From PsychEvos Wiki


Self-help is an approach that encourages individuals to seek their own solutions to personal challenges and problems. It is a popular genre for books, workshops, seminars, courses, and various other programs that promote self-improvement and personal growth. The self-help industry is reportedly worth $13 billion in the United States alone, with its roots tracing back to ancient times[1]. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, self-help techniques and strategies aim to help individuals adapt to and overcome environmental and social challenges experienced by humans throughout the course of evolution.

Evolutionary Origins

The concept of self-help can be traced back to ancient societies where wisdom literature, such as the writings of Confucius, Lao Tzu, Solomon, and Socrates, were devised to help people lead better lives. The emergence of self-help literature and philosophies can be explained through an evolutionary lens, as early human communities required individuals to adapt to rapidly changing environments, cope with stress and adversity, and function effectively in social groups. The success of ancient self-help practices reflects the adaptive nature of these teachings and their alignment with fundamental human needs that have been shaped by evolutionary forces[2].

Evolutionary Mechanisms

Evolutionary psychology posits that our mental adaptations have been shaped by the pressures of natural selection. These psychological adaptations enable us to contend with the various environmental, social, and personal challenges we face. Self-help techniques often target these adaptations in an effort to improve our abilities to navigate the modern world.

  • Coping mechanisms: Natural selection has shaped the human ability to develop strategies for coping with adversity and stress, ranging from problem-solving and seeking social support to relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Self-help literature often provides guidance on how to harness these coping mechanisms in order to effectively deal with life's challenges[3].
  • Social skills: In evolutionary terms, human survival and reproductive success often depended on the ability to build and maintain strong social connections within a group. Consequently, the development of effective social skills and interpersonal relationships has long been vital. Self-help advice often focuses on fostering communication, empathy, and leadership abilities, which are crucial to navigating complex social networks.
  • Goal-setting and motivation: Humans have a deeply ingrained, evolutionary drive to seek out and achieve goals related to survival, reproduction, and social status. Self-help approaches often emphasize the importance of clarifying personal values, setting achievable goals, and developing strategies that maintain motivation and enable individuals to make progress toward the desired outcomes[4].

Examples of Self-help Techniques

Various self-help techniques have roots in evolutionary psychology and aim to improve adaptability, resilience, and overall well-being. These techniques can be tailored to address specific areas of concern, such as stress management, personal growth, or relationship enhancement. Some examples include:

  • Cognitive restructuring: Changing the way one perceives and interprets situations in order to reduce emotional distress and improve coping abilities.
  • Emotional regulation: Developing strategies to manage and express emotions in a healthier manner, leading to improved well-being and social functioning.
  • Assertiveness training: Learning how to communicate needs, desires, and boundaries effectively in order to balance personal rights with the needs of others[5].
  • Mindfulness and relaxation approaches: Practicing techniques for reducing stress, anxiety, and rumination while increasing awareness, focus, and mental flexibility.


Self-help approaches, rooted in evolutionary psychology, aim to assist individuals in addressing various challenges and improving their overall well-being. By focusing on enhancing coping mechanisms, social skills, and motivational processes, self-help techniques enable individuals to overcome environmental and social challenges that have arisen throughout the course of human evolution. The popularity of self-help as a genre and industry is a testament to the evolutionary adaptiveness of the strategies it promotes.