Some people consider holy texts to be the first self-help books. There are some historians who even attribute it to specific ancient Egyptian codes of conduct.
While Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help published in 1859 gives the genre its name, self-help books as they are known today exploded only in the past sixty or so years. Books that educate people on how to better themselves have continued to gain popularity in recent years, as a sort of guide to finding or generating more satisfaction in life.
Some books focus on specific areas that people may find lacking, such a career advancement, financial success or romantic relationships. Others focus on the individual themselves, based on the idea that harmony within oneself will help guide you through the problems caused by the outside world.
There are many writing specifically for people struggling with issues such as anxiety or depression. While these can be sometimes be immensely comforting and helpful, it is always worth taking their advice alongside a close relationship with medical professionals.
Some are based on spiritual or religious teachings, while others take a more grounded stance, considering the world from a directly empirical standpoint.
But, if everyone’s experience of the world is different, how can any one book be universally applied to every person’s problems? Surely, there is no way any writer, no matter how qualified, can reduce everyone’s dissatisfaction to a single book that can fix everything?
The key to finding real help in self-help books is to know what exactly you’re trying to fix before soaking up the advice of people who don’t know you.
If you are aware of the problems you have beforehand, you’ll be able to think about how each piece of advice you are offered can be applied to your situation and how effective it will be. Different books are going to be helpful for different people with different problems. The books that will be useful to you will be based on your problem, your natural attitude to tackling problems and even the background, experiences and knowledge of the author.
It’s unwise to assume that everything is going to automatically be useful. But if you think critically about the advice then it’ll be infinitely more helpful.
If you are religious or spiritual and want to incorporate that into your progress, choose the work of a writer who reflects your beliefs. Equally, if you’re not religious or just don’t want to include that part of your life in this process, avoid books that include things like devotion to God or prayer in their problem solving techniques.
Most self-help books give relatively simple advice that helps you to break down your problem into manageable tasks that will take you step by step to the other side of things. They usually focus on your attitude towards your problems. Advice tends to refer to how you see them and the way in which you change them, rather than giving very specific advice about how to handle yourself in exact circumstances. Even those which focus on single aspects of life have to be generalised to a broad audience in order to be worth selling to the public instead of one on one therapy or coaching sessions.
The best way to know if a self-help book is going to be helpful is to have an understanding of the writer claiming to be able to fix your life.
Check out their other writing, see if you like anything else they offer, decide if you think their work is relatable. If they have qualifications in sociology or psychology, or can back up their theories about life with case studies or some other kind of evidence or solid reasoning why they work, that serves as good proof of reliability. If a book is written by an expert, it’s more likely to have a solid foundation from which to offer help.
Even once you’ve found your perfect self-help book, there’s still no guarantee it’ll do you any good.
As with any good advice, you have to actually use it. There’s no point spending money on a book and taking the time to read it if you’re just going to carry on your life without changing anything. You have to properly apply any valuable advice to the problem you wanted to fix in the first place.
Ultimately, it’s down to you to find and choose the advice that’s going to work best for you and to apply it accordingly.
Author Bio – Kirstie Summers is journalist whose day job takes her to all the most interesting places and events in South London. She also freelances for a number of sites and publications, from gaming and literature reviews to creative fiction. She lives in London and spends as much of her free time as possible making the most of being in such a diverse city. She keeps one day a week to herself to swim, relax and keep the stress of the world at bay.