2.8 /5

37 Examples of Self-Help That Don’t Work

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

The self-help industry is massive, confusing, and often downright unhelpful. Read on to learn why some common strategies just don’t work.

To live a better life, it’s truly hard to say what to do, because there is nothing to do, except listen or be aware, which is a passive process. Listening means you aren’t trying to change your state.

The best life we can live is by subtracting, not adding. It’s somewhat dangerous to give advice because any advice I give can be turned into some addition. Meditation is something we think of as “doing”, as in “oh, I forgot to meditate”… but meditation is really just a subtraction of doing.

So the only way to really understand how to improve our lives is to point out what doesn’t work by giving examples.

I wanted to see what others had to say about “letting go”, so I Googled something like “how to let go.”

The first result was a pro “Buddhist” site with the article entitled “40 ways to let go.”

Once I read it, I realized that we took Buddhism and made it into an American Barbie Doll, fit for our Western needs. But this Buddhism isn’t Buddhism at all (I’m particularly referring to Zen, but this isn’t like any kind I’ve seen). I don’t have a problem with it not being Buddhism if it works (I’m not a Buddhist), but it doesn’t. It’s just an article giving us permission to do what we’d ordinarily do anyway.

This type of self-improvement sounds good, but it doesn’t help us and if anything, it just makes us more neurotic. It’s important to be on the lookout for these tips.

The “ideology” I practice most closely resembles Zen, but I just describe an outlook that has helped me and I’m not particularly concerned with if it belongs to some religion. So Zen or not, it’s worked for me and many others.

Blue shading is the author’s words and black is my own. Here’s the original article. I have nothing against the author; rather, I just randomly found her article. There’re a few tips that I’m on board with.

See my other articles on the illusion of choice and self-help that actually works.

Let Go Of Frustration with Yourself/Your Life

1. Learn a new skill instead of dwelling on the skills you never mastered.

OK. This is an experience. You aren’t trying to change anything. I could get on board with this. Just don’t learn a new skill as a distraction from your problems. Sometimes you just need to listen and stop doing.

2. Change your perception – see the root cause as a blessing in disguise.

You can’t change your perception. Trying to do this is just more thinking. Instead just be aware of whatever you’re thinking, without trying to change it.

You can realize the fact that our perceptions have little basis in reality, but this is just a general principle and a truth you must truly believe or experience. If you believe it, there’s no need to change anything or remind yourself.

3. Cry it out. According to Dr. William Frey II, PH.D., a biochemist at the Ramset Medical Center in Minneapolis, crying away your negative feelings releases harmful chemicals that build up in your body due to stress.

If you feel like crying it out then do that, but don’t do it as a strategy – otherwise, it becomes just more doing.

4. Channel your discontent into immediate positive action – make some calls about new job opportunities, or walk to the community center to volunteer.

More doing. Nothing to channel. Just listen.

5. Use meditation or yoga to bring you into the present moment (instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future).

Good advice, but this works by listening and being aware. You don’t need to “meditate” to listen. You can do it while you’re walking or taking a shower.

6. Make a list of your accomplishments even the small ones and add to it daily. You’ll have to let go of a little discontentment to make space for this self-satisfaction.

Yay, more doing. This is antithetical to Buddhist ideals of non-striving. What are our accomplishments at the end of the day? It’s the process that matters, not the end goal. We should let go of self-satisfaction just as much as our discontentment.

7. Visualize a box in your head labeled Expectations.” Whenever you start dwelling on how things should be or should have been, mentally shelve the thoughts in this box.

Another hack and thing to do. No need for boxes, people. Just pay attention.

8. Engage in physical activity. Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins, chemicals that improve your state of mind.

Good advice. Changing our biology instead of changing our mood directly.

9. Focus all your energy on something you can actually control instead of dwelling on things you can’t.

You can’t focus your energy on anything if something is eating you up. You need to listen and wait till it passes. Then, you’ll naturally focus all of your energies on things you like or need to do.

10. Express your feelings through a creative outlet, like blogging or painting. Add this to your to-do list and cross it off when you’re done. This will be a visual reminder that you have actively chosen to release these feelings.

Great, more on the to-do list. There should be nothing on your to-do list except the things you have to do to maintain your life. This is just more top-down control. If you feel like blogging or expressing your feelings through a creative outlet then do it. No need to do it as a hack.

Let go of Anger and Bitterness

11. Feel it fully. If you stifle your feelings, they may leak out and affect everyone around you – not just the person who inspired your anger. Before you can let go of any emotion, you have to feel it fully.

Finally, some actual decent advice. However, this is phrased in a more active way. If you stop trying to change or hack your state you will inevitably just sit and feel your emotions instead of trying to change them. No action required.

This advice is contradictory to the advice given in the beginning.

12. Give yourself a rant window. Let yourself vent for a day before confronting the person who troubled you. This may diffuse the hostility and give you time to plan a rational confrontation.

No windows needed, people. You should let yourself vent for as long as your system desires – just pay attention and be aware that you are venting and how the venting is making you feel.

13. Remind yourself that anger hurts you more than the person who upset you, and visualize it melting away as an act of kindness to yourself.

This is just more thinking.

14. If possible, express your anger to the person who offended you. Communicating how you feel may help you move on. Keep in mind that you can’t control how the offender responds; you can only control how clearly and kindly you express yourself.

Do what you feel like doing. It’s usually a good idea to communicate with someone else if you need to repeatedly interact with them.

15. Take responsibility. Many times when you’re angry, you focus on what someone else did that was wrong, which essentially gives away your power. When you focus on what you could have done better, you often feel empowered and less bitter.

“Gives away your power”? Lol. Why is it bad to lose power/control? Buddhism supports losing control. Letting go means to let go of controlling things, which is supposed to be the point of the post.

Don’t focus on what someone else did OR what you could’ve done. This is just more thinking. And if you do feel compelled to think this, then think this – just listen to what’s going on.

16. Put yourself in the offender’s shoes. We all make mistakes, and odds are you could have easily slipped up just like your husband, father or friend did. Compassion dissolves anger.

If you accept that we are a product of genes and environment, you realize nothing is anyone’s fault. No need to put yourself in anyone’s shoes. Just more doing and thinking. If you feel like naturally doing this, then do it.

If you think of the point of the author’s post, it’s to change our state to be “better.” The more you try to change the more strain you feel.

17. Metaphorically throw it away. For example, jog with a backpack full of tennis balls. After you’ve built up a bit of rush, toss the balls one by one, labeling each as a part of your anger. (You’ll need to retrieve these – litter angers the earth!)

This is just a hack that complexifies our life and adds more doing and thinking.

18. Use a stress ball, and express your anger physically and vocally when you use it. Make a scrunched up face or grunt. You may feel silly, but this allows you to actually express what you’re feeling inside.

If you feel like using a stress ball, then use one. If you use one because you heard it’s a good idea, it won’t change anything. It’s just more doing and another attempt to control our state.

19. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and gently flick it when you start obsessing on angry thoughts. This trains your mind to associate that type of persistent negativity with something unpleasant.

Lol, more doing. Do people take this seriously?

20. Remind yourself these are your only three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it. These acts create happiness; holding onto bitterness never does.

Your system knows full well what it needs to do. No need for reminders and more top-down thinking.

Let Go Of Past Relationships

21. Identify what the experience taught you to help develop a sense of closure.

More thinking. You will naturally do this, without being told to. Just listen.

22. Write everything you want to express in a letter. Even if you choose not to send it, clarifying your feelings will help you come to terms with reality as it is now.

More doing. If you feel like writing a letter then do it, but don’t do it and think you will magically feel better. Whatever benefits you’d get from this would be gotten by just sitting and listening to your thoughts.

23. Remember both the good and the bad. Even if appears this way now, the past was not perfect. Acknowledging this may minimize your sense of loss. As Laura Oliver says, “It’s easier to let go of a human than a hero.”

More thinking. Just be aware of whatever enters your mind, both good and bad. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but usually people feel “better”, eventually.

24. Un-romanticize the way you view love. Of course, you’ll feel devastated if you believe you lost your soul mate. If you think you can find a love that amazing or better again, it will be easier to move on.

More thinking. Just pay attention to whatever you’re thinking while being skeptical of all of your ideas and thoughts, as they are anything but accurate, as you will eventually realize.

25. Visualize an empowered single you – the person you were before meeting your last love. That person was pretty awesome, and now you have the chance to be him or her again.

Why is being empowered a good thing? It just feeds our need to control. This post is supposed to teach you how to let go, but then wants you to be empowered (i.e. have control). Bizarre.

26. Create a space that reflects your present reality. Take down his pictures; delete her emails from your saved folder.

No need to create spaces. If you feel pained by emails you will delete them without being told to.

This author is writing a list of things she does and that makes her feel better. In truth, if she didn’t do anything she’d also feel better. Time heals all. This is the deception of ”I” that I speak about, where people think our conscious mind can control our future and emotional state.

27. Reward yourself for small acts of acceptance. Get a facial after you delete his number from your phone, or head out with friends after putting all her things in a box.

You’ll get that facial regardless (or give yourself some other reward). Your system will want to feel good and seek pleasant experiences. You don’t need to add a layer of thinking on top of this. Is your attempt to get a reward to distract yourself from pain? Listen….

28. Hang this statement somewhere you can see it. “Loving myself means letting go.”

No need to hang statements. Just more doing.

Trying to love ourselves just creates a stronger sense of self and makes us neurotic.

When you truly let go, you let go of the need to love yourself as well. The entity of “You” takes on the significance as every other creature on this planet.

29. Replace your emotional thoughts with facts. When you think, “I’ll never feel loved again!” don’t resist that feeling. Instead, move on to another thought, like “I learned a new song for karaoke tonight.”

Great, more thinking and delusions. Attempt #29 at trying to change our state by doing some action or using thought-control.

30. Use the silly voice technique. According to Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap, swapping the voice in your head with a cartoon voice will help take back power from the troubling thought.

More things to do! Jeeze. No more techniques/hacks!

Let Go Of Stress

31. Use a deep breathing technique, like ujjayi, to soothe yourself and seep into the present moment.

This could be useful. Deep breathing changes our biology.

32. Immerse yourself in a group activity. Enjoying the people in your life may help put your problems in perspective.

No need to immerse yourself. You will either be immersed or not. You can’t control this. If you feel the need for human contact, you will seek out human contact. The system is in charge…

33. Consider this quotation by Eckhart Tolle: “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” Questioning how your stress serves you may help you let it go.

I agree with the general principle that our thoughts have no purpose and that we delude ourselves that these thoughts have outsized-importance.

34. Metaphorically release it. Write down all your stresses and toss the paper into your fireplace.

If you feel like writing your stress down then do it. If not, don’t. This advice is useless. I believe this is the third mention of writing things down. Throwing it in the fireplace serves no purpose – just more doing and an attempt at control.

35. Replace your thoughts. Notice when you begin thinking about something that stresses you so you can shift your thought process to something more pleasant, like your passion for your hobby.

More thinking. You can’t control what you think. The only thing that can change (well not really) is you realizing your thoughts are irrelevant, but that comes through experience. You shouldn’t replace your thoughts, just listen to whatever your thoughts are.

And if you don’t feel better after listening, then listen some more. If listening doesn’t do anything, then nothing will. The point isn’t to get anywhere.

Sometimes shitty moods are inevitable if our biology isn’t tweaked right. But how bad is a shitty mood, at the end of the day?

Having a range of moods and emotions is part of the richness of life.

36. Take a sauna break. Studies reveal that people who go to the sauna at least twice a week for ten to thirty minutes are less stressed after work than others with similar jobs who don’t.

Good advice. Experiential, rather than thought-based control

37. Imagine your life ten years from now. Then look twenty years into the future, and then thirty. Realize that many of the things you’re worrying about don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Haha. More thinking. Don’t attempt to think about the future or past. If you do then you do, but surely don’t use this as a hack.

38. Organize your desk. According to Georgia Witkin, assistant director of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, completing a small task increases your sense of control and decreases your stress level.

Lol. This author is a control freak. The point is to lose control to let go. Instead, this author is trying to show us how to gain control with our thinking.

Your system will impel you to organize your desk when it desires. You will feel a nagging feeling to do this. Certainly, you shouldn’t try to do this as a hack.

39. Use it up. Make two lists: one with the root causes of your stress and one with actions to address them. As you complete these tasks, visualize yourself utilizing and depleting your “stress supply.”

I’m literally laughing. More thought-based control. This whole way of thinking is attempting to get somewhere and to control our lives.

There’s nowhere to go. Your sadness, unhappiness or grief is an integral part of life, especially if your biology is awry. If you truly accept this you won’t try to use up your “stress supplies.”

This whole approach puts you in a striving mindset.

40. Laugh it out. Research shows that laughter soothes tension, improves your immune system, and even eases the pain. If you can’t relax for long, start with just ten minutes watching a funny video on YouTube.

Watching a funny video is just distracting us. Distractions work in the short term, but there’s a build-up of emotional toxins. We should ride negative emotions for as long as we feel we need to.

We should listen and be aware of our emotions, not distract ourselves.

Alan Watts Video

This video is one of my favorite videos, which describes the ideas that have helped me, stated in a more eloquent way.

Listen to it at 1.5X speed.


About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine…and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission of empowering people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time.


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
(5 votes, average: 2.80 out of 5)

FDA Compliance

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles View All