Self-Help: Popular, but Effective?

The help-yourself movement is booming. Can you benefit?

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Alex Ramos has read more than a dozen self-help books, recognizing that only some of the advice works for him.

One recommendation that has profoundly touched his life comes from Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It encourages readers to visualize their funeral, imagining the type of eulogy they'd like to hear from people in various areas of their lives.

The exercise constantly replays in Ramos' mind, affecting his daily behavior and decisions. He makes sure to volunteer for his local parish when he has the time, at least tries to acknowledge homeless people who approach him (even if he doesn't always give money), and takes a deep breath when someone in traffic cuts him off. "I restrain myself from overacting," says the 31-year-old energy engineer, noting he doesn't want to be remembered as an angry person.

Self-Help Popularity Boom

Ramos is far from being alone in his reliance on advice from self-help books. The genre is so popular that The New York Times gives advice publications its own category in its best-seller list, distinguishable from fiction, nonfiction, and children's books. The current top hardcover advice book, The Purpose-Driven Life, by Rick Warren, has been a best seller for 18 weeks.

A recent weekly list of Barnes & Noble's best sellers also marks the trend: Three of the top 10 online sales are self-help books: Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, by Robert C. Atkins, MD, The South Beach Diet, by Arthur Agatston, MD, and Atkins for Life, also by Atkins.