The popularity of self-improvement books, tapes and seminars is a reflection of the universal interest we all have in overcoming our limitations, or “being the best we can be” or “achieving our full potential.” Popular applications of self-improvement programs include motivation and confidence, personal relationships, sales and job performance, enhancement of sports performance, public speaking, weight control and smoking cessation.

Here are some basic principles to help you determine whether such products or programs are worthy of your time and money.

1. No two people are the same.  There is no book or program that will be an exact fit for your needs and interests.  Books and group programs are necessarily general in nature.  Some of the ideas and concepts may apply well to you, but others may be irrelevant or just plain wrong as applied to your own personality and life situation. Use good judgment and discrimination in following advice offered in any self-improvement program.

2. Place more credence in programs which offer positive ways of solving problems and improving yourself.  Be wary of any program that is highly authoritarian and that tears you down, or attacks people who question what is being done. There have been many group self-improvement programs that have enjoyed a temporary burst of great popularity over the years that have been extremely damaging to some participants.

Possible characteristics of potentially damaging programs are as follows: 

(a) It is a marathon two or three day seminar that lasts from morning until night with minimal breaks.   (b) Contact with people who are not participants in the seminar is forbidden or discouraged. (c) The seminar starts by criticizing and tearing down the participants. (d) Great pressure is applied to discourage anyone from dropping out before the seminar ends. (e) As the meeting evolves, it becomes evident that pressure is being applied to enroll in the “next level” or “more advanced” seminar.  (f) It is stated or implied that those who fail to enroll in the “more advanced” seminar are “losers” or “failures.” (g) The people running the seminar have no training or qualifications as mental health professionals. 

(3) The book or program should not promise miraculous results, quick and simple solutions to all problems and it should not require blind faith in following the program.

(4) Examine and evaluate the qualifications and training of the author or promoter of the program. Is he or she a licensed psychologist or other well trained and experienced mental health professional?  

(5) Remember that any book or program must necessarily over-simplify the nature of human motivation, conflict and personality.  Answers in real life are rarely as simple and clear cut as they are presented in a book or self-improvement program.

(6) Always remember to use your own good judgment and common sense to evaluate self-improvement material presented to you.

(7) General issues addressed in self-improvement books, programs and tapes may involve such goals as improved motivation and confidence, improved job and sales performance, enhanced sports performance, stress reduction, setting clear goals, improved motivation, improved communication skills, reduction of fears, inhibition and anxiety, and other forms of enhancement of  positive human qualities.   Materials of this type are designed to help  normal people, who are not suffering from significant emotional problems improve their level of functioning. They do not constitute an effective form of treatment for emotional problems or psychiatric symptoms. 

The most effective program, video or audio recording would, of course, be one that is designed specifically for the individual, addressing his or her unique goals, motivation and personality. Obviously this can be done only in personal consultation with a professional person such as a psychologist and involves the cost of paying that professional person for the time it takes them to provide the individual attention required to design a program or recorded procedure tailored exactly to your needs. 

A group program or a general video or audio recording is, of course, less costly. If it does in fact does come close to fitting the goals, motivation and personality of the individual reasonably  well, it may prove to be a useful self-improvement tool. It is a less costly approach, but it could not reasonably be expected to be as effective as a program or recording designed specifically for you.

Everyone has noticed that with a given level of knowledge, skill or ability, some people accomplish little, while others surprisingly achieve far beyond their expected level.  These differences are often based upon differences in certain psychological factors. If these psychological factors can be modified, it is often possible to help a person achieve at a level more consistent with their full potential. 

How can you decide who is the right professional person to help you with this kind of issue? You may get information about me at Marvin S. Beitner, Ph.D.  You may get information about how to evaluate the credentials of any  psychologist at Check Qualifications.