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Every self-help book ever, boiled down to 11 simple rules

Mashable: “The first self-described self-help book was published in 1859. The author’s name, improbably, was Samuel Smiles; the title, even more improbably, was Self-Help(opens in a new tab). A distillation of lessons from the lives of famous people who had pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, it sold millions of copies and was a mainstay in Victorian households. Every generation since had its runaway bestseller, such as How to Live on 24 Hours a Day(opens in a new tab) (1908), Think and Grow Rich(opens in a new tab) (1937), or Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff(opens in a new tab) (opens in a new tab)(1997). By now, the $11 billion self-help industry(opens in a new tab) is most definitely not small stuff. Yet when you strip it down, there’s very little new information. After all, we were consuming self-help for centuries before Smiles, just under different names. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius gave tweet-sized advice in Meditations(opens in a new tab); so did Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack(opens in a new tab). Even self-help parody isn’t new. Shakespeare did it with Polonius’ “to thine own self be true” speech in Hamlet: basically a bullet-point list from a blowhard. The 21st century has seen a measure of self-awareness about our self-help addiction. There’s the wave of sweary self-help bestsellers I wrote about, such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck(opens in a new tab). They hover somewhere between parody and dressing up the same advice as their forebears in earthier language. More recently, there’s a trend you might call meta-self-help: books in which people write about their experiences following self-help books, such as Help Me!(opens in a new tab) (2018) and How to Be Fine(opens in a new tab) (2020), based on the similar self-help podcast By the Book(opens in a new tab). But hey, if it’s all pretty much the same stuff — and it is — why stop at distilling it into a single book? Why not condense the repeated lessons of an entire genre into one article? That’s what I’ve attempted here, after reading dozens of history’s biggest bestsellers so you don’t have to. Here is the essence of the advice I’ve seen delivered again and again…”

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