Self Development

Sorting fact from myth



Self development refers to self-guided improvement[1]—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—most frequently with a substantial psychological basis.

Self development refers to self-guided improvement[1]—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—most frequently with a substantial psychological basis.

The basis for self-help is often self-reliance, publicly available information, or support groups where people in similar situations join together.[1] From early exemplars in self-driven legal practice[2] and home-spun advice, the connotations of the phrase have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychological or psychotherapeutic methods purveyed through the popular genre of self-help books and through self-help personal-development movements.

To develop one’s self and abilities is something that is often encouraged by many individuals and institutions such as at university, at work, and by society as a whole.   However, self development sources can range from obvious and well researched, to the dubious and unlikely.  Self development is within the research scope of many reputable scientists and researchers.  It is also a financial concern for a growing industry, and therefore, will attract any self-proclaimed expert who wants to teach a self development recommendation for profit.  The recommendation of evidence based researchers is to tend towards the methods of self development that have had a good conceptual basis in theory, and sound results from controlled studies. 


The authors of First Things First invoke wisdom literature dating back as far as 2500 B.C. as a validation of their particular enumeration of fundamental human needs[3]. Within Classical Antiquity, the advice poetry of Hesiod, particularly his Works and Days, has been seen as an early adaptation of Near Eastern wisdom literature. The Stoics offered advice with a psychological flavor. The genre of mirror-of-princes writings, which has a long history in Islamic and Western Renaissance literature, represents a secular cognate of Biblical wisdom literature. Proverbs from many periods embody traditional moral and practical advice of diverse cultures.

“Self-help” appears to have been first used in the legal context,
referring to the doctrine that a party in a dispute has the right to
use lawful means on their own initiative to remedy a wrong.

Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) published the first self-consciously personal-development “self-help” book — entitled Self-Help — in 1859. Its opening sentence: “Heaven helps those who help themselves“, provides a variation of “God helps them that help themselves“, the oft-quoted maxim that also appeared previously in Benjamin Franklin‘s Poor Richard’s Almanac (1733 – 1758). Alcoholics Anonymous was started by two alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith who first met on May 12, 1935. The twelve-step program grew from this to become perhaps the world’s most popular basis of self-help care.[citation needed]

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) is often considered to have began the self-help movement in the 20th century when he published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. Having failed in several careers, Carnegie became fascinated with success and its link to self-confidence, and studied the subject for years. Carnegie’s books have since sold over 50 million copies.[4] Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich
(1937) described the use of repeated positive thoughts to attract
happiness and wealth by taping into an “Infinite Intelligence”.[5]

The self-help marketplace

Research firm Marketdata estimated the “self-improvement” market as worth $8.5 billion in 2003 — including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivational speaker seminars, the personal coaching market, weight-loss and stress-management programs. Marketdata projected that the total market size would grow to over $11 billion by 2008.[citation needed]

Within the context of this larger market, group and corporate
attempts to aid the “seeker” have moved into the “self-help”
marketplace, with LGATs and psychotherapy systems ready with more or less pre-packaged solutions to instruct people seeking their own individual betterment.[citation needed]

There is also a market of computer self-help books such as the Dummies Guides and the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to….

Sociological theories of self-help

An expansion of the technologies that empower individuals to conduct both trivial and profound activities binds together the diverse genres which apply self-help concepts[citation needed].
Self-help book-publishing arose from decentralization of ideology, from
a growth of publishing industries using expanded printing technologies
and (at the pinnacle of growth) from the spread of new psychological
sciences[citation needed].
Likewise, self-help legal services grew around expanded access to
document-production technology (viz: the printing industry in the 18th
century).[citation needed] The Internet,
with the ever-expanding selection of commercial and information
services which it offers for free, exemplifies movement toward
self-help on a grand scale.[citation needed]


Some critics have suggested that many self-help books and programs offer conveniently
“easy answers” to intrinsically difficult personal problems. Commentators have criticized self-help books for containing pseudo-scientific assertions that tend to mislead the consumer, and many different authors have criticized self-help authors and claims. Christopher Buckley‘s book God is My Broker (1998) asserts: “The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one.”[6] In her 1993 book I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, Wendy Kaminer
criticizes the self-help movement for encouraging people to focus on
individual self-improvement (rather than joining collective social movements) to solve their problems.

The phenomenon has been the target of parodies. Walker Percy‘s Lost in the Cosmos[7] is a book-length parody. In their 2006 book Secrets of The Superoptimist,
authors W.R. Morton & Nathanel Whitten revealed the concept of
“superoptimism” as a humorous antidote to the overblown self-help book
category. In his comedy special Complaints and Grievances, George Carlin
observes that there is “no such thing” as self-help: if one is looking
for help from someone else, it is not technically “self” help; and if
one accomplishes something by themselves, they didn’t need help to
begin with.[8]

Scholars also have targeted self-help claims as misleading and incorrect. In 2005 Steve Salerno portrays the self-help movement (he uses the acronym SHAM: the Self-Help and Actualization Movement) not only as ineffective in achieving its goals, but also as socially harmful.[2] Sociologist Micki McGee argues in her 2005 book Self-Help, Inc.
that the burgeoning self-improvement industry masks Americans’ economic
anxieties during a period of economic decline. She sees Americans as
“belabored” — at work on themselves, inventing and re-inventing
themselves so as to remain employed and employable.

There are a number of self-help groups and programs often offered by
evidence based scientists, and commercial and non-profit organizations based on psychological
principles overseen by mental health professionals. Group psychotherapy
has shown for certain specific situations to be as effective as individual
psychotherapy.[9] Psychologists generally recommend empirically validated therapies, for example, cognitive behavioural therapy
which has strong clinical evidence for treatment of various mental
health disorders such as anxiety, depression and stress-related