On the Reading and Implementation of Self Help Books: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg, and Others

We all need help. We all have areas of our lives that need improvement. In my case, I find myself living alone in a one-bedroom apartment after having raised five sons overseas (mainly in Greece) in an extremely lively atmosphere, effectively isolated since the COVID pandemic began, struggling to survive financially, rejoicing at the end of each month when I manage to pay my rent and other bills one more time. I work as a freelance writer and publisher and I don’t want to change that, but I wonder why prosperity has eluded me when others in similar occupations seem to be flourishing. I am continually reading, so it is natural for me to seek assistance through books and research. With this in mind, I perused lists and reviews and suggestions and culled some self-help books from the library.

At first I thought not to write reviews of these self-help books. After all, there is a stigma attached to them. Although some are wildly popular, they often tend to offer impractical or overly simplistic advice intended only for a certain strata of persona. As you will see when I get into details, this is the case here too. However, I have undergone this experience of studying these books to see what they have to offer, and I want to pass on whatever I have gleaned to you.

The first book will remain unnamed, and I’m sorry about that. I know it would be more helpful to focus on the exact title, but with very few exceptions since I began to write reviews I have decided to avoid denigrating specific books and authors. Anyway, the book is about standing alone and having courage in a world that often will not accept you. A noble sentiment indeed, one that I have long held and tried to live by, which is why I picked it up and decided to study it: as some positive reinforcement of my own convictions. I spent an afternoon perusing the book and carefully reading certain sections. In the end, I set it aside. I couldn’t get past the author’s background and attitudes. Touted on the cover as a “New York Times bestselling author,” she is an exceedingly wealthy woman, the owner and CEO of numerous companies based on her self-help teachings, and approaches the subjects of vulnerability, empathy, courage, and so on from a position of high privilege. I culled some good ideas, or reinforcement of some of my existing ideas, from some of the thoughts I read, but overall I felt that from her exalted, protected status she could not offer much to ordinary people.

Then I turned to one of the best-selling books of all time: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In my poverty-stricken situation I figured that if a thought process alone could make me wealthy, I was willing to go for it, so I spent another afternoon going over Hill’s book. My conclusion was that it wasn’t for me. First of all, Hill (who first published his book in 1937) bases his research solely on interviews with super-rich white men who ruthlessly exploited countless others to accumulate wealth for themselves. He represents them as examples to follow, but in numerous cases their riches were based upon the poorly-paid toil of their many employees. Besides his morally questionable examples, though, the main objection I had to Hill’s methods was the religious flavor of his advice. To follow through on his suggestions, you basically have to worship money. You have to desire riches above all else and implant auto-suggestions by continually repeating out loud (as if through prayer) your goals for the accumulation of riches. It is little different from the pleadings of acolytes to the Roman god Mercury, the Greek god Plutus, the Hindu god Lakshmi, and the gods of wealth and prosperity in numerous other cultures. Not for me, thanks. I have higher priorities. I am not going to give money godlike status.

The third self-help book I perused during this study was Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by B.J. Fogg. This is the book I found most interesting and useful. It does not pretend to spirituality or claim to be a path to enlightenment. Instead, it offers practical tips on how to easily change personal habits by making adjustments in behavior. Living alone, as I said, and having the need to work long hours, I have developed many habits that help get me through my work, exercise regularly, eat healthily, and so on. I find that Fogg’s methods of breaking down habits in terms of motivations, abilities, and prompts to be useful and hopefully effective. This is the one book of the three that I decided to read all the way through instead of just skim.

In conclusion, I advise you to use what works. If you find books that help you out in certain deficient areas of your life, go ahead and implement their advice. However, be wary of books that supposedly offer secret formulas to success or of authors whose examples belie the supposed wisdom they impart.

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