Do you understand what are Self-Help books and how can they “help” us?

What are Self-Help books?
What are Self-Help books?

If you visit book stores around town, then you must see Self-Help books occupying certain book shelves inside. By observation on its volume you can understand the popularity of this genre of books in the modern world. However, do you know what are Self-help books? And how can they “help” us actually?

Let’s look at these questions together now.

* The links for purchasing books are paid links via Amazon which we may receive commissions from qualifying purchases.

What are Self-Help books?

I did some web research to assist in our understanding, the following are some useful definitions of Self-Help books:

  1. Per Wikipedia: “A self-help book is one that is written with the intention to instruct its readers on solving personal problems.”
  2. Per Book Genre: “…Books in the self-help nonfiction genre are based on one’s own effort and resources to achieve things and goals without relying on the help of others. The books in this genre can be about self-guided improvement in one’s economic standing, their intellectual state of being, and in their emotionally and self-worth state of being…”

Let’s now take these two words apart and study them separately.

Self would mean on your own and not involving someone else, which is quite easy to understand.

Help by its own would mean assistance. Per Cambridge dictionary it means “the act of making it possible or easier for someone to do something”. In essence, it means facilitating and making something easier to achieve.

The two words “Self-Help” combined, would mean a process to facilitate yourself to achieve something or make certain situation easier for yourself by your own self, without involving anybody else.

It follows that “Self-Help books” are books with content relating to improving or helping one to achieve something on your own. Usually these books would teach you certain Practical knowledge in life or cover inner thought aspects including habits, mindset and psychology.

Understandably, we commonly place Self-Help books under the broad non-fiction category.

In short, Self-Help books are practical books which you can read by yourself, to make improvements to yourself or help facilitate certain situations.

How can Self-Help books help us?

Now knowing what are Self-Help books and how they are defined, it’s time for us to find out how can these books actually “help” us. I have identified 3 major ways in which Self-Help books can help us as follows:

1. Self-Help books teach us how to apply our knowledge practically

students applying their knowledge practically

Typically, after university graduation we would get ourselves a job to begin with our careers.

It’s also the time for us to unbundle all we have learnt and apply knowledge to the real world practically. But only a handful of us knew how.

Traditional education asks us to learn from the books, then tests our understanding by answering specific questions through examinations. There are certain pre-set questions to test our understanding on different topics, and a teacher to assess our answers as “right” or “wrong”.

In reality, there are no “pre-set” questions on the practical tasks we face. We would need to test our knowledge by asking our own questions, and demonstrate our understanding through writing, presentation and communication. There are also no black and white, right or wrong answers to the approach we adopt.

Since these are two totally different modes of operation, most people would struggle to bring out knowledge in our mind into the real world.

In these situations, Self-Help books can help by teaching us how to make these knowledge applications.

Well-written Self-Help books are usually designed with step-to-step guides, and they will break down complicated thoughts into easy rule that you can follow. These rules act as the guidelines for you to apply knowledge.

For example, in “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi, it breaks down how to apply financial knowledge step by step to accumulate wealth and become resourceful. Many of us who studied finance at university may be good at creating Power Point slides, but very little of us knew how to systematically put our financial knowledge into practice.

Self-Help books can become the bridge to aid us on how to apply knowledge into reality.

2. Self-Help books equip us with new knowledge we desire

Acquiring new knowledge we desire
Photo by Kaushal Moradiya on

Further to point 1 above, most people may believe that we completed our learning process after we graduated from university. We have completed all our curriculums from kindergarten to college, chose a topic to specialise at university and become knowledgeable.

No more exams after graduation means there is no more need for further learning. Is this true?

This statement may hold true only when your role is still a student at school.

However, reality is that it’s just the beginning of our life as an adult right after graduation.

In this modern-day world, there are technological breakthroughs every day, and the volume flow of information is phenomenal due to the Internet. Our knowledge learnt from school becomes outdated in no time and it becomes critical for us to keep acquiring new knowledge for ourselves in order to remain competitive in society.

At these instances, Self-Help books can aid us to learn knowledge we intend to acquire.

If you have time, do take a tour at a bookstore nearby and you will discover Self-Help books cover vast range of educational topics: from money finances to fitness to psychology, etc. You should easily be able to find and learn the particular knowledge or skills you would like to understand more about.

Instead of reading or watching the news, reading Self-Help books should be more beneficial for your self-development if you are intentional in your purpose of learning (Read more here on 5 strong reasons why you should stop reading the news).

After you find out what you intend to learn, you can start to build a solid knowledge base around such topic by reading. And Self-Help books can offer you with such solution.

3. Self-Help books improve our mindset

Improvement in mindset
Photo by Luca Nardone on

Beside practical knowledge, many Self-Help books cover inner thought aspects including relationships, habit building, mindset enhancement, etc.

Most Self-Help books are written with good intentions and aim to help, facilitate or inspire you.

Some aim to help us grow our brain for knowledge absorption and progress, such as Limitless” by Jim Kwik. Whereas some teach you how to form better habits and examples may include Atomic Habits” by James Clear and The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elord.

These books all help strengthen our mentality and positively impact our attitude towards life if we take time to read, understand and digest them.

For instance, the Self-Help book, The Power of One More” by Ed Mylett (read my review here) deeply influenced me. It taught me how to treat life with intentions, which drove me to face my neurologic sickness positively every day.

All in all, picking to read a good Self-Help book intentionally will benefit you greatly. A good book makes you understand yourself more and you can easily make progress in your behaviors starting from there.

I will cover how to pick a good Self-Help book in another article in future.

Further reading… My little story with Self-Help books

Back in the days, I was doing a summer internship and saw one co-worker reading the book How to Win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.

It was the first time I noticed someone actively reading a Self-Help book.

At that time, I was unconvinced that books can actually teach you anything practical.

Soon I found myself wrong when my brother introduced me to the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. I resisted reading it at first as it occurred to me odd that I should read to improve myself. After reading it, I found that I can easily relate the knowledge taught in the book to matters in real life.

What I found most astonishing, is that through reading I can organise my thoughts more systematically inside my mind. This finding is profound to me.

With more time staying at home due to the pandemic, I once again picked up reading as my habit. And later I created this site (more about it here).

I fell in love in reading again, and especially on Self-Help books. This section Understand Self-Help is a record of all the understandings I have on Self-Help, and especially written to hopefully benefit all of you too.

Thanks for reading all the way up to here. Now that you know what are Self-Help books and how they can help you, would you be open-minded about giving reading Self-Help books a try? Do check out the list below before you go.

Happy Reading!

This post is part of a series under the category “Understand Self-Help” at Calm Reading.

A summary list of all the books mentioned in this post

* The links for purchasing books are paid links via Amazon which we may receive commissions from qualifying purchases.


  1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Paid link)
  2. Atomic Habits by James Clear (Paid link)
  3. How to win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie (Paid link)
  4. I Will Teach You To be Rich by Ramit Sethi (Paid link)
  5. Limitless by Jim Kwik (Paid link)
  6. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elord (Paid link)
  7. The Power of One More by Ed Mylett (Paid link)

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9 thoughts on “What Are Self-Help Books and 3 Major Ways They Can Help Us

  1. Self-help corner in typical bookstores usually focus on emotions, attitudes, interpersonal skills. The way you defined as self-help would cover more than that corner and spread over various sessions.

    1. Thank you Marco for your comment! I also noted how bookstores categorize Self-Help books but think they do so more on commercial considerations. I believe Self-Help books should not be confined to cover only inner thought topics and, as you suggested, should spread over various sessions in the book universe.

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