3 Common Self Help Maxims that Sound Like Mindless Woo-Woo (But Aren’t)

I’m not a fan of self-help but I won’t dismiss it out of hand either

U-Ming Lee
7 min readFeb 21, 2022


Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on Pexels.

I’d like to make a confession. I get a lot of guilty pleasure from taking self-help or personal growth gurus down a peg.

Maybe it’s the smug sense of self-assurance that these 20-something-year-olds exude when they say things like, “You can do anything if you just believe in yourself.”

And, as they dish out platitude after platitude, I find myself scoffing at their “advice”. And, when I’m feeling particularly combative, I go out looking for information to refute their claims.

Many times, these statements turn out to be superficial nonsense. Not dissimilar from the “prophecies” commonly attributed to Nostradamus, i.e., written so vaguely that they can be interpreted to mean anything the reader wants.

On occasion, however, I’m forced to eat humble pie. Because, upon further reflection, some of these seemingly superficial statements contain deeper truths with which I find myself agreeing.

It’s nuance that differentiates between hogwash and a more profound statement. With that, I’d like to apply the lens of nuance to revisit some common self-help aphorisms.

These sayings sounded like superficial nonsense to me in the beginning. But I found myself agreeing with them later on.

1. Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. Will Make You Successful

There was a time before the pandemic when you couldn’t get away from articles on the Internet extolling the productivity-boosting virtues of waking up at 4:30 a.m.

My guide to this “waking up at an ungodly hour” subculture was Jocko Willink, the imposing 20-year Navy SEAL veteran who posts pictures of his 4:30 a.m. wake-up times on Twitter daily.

Jocko explained to Business Insider that his motivation for getting up at 4:30 a.m. was to get things done without distractions because no one else was awake.

Not long after the 4:30 a.m. articles went viral, the inevitable flood of articles refuting the suggestion ensued. Inc.com’s article, “Getting up at 4:30 a.m. makes



U-Ming Lee

I write about business, finance, and freelancing life. | How to contact me: https://linktr.ee/uming.lee