Uncovering the Toxic World of Self Helps: The Rise of Fake Gurus

Are you a young adult? Are you passionate about changing your life, developing your dreams and talents? Gaining financial freedom and true happiness? If yes, we are together in those ambitions. But that is not why I would want you to spend the next 7 minutes of your precious lockdown time reading my article. Every letter and paragraph in this piece is an attempt by me to make you mindful of the fact that you are prey to wolves in probably the fastest growing industry of the post-2010 era. An industry that knows of your overwhelming desire to change your life; an industry that knows you are on the internet looking for that “one” skill that will get your account to seven figures; to do things that people around you consider only possible in the life of a Hollywood star.

It all started in 2017 during my vacation after my advanced levels  when I was preparing for my law school pre-entry exams. And all that mattered to me then was to get into the Harvey Specter life. My uncle, in whose apartment I was living in had a small shelf of about 57 books that were available to any person under his roof. One Sunday morning at about 7 am, I was doing my daily chores, tidying up the house, when my eyes landed on this greyish book, about an inch and a half thick. It had the title “THE MASTER KEY SYSTEM: UNLOCKING THE SECRET TO THE LAW OF ATTRACTION BY CHARLES HAANEL”. Just after reading the “THESE ARE THE TECHNIQUES WHICH HAVE MADE MILLIONAIRES” line, I was hooked.

Since then I have read book after book, I have followed tens of YouTube gurus on financial freedom, attended webinars, signed up for newsletters, watched entrepreneurial movies, started meditating, focused on my passion for writing, did more exercises and locked out all kinds of negativity. And I told myself, “this is it” “I am getting on top of my game!”; that I was doing more and better at developing myself….but wait, was I? This brings us to the sinister business of selling hope.

Welcome to the toxic world of Self-Development!
This industry focuses on self-development in basically all aspects of life and aims to help people achieve their goals ranging from appearing physically fit to overcoming depression and gaining financial freedom. As of 2017, the self-help industry was worth USD 9.9 billion with a projected average annual growth of 5.6%. It is estimated to be worth over 11 billion USD with 5.6% average yearly gains. To put it straight, people are making a bank out of selling books, seminars, online courses, blogs, live speaking events, and coaching. The self-help industry however had humble beginnings. Samuel Smiles(1812-1904) published the first self-consciously personal-development “self-help” book entitled “SELF HELP” in 1859. Its opening sentence was “Heaven helps those who help themselves”. The 20th Century had James Allen in 1902 publishing “AS A MAN THINKETH” a book whose few pages told me that “a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts”. Several decades later, in 1937, Napoleon Hill’s “THINK AND GROW RICH” described the use of repeated positive thoughts to attract happiness and wealth by tapping into infinite intelligence. And around the same time, Dale Carnegie further pushed the industry with the book “HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE”, which sold over 50 million copies. (non-book readers please stay with me)
Now with the growth of technology in the past two decades, the growth of the self-help industry has been fuelled by digital platforms. These include but not limited to books, Tv shows, websites, seminars, courses, and smartphone apps.

Putting things into context
It is no secret that the world’s economic system is in a cycle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting mired in more financial difficulties. However, with the growth of the internet, people are constantly bombarded with images of wealth. Through the internet and social media, we see that there is great wealth to be had, and those in the bottom half naturally desire a way up the financial ladder. This has led to the enormous demand for self-improvement, which has, in turn, created a robust market for the growth of the self-help industry. With this growing market, those with expertise seized the opportunity to monetize the information they had. They saw that there was this population of growth-hungry people and knew that they could provide these people with the help they desired for a price. You must be rebutting that they are earning “some” money but providing so much valuable information to change people’s lives in return……PAUSE.

Where it all begins
(Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational states that “you will make more money taking advantage of people’s weaknesses than in helping them”)
Now as a digital marketing enthusiast, one of the most important marketing principles we learn is that “not everyone is your customer”. An essential trait for a potential customer for the self-help products is one having some sense of dissatisfaction. Well, discontent shouldn’t be so bad a thing; realising that your life needs improvement is such a powerful tool to grow.

However, the downside with it is how vulnerable you become. Being in a certain state that you desperately want to change can make you susceptible to an “easy sell”. How exactly is someone going to teach you how to become financially free if they don’t even know your current status, strengths, weaknesses, etc?
We all know that the first step to being a great entrepreneur is discovering a need in your society and then selling the solution to it. To put this into context, your problem is your current status in finances, health, and happiness and the guru’s solution is helping you solve it. You see, the world of self-development has a nice look to it, a world of people trying to be better versions of themselves. A world where you seek to take control of your life and decisions, a world that makes you feel like you are making progress like you are maturing and doing things other people aren’t…PAUSE

What exactly is going on
DOPAMINE!….Dopamine is the hormone in our bodies that causes us to get satisfaction about something. It plays a major role in the motivating component of reward-motivated behaviour. It primarily is responsible for addiction. The brain releases it when we eat food that we crave or while we have sex, contributing to the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. Now as a person selling to you a self-development package, I need to make sure that I say or show certain things that will lead you to get excited about achieving my lifestyle, then tell you to do a certain set of actions (eg buying a book, signing up for a course) after which you will get a sense of satisfaction for setting yourself on a path for success. Do you know how tempting it is to buy a book from some guy with 7 Lamborghinis and a white mansion in the background telling you can “soon” achieve his status by spending some “little” money in exchange for his “seven figure hack”?

What I have taken long to realise is that being sold to a dream is not about you being damn, it is about your position in life. They will be told a story of how they were once in a position you are now, how they hated their jobs, that they were in a dark place…(literally anything in order to connect with you). Then they promise to give you the blueprint of how to make it out of all of that “shit hole”. They will tell that you do not need any skills; that you do not need to be from a rich family; that you don’t need to have any working experience, some even tell you to quit your job….PAUSE. They are masters at the mix of logic and emotional appeal.

Getting lost in the world of self-help can give you a massive illusion of progress, after watching that self-help video, you feel accomplished, after reading that self-help book, you feel accomplished, after attending that seminar, you feel accomplished. It is only when you take a second to pause, breathe, and reflect that you notice that nothing has changed. This brings me to what Mj Demarco in his book UNSCRIPTED calls ACTION FAKING. Action faking is doing things that make you feel like you are making progress yet you are not in the actual sense. Remember that you are more profitable in this industry when you are unhappy and discontent than when you are happy and fulfilled.

So what now?

1. Question the actual value of those books, of the courses you are paying for, the gurus you are following….question. If you are able to question the traditional classroom methods of teaching, then you can also question the value of that beautifully packaged knowledge you get from online gurus. Just last year, over USD 800 million was registered in sales in the sector of self-help books. How much have you earned yet because you read “that book”?

2. Use accredited online academies. The knowledge gurus are selling with a different packaging is available for free or cheaply with many legitimate accredited online resources like Udemy, Google courses, Coursera, Huspot, Foundr etc which even offer examination and certification.

3. When “they” claim to have changed thousands of lives and even show testimonials videos, remember they have the right to make puffs about their service. And for a fact, there are sales companies that are selling endorsements. Precisely put, they pay people to convince other people to pay for the service. Very unethical, right?

4. When you see a discounted product, pause again. It most probably has an over inflated original price to lure you into the current low price. Be aware of the scarcity tactic. They will put some sort of count down, or limited product available only to the first 100 people or available till a certain date. It’s a big lie, the 7000th person months later will also be seeing the same count down to their “secret hack”.

5. It is actually okay to quit. Toxic positivity will tell you that it is not okay to quit an ambition but ignoring that not all businesses/ambitions are viable in all places, at all times, and in all markets. In precise terms, you need to be working hard at the right thing and not working hard for the sake of working hard.

6. The next time, you see an online guru offering to teach you something, don’t look at it as Angel Michael coming to help you fight the current frustrations in your life; remember IT IS A BUSINESS.

7. Gurus are only likely to help you improve on what you are already doing since you know the craft. Don’t get into a field simply because someone has said it works, instead improve on your craft, I RECOMMEND.

DISCLAIMER: The information here is a bit personal but I choose to write about it because I discovered it does resonate with many other ambitious young people out there. However, I have no doubt that some people have had different experiences.

Note: The number “7” according to e-commerce gurus has the psychological effect of luring someone into something. So satirically, I took the hint and that is why all the figures in this article are or end with 7.(apart from the statistics and dates which are a result of research)
Now that you have spent all these minutes reading this free content, now would be a good time to drop a link to my 3$ course on “HOW TO BLOCK OUT THE GURUS AND GET TO THE ACTUAL WORK” but now you know better.



  1. Very nice article. It’s a “PROCEED WITH CAUTION” warning sign to anyone into self improvement.

  2. This is dope man….. And true … Keep up the good work man …. The future is bright????

  3. Sooo amazing and well laid out, l have fallen victim a couple of times yet it’s only been about 3 years since the great desire and ambition set in, I personally have learnt the hard way on the experiences you have stated up there, and with the increasing online activity with children having the access to internet by the age of 10, it’s sad that they are going to be drained of their realities. It’s amazing how the industry has been designed to give only one side of the story and the art is meticulously placed that no one ever bothers to figure out why certain things are happening that way. Rather the band wagon is fueled and any shallow rooted mindsets pay the hefty price.
    The industry is so huge right now that it’s actions can’t be reversed, but potential victims ought to reflect and remember that they are not in a bubble, they need to see the reality, it’s okay to obtain all the self-help one may require but there’s an innate need to be able to filter out what exactly you need and leave out the noise, a hard skill indeed.

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