What to Look for When Buying a Self-Help Book

Self-help books could offer good advice, if you know what you’re looking for.

The intent of self-help books is to give you advice and instruction on how to improve some aspect of your life. Whether you’re looking to make more money, change your career or have more substantial relationships — or any topic in between — there’s almost certainly a book out there with advice.

Some of them might actually give advice worth reading, but others might not be so helpful.

Self-help books are not new. In fact, some people think self-help advice began when humans developed beyond basic survival and procreation expectations so we could structure our lives to be lived in the best way possible. There are a variety of different self-help segments, from stress management to personal coaching to motivational speakers. In the U.S., the self-help industry is valued at $11 billion.

The amount of self-help products is staggering, and more authors bring their opinions and works to the industry every year. Knowing which ones are helpful and which ones are not can be a confusing task — and not all are worth your time. Below are a few things to look for when buying self-help books.

1. Will the Book Motivate You?

The only way a self-help book is going to be effective is if you want it to be. It can contain the best advice and be written beautifully, but if the information doesn’t apply to you, then it’s worthless. Take the time to decide if what the book is about applies to your life and circumstances and whether you’re willing to apply the advice it offers to your life.

2. What Are the Author’s Credentials?

Anyone can write a self-help book. There are no gatekeepers who tell those without experience that their work won’t fit in the genre or that they’re peddling bad information. However, just because the author doesn’t have acronyms after their name or years of experience in the field they’re writing about, that doesn’t mean their advice is unworthy. On the other hand, it should make you question whether it lives up to your standards and ideals.

Most self-help books have some science to back them up — and they need to if they are going to give you helpful information that has been proven to work. Yet, even individuals without a scientific degree who have lots of life experience can have valid and applicable advice. More than likely, though, those who don’t have the education or experience to back up their claims should be scrutinized as to whether or not they are giving good advice or just trying to cash in on the self-help industry.

In the end, it boils down to what you want to accomplish and who you’re going to trust to set you on the right path. Knowing what the author’s credentials are gives you the ability to decide if they’re worth reading or not.

3. Can the Book Function as a Therapist?

A 2010 study found some self-help books can recreate the relationship that can form between a therapist and a patient. Things to look for in this type of book are as follows:

  • Is the book relatively easy to use?
  • Does the author appear to understand your problems?
  • Does the book give you a reason to follow through with its advice?

In addition, it’s important the author sets up a relationship with you so you feel confident their advice is helpful, they are responsive to your feelings and you get feedback on your thoughts and actions. These are difficult tasks, considering a book can’t actually interact with you. However, if the author can create that authentic relationship, the book might be worth reading.

4. Is the Writing of Good Quality?

If you’ve decided to read a book from a professional, you’ll want to ensure the writing isn’t too academic or confusing. A good self-help book can take institutional and/or technical jargon and present it in a way that is easy for almost anyone to understand. At the same time, you don’t want a book that is too easy to understand or gives you advice about things you already knew to be true.

The self-improvement industry is booming, which means there are a lot of helpful books — but there’s also a lot of fluff. You have to decide what is going to help you and what you’re willing to invest in and follow through with to improve your life.

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