Self-help

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Self-help or self-improvement is a self-guided improvement [1] —economically, intellectually, or emotionally—often with a substantial psychological basis.

Contents

When engaged in self-improvement, people often utilize publicly available information or support groups, on the Internet as well as in person, where people in similar situations join together. [1] From early examples in self-driven legal practice [2] and home-spun advice, the connotations of the word have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychology and psychotherapy, commonly distributed through the popular genre of self-help books. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, potential benefits of self-help groups that professionals may not be able to provide include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging. [1]

Many different self-help group programs exist, each with its own focus, techniques, associated beliefs, proponents and in some cases, leaders. Concepts and terms originating in self-help culture and Twelve-Step culture, such as recovery, dysfunctional families, and codependency have become firmly integrated in mainstream language. [3] Groups associated with health conditions may consist of patients and caregivers. As well as featuring long-time members sharing experiences, these health groups can become support groups and clearing-houses for educational material. Those who help themselves by learning and identifying about health problems can be said to exemplify self-help, while self-help groups can be seen more as peer-to-peer support.

History

Within classical antiquity, Hesiod's Works and Days "opens with moral remonstrances, hammered home in every way that Hesiod can think of." [4] The Stoics offered ethical advice "on the notion of eudaimonia—of well-being, welfare, flourishing." [5] The genre of mirror-of-princes writings, which has a long history in Greco-Roman and Western Renaissance literature, represents a secular cognate of Biblical wisdom-literature. Proverbs from many periods, collected and uncollected, embody traditional moral and practical advice of diverse cultures.

The hyphenated compound word "self-help" often appeared in the 1800s in a 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. [6]

For some, George Combe's "Constitution" [1828], in the way that it advocated personal responsibility and the possibility of naturally sanctioned self-improvement through education or proper self-control, largely inaugurated the self-help movement;" [7] [ verification needed ] In 1841, an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, entitled Compensation, was published suggesting "every man in his lifetime needs to thank his faults" and "acquire habits of self-help" as "our strength grows out of our weakness." [8] 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 had also appeared previously in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac (1733–1758).

Early 20th century

In 1902, James Allen published As a Man Thinketh , which proceeds from the conviction that "a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts." Noble thoughts, the book maintains, make for a noble person, whilst lowly thoughts make for a miserable person. Several decades later, Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich (1937) described the use of repeated positive thoughts to attract happiness and wealth by tapping into an "Infinite Intelligence". [9]

Around the same time, in 1936, Dale Carnegie further developed the genre with How to Win Friends and Influence People . [10] Having failed in several careers, Carnegie became fascinated with success and its link to self-confidence, and his books have since sold over 50 million copies. [11]

Late 20th century

In the final third of the 20th century, "the tremendous growth in self-help publishing...in self-improvement culture" [12] really took off—something which must be linked to postmodernism itself—to the way "postmodern subjectivity constructs self-reflexive subjects-in-process." [13] Arguably at least, "in the literature of self-improvement...that crisis of subject hood is not articulated but enacted—demonstrated in ever-expanding self-help book sales." [14]

The conservative turn of the neoliberal decades also meant a decline in traditional political activism, and increasing "social isolation; Twelve-Step recovery groups were one context in which individuals sought a sense of community...yet another symptom of the psychological of the personal" [15] to more radical critics. Indeed, "some social theorist[ sic ] have argued that the late-20th century preoccupation with the self serves as a tool of social control: soothing political unrest...[for] one's own pursuit of self-invention."' [16]

The market

Within the context of the market, group and corporate attempts to aid the "seeker" have moved into the "self-help" marketplace, with Large Group Awareness Trainings, LGATs [17] and psychotherapy systems represented. These offer more-or-less prepackaged solutions to instruct people seeking their own individual betterment,[ citation needed ] just as "the literature of self-improvement directs the reader to familiar frameworks...what the French fin de siècle social theorist Gabriel Tarde called 'the grooves of borrowed thought'." [18]

A subgenre of self-help book series also exists: such as the for Dummies guides [19] and The Complete Idiot's Guide to... —compare how-to books.

Statistics

At the start of the 21st century, "the self-improvement industry, inclusive of books, seminars, audio and video products, and personal coaching, [was] said to constitute a 2.48-billion dollars-a-year industry" [20] in the United States alone. By 2006, research firm Marketdata estimated the "self-improvement" market in the U.S. as worth more than $9 billion—including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivation-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. [21] In 2012 Laura Vanderkam wrote of a turnover of 12 billion dollars. [22] In 2013 Kathryn Schulz examined "an $11 billion industry". [23]

Self-help and professional service delivery

Self-help and mutual-help are very different from—though they may complement—service delivery by professionals: [24] note, for example, the interface between local self-help and International Aid's service delivery model.

Conflicts can and do arise on that interface, however, with some professionals considering that "the twelve-step approach encourages a kind of contemporary version of 19th-century amateurism or enthusiasm in which self-examination and very general social observations are enough to draw rather large conclusions." [25]

Research

The rise of self-help culture has inevitably led to boundary disputes with other approaches and disciplines. Some would object to their classification as "self-help" literature, as with "Deborah Tannen's denial of the self-help role of her books" so as to maintain her academic credibility, aware of the danger that "writing a book that becomes a popular success...all but ensures that one's work will lose its long-term legitimacy." [26]

Placebo effects can never be wholly discounted. Thus careful studies of "the power of subliminal self-help tapes...showed that their content had no real effect...But that's not what the participants thought." [27] "If they thought they'd listened to a self-esteem tape (even though half the labels were wrong), they felt that their self-esteem had gone up. No wonder people keep buying subliminal tape: even though the tapes don't work, people think they do." [28] One might then see much of the self-help industry as part of the "skin trades. People need haircuts, massage, dentistry, wigs and glasses, sociology and surgery, as well as love and advice." [29] —a skin trade, "not a profession and a science" [30] Its practitioners would thus be functioning as "part of the personal service industry rather than as mental health professionals." [31] While "there is no proof that twelve-step programs 'are superior to any other intervention in reducing alcohol dependence or alcohol-related problems'," [32] at the same time it is clear that "there is something about 'roguishness' itself which is curative." [33] Thus for example "smoking increases mortality risk by a factor of just 1.6, while social isolation does so by a factor of 2.0...suggest[ING] an added value to self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous as surrogate communities." [34]

Some psychologists advocate a positive psychology, and explicitly embrace an empirical self-help philosophy; "the role of positive psychology is to become a bridge between the ivory tower and the main street—between the rigor of academe and the fun of the self-help movement." [35] They aim to refine the self-improvement field by way of an intentional increase in scientifically sound research and well-engineered models. The division of focus and methodologies has produced several sub fields, in particular: general positive psychology, focusing primarily on the study of psychological phenomenon and effects; and personal effectiveness, focusing primarily on analysis, design and implementation of qualitative personal growth. This includes the intentional training of new patterns of thought and feeling. As business strategy communicator Don Tapscott puts it, "The design industry is something done to us. I'm proposing we each become designers. But I suppose 'I love the way she thinks' could take on new meaning." [36]

Both self-talk, the propensity to engage in verbal or mental self-directed conversation and thought, and social support can be used as instruments of self-improvement, often by empowering, action-promoting messages. Psychologists have designed a series of experiments that are intended to shed light into how self-talk can result in self-improvement. In general, research has shown that people prefer to use second-person pronouns over first-person pronouns when engaging in self-talk to achieve goals, regulate one’s own behavior, thoughts, or emotions, and facilitate performance. [37] If self-talk has the expected effect, then writing about personal problems using language from their friends’ perspective should result in greater amount of motivational and emotional benefits comparing to using language from their own perspective. When you need to finish a difficult task and you are not willing to do something to finish this task, trying to write a few sentence or goals imaging what your friends have told you gives you more motivational resources comparing to you write to yourself. Research done by Ireland and others have revealed that, as expected, when people are writing using many physical and mental words or even typing a standard prompt with these kinds of words, adopting a friend’s perspective while freely writing about a personal challenge can help increase people’s intention to improve self-control by promoting the positivity of emotions such as pride and satisfaction, which can motivate people to reach their goal. [38]

The use of self-talk goes beyond the scope of self-improvement for performing certain activities, self-talk as a linguistic form of self-help also plays a very important role in regulating people’s emotions under social stress. First of all, people using non-first-person language tend to exhibit higher level of visual self-distancing during the process of introspection, indicating that using non-first-person pronouns and one’s own name may result in enhanced self-distancing. [39] [40] More importantly, this specific form of self-help also has been found can enhance people’s ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, which would lead them to appraise social-anxiety-provoking events in more challenging and less threatening terms. Additionally, these self-help behaviors also demonstrate noticeable self-regulatory effects through the process of social interactions, regardless of their dispositional vulnerability to social anxiety. [40]

Criticism

Scholars have targeted self-help claims as misleading and incorrect. In 2005 Steve Salerno portrayed the American 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] "Salerno says that 80 percent of self-help and motivational customers are repeat customers and they keep coming back 'whether the program worked for them or not'." [41] Others similarly point out that with self-help books "supply increases the demand... The more people read them, the more they think they need them... more like an addiction than an alliance." [42]

Self-help writers have been described as working "in the area of the ideological, the imagined, the narrativized.... although a veneer of scientism permeates the[ir] work, there is also an underlying armature of moralizing." [43]

Christopher Buckley in his book God Is My Broker asserts: "The only way to get rich from a self-help book is to write one". [44]

In 1987 Gerald M. Rosen reported that people do not gain as much from reading self-help material as people would from the same material received in therapy. In general, he was critical of proliferation of self-help books. [45]

In the media

Kathryn Schulz suggests that "the underlying theory of the self-help industry is contradicted by the self-help industry’s existence". [46]

Parodies and fictional analogies

The self-help world has become the target of parodies. Walker Percy's odd genre-busting Lost in the Cosmos [47] has been described as "a parody of self-help books, a philosophy textbook, and a collection of short stories, quizzes, diagrams, thought experiments, mathematical formulas, made-up dialogue". [48] In their 2006 book Secrets of The Super optimist, authors W.R. Morton and Nathaniel Whiten revealed the concept of "super optimism" as a humorous antidote to the overblown self-help book category. In his comedy special Complaints and Grievances (2001), George Carlin observes that there is "no such thing" as self-help: anyone looking for help from someone else does not technically get "self" help; and one who accomplishes something without help, did not need help to begin with. [49] In Margaret Atwood's semi-satiric dystopia Oryx and Crake , university literary studies have declined to the point that the protagonist, Snowman, is instructed to write his thesis on self-help books as literature; more revealing of the authors and of the society that produced them than genuinely helpful.

See also

Related Research Articles

Sherry Turkle American social scientist and psychologist

Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She obtained a BA in Social Studies and later a Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology at Harvard University. She now focuses her research on psychoanalysis and human-technology interaction. She has written several books focusing on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects.

Power (social and political) ability to influence the behavior of people with or without resistance

In social science and politics, power is the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct (behaviour) of others. The term "authority" is often used for power that is perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust. This type of power is historically endemic to humans. However, power can also be seen as good and as something inherited or given for exercising humanistic objectives that will help, move, and empower others as well. In general, it is derived by the factors of interdependence between two entities and the environment. In business, the ethical instrumentality of power is achievement, and as such it is a zero-sum game. In simple terms it can be expressed as being "upward" or "downward". With downward power, a company's superior influences subordinates for attaining organizational goals. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of their leader or leaders.

Positive psychology is the study of the "good life", or the positive aspects of the human experience that make life worth living. As an art, it focuses on both individual and societal well-being.

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that rose to prominence in the mid-20th century in answer to the limitations of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner's behaviorism. With its roots running from Socrates through the Renaissance, this approach emphasizes the individual's inherent drive toward self-actualization, the process of realizing and expressing one's own capabilities and creativity.

The psychology of self is the study of either the cognitive, conative or affective representation of one's identity, or the subject of experience. The earliest formulation of the self in modern psychology derived from the distinction between the self as I, the subjective knower, and the self as Me, the object that is known.

Norman Vincent Peale American writer

Norman Vincent Peale was an American minister and author known for his work in popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking. He served as the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, from 1932 until 1984, leading a Reformed Church in America congregation. Peale was a personal friend of President Richard Nixon. Donald Trump attended Peale's church while growing up, as well as marrying his first wife Ivana there. Peale's ideas and techniques were controversial, and he received frequent criticism both from church figures and from the psychiatric profession.

Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client-centred therapy. Its founder, Carl Rogers, writes:

The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behaviour—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.

Self-knowledge is a term used in psychology to describe the information that an individual draws upon when finding an answer to the question "What am I like?".

Positive mental attitude (PMA) is a concept first introduced in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich. The book never actually uses the term, but discusses about the importance of positive thinking as a contributing factor of success. Napoleon, along with W. Clement Stone, founder of Combined Insurance, later wrote Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, defines positive mental attitude as comprising the 'plus' characteristics represented by words as faith, integrity, hope, optimism, courage, initiative, generosity, tolerance, tact, kindliness and good common sense.

Self-disclosure is a process of communication by which one person reveals information about themself to another. The information can be descriptive or evaluative, and can include thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, failures, successes, fears, and dreams, as well as one's likes, dislikes, and favorites.

Personal branding is the practice of marketing people and their careers as brands. It is an ongoing process of developing and maintaining a reputation and impression of an individual, group, or organization.. Whereas some self-help practices focus on self-improvement, personal branding defines success as a form of self-packaging. The term is thought to have originated from an article written by Tom Peters in 1997. In Be Your Own Brand, first published in 1999, marketers David McNally and Karl Speak wrote: "Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you."

An internal monologue, also called self-talk, inner speech, inner discourse or internal discourse, is a person's inner voice which provides a running verbal monologue of thoughts while they are conscious. It is usually tied to a person's sense of self. It is particularly important in planning, problem solving, self-reflection, self-image, critical thinking, emotions, and subvocalization. As a result, it is relevant to a number of mental disorders, such as depression, and treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy which seek to alleviate symptoms by providing strategies to regulate cognitive behaviour. It may reflect both conscious and subconscious beliefs.

Optimism bias is a cognitive bias that causes someone to believe that they themselves are less likely to experience a negative event. It is also known as unrealistic optimism or comparative optimism.

Personal development covers activities that improve awareness and identity, develop talents and potential, build human capital and facilitate employability, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the realization of dreams and aspirations. Personal development takes place over the course of a person's entire life. Not limited to self-help, the concept involves formal and informal activities for developing others in roles such as teacher, guide, counselor, manager, life coach or mentor. When personal development takes place in the context of institutions, it refers to the methods, programs, tools, techniques, and assessment systems that support human development at the individual level in organizations.

A self-help book is one that is written with the intention to instruct its readers on solving personal problems. The books take their name from Self-Help, an 1859 best-seller by Samuel Smiles, but are also known and classified under "self-improvement", a term that is a modernized version of self-help. Self-help books moved from a niche position to being a postmodern cultural phenomenon in the late twentieth century.

<i>Im Dysfunctional, Youre Dysfunctional</i> book by Wendy Kaminer

I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions is a non-fiction book about the self-help industry, written by Wendy Kaminer. The book was first published in a hardcover format in 1992 by Addison-Wesley, and again in a paperback format in 1993, by Vintage Books.

<i>The Power of Positive Thinking</i> book by Norman Vincent Peale

The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living is a 1952 self-help book by Norman Vincent Peale. It provides anecdotal "case histories" of positive thinking, and practical instructions which were designed to help the reader achieve a permanent and optimistic attitude. These techniques usually involved affirmations and visualizations. Peale claimed that such techniques would give the reader a higher satisfaction and quality of life. The Power of Positive Thinking was negatively reviewed by scholars and health experts, but was popular and has sold well.

Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred; something that is contrary to what actually happened. Counterfactual thinking is, as it states: "counter to the facts". These thoughts consist of the "What if?" and the "If I had only..." that occur when thinking of how things could have turned out differently. Counterfactual thoughts include things that – in the present – now could never happen in reality because they solely pertain to events that have occurred in the past.

<i>The Happiness Hypothesis</i> book by Jonathan Haidt

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is a 2006 psychology book by Jonathan Haidt written for a general audience. In it, Haidt poses several "Great Ideas" on happiness espoused by thinkers of the past – Plato, Buddha, Jesus and others – and examines them in the light of contemporary psychological research, extracting from them any lessons that still apply to our modern lives. Central to the book are the concepts of virtue, happiness, fulfillment, and meaning.

Creative visualization is a term used by New Age, popular psychology, and self-help authors and teachers in two contexts.

References

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  48. Walker Percy's Weirdest Book
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