When Self-Help Just Makes Your Life Worse

The pitfalls of organizing your days around productivity hacks, scheduled mindfulness, and constant self-improvement

Magdalena Puniewska
Published in
6 min readDec 5, 2018


Photo by rawpixel

It started with the internet. Every time she was online, it seemed like Bénédicte Kinkolo was served up another story about some successful person doing something great: running a business, winning awards, making millions of dollars.

Kinkolo, then a second-year student at King’s College in London, ate it up. She knew she wanted to be this kind of successful, though she wasn’t yet sure at what. Maybe emulating the people she read about — their habits, their routines, what they thought about before bed — would help her figure it out. She dove into self-help literature, began waking up early to do yoga and meditate, color-coded her schedule. Bent on maximizing her time as much as possible, she made a daily to-do list and followed it rigidly; she downloaded productivity apps that would alert her when her time on a task was drawing to a close.

One day before finals, Kinkolo recalls, she was running around the university library, gathering books for a paper and ticking things off one of her apps, when she missed a step and fell down a flight of stairs, fracturing her ankle. At the hospital, as…