I like to believe that the vast majority of self-help content creators are inspired by good intentions. Even the ones who have, shall we say, missed the mark lately.
Sometimes you fall into toxic patterns without realizing it, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to recognize that process for what it is.
Still, I’ve noticed a few patterns that seem to reliably predict shallow content in this niche, along with other toxic traits.
The classic humble-brag is one of the best ways to spot a creator who has either a) lost touch with their mission as a writer, b) gotten “lost in the sauce” of making money from their content, or c) is supremely un-self-aware and has become the very person they try not to personify.
Humble-bragging is the practice of slipping in little phrases and anecdotes that “prove” so-and-so is a good, better-than-average person who ought to represent an aspiration to readers. But of course, they would never say so — they’re humble, ordinary people, after all!
These tidbits of self-praise often set off a slight reaction in even the most dedicated followers. All of us will likely be guilty of the sin at some point, but if you spot a pattern of humble-bragging, you should probably question the content you’re reading as well as the person publishing it.
Hustle, Lifestyle, or Productivity P*rn
By now, I think most of us will be familiar with the brand of content known as “hustle p*rn” and its ilk.
If someone is essentially saying the same things over and over again, and those things amount to “you just need to work harder/more consistently/adopt this mindset,” you might be reading some hardcore hustle p*rn.
Life — and success — are complex topics. Someone who genuinely writes to explore them will probably reflect some of that complexity in their catalog of published work. I find those creators who “regurgitate” the same hustle p*rn motivational quotes, personalities, and shallow philosophies are mostly only motivated by the idea that you’ll hustle to pay them a good chunk of money.
If the ideal lifestyle could be achieved by motivational posters and pull-out quotes from Seth Godin, I’m pretty sure we’d be living in Heaven instead of on Earth.
Milking the Same Three Events/Role Models/Topics/Ideas Over And Over Again
Look, I get it — not all of us live spectacularly interesting lives. Most of us don’t.
But to make a real impact and achieve integrity as a content creator, you have to turn the mundane into the interesting and the profound. When you are motivated by a sincere desire to share, connect, and help, this seems to become easier.
Hell, even if your main motivation is money (which is perfectly reasonable, in my opinion), as long as you learn your craft and genuinely want to provide value to the world, this is a skill you will build naturally. Someone who probably doesn’t have this commitment will leave a calling card I refer to as the repetition rodeo.
If someone is regurgitating the same handful of life events, books, role models, or veins of thought over and over and over again ad infinitum? Congrats, you’re riding in their repetition rodeo, cowboy. They are so focused on producing profitable self-help content that they don’t have time to actually live their life and draw insight from it.
You should probably question their premise (and their advice).