It’s a pretty open secret these days that the self-help industry is an industry of failure—specifically, a failure rate of about 97%, according to multiple inside sources. I should know, I’ve spent my whole career adjacent to the self-help world and had candid conversations with a number of prominent writers in that field. But ironically, the fact that they rarely work may be why these books are so financially successful. As a friend of mine once put it, “Alex, you know who buys self-help books? The same people who bought them last year.”
I bring this up today because of a strange coincidence that’s been bouncing around in my head. We’ve all heard that the divorce rate is sitting somewhere around 50%, but how many of those relationships are truly happy and healthy? Current research suggests that only some 10% of the 50 that stay together are actually satisfied—the rest are just sticking it out for the kids, or because of finances, or because of the perceptions they’d have to deal with, or for some other reason. If you include those as “failures” as well, it maths out to 95%. Remarkably close to the self-help rate.
This made me wonder where there isn’t some universal quality at work behind the scenes, and whether we might not see it at work in other places as well. Physical health could well be another, especially since it ties back into one of my favorite topics: fear and stress. For decades, the CDC has listed stress as the cause of 90% of illness and disease, with some other sources, such as Dr. Bruce Lipton at Stanford University, going as high as 95%... and even claiming that the remaining 5% may be due to genetic problems caused by stress.
But since we’re looking for a trait with some kind of universal impact on our lives, it bears mentioning that in psychology, there is actually a well-known test that’s supposed to be a pretty fair predictor of a person’s future success in all aspects of their life. Usually, the test is done with kids. What they do is, they sit the child down, show them a piece of candy, and tell them they can have that one piece now, or have two pieces in 10 minutes. It’s incredibly simple, yes, but it’s well-known because it works. Most kids will take candy now over more candy later, and the ones who don’t overwhelmingly grow up to be more successful in every way.
I already mentioned how this could tie back into my favorite dynamic of love vs fear—but another way to think of it might be “Freedom vs Need.” People need food and water, oxygen, sleep, community. And if you’re reading this post right now, then you probably have those. But most of us cling as tight as we can to much more than that, things we don’t really need. The more we let ourselves think we need, the more dependent on those needs we become.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!
Dr. Alex Loyd