Sex, Diets and Success: Self-Help and the Merchants of Success

“Lose over 20 pounds per month – Enhance your love life – Stop being a prisoner of your job – It’s all up to you – Here’s the miracle formula – And we’re going to give it to you for free – Goal-setting will change your life – Throw off the shackles of the shoulds in your life – If you only invest in one program this year, this is the one – Millions have turned their lives around – If someone like this could do it, so can you – Imagine making 40, 50 or 100 thousand dollars a month all from your own part-time internet business – This will make you irresistible to women – Listen to what our successful clients have to say – Why wait when you can have everything you want right now – You can’t change other people, you can only change yourself – Only you can change your life – If you only had one day left to live what would you be doing? Live life like there is no tomorrow – Imagine the possibilities – The sky’s the limit.”

“Are you tired all the time? Overwhelmed by everything you have to do? Having trouble managing your time? Setting priorities is the answer. Do the big stuff first, then the pebbles and lastly put the sand in the jar around the other stuff. If you don’t do it, no one is going to do it for you.”

The Real Consequences of the Self-Help Industry

But what has this acceptance of self-responsibility actually done to people? Surprisingly, the results are devastating.

The below-conscious logic goes like this:

If I’m responsible for myself and only I can solve my own problems and it’s up to me to make myself successful… then, who’s to blame when:

  • My job is awful
  • I can’t make ends meet or get out of debt
  • I can’t lose weight
  • I don’t have time to eat properly
  • It’s hard to communicate with my partner
  • My kids won’t do as they are told
  • There is so much to do I can’t cope
  • And I can’t get it up?

Is it any surprise why so many people report feelings of self-loathing? “I should have been able to do something about this, but I haven’t. So there is clearly something seriously the matter with me.” It’s even worse when someone has had success in a number of areas. “Why can’t I just conquer this problem when I’ve dealt with even harder issues? I’m a failure.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, for example, between 20 – 40 percent of adults are trying to lose weight and the most predictable reaction are feelings of blame or shame.[1]

This logic is invisible to the eye, inaudible to the ear, and yet the feelings of guilt and “it’s my fault” are there in the pit of the stomach. As soon as someone accepts the belief that everything is within their power, the logical conclusion is that they are to blame when there is something they haven’t overcome. And who doesn’t have unsolved problems in their life?

Maybe we have been sold a bill of goods. And this belief that we have failed at doing what every human being ought to be able to do, is exploited every day.

The Merchants of Success have the formula!

The Merchants of Success know we feel guilty about our failures. They use this to tempt us with seductive language and promises. And they know the formula that works:

1. The Hook

First they talk about possibilities, the sky’s the limit, think of all the ways you could benefit if you…..   . . .to get you to imagine what life could be “if only”. They use what is called Options language. This language puts people into a creative, imaginative mindset where you can visualize any possibility and even begin to believe it. This is where you start to see your own private yacht.

2. Line

Second, they propose a solution and make it sound easy. In fact the solution often does it for you. You don’t need to take any initiative. Just sit back and let the money roll in. “This special vibrating belt will melt the pounds away.”

3. Sinker

Lastly come the testimonials. The show you how people just like you (or even better – complete losers) have turned their life around. If they can do it, so can you.

If they have hooked you in an area about which you are sensitive, you get so excited at finally having the solution, you sign up. Who can resist? Not me. Personally I have spent thousands on lose weight programs, since weight management has often been a challenge for me – and one about which I’ve felt guilty. Others spend a fortune on get-rich-quick schemes because they feel unfulfilled by their job.

Now what?

So now what do we do? How can we feel good about who we are and what we do and still continue growing and learning?

The choice isn’t obvious or easy. Self-improvement can be a trap or an opportunity and one size doesn’t fit all. Instead of: “You can be successful if only you knew, did, had…..”,  becomes questions which only you can answer: “How do I do what I do best? How have I learned in the most positive way for myself and my environment (people in my life, etc.)?

And here is the challenge for myself as a writer and merchant of success. Now I want to give you my formula for self-examination, progress and personal change.[4] I want to tell you that you need to be in a place where you are ready to examine your life. To get meaning from this journey, you will need to find a process that fits for you and follow it through to make sure you get the benefits and don’t simply waste your time by starting and not completing it. And I want to say that I believe it is a journey facilitated by the presence of another person or a group.

I am deeply convinced of this. And at the same time, once again, I am guilty of the hubris of a merchant of success who believes she knows what will work for others, because these strategies have worked for me.

So how do you find El Dorado, Mecca, Jerusalem and Nirvana? Should you reject all outside influences simply because they are selling something? Or would it be better if first you clarified what you want and need and how you live at your best, and then evaluated the endless possibilities offered to you by what fits with how you think and feel? And by which process you know you could follow and enjoy to achieve what is important to you.

There are no limits to the things you can read, listen to, watch or attend. How will you decide what you want to learn next?


Shelle Rose Charvet is a recovering victim of the Self-Help Movement and a repentant Merchant of Success.


[1] From Self Esteem in All Sizes by Erica Heilman, see

[2] Options refers to a Motivation Pattern that describes people who get motivated when they are imagining possibilities, creating alternatives and even breaking the rules. This is a highly creative pattern that has enabled many people to develop new ideas and processes. The downside of this pattern is the tendency not to complete what has been started because people in an Options mode are easily distracted by other possibilities. See also my book; Words That Change Minds.

[3] When someone is in a Procedure Pattern, they are motivated to take a logical step-by-step approach where the focus in on completing each step and then moving on to the next one and completing that. The Procedures mode is about completing what was started. For more information see my book, Words That Change Minds

[4] I have an audio program and article entitled Wishing, Wanting and Achieving: Professional and Personal Strategic Planning., which I believe has a great self-questioning process to decode the patterns of your own Success Habits.