It’s the place in the bookshop where we seek solace. The place we believe holds the answers to busting our procrastination problem or reinforce our belief in ourselves or bring that spring of positivity into our lives.
However, how many of us stop to question whether those shiny self-help books promising the world, are really the best source for helping us improve? It is only by taking a step back, that we find the answer to that question is probably no.
This is no scientific or psychological article which will hit with you with various bits of data or reports but rather a personal reasoning as to why fiction books really are a better source of self-improvement than self-help.
Here (for me) are the three main reasons why.
Fiction is a more realistic arena for learning about self-improvement than self-help
Self-help books are like a classroom. They provide a safe and sanitised learning environment. And like classrooms, they lay the foundation for knowledge but there is only so far this environment can go.
Self-help is there to help us navigate life. However, life is not like a classroom.
Life is messy. It regularly pulls out the carpet from under our feet. Such experiences are a world away from the safety of the classroom.
So, when learning things which are meant to help, why should we be learning in solely a safe environment because when applying that information, we’ll be in a chaotic and confusing environment?
Therefore, fiction, with its complex plot lines and layered characters, replicates the changeability of life. Fiction shows characters in real time trying to make sense of the hand life has delt them. And reading these lessons in real time and then us picking them out is arguably much more useful than being forced fed a message from the safety of the classroom.
Fiction reinforces that we can learn anything from anywhere
As self-help provides a classroom like learning environment, it equally paints an image of knowledge suspended in one place. Only ever to be found in books. Only ever to be delivered by those who (a) have spent years researching and slaving away to show the way we should be living our lives or (b) a self-proclaimed guru who has experiences just had to be put on paper and whose way of life just has to be followed.
The best evidence I have of showing that fiction reinforces that we can learn anything from anywhere is anecdotal. 2021. I am knee deep revising for my first-year exams and have just afforded myself a well-deserved revision break: a well-deserved reading break. As I was revising, I didn’t want to read anything too heavy. So instead, I picked up one of the random selection of books which my mum had given me for birthday a few weeks earlier. So, I selected Last Night by Mhairi McFarlane.
Initially I did judge this book by its cover. I thought that it would be some light chick-lit, offering simple escapism from my current reality of relentless revision.
Yet, what I actually got was a realisation of the importance of cultivating strong relationships via open and honest communication. I understood why it’s so crucial for living a happy life that we do move on from the past. From the mouths of the characters in this book, I gained an insight into the dangers of our performative driven society.
This is just my humble example of the powerful lessons that can be learnt from fiction. This book most definitely humbled me: it showed me what I could learn, even from the most surprising of sources. I wonder what you could learn from where if you gave fiction the potential.
Fiction reminds us that learning should be fun
Within the glamourous world of 24/7 hustle culture, there is seemingly little room for any fun. Instead, we must all be on our grind, working during all hours God sends, on the mission to our goals. However noble this vision may be, ultimately life does include fun. It is crucial that some fun is had if we are even able to tackle the mountains we want to climb.
So, on our ascent to the top of those mountains, why should the only guide we be using be serious, narrow minded ones? It’s like using a map with just a set of red arrows pointing to the top without any reference to the sights we may see, any consideration of how the weather may change or an insight into the topography of the land we are crossing.
Reading fiction when trying to improve ourselves reminds us that part of the learning process includes laughter. It includes silliness and cheekiness.
Comparatively, whilst self-help may be funny, it is always trying to teach us a serious lesson. A sombre lesson we are meant to carry around with us and implement. But always learning this type of lesson, means that the lesson often becomes stale. And so, we crave the fun. The frivolity necessary in order to make it stick.
That’s just another reason why fiction has the upper hand.
As a final note, I don’t want it to seem like I dislike self-help. Actually, it is one of the things I enjoy reading the most. However, I am of the view that reading is like a diet. Like we shouldn’t just eat pasta 24/7, we shouldn’t read the same genre all the time. Instead, we should read, like eating, a variety of things. Keeping a diverse reading habit is crucial to helping us develop us people, and I hope that rather than just racing to the back of the bookshop into the arms of self-help, in search of a magic bullet to remedy whatever self-improvement ailment you have, you might stop by the fiction section, just to see what it has to say.