A Good Self-Help Book is Like a Map…

March 29, 2010 (Updated Jun 29, 2019) by — Intended Audience: .

Map of Middle-earth, from Tolkien Lord of the RingsOne of my goals with the Transitions blog is to provide useful resources to my readers. These can be books, articles, psychological research, websites, etc., as well as, of course, my own thoughts about what can be helpful to those seeking to learn, grow and live well. I intend for all of these things to be useful and helpful (obviously, or why would I post them?), but part of utilizing any resource well is understanding what it can and cannot accomplish for you.1

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A good resource (book, blog post, etc.) is like a map in several ways. It can help clarify where you are and where you would like to go. Reading about what could be can increase our awareness of where we currently are.2 Reading about being able to experience various good things raises the questions within us as to whether we are experiencing any of those things currently, as well as whether or not we’d like to experience them in the future. Learning about a place that one could move towards begins the process of making sense out of what that new place might be like, as well as what it might take to get there. To return to the map analogy: If you have never heard of Disneyworld, you can’t even daydream about what it would be like to be there, much less try to plan a trip. But once you know it exists and you decide that you want to try to make a trip you can start working your way towards that goal. In a similar way helpful resources can alert you to the possibilities that exist for you on more personal and relational levels thus serving as a catalyst for beginning the process of making positive changes in your life.

A significant limitation of good resources, however, is that like a map, they cannot actually get you to your destination, and to some degree they are even limited in being able to recommend the best routes for getting there. Having a good map alerts you to the existence of Disneyworld, to it’s location and as mentioned above can stir up within oneself a desire to go there. As one connects more with where one is currently located (on the metaphorical map) one is able to even get a general sense of which direction to head in to get to their desired destination. But to actually get there one needs additional things, such as a car (or some other method of transportation), more specific directions on recommended routes to take, and navigational tools (e.g., compass or GPS) to help one keep their bearings, stay on course and not get lost (and/or to be able to get un-lost when needed).

The above limitations are part of why I remind readers at the end of every blog post (and in more detail on the Disclaimers page) that while what I’m sharing of my thoughts and other resources are intended to be helpful, they cannot in and of themselves enable anyone to make changes–they are useful bits of information, but they do not produce the power to change. In some cases people have the internal power to bring about a particular change and all that they need is just to be made aware of what could be and then they are able to successful move toward that goal. However, everyone has places (whether we are aware of it or not) that we would like to get to, but that we don’t (yet) have the means to get there. In essence, we all need some assistance at various points in our lives. This doesn’t even have to be related to getting emotional/relational healing (though that is often the case); it can be simply that our life is good and there are some things we would like to be better (i.e., there are better places we want to be). This is where we need more than just the information that good resources can provide–this is where we need other people (trusted friends, family members, mentors and counselors), because it is through relationships that we get the metaphorical car and GPS that enable us to get to better destinations and stay on course en route.3


  1. Photo by Matheus Sanchez
  2. Culturally we’re not taught to be very self-reflective. In our society there are many, many things asking (if not screaming) for our attention, and so it is fairly typical for one to not be very connected to how they are really thinking and feeling inside of themselves. Making time for reflection and connection can take quite a bit of effort. Related Post: The Art of Stopping 
  3. One of the big reasons why we need relationships in order to change is due to how the brain functions, grows, repairs itself, etc. Neurobiology (the science of the brain) is increasingly revealing more details of how the process of relating with others brings about changes (which can be positive or negative) within the brain and thus in an individual’s emotional and cognitive experience of themselves, others and life. In some ways you could think of it as a different take on the old axiom, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Only instead of the “who you know” being about getting inside connections to get a good job it is about who you relate with regularly having a profound impact on how you grow and change (or don’t). 

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