The top 7 self-help gurus (when you’re cynical about life advice)

I’m a cynical person by nature, so it’s difficult to find self-help gurus who offer advice that resonates.

The problem for me is that I’m aware of how lucrative the self-help industry is. This makes me question the motives behind what these “gurus” are sharing.

Also, it seems to me the majority of life advice is pretty obvious. I’m looking for something more profound than normal but which is still practical for the everyday person.

I have put together the following list of self-help gurus that have helped me to improve my mindset and enhance my personal power so I can live the best life possible.

If you have any suggestions to add to the list, leave a comment on my Instagram post. We’ll continue to update this list.

Sonja Lyubomirsky

She wouldn’t want to be described as a self-help guru, and that’s why Sonja Lyubomirsky is here on this list. She refers to herself as a wellbeing scientist and is best known for her work on “the how of happiness.

According to Lyubomirsky, happiness is primarily determined by our genetics, life circumstances and intentional activities. She is testing through large-scale research studies her hypothesis that happiness can be reliably increased by:

  1. Regularly setting aside time to recall moments of gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one “counts one’s blessings” or writing gratitude letters)
  2. Engaging in self-regulatory and positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking about one’s happiest and unhappiest life events or one’s goals for the future)
  3. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness or trying to make a loved one happy)
  4. Affirming one’s most important values
  5. Savoring positive experiences (e.g., using one’s five senses to relish daily moments or living this month like it’s one’s last in a particular location)

Here’s a beautifully brief and lucid overview of the determinants of happiness.

Barbara Sher

I really appreciate the way Barbara Sher made fun of the motivational industry while building a huge following of her unique approach to finding fulfillment.

She said that positive affirmations gave her a headache, that she didn’t have much belief in self-improvement but that she was able to help people make their lives better.

In 1979 she wrote the book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want which had a chapter titled “The Power of Negative Thinking”. The year before she published a full-page advertisement in the New York Times with the headline: “How to succeed without being a man.”

Barbara Sher was ahead of her time, not only with her critique of the cult of positive thinking but also in helping people to find fulfillment in unconventional ways.

Check out the video above where she asks you to take responsibility for your dreams.

Matt D’Avella

Matt D’Avalla is a filmmaker who explores minimalism, habit change and lifestyle design with his YouTube videos.

His YouTube channel has grown enormously over the last few years. When you watch one of his videos, you’ll see why. His videos are high quality and he offers practical advice.

I like Matt’s honesty and genuine advice. He promotes Skillshare and his own online course in his videos, but he doesn’t overdo it. His conclusions are grounded and I feel like most people will be able to relate what he shares.

A highlight are his 30-day experiments, such as meditating for an hour everyday, waking up at 5am each morning and quitting sugar.

Check out his video on giving up on caffeine for 30 days. I expected his conclusion to be that he radically decreased his anxiety and improved his sleep. He was honest about giving up on caffeine doing little to change his mindset or health.

Want to learn more from Matt D’Avella? The best thing to do is subscribe to him on YouTube.

Susan Jeffers

When you read the title of her bestselling book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, you may be mistaken for thinking Jeffers is your typical self-help guru saying you can achieve anything with focus and determination.

Her message is more profound than this.

Jeffers’ argues that we waste too much time trying to attain the perfect mental state. We mistakenly believe we need to feel motivated and passionate first before we then start taking action.

Instead, she suggests, it makes more sense to accept that we have limited control over our emotions. We’re better off learning to live with our emotions while just getting on with the tasks we want to accomplish. The emotions we desire usually follow once we start taking action.

Alan Watts

You’ve probably heard the voice of Alan Watts in a viral video clip such as the one below.

He was a philosopher, writer, poet, radical thinker, teacher and critic of society who popularized Eastern wisdom, interpreting it for a Western audience. Alan Watts was prolific in the 1950s and 1960s, eventually passing away in 1973.

I love his message about “the real you” in the video above, where he suggests that at a fundamental level we are all connected to the whole cosmos. We just need to break down the illusion of being separated from other people around us.

To learn more about Alan Watts, check out this introduction to his key ideas.

Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs and David Shankbone 2600301637 The top 7 self-help gurus (when you're cynical about life advice)
Augusten Burroughs (left) and David Shankbone. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Augusten Burroughs is an American writer known for his bestselling memoir Running with Scissors.

Although not your typical self-help guru, I loved his book This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More for Young and Old Alike.

Augusten is someone who has been through many challenges in life. He’s struggled with mental health issues himself. Each chapter of This is How explains how he managed to get through one of his challenges.

His advice is open, honest and funny at times. It’s deeply human and refreshing. I recommend checking him out.

Rudá Iandê


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Ideapod (@ideapods)

Rudá Iandê is a shaman from Brazil making ancient shamanic knowledge relevant for a modern-day audience.

For a while he was a “celebrity shaman”, visiting New York regularly and working with some of the world’s most famous artists and change-makers. He was even featured in the performance artist Marina Abramović’s documentary, The Space in Between, when she visited Brazil to experience sacred rituals at the crossroads of art and spirituality.

Over the last few years he has been sharing his knowledge in articles, masterclasses and online workshops that have reached millions of people. His advice goes against the grain of conventional wisdom, such as his article on the dark side of positive thinking.

Rudá Iandê’s self-help advice is a refreshing change from new-age platitudes that divide the world into “good” and “bad”, or “high vibration” and “low vibration”. He cuts through simple dualities, asking us to face up to and embrace the full spectrum of our nature.

I’ve personally known Rudá for six years now and highly recommend attending one of his free masterclasses. The best one to get started with is on turning your life frustrations into personal power.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Picture of Justin Brown

Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.