Personal Growth or self-improvement refers to self-guided improvement—economically, intellectually, or emotionally—most frequently with a substantial psychological or spiritual basis.

The basis for self-help is often self-reliance, publicly available information, or support groups where people with similar problems join together. From early exemplars in self-driven legal practice and home-spun advice, the connotations of the phrase have spread and often apply particularly to education, business, psychological or psychotherapeutic nostrums, purveyed through the popular genre of self-help books and through self-help personal-development movements. 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. Any health condition can find a self help method or group such as parents of the mentally ill. But there are limits and these methods do not work for everyone. As well as experienced long time members sharing experiences with a similar practical problem such as finances of a health problem, these health groups can become lobby groups and educational material clearing houses. Those who help themselves by learning about health problems are helping themselves through self help. But self help in this context is often really peer-to-peer support.


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. 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.

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) founded 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. Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, described the use of repeated positive thoughts to attract happiness and wealth by taping into an "Infinite Intelligence".

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This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Personal Development. The Official Guide to Personal Development is Paul Chek. For over 20 years, Paul Chek’s unique, holistic health approach to treatment and education has transformed the lives of countless men and women through programs like the P~P~S Success Mastery Program.

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