Self-help books are broken. Read them anyway.

Ishaan Gupta
3 min readJul 13, 2022


My most read genre over the last 2 years has been self-help or industry-specific non-fiction books. Now, I’ve changed my perspective on them. There’s an art to getting the most value out of them. Here are the commandments:

Never read them for motivation

Reading for motivation is like mental masturbation. External motivation to change your life is a scam.

The Golden Circle

Simon Sinek spoke about the power of ‘Why’ in his book, “Start with Why.” When you start on a new venture with a strong internal resolve, you’re bound to figure out how to do it and what resources you need. All in all, you can only make a lasting change in your life if you have a solid internal resolve behind it.

If you’re looking for motivation in a self-help book, it’ll fizzle out and you’ll almost never get anywhere. Read them for knowledge, for insights, for case studies, for action plans, never for motivation.

It’s not a full-course meal

Imagine your favourite fiction book. Recall your favourite character, your favourite chapter, your favourite scene description.

You can’t do most of this with a self-help book.

Fiction books are a world in themselves and they need to be read cover to cover to get the complete essence of the story. The objective is for you to immerse yourself in a new world.

Self help books are different.

Some of them are trying to drill down the same point in different manners. So, 3 chapters in, you might think

“I’m reading the same fucking thing over and over again”

That’s when you switch from reading to scanning the further pages and the chapters till you find a page that captures your interest again.

I’ve read 300-paged self help books and only found 1 sentence worth taking away.

And yet, it’s a fruitful exercise. You never know if that’s the different perspective you needed to make a change in your strategy.

TLDR: Leave the book if it’s being repetitive, move on to the next one.

Be very clear about what you want

I got interested in habit formation in 2019. So, I read The Power of Habit. It made it very clear that habits were quite important but made no change to my life. I got no insight into how to make habits, which is what I’d wanted all along.

Skip to 2021, I read Atomic Habits. That was a game changer. The book was written simply and had notes, action points, even templates that you could copy and replicate in your own life.

I’d known my WHY since a long time. What I really wanted to know was a HOW.

Don’t buy any self help book of its popularity. Don’t look at the bestseller list and add it to your cart. This is my framework to find the books I’d really like:

  1. What do you want to learn about? (Ans: Habits)
  2. Why do you want to learn about this? (Ans: Build positive habits to improve my personal and professional life)
  3. What is the current biggest challenge you’re looking to solve with a book? (Ans: I have been trying to build good habits but always forget/miss out on them in a week. I want to build long-lasting habits.)
  4. Which part of the Golden Circle are you looking for? Are you looking for a WHY(perspective on why this might be important in helping you improve your life), a HOW(a framework and set of tested rules that produce favourable results), or a WHAT(Which aspects to build first, where to focus your energy after knowing your why and your how)?

With clarity of thought, understand if you want a book with an overview or more of a how-to guide or a bunch of nice case studies that you can modify and apply to your personal use cases.

Lastly, Books won’t fix your life

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Don’t be that horse.



Ishaan Gupta

I want to help neurodivergent, high-achieving, creative professionals navigate consistency, productivity, success, and finding happiness as an adult