Self-help is an ancient tradition that is still going strong. Long before there were 250 varieties of chicken soup for the soul, advice-seekers were looking for answers in the Tao Te Ching or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.
Today, self-help is an $11 billion industry, with Amazon listing almost half a million choices in this popular category. According to some estimates, up to one-half of American adults have bought at least one title on weight loss, relationships, or other common concerns.
How do you find what you need in a selection so vast? Consider these tips for shopping for self-help books and translating what you read into concrete action.
What to Look For
- Check the science. Remember that you’re investing your hopes as well as the cover price of the book. Does it make realistic claims? Do the reviews suggest that it’s psychologically sound? Look closely at the author’s credentials and experience.
- Follow your faith. You may have an instant affinity with writers who share your religious beliefs. What are other members of your congregation reading?
- Know the target audience. Publishers often market to specific demographics. For example, the biggest buyers of self-help books are upper-income women on the east and west coasts. Ensure that the message seems pertinent to you.
- Feel engaged. Enjoy some laughter and entertainment while you’re enriching yourself. You’ll probably pay more attention to the text if you like the writing.
- Browse multiple categories. All kinds of books are taking a self-help angle. You may find the information you’re looking for in memoirs and fiction, as well as psychology and business.
- Stay up to date. Recent research may cast doubts on certain conclusions in books that used to be bestsellers. For example, many doctors and nutritionists now say that it’s okay to eat eggs regularly even if you’re watching your cholesterol.
How to Apply What You Read
- Consider counseling. While you can find valuable information in books, some situations may call for extra assistance. Talking with a therapist allows you to receive individual feedback and access medical care if necessary.
- Think critically. However popular a book is, you still need to evaluate whether it works for you. Beware of extravagant claims like, “Become a millionaire in thirty days!”
- Take small steps. Big changes often start with simple tasks. Look for tips that you can implement right away to build momentum and confidence.
- Go back for more. Some critics joke that self-help books don’t work because at least 80% of consumers buy more than one. Would you give up on a restaurant just because you wanted to eat again the next day? Becoming happier and stronger is a life-long process.
- Be flexible. You’re one of a kind. Check that a book encourages you to adapt the program to your own style. You might like to read a work cover to cover or you might browse chapters for takeaways you can try out immediately.
- Prepare for lapses. Sick children and leaky roofs can interfere with your plans. Does the author suggest what to do if you’re looking to get back on track after a few delays?
- Track your progress. How will you know if your reading is paying off? Some books have forms for setting and evaluating your goals, or you can design your own. Measuring your success creates great motivation.
Self-help books can teach you how to talk with your teenager, manage your diabetes, or enjoy more peace of mind. Shop wisely and put your new knowledge to work in your daily life.