Self-improvement is masturbation

Nathan Adlam
4 min readJan 19, 2019


Was Tyler Durden right?

The year was 2011. I had just finished my freshman year of college and I was hurting.

The entire year, I had no success with women. Zero. The most painful part of it was seeing all my friends having fun, being free, enjoying the beauty that life has to offer.

There must be something wrong with me. How could I mess this up every single time?

So I did what any logically-minded person would do, and did some research. I purchased my first self-help book… Double Your Dating by David DeAngelo.

The next year, I got my first girlfriend, first kiss, first everything. That said, looking back, it’s impossible not to cringe at that first relationship. This is normal, I have realized.

After that relationship ended (not a moment too soon), I began a (unhealthy) relationship with self-help. It seemed to work for me once, so why not keep going? I would consume information, apply it too little/wrongly, and repeat the cycle. Progress was at a snail’s pace. Personal stress was at an all-time high. What the fuck is wrong with me.

My friends would laugh at me. What are you reading, Nathan? Oh, nothing… as I quickly close the book/computer screen I’m looking at, as I’m reading about how to change my mindset, what to say to women, and how to become the best version of myself. I hate that phrase.

Since those years, I still catch myself in negative thought loops (another term I hate) of unhealthy self-disgust, but now that I am older and a bit wiser, I am more aware of how I can escape them. My thinking has evolved.

I’ve come to hate self-help. I hate that it perpetuates that we should always want more from our lives. That the future will always be better than the present. That coaches and online marketers have the solution to your problems that will make your life so much better. That people with low self-esteem get pulled into these marketing messages. I hate cliche motivational posters. I hate that self-help romanticizes this idea of our best self.

Did I mention that I am one of these coaches? Nice way to stir up some business, right?

We’re all developing ourselves whether we want to or not. It is impossible to go backwards in life. Some people like to call attention to it and call it self-development. Some people have never had such a thought in their life. These are the people who always seem to be doing ok in life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of getting the most out of life, but how most people go about it is not effective. Especially for perfectionists, who prefer the nice, neat road as opposed to crashing-and-burning as much as you can handle.

My favorite story is Fight Club. Reading the quotes from that book/movie is enough to give me a soul-boner.

In the movie Fight Club, the main character, Tyler Durden, has a revolutionary idea about self-improvement. Self-improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction is the answer.

So many people who are self-help junkies want to become better people. The problem is they attack this perceived problem blindly, with the rage of a bull in a china shop.

It’s human nature to want to make progress, but becoming better just for the sake of becoming better will give you nothing but stress and anxiety. Why do you want to be better? You can read a book and feel good (masturbate) that you are becoming a better person, with no actual results to show for it.

The paradox of self-help is that the more self-help information you consume, the more you think you need help. When in fact, the last thing you need is help. You don’t need help. You need to love yourself. Enough so that you stop consuming self-help and start living.

Now, I get that we are our own worst enemies. This is a commonly known fact in self-help. But, how do we get out of our own way? We all have limiting beliefs, make false assumptions and interpretations, and that little voice inside our heads that says we’re not good enough.

Here is a short summary of all the self-help advice I’ve ever consumed. The purpose of life is to be true to yourself. Your thoughts and emotions are valid and ok because you are a human. Love yourself. Go for what you want. People aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think they are. The body leads the mind, and the mind leads the body. Clean out your closets, literally and figuratively. Those thoughts holding you back… how true are they? Realistically?

The path to your best self (ugh) does not come from reading books or gathering knowledge. It comes from destroying your ego, the sense that you are special, and realizing that comfort is not the ultimate goal of life.

Tyler Durden’s self-destruction comment does not mean to harm ourselves in an unhealthy way. He’s suggesting we destroy our egos which are chaining us to the thought patterns that are keeping us in our current position. That are keeping us from feeling free.

It’s only once you lose everything, are you free to do anything he says. And he’s right. Those that play the game of life as if they have the least to lose are the ones who win.



Nathan Adlam

English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.