Self-Help Books

I haven’t read many self help books but I watched interviews and talks authors gave (podcasts and YouTube) about the books I thought I might like. Some names I can remember off the top of my head:

The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane to deal with social awkwardness
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. It’s on psychedelics. The most interesting thing being advertised there to me was the ability to have a transformative experience and have a drastic change to my emotional life for the better by having a breakthrough experience with psychedelics.
I’ll put Waking Up by Sam Harris in the same category as Michael Pollan. Sam also talks about psychedelics but his main focus is meditation. He talks about the ability to transcend the self and by doing that you get to experience the deepest form of well being that is possible. Once you learn how to do this you have this ability, you’re golden. You can deal with any emotional problem by using this ability.
Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink talks about how by being disciplined like waking up early and starting the day by collecting small wins as you go along the day helps you accomplish more and ends up giving you free time to do more
Jordan Peterson: watched too much of his video lectures online and clips even more times. Didn’t help though I think if I had done a better job at applying his stuff it could’ve led to positive results.

Meditation stuff by Sam Harris actually helped me with emotions. Of the ones you mentioned anger, hostility, tilt, not being calm are the ones I think I got somewhat good at managing.
anxiety, sadness, upsetness, frustration are the harder ones. This encourages me to try the meditation technique at these emotions as well. I’m confused as to why I didn’t try this technique on these emotions. These emotions have caused me considerable amount of problems. If I’m able to handle these emotions better using meditation it would be great for me.

Do you have any books in mind that you would recommend for bias, scheduling, productivity, procrastination, habits, practical problem-solving, learning new things, doing new things, and communication.

For sleep, eating, exercise I would recommend Discipline Equals Freedom. It will mostly teach you how to get the discipline down for doing these things consistently. It doesn’t talk about things like how many hours you should sleep or what routine should you follow before going to bed or what’s a good diet or which exercises to do.
I don’t know if the book is anti CR because it is somewhat coercive. (I don’t understand coercion well so what I’m saying here could be very wrong.) The book asks you to do the right thing even if it doesn’t feel right. The right thing to do (according to the author) is early to bed and rising early and not eating doughnuts for breakfast but something more nutritious and exercising 3 to 5 times a week. I presume that like me most other readers will also explicit agree that these are the right things to do. So even if you don’t feel like doing these things you do them anyways and after sometime you will start enjoying doing them. You’ll enjoy a nutritious meal and feel better throughout the day and even at that moment for making the right decision after you start doing it consistently. You won’t crave the instant gratification of eating a doughnut and actually feel bad about wanting a doughnut.

EDIT: I guess for procrastination and productivity Atomic Habits is a good one. I haven’t read it or watched youtube/podcast interviews but I know some things about it and from that I guess that the book is about those two things among other things. Deep Work by Cal Newport is another book that I know about which is about productivity.

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A wrong press of some button led to me posting an incomplete message. I was not able to delete it so I just changed the message to “Edit” thinking I would edit that message later and post the complete message there. The site says it has been too long so now I’m not able to edit the previous message. I thought I should explain what happened because above message doesn’t make sense. Below is the complete message that I wanted to write.

Jordan Peterson says that life is hard and suffering is a part of it. You should expect suffering. This is a conventional idea and he’s sharing it as self help advice. For example to get a college degree there are certain requirements. The conventional idea says that even if you find completing those requirements painful you should just go through the pain because getting the degree is important. I think this is an example of asking someone to be ok with coercion which is I think wrong.

This is the kind of idea I would’ve accepted earlier in life. I would accepted that one has to go through pain and suffering. Pain and suffering are inevitable part of life. After learning some DD like Ideas like problems are soluble and that emotions are ideas as well I gained a new perspective. I learned that if your emotions and your explicit goals are in conflict then there’s a problem here and because problems are soluble this problem can be solved as well.

Self help ideas like accepting that suffering is a part of life are saying that if your emotions are in conflict with your explicit goals you should disregard your emotions. I think such self help ideas are wrong. I think that actual improvement could only happen if I became better at reasoning. Which is why I don’t try self help stuff. Another problem that I’m pretty sure of is that I’m making many mistakes in applying CF ideas to my life. I think following my bad understanding of CF to clean up my messy life is also wrong.

If self help is wrong and my understanding of CF is poor what should I do? The best solution I think is getting a better, more correct understanding of CF and apply that to clean up my messy life. But what should I do till I develop a better understanding of CF? Should I follow the conventional ideas and make the irrational mistakes that conventional ideas ask you to make or should I pause my life and first get better at philosophy and then go on to other goals?

Take this for example. Here you recommend how to philosophically approach the lack of will power problem. You say that instead to trying to learn how to control emotions better you recommend trying to instead figure out the lack of skills because of which these emotions arise and become better at those skills. According to my understanding this philosophical way of solving the problem is better rather than going the self help route. There is a lot of self help stuff (Jocko Willink is one I know) on how to develop more will power.

Take this situation: I prefer wasting time by watching TikTok reels instead of studying. Is self help methodology way of building more will power so that you can spend more time studying even if you don’t enjoy it better or or going the philosophy way better?

A related problem which I talked about here also is that learning skills the philosophical way and building will power the self help way both feel like effort. But philosophical way is clear that you shouldn’t expect revolutionary changes but evolutionary changes instead. Whereas self help says that once you build will power and you start doing the right thing you will enjoy it. And even if you don’t enjoy it you know the reward will be bigger like getting good grades on your degree which will mean better job higher pay etc. So it is kind of advertising revolutionary changes.

Also in the philosophical way I’m not clear about the goals. How to evaluate goals within the path towards the final goal which is me becoming better at problem solving. Even if I become better at underlying skills what happens next? As you said

What sorts of something elses or underlying causes could be relevant? Here are a few but you could brainstorm many others.

It could be the case that there are many other something elses apart from these. This seems worrisome to me because it could be the case that I could be stuck at this level forever of improving at willpower forever and end up not making any progress towards my final goal. Is this right? That if one follows the philosophy way one could end up spending a lot time developing basic skills and take a long time to get around to making any progress towards cleaning up the mess in their life?

Whereas self help says that once you build will power and you start doing the right thing you will enjoy it.

Self help isn’t one thing. Some resources have good things to say re willpower and other resources give bad advice. Success can require looking at many self help resources, trying a variety of things, and using critical thinking to form opinions about which work and which are errors.


You can’t plan everything in advance. You have to try stuff and see if it works. If not you can try to fix it. If that doesn’t work you can try something else. I’ve tried to advise people on reasonable things to try.

If you can just directly do philosophy study, great, do it. Most people can’t. People who think they can are mostly fooling themselves. People generally need to work on prerequisite skills such as reading and text analysis. They usually misunderstand what they read/hear too much.

Many people can’t immediately work on grammar and reading stuff either. They need some other prerequisites such as to be calmer (meditation or emotions self help stuff can help) or to manage their habits/schedule better (some self help can help with that). Or they need less of a “get rich quick” mindset and more ability to work on a project over time – otherwise e.g. they would not be able to read novels in order to get more into reading in order to later read non-fiction (that project would seem too long and slow, and they’d quit before reaching the goal).

re grammar stuff, you should shift your perspective to see it as impressive. for example, Steven Pinker can’t do it. I have a long, upcoming video analyzing a paragraph he wrote. One thing you may takeaway from the video is that he hasn’t done the kind of study I’m advocating and his writing is suffering due to him lacking those skills. So in other words, if you can get the grammar stuff right and start doing stuff with it like text analysis, writing critiques, and avoiding those errors in your own writing, then you’d already be (in a significant way) doing better than most famous intellectuals.

I discussed a self help idea in the meditation thread. It was related to meditation so I posted it there. It’s relevant here as well so I’m linking it to this thread.

Agree with everything. I’m part of those people who can’t just directly do philosophy study.

I’m having this big confusion, if you clear out the confusion for me it would be really helpful. I don’t think you’ve ever said this but I drew the implication from your essay Dialog: Non-Consumption of Philosophy and from the short viewpoint for discussion of it that you posted here that philosophy comes first. Getting better at philosophy is important because any other project that you work on use philosophy in some important way or has some philosophical assumptions underlying it. When you start failing at your chosen project it could be because of errors due to bad philosophy. As your project becomes more and more sophisticated it is gonna become mostly about knowledge. And then good philosophy of knowledge is required otherwise good environment for knowledge creation won’t be present.

If this implication I’m guessing from the article is correct then won’t this problem occur when applying self help ideas to improve life? Or is it the case that self help ideas can be implemented in life without great philosophy as well because of some reason? Or maybe self help ideas can be applied to improve life and not being great at philosophy is not gonna be catastrophic to the project of applying self help to improve life?

If that is the case are there other stuff as well that one should also get good at in life where being bad at philosophy is not gonna be catastrophic? I know you mentioned learning to read and write and understand better as one of those things. It make sense to me that one can get decently good at these skills and after learning philosophy they’ll be able to catch even more systematic errors and thus become even better at these skills. But I’m wondering what should one do in the following example (this is personal to me) - going through college and getting a decent paying job (120K+ USD)? I could characterize this as a prerequisite for philosophy as well in the following way - you need a decent paying job so that you’re able to live comfortably and be able to take out time so that you have the time to learn philosophy. Does it make sense to clean up the mess in their life by getting a job first before getting better at philosophy?

Thanks for pointing this out. This changed how I viewing the project of improving writing and getting better at expressing.

This is also an error I tend to make. Thanks for pointing it out.

Here’s another one like that by ET

I forgot about this article. I had read it a long time ago. I didn’t remember most of its content. I reread it now. I agree with it. I don’t think it’s precisely relevant to my problem/ what I’m talking about. This thread made me realize that self help is a prerequisite for learning philosophy.

Elliot says that people in all fields are bad at reasoning due to bad philosophy. If you decide to work in the physics field you should expect to not make progress because of bad philosophy. Elliot recommends that the way to deal with this situation is that you should look to become good at philosophy so that you don’t make the errors that people in the physics field are making due to bad philosophy. Then you have a chance to make progress in physics.

Similarly aren’t people in self help field of ideas bad at reasoning as well? Shouldn’t we (edited. forgot to put the word we) be wary of following their ideas. Elliot says that you can follow ideas from self help people and you can deal with the problem of bad ideas in that field due to bad philosophy by using your own capacity to reason. You can try ideas and and try to improve them if you find problems with them or try something other ideas from that field if the idea you’re currently trying doesn’t help you. Isn’t that somewhat contradictory? Why this difference of opinion? I think this difference of opinion exists because physics is more complex field. Elliot said someplace that you don’t need to be (edited. forgot to put the word be) good at philosophy to be a good car mechanic. So maybe that’s why the difference of opinion. If you were somehow magically better at philosophy then yes you would do a better job with applying self help ideas to your life as well but it’s not required. So because self help stuff is perhaps easier and it is required to take on a big challenge like learning philosophy you can follow self help even in your current situation.

And that brings me to my main question. Can going to college be a prerequisite as well? Just like using self help ideas to improve oneself is really useful can college be useful as well? Self help is useful because it can help to get your life figured out decently, including regarding self-help topics like emotions (such as anger, hostility, anxiety, sadness, upsetness, tilt, frustration, not being calm), bias, scheduling, productivity, procrastination, sleep, eating, exercise, habits, practical problem-solving, learning new things, doing new things, and communication. Similarly I think college can be helpful because it gives you a degree and provides you with a network and make it easier for you to get a higher paying job if your degree is in STEM fields. Does it make sense to go to college even if there are some bad things about college including the problems caused due to bad philosophy?

You can learn physics and get a job and do useful tasks without great philosophy. Some people fail at that but plenty succeed.

You need great philosophy if you want to be a physics genius and make breakthroughs. Or you can be really lucky to come up with a particular idea that turns out great. Or you can be like 1 in 100,000,000 people and that could work out too, though as far as I know there are zero top tier physicists currently.

It’s similar with self-help. You can learn about it and do OK with it and have a decent chance at that as a normal person with mediocre philosophy skills. But if you want to innovate in the field, then you need something special such as great philosophy or extraordinary luck or being one of a tiny fraction of people who somehow manage to be really effective in some other way.

Physics is actually kinda easier to learn to a medium level than self help. If you’re pretty good at math (top 10%?) and then do university classes and care enough to put in the work, then you have a good chance to get to medium level at physics (competent to do physics work but not very creative). We have no training with similar reliability for self-help topics.

So are self help books any good when most of the experts are mediocre and bad at innovating? Some are. Why? A few people manage to do above average for some reason. Most attempts at innovation are bad. But a lot of people give pretty unoriginal advice. They copy a lot of the best prior work. So then their advice is OK. So some of the popular books are either from someone particularly good or, more commonly, they borrow/share/repeat a lot of the ideas from such a person. Often they add a bit of spin on previous ideas. This spin often makes things worse without ruining them. Sometimes it makes it a little better in some non-fundamental way, like being better at communicating with modern audiences, or being better at communicating with a particular niche group.

I’d call self help a potential prerequisite for philosophy. It’s more optional than, say, being good at reading.

If you try to learn philosophy and run into some problems – as is to be expected – then you might try to work on them directly for a while and get stuck. Then there are a lot of more indirect issues to look at. Some are strong prerequisites like literacy and some are softer prerequisites like being good at speedrunning (definitely not necessary, but it can be helpful and is a thing one might try).

What you need is very contextual. It depends on your situation, your knowledge, your interests, your values, etc. There are many paths to great philosophy/rationality that can work. You probably need to acquire some more prerequisites, but I can’t be very specific about which ones. Some are more commonly useful than others. Knowing grammar and dependency trees could help a lot of people, so I’d generally recommend it for people who are open to if. If it sounds good to you, then I think it’s likely to help. If it sounds bad to you, then some other option may be better, though you could reconsider it and look into it more if you struggle to find alternatives or if you get a clearer picture of your blockers and think grammar analysis is especially relevant.

Self help has a bunch of options instead of being one thing. A lot of people could find some self help stuff that works pretty well for them. The field has so many resources aimed at different groups that there’s kinda something for everyone. Some of it is crap, some is reasonably helpful, and sometimes there’s a bit of greatness (but I don’t know anything really great overall, like Rand or Goldratt quality).

You definitely don’t need a 120K+ income job to do philosophy. That is a thing which could help, but it’s a very soft, optional prerequisite. And generally if you’re successful with philosophy, you’ll prefer to get your income from it, so you won’t want the job anymore.

A 120K job has downsides. Those kinds of jobs tend to take up a lot of your life. You may work on some weekends. You may think about work at home. You may choose some hobbies that are adjacent to the job. You may make friends with coworkers who are into the job topic and some adjacent stuff but not philosophy. The job may stress you out or require a lot of mental energy. A lot of those jobs are knowledge work. Or if it’s physical work that pays that well, that’s probably hard and tiring too. Or if it’s a relatively easy, unproductive job at some kind of upper-middle management, say, then it probably requires a lot of attention to office politics since other people will want that job too, fight you for promotions, maneuver to get credit for everything good and blame others for every bad result, etc.

Anyway, the more you set up your life without philosophy, the greater the risk that you make a bunch of mistakes with long term consequences. Getting married before having reasonably stable philosophy views is a risk. So is long term dating. So is choosing a job. So is learning a field.

An undergraduate degree that you finish at 22 has risks but, big picture, it’s not that bad (if you enjoy it; if you hate going to school then it is that bad). You’re still young at 22 and have reasonable flexibility (particularly if you have little to no debt – significant debt is a big problem). A PhD you finish at 27 is considerably riskier. Now you’re a lot older and have done a lot more committal stuff. It’s a much bigger deal to go do something that doesn’t use your PhD than to go do something that doesn’t use your undergrad degree. From age like 18-30 (very roughly; it varies) is a pretty crucial time period when you’re a young adult with some freedom and flexibility. By 30, most people have their life path pretty set (including people who don’t choose a career; they usually don’t seriously start pursuing a career later either; if you’re pretty directionless at 30 you’re likely to still be like that at 40). An undergrad degree uses up like a third of that 18-30 time frame. A PhD uses more like 70%.

People often don’t realize how much they set up their life as they do it. They don’t realize how much they’re structuring their interests, hobbies, friends, and everything else around some lifestyle that makes it hard to change.

College provides you with the opportunity to develop a social/career network. That’s different than providing the network.

If you go to class and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll get a degree and some skills, but will not get a network. A useful network takes some extra actions on your own initiative.

Networking also involves stuff like choosing who to have in your peer group and who not to. It’s somewhat committal. You’ll tend to be influenced a lot by your peer group. You’ll tend to become and stay more similar to them. It’s part of how you choose your path in life. So if you study stock broker stuff and network with finance bros and get that kind of job, you’re probably going to end up one of them, not a philosopher. You’ll drift away from philosophy the more you fit in with that other stuff. You’ll choose hobbies, interests and many other things in ways that are compatible with the finance life rather than developing and selecting them in philosophy oriented ways. To be really good at stuff, you need to arrange your life so a bunch of stuff indirectly supports and reinforces it, and other stuff doesn’t clash with it (not a 100% hard requirement, but it’s unrealistic to expect greatness otherwise). By far the easiest way to do that is to start doing something early – e.g. by age 20 (though 10 is better) – so it’s already part of your life first when you add a bunch of other stuff to your life. Changing later is hard because there’s so much intertwined stuff to change, much of it only indirectly related, and no one thing is a hard blocker but there are a lot of things and they add up, and you don’t want to change half your life, and even if you did want to that might not work out well.

I can’t thank you enough for giving such a detailed and complete analysis with explanations! I guess this would’ve taken me atleast a week to do this analysis. And I’m not even sure whether I would’ve succeeded or not. I most likely would’ve got stuck and stopped.

I don’t find one error with your explanations. It gives me every answer I was looking for. This exhibit of great reasoning convinces me of the importance of getting great at philosophy. To anyone else reading this imagine having this capacity to reason through your problems.

Thanks again!

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I’ll try to explain Elliot’s answers in my own words to check my understanding, get a better understanding and to get feedback.

I have a better perspective of what I was confused about. The thing I was trying to make sense of was when to add philosophy to ones life. Some constraints/ things to think through are:

  1. You need some skills to learn philosophy
  2. Philosophy is super important.
  3. A lot of things are bad in the world are because of bad philosophy.
  4. Bad things include:
  • academic fields like maths, physics, biology, medicine not making progress.
  • Another bad thing is people not making progress in their own lives. People can go into these fields and improve them by removing irrationality from these fields. People can make progress in these fields and advance them further. People can be better at their jobs and thus be able to create more positive value. People can run their businesses better. People can become more competent and thus do their tasks much better and with more ease as compared to their current level.
  • People are bad at raising kids. Humans are born creative but bad parenting destroys their mind.
  • People engage with social reality. To do a good job of dealing with social reality you need to become great at at some skills which harm your rational problem solving faculties.
  • People are bad at marriage and long term dating. Collaborating on long term projects like raising children together requires you being good at problem solving.
  1. Continuing on the constrains list. Getting good at philosophy can be hard and take time.
  2. People are expected to follow the cultural expectations of getting good grades, getting into good colleges, getting good/high status jobs. And they are expected to do these things by a certain age.
  3. You also have to organize other parts of your life outside of your job/work to be somewhat in relation with your job only.
  4. You have to start making your own living. When you’re in school and college or a PhD program you almost always get supported. But if you choose to do philosophy as a career then only support is academia. I don’t think there are any jobs which hire philosophers apart from college professors. Jobs like theoretical physics where you work on interpretation of quantum mechanics is also pretty much a philosophy job. I don’t remember what Elliot criticisms of academic philosophy. I’m gonna read them again soon. If you plan to make a living using philosophy you need to get sufficiently good at it first.

Keeping all this in mind when is the best time to start learning philosophy?

  1. Childhood is the best time. When you’re in school you have enough time. Children are encouraged to read. Spending time with book is seen as a good thing. Developing an interest in childhood and then systematically learning philosophy would be the best. The environment is most conducive during this phase of ones life.
  2. During college. People join drama club, dance club etc. People make time for such activities. You can use this time for learning philosophy instead.

It’s not a clear cut how to rank which is better time to learn philosophy when people are in different phases of their life. One can instead do a pro con analysis. Also note these phases can overlap.

If your goal is to go into an academic field to make important contributions there and you have started your PhD program then one of the major problem is finding time. From what I’ve heard people talk about how little time you get to do anything else other than work. You have the same problem with going for a 120K job. The job I was thinking of was a typical job that you go for after majoring in computer science. I really liked what Elliot said here:

This explains things very well. If you’ve chosen to join a PhD program then you’ve set up one aspect of your life. If you took a 120K job you’ve set up your life in another aspect. Similarly for dating, marriage, having kids. Every setting up that you do is gonna affect how your life will unfold.
Now the thing of importance here is that how you are setting up the a particular aspect of your life. As in were you good enough at philosophy to remove errors while setting up your life in some aspect. If you became good at philosophy before setting up the job aspect of your life then the risk of setting up your jobs with some errors will be low. And if errors occur it will be easier to remove them. And it won’t hinder you in improving further at philosophy and making progress in general. Take the management job example that Elliot gave. If you were bad at philosophy and didn’t know the risks of becoming really good at engaging with social reality then you would’ve set yourself up badly.

I was confusing two different questions: what are the prerequisites for philosophy and when should one start philosophy.

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This has pretty much turned into a career discussion. Does it make sense to split this into a separate thread? I have more questions on the career stuff.

Can you talk a bit more about this? How can one use their philosophy skill to earn money? Philosophy consulting? What else? Do people understand how philosophy can help them? Are there enough people who want philosophy consulting?

To me the best answer to the question - how can getting better at philosophy impact your income? - is: You’ll be able to write a piece of software twice as fast so you’ll end up saving half of your time. You can use that time to take another freelance project for example and double your income or use that time for something else that you like doing.

For example: Books, newspaper and magazine articles, speaking fees, think tank salary, awards, grants, teaching, tutoring, ghost writing, online courses, patreon, donations, YouTube ads, sponsored videos, blog ads, Amazon referral links, Substack subscriptions, Twitch subscribers, life coaching, selling forum memberships (I think Harry Binswanger has over 500 people paying over $10/month).

Many of those require over 1000 fans to make much money. Some, like ads, need a lot more popularity. Some can work with just a few wealthy clients. Most can make a lot of money alone, but you can also get income from a bunch of options at once.

This is without mixing philosophy with other stuff like business management.

You could also leverage good ideas on how to get payed more for software and increase how much you earn. See eg Jonathan Stark for how to think differently re pricing.