Struggling to change, part one: The fault of non-fiction

There are many ways that you can judge a book. That much should be obvious because everybody has personal preferences that influence what they appreciate. However, when you are discussing non-fiction books that explicitly aim at self-improvement, there are two factors that any serious review must take into account. The first is viewing the book as a product that aims at behaviour-change and how successful it was in what it set out to do. The second is as a piece of literature that can be well or badly written. 

Since books are often costly both in terms of money and time, there should be placed a serious emphasis on deciding if a book is worth commit to. Generally, reviews of non-fiction fail in this regard, following a rule of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of a book divorced from how effective it was in delivering its promise.

This is almost certainly a consequence of the "rules" of reviewing fiction bleeding into the area of non-fiction. In my mind, a review of fiction should appraise the book as a work of art and should care very little about its power to transform a life. Nevertheless, since self-help books often explicitly market themselves as a means of transformation, they must be assessed accordingly. The work may still charm, but if it fails to teach or transform us, then it is objectively not a great book within its genre. 


So why did I just go through the trouble of making that distinction? Mostly because I want to make it abundantly clear that almost all of the self-help books fail to deliver on its central promises. At this point in time, I have read approximately fifteen books that were explicitly aimed as self-development. Conversely, I can only seriously provision three books as having any serious long term effect on my behaviour. My pattern was always this: I did the system flawlessly for a week, then started to loiter - cutting corners here and there before I finally abandoned the system again. The list of books that still retain when the initial excitement wears off is surely both few and far between. 


Obviously, I may be a bad case study because I have never had a natural possession of self-discipline. But even as I am writing this, I feel the need to correct myself because I am definitely ahead in a lot of aspects to what is to be expected of an average reader in terms of self-discipline. Which makes me suspect that either the world of productivity experts have lost touch with their audience, or that the beneficial effects of books as a means of behaviour change have been greatly exaggerated. 


The esteemed value of books as a means of transformation might be one of those social facts that nobody questions, despite it being mostly ineffective. In either case, this means that books might not be the greatest place to start if you aspire to change your behaviour.


Surely It is hard to quantify to what degree failure to change is a product of bad advice or simply from the fact that changing is incredibly tricky. As a result, it becomes necessary to discuss why change is so difficult in the next part of this articles, entitled: Part 2: Conservative Creatures. 

Rasmus Nielsen