: Noah St. John is a best-selling author, communication expert, keynote speaker, and inventor of AFFORMATIONS®. One of the world’s most sought-after experts on personal growth and professional development, Noah has been featured on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, NPR, PARADE, Woman’s Day, Los Angeles Business Journal, Huffington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Forbes.com, Selling Power and The Washington Post. His newest book, The Book of Afformations is available here.]

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  • michellesears

    Thanks for giving me a kick in the pants. I am stuck. I do hold myself back because I feel more committed to my family then I do to succeeding even though I know that by succeeding on a bigger level I would be more available for my family.

  • william

    Does anyone know where is the “free resource to get you unstuck” referred to in the article?