The Science of Self Help

The Science of Self Help

One aspect of the self help industry that turns a lot of people off is the lack of a truly scientific basis. I’m writing about the 6 Fundamental Human Needs right now, but there are no rigorous studies to back that up. In fact, there’s no way to even design a rigorous study that would support or reject any actual hypothesis about them. There are no physical structures in our brains that correspond “certainty” or “variety.”

But none of that matters, because understanding your motivations in terms of those general “need areas” is useful. It helps us introspect about what we’re doing, and helps us change our behavior if we want to.

There’s very little objective truth about the psychology that you can learn from hard sciences. Ok, great, now you know about the pentose phosphate pathway in the brain, how does that help your marriage? How does it enable you to be happy?

The unscientific stuff works because it deals in subjectivity (you are the subject). The self help stuff I write isn’t meant to be a true fact about you, it’s just a new connection in your brain to integrate and see if it works.

I write a lot of stuff on this site that’s objectively redundant, but it’s always written differently. Different stories, different tones of voice, different explanations, different analogies. When I’m writing those, I think about all the people who are suffering, and some of them need a gentle hint, and some of them need to be slapped. Some people just need an example of something working. Some people need to see a mirror for their dysfunction to change it.

Depending on where we are and where we’re trying to go, we all need something a little different to get there. And that’s what “self help” is. It’s not a scientifically rigorous way to usher the 2 central standard deviations into ever greater enlightenment. It’s a nudge for the right person at the right moment in the right direction, and it only works for that person in that context and for that one purpose.

And that’s fine, I’m not trying to make it anything more than that.

The reason I’m writing this, is to say that neither should you try to make it more than it is. Nothing I write here is meant to be rigorous, object fact. It’s meant to move you in a positive direction. Don’t latch onto it, and don’t over think it. If it’s useful, use it. If it’s not useful, try the next one.

Responses

  1. Masha Bennett ()

    Wise words yet again Pete. I say to my students something on the lines of “Don’t believe a single word I say, as none of this is true. The only truth is what’s useful for you.” (Reply)

Reply