13 Things Every Self Help Book Will Tell You (Key Principles)

Table of Contents

Self-help books have been around for hundreds of years and will be around for many more.

I love reading and listening to them.

Over the years I have read close to 100 of them and listened to even more.

Right now I have ten checked out to my library account which you can see from the screenshots below.


I started reading self-help books as a teen because I wanted to learn the secret sauce for building wealth.

What I found was that money isn’t everything in life (remember I was a teen). And so I got hooked on self-help books.

Self-help books (or self-improvement as some call them) come in all shapes and sizes.

All self-improvement books are written to help you solve a problem.Click To Tweet

Some are written to help you build wealth, while others are meant to help you find your soul mate.

Many are gender-specific, while others are written to avoid gender barriers.

What I have found is that no matter what the main purpose of the book is. All self-help books have some commonalities.

I will reveal most of these commonalities to you further down this page.

However, I do not want you to think that they are all the same. I continue to read them because regardless of similarities they still have their differences.

And sometimes its the way things are said that grabs our attention and not so much what is said.

So without further ado… Below are the 13 commonalities of all self-help books:

#1. Love Yourself

Love Yourself Improvement

This is the backbone of most self-help books. The self improvement industry probably wouldn’t exist without this principle.

You must start by loving yourself in order to achieve what you want out of life.

Self-love builds your confidence and self-esteem which makes it easier for you to navigate through all the negativity that surrounds us nowadays.

Loving yourself also helps you in your relationships as you can’t expect to be loved if you don’t love yourself.

In contrast lack of self-love increates your chances of depression, hopelessness, low-self esteem, and even suicide.

That is why most self-help books profess that you must love yourself in order to find true happiness.

#2. Your Thoughts Matters

Your thoughts can either bring failure or success into your life.

The more you sit there thinking about how nobody likes you, how you have no money, or how you can never start your own business, the more those problems will compound themselves.

I wrote an article called “What Follows Your “I Am” Could Be Destroying Your Life” which touches on this subject.

Self-improvement books take this topic very seriously.

Most try to guide you step-by-step on how to reframe your negative thoughts into positive ones.

The moment you start thinking positively is the moment your struggles start diminishing.

Prosperity and happiness cannot be achieved without training your mind to think positively.

#3. Find Your Why

Finding your why is all about knowing what drives you.

It’s difficult to reach our goals without knowing why we want them in the first place.

Think about that for a sec… if you set a goal to lose 20 pounds without a reason do you think your motivation levels would be high?

Probably not… However, if you said “I want to lose 20 pounds because I am having trouble keeping up with my kinds” I guarantee your motivation levels will be through the roof.

Finding your why is the most powerful driving force that you can ever have in life.Click To Tweet

Self-help gurus know the power of this principle which is why their books push you to find your why.

#4. Take Responsibility

You are 100% responsible for where you are in life today.

If you are struggling you might lean towards blaming god, your kids, friends, your partner, or your upbringing which is understandable.

However, blaming everything around you and not taking full responsibility for your current situation does nothing to get you moving in the right direction.

If you aren’t ready to accept responsibility for your current situation, then you might as well skip picking up a self-help book because all of them will tell you that you are responsible for your current situation.

This is one of the hardest lessons that you can learn from a well-written self-help book.

How can you blame yourself for being fired, being cheated on, or some random person crashing into you?

Well… it’s not about taking the blame. It’s about taking responsibility for your situation and understanding that only you can dig yourself out of it.

#5. Write Down Your Goals

Writing Down Your Goals

I used to think this principle was nothing but a bunch of baloney.

However, after putting it to practice I was astonished by the results.

But don’t take it from me. According to a study done by Gail Matthews at Dominican University, you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis.

Gail also found that you can be even more successful at achieving your goals if you not only write them down but also share them with someone and report to them on a regular basis.

I am sure there must be a scientific explanation for why this is and many self-help books try to explain this phenomenon.

However, I am not a scientist, nor do I know why writing down your goals works so well. My advice to you is to study the evidence and follow the advice of those who know better.

Writing down my goals has worked for me, therefore I will continue doing so and advise you to do the same… It doesn’t hurt to try.

#6. Take Action

Daydreaming about the person you want to become and writing down your goals will not mean a thing if you don’t get off the couch and start moving in the right direction.

Some self-help books don’t spend enough time on this principle.

For whatever reason they will have you believe that if you can see it, dream it, and desire it, that it will be given onto you.

I don’t know about you but the last time I desired to take a swim in the ocean, I had to go to the beach… it didn’t come to me.

You can’t expect to build wealth or find your soulmate sitting on the couch. You must get up and take action that moves you closer to your destination.

And remember this:

Time waits for no manClick To Tweet

Our time on this earth is limited… the longer you wait to take action, the less time you’ll have at your disposal.

#7. Start Small

You must crawl before you walk.

This is a tough principle to follow because the moment you figure out your goals, you will want to jump right to the finish line.

However, you should think of it as a baby learning how to walk which is usually a pretty messy process.

Here’s the step by step process:

  1. Rock on your back for several months.
  2. Learn to sit up.
  3. Crawl on the floor grabbing anything you can get your hands on.
  4. Stand up and fall like a sack of potatoes while your parents cheer you on.
  5. After enough falls, you will find yourself walking.
  6. Next thing you know, you’ll be able to run.

You can try going to the bank to buy your first house having no money and bad credit, but you are probably setting yourself up for failure.

However, if you start by improving your credit, generating more income, and saving some money. Eventually, the bank will be more than happy to give you a loan.

#8. Don’t Worry About Where You Start

Your Starting Point Does Not Matter

If you are interested in reading a self-help book it’s probably because you are struggling with something, or perhaps you want to improve a specific area of your life.

Either way, you shouldn’t worry about where you begin.

The important thing is where you are headed and how you plan to get there.

We can’t control who our parents are, or what type of upbringing we were given.

We must take responsibility for where we are and start moving in the direction we want to reach.

Every moment you live is a chance to get closer to being the person you want to be.

Don’t worry about your current situation… apply this principle and focus on getting to where you want to be.

#9. Practice Makes Perfect

This principle appears everywhere. Whether you are reading self-help books or trying to learn something new at work.

The more you do something, the better you will be at it.Click To Tweet

Don’t expect to become an expert on whatever area of your life you are trying to improve overnight.

Well respected author, Malcolm Gladwell, claims the key to achieving expertise in any skill is to practice it for a total of around 10,000 hours.

That’s the equivalent of 416 days of practice without rest.

Now don’t go thinking that you will have to wait 10,000 hours before you start seeing results. Just understand that the more you practice your new skills, the better you will get at them.

#10. Push Through The Setbacks

Setbacks will occur when you are learning a new skill.

You may have failed, but you are not a failure.Click To Tweet

Depending on your situation and what your goals are, achieving them may feel like climbing up Mout Everest by yourself.

Change isn’t easy. Your ride might be mostly smooth or it could be filled with bumps.

Don’t let setbacks hold you down. Hold your head up high and jump over your setbacks.

Learn from them and move on. Don’t let anything get in the way of you becoming the person you want to be.

#11. Choose Your Friends Wisely

In the words of motivational speaker Jim Rohn:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

David Hardy goes a step further:

The people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95 percent of your success or failure in life.

I don’t know how accurate those numbers are, but I know that if you surround yourself with the wrong crowd, it’s hard to end up in the right place.

The friends you choose are crucial to your success. They can either pull you down or help you on your journey.

Therefore make sure you choose correctly. Surround yourself with individuals that are going to be a positive influence in your life.

#12. Help Others

Helping Others is key to finding your true happiness

There is a Chinese saying that goes like this:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.

This principle appears in just about every good self-help book I have ever read.

I have applied it and can tell you that it’s like an addiction. It’s hard to explain but it feels better to do something good for someone than having someone do something for you.

If you aren’t applying this principle already, try it out and let me know how it makes you feel.

#13. Be Grateful

This popular principle applies to everyone.

Some people think you have to be religious in order to be thankful, but I am here to tell you that religion has nothing to do with being thankful.

You can be thankful for the people around you, the air you breathe, and everything that happens around you without the need to believe in a higher power.

Anything that happens while you are alive is something that you can be grateful for.

Yes, you should even be grateful for the bad things that happen in your life. I struggled with this concept until the day I started believing that everything happens for a good reason.

When negative things happen to us, it’s easy to moan, but what if you could find a positive in every situation?

Countless studies have been done that show an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.

Nick Vujicic was born without limbs and somehow found things to be grateful for.

No matter what you are going through in life, there is something to be grateful for. Just being alive and having the power to change your direction in life is something to always be grateful for.

List of my favorite self-help books of all-time:

Some of my friends call me Gandhi.

That’s their way of calling me a self-improvement junkie.

I kinda like it and one question that seems to follow me everywhere is “what is the best self-help book ever.?”

I don’t believe there is a “best” self-help book per se.

Self-help books tend to focus on specific areas so the best for you, might be useless for someone else.

That being said… below is a list of my favorites:

#1. As a Man Thinketh

Author: James Allen

First published in 1903, As a Man Thinketh is the inspiration behind many of today’s books focusing on the law of attraction.

Its underlying premise is that noble thoughts make a noble person, while lowly thoughts make a miserable person. The book reveals how our thoughts determine our reality and teaches us how to master our thoughts to create the life we want.

I am a firm believer in the power of our thoughts which is why I have placed this book in the #1 spot on this list.

#2. Think and Grow Rich

Author: Napoleon Hill

Hill is one of the first self help authors that we know of today and this book was my first brush with the self-help industry.

In this book, Hill teaches you his 13 principles of personal achievement. He notes that your desire, faith, and persistence can guide you to great success by eliminating all negative energy.

#3. Make Your Bed

Author: William H. McRaven

This book was inspired by a speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven in which he addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day.

The book reminds you that sometimes little things can have a big impact.

#4. The Miracle Morning

Author: Hal Elrod

This is a fascinating self-help book that teaches you specific techniques that you can do in the morning which help transform any aspect of your life.

#5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Author: Stephen R. Covey

The title of this book says it all. Through his studies, Stephen Covey found that most successful individuals lived by certain principles that many of us take for granted.

In this book, he reveals a step-by-step process for living with fairness, integrity, service, and human dignity by using these principles to solve personal and professional problems.

#6. Outliers: The Story of Success

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

This book challenges us to stop paying so much attention to what successful people are like, and more to where they are from.

Gradwell teaches you the secrets of software billionaires, why Asians are so good at math, and why the Beatles are considered the greatest rock band ever.

#7. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Author: Mark Manson

If cursing isn’t your cup of tea, you should probably stay away from this self-help book. This book is hilarious, vulgar, and immensely thought-provoking.

Manson wrote this book as a reaction to the self-improvement industry believing that mindless positivity isn’t practical or helpful for most people

#8. The 5 Love Languages

Author: Gary Chapman

Falling in love is easy. Staying in love—that’s the challenge.

If you are going through a rough patch in your relationship or want to learn how to create healthy relationships this is a must-read.

Dr. Gary Chapman teaches you his proven approach for showing and receiving love to help you experience deeper and richer levels of intimacy with your partner.

#9. How to Win Friends and Influence People

Author: Dale Carnegie

This has got to be one of the most groundbreaking and timeless bestsellers of all time. First published in 1936, this book teaches you how to communicate effectively.

Its teachings can still be applied today to help you learn how to value people and help them feel appreciated through communication.

#10. The Alchemist

Author: Paulo Coelho

I first heard about this book while watching an interview with Will Smith on YouTube. He said The Alchemist was his favorite book so I immediately started reading it.

This book combines magic, mysticism, wisdom, and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery that we can all learn from.

#11. Awaken the Giant Within

Author: Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins is probably the most famous motivational speaker today.

In this book, he teaches you strategies and techniques to help you master your emotions, body, relationship, finances, and life.

This step-by-step program will teach you self-mastery and show you how to discover your true purpose.

#12. The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today

Author: Joel Osteen

I just finished going through this book and can tell you that the lessons found in it are profound and if put to use can positively influence your life.

The premise of the book is that what comes after your “I am” can bring you success or failure.

#13. Big Magic

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Better known for being the author behind the immensely popular book “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth used this book to teach how one can infuse their life with creativity.

#14. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Author: Don Miguel Ruiz

This self-development book reveals the source of our self-limiting beliefs that rob us of happiness and create needless suffering.

The book is based on ancient Toltec wisdom that offers us a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.

#15. The Power of Positive Thinking

Author: Norman Vincent Peale

This self-help book was written with the sole purpose of helping you achieve a happy, satisfying, and worthwhile life through the use of practical techniques outlined in the book.

My Favorite Self-Help Gurus:

This list is in no particular order and some of the people mentioned aren’t necessarily self-help gurus but I consider them to be because of the positive influence that they have had in my life.

Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill is a controversial figure in the self-help industry because there is no proof of many of his claims pertaining to the people that he studied throughout his lifetime.

However, no one can deny the effectiveness of his teachings. Hill was the first self-help guru that I came in contact with and is perhaps responsible for my desire to continue learning about this industry.

Anthony Robbins

I love the teachings of Anthony Robbins but feel he might be pricing himself out of the reach of the people that need him most.

His seminars are expensive, however, I recommend you to watch his specials on Netflix or pick up some of his books. He truly is inspirational.

James Allen

James Allen died at the early age of 47 but that didn’t stop him from becoming the inspiration for many of today’s books on the law of attraction.

His book “As a Man Thinketh” has been the most influential book in my life. It’s the one book that opened my eyes to the power of our thoughts.

Dalai Lama

I doubt his holiness considers himself a self-help guru but I follow many of his teachings and can attest for the positive influence he has had in my life.

I am not a Buddhist but the Dalai Lama always seemed like the most peaceful person in the world every time I’d see him on TV which is why I decided to study his teachings.

Earl Nightingale

Earl is not as well-known as many of the individuals mentioned in this list but he is my Youtube self-improvement guru.

I have never bought his books but constantly listen to his teachings on Youtube. One particular audio that I have listened to at least 20 times is titled “The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale (Law of Attraction).”

Listen to it and let me know what you think in the comments section.

Jack Canfield

I first heard of Jack Canfield while watching a rerun of the Oprah Show with my mother in which they were talking about The Secret by Rhonda Byrn.

I was immediately struck by his demeanor and started reading many of his books.

His book “The Success Principles” is a must-read for everyone trying to get more out of their lives.

Brian Tracy

Tracy is a motivational, sales, and self help legend.

What I like about his teachings is that they are easily understood and therefore easy to apply.

Will Smith

You may see Will Smith as just another overpaid movie star, but he is so much more.

If you watch many of his interviews you will quickly notice that his mindset isn’t like that of your average Hollywood celebrity.

He is a student of life and a true inspiration for those willing to pay attention.

Tim Ferriss

I don’t follow Tim as much as I used to but he is one of the first self-help gurus that made me understand the concept of working smarter, not harder.

I will be forever grateful to him for this.


Self-help books are written to help you improve certain aspects of your life.

Whether it is your relationships, self-esteem, or wealth, they are meant to help you improve.

However, they are practically useless if you don’t put forth the effort to apply the principles they teach.

I am a firm believer that you are the only thing that can create success or failure for yourself.

The principles these books teach you are simply there to guide you on your path to becoming the person you wish to be.

In this article, I have put together the 13 principles that most self-help books have in common.

Many are common sense and easy to apply, while others take more effort to apply.

Just remember that you hold the keys to your personal growth.

There is no best book or motivational speaker out there, the best is the one that helps you get to where you want to be.

What is your favorite self-help book and which guru has had the most influence in your life? Let me know about it in the comments section below.

Self Help FAQ

Why are self help books so popular?

Self-help or self-improvement books, as many like to call them, are popular because they help solve specific problems that people deal with within their lives.

How do I choose a self help book?

The best way to choose a self-help book is by figuring out what you want to improve in your life. Once you know know that, look for a self-help book that tackles that problem. You can use Amazon to check reviews from others to get an idea if the book was useful to other people dealing with similar issues.

Which is the best self help book of all time?

Some of my favorite self-help books of all time include: As a Man Thinketh, Think and Grow Rich, and Big Magic. However, I believe the best self-help book is the one that helps solve your problems.

Who is the best self help guru?

I believe the best self-help guru is the one that helps you the most with your problems. Some of my favorites are Napoleon Hill, James Allen, Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, and Brian Tracy.

Are self help book useless?

No, but if you don't apply their teachings they become useless to you.

Can anyone write a self help book?

Yes, but I would only recommend writing one to those who actually have something useful to teach.

Does self help books really work?

Yes, most self-help books work so long as you study them and put their principles to use. However, without your effort, they are practically useless.

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