Self-help books are a popular and growing body of literature; according to Nielsen Book Scan, 13.5 million self-help books were sold in 2011, a 22 percent increase from 2010. Clearly, many people are turning to books as a means to making a better life. But how helpful are they?
Lancaster Adams, an English eye surgeon living in California, analyzes self-help literature in his book Revelations of Your Self-Help Book Secrets: Neuroscience and Psychology of the Self-Help Literature as It Reveals the Challenge of Understanding Thought Projection Outside Our Human Brain. (Yes, the full title is a bit long.) Adams uses neuroscience, quantum physics, and psychology to conduct this meta-analysis of the genre and to examine the veracity of the claim made by many self-help books: that they can change your life.
He begins his book by exploring thoughts as electrical impulses that can be detected outside of the body, and moves on to studies on electromagnetism and ESP. He delves into the science of quantum physics and its relation to human consciousness. And he discusses dreams, including a dream of his own that turned out to be a premonition of a terminal illness in his father, who lived halfway around the world.
The book then moves on to the psychology of choices, affirmations, and visualizations, and shows why each of these techniques so often recommended in self-help literature actually do work, as long as they are followed by action. The author’s descriptions of how affirmations and visualizations affect the human mind are scientific and convincing; in fact, they were convincing enough to inspire me to try using affirmations in my own life.
Adams concludes that while many of the tools recommended by books really do work, it is really “common sense,” rather than “whatever model of the quantum universal mind you have picked up from your self-help books.” He warns the reader: “Don’t allow yourself to be misled in fields of which you have little training or knowledge.”
Adams covers some difficult-to-understand topics, and while he writes in a conversational style, his discussions of topics such as the “inverse Zeno phenomenon,” quantum events in the human brain, and the relation of melanin in the brain to neurotransmitters may be confusing to the lay person. He goes into great detail about these difficult subjects, and at times his discussions can be quite hard to follow.
His reviews of the psychology of positive affirmations and visualization are much more readable and, when paired with his message that “the role of action, and specifically work, cannot ever be ignored in your quest for self-improvement,” provide a road map toward real, positive change in one’s life.
Quote are woven throughout the book, with snippets from people as disparate as Jimi Hendrix, Carl Sagan, and the Dalai Lama. When the author’s own words become difficult to understand, these quotes serve as a pithy way to make his point accessible.
The book is thought-provoking, and, considering the complexity of the subject matter, entertaining. The conclusion, that “your self-help book is a tool to educate you and point the way for you to develop fresh behaviors, resulting in habits that will increase the number of your fulfilling moments,” does follow logically from the fourteen chapters that lead up to it, even if some of them are a bit hard to navigate.
Adams accomplishes what he sets out to accomplish: a thorough study of the claims of self-help books and how they dovetail with our current knowledge in many areas of science. This is not an easy read, but it may provide answers to those who wonder if the claims of their self-help books are true.
Revelations of Your Self-Help Book Secrets: Neuroscience and Psychology of the Self-Help Literature as It Reveals the Challenge of Understanding Thought Projection Outside Our Human Brain
Strategic Book Publishing, 2012
Paperback, 160 pages