What’s the difference between a real self-help book and a phony one?
The phony self-help book, which often tops the best-seller lists (and Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose comes to mind), must encourage our most infantile fantasy: That life is easy, a delectable paradise that is ours for the taking, if we will only stop being our own worst enemy by imposing “limitations,” “the Ego,” the expectations of others, etc. The fraudulent self-help book’s banal cocktail of false promises, dumbed-down Eastern philosophy, clichés, and truisms serve to not challenge the reader while at the same time sustain the fantasy of quick and easy transformation.
A real self-help book is not even categorized as such. In other words, you won’t find a real self-help book in the psychology section of the book store. This helpful book could be found in philosophy, nutrition, history, biography, or just about any category with one exception—the self-help section.
A real self-help book has one thing in common with the phony one: Both offer a prescription for change. But while the phony self-help book offers a quick, miraculous one based on knowing some enchanting mystery or secret, and is built on the wishful thinking of a child, the real self-help book offers common sense, insight, and provides a road map to a change that is arduous and gradual, built upon a mature human being.
A couple of examples of real self-help books deal with nutrition: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food in which he shows you how to not get punk-fed by the Processed Food Industry and to make real food that you like, which will result in gradual health benefits.
Another helpful book is Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating in which he shows you how to manipulate your eating environment so that you can cut your daily calories by just a small amount—yet significant enough to result in gradual weight loss.
Neither book promises quick transformation or blows smoke up your ass about how your “ego” or “society” gets in the way of your heaven-on-earth and both are the more valuable for it.