The Self Improvement Explosion of the 21st Century

Last Update: August 05, 2021

Have you ever wondered when the trend in self improvement products and services began? When did the need for self improvement become such a thing? Have we become ‘less than’ humans, so much so that we continually need self improvement? Let’s take a look at where things stand in the self improvement space.

A history lesson in self improvement

Long before Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to win friends and influence people‘ became the self improvement bible of the 20th Century, there were pamphlets and manifestos encouraging readers to acquire new skills so that they could be of better service to others. In her book, ‘The Self Help Compulsion’, Harvard professor Beth Blum dates the advent of modern self-help to mid-19th century Britain.

According to Blum, “self-help grew out of radical working-class organizations like labor cooperatives and mutual aid societies. In these settings, labourers held meetings to discuss ways of bettering themselves and looked to books like Self-Help by the People – a manifesto written by George Jacob Holyoake in 1857, to learn skills that could benefit the community.”

Scottish journalist and editor Samuel Smiles in his 1859 book titled Self-Help, focused on bringing about true reform of the community through improving the individual. Smiles believed that personal failures were as a result of laziness, extravagant spending and excessive drinking. He argued that by overcoming these vices, any individual could achieve prosperity.

Some may argue that the self-help concept was introduced long before Smiles even conceived of it, with the likes of Confucius (551-479 BCE), Chinese philosopher, politican and teacher. In what became known as Confucianism, the belief that all people and the society they live in benefit from a lifetime of learning, a moral outlook, strong family loyalty and benevolence, the foundation of self-improvement may have been born. He espoused the well-known principle known as the Golden Rule – ‘Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself.

Self Improvement Popularity Boom

How big is the self improvement market you might ask? Grand View Research indicates that the global personal development market size was valued in 2019 at US$38+billion, with an expected compounded annual growth rate of 5.1% between 2020 and 2021… insert wide-eyed emoji here!! 😲😲 Motivational speakers and gurus are raking in the dough through webinars, online retreats, hard-cover and eBooks, TedTalks, social media platforms and just about any mode of communication you can think of to engage with global audiences who are looking for multiple ways to make themselves better and healthier people.

Social media has significantly contributed to the marked increase in self improvement statistics as purveyors of personal development have unlimited access to the audience of billions. Content is endless! Generally, technology has also created new and fresh opportunities to impact people’s lives.

Additionally, Generation Z are reporting unparalleled levels of anxiety, stress and depression and are looking for answers in a society that survives on busyness and overwork.

Then there’s the ease of access coupled with the acceptance that self improvement is the way to go. Self-care has become the buzz word of modern society and the new normal. Seeking out a meditation guru or mental health expert is no longer an eyebrow raiser, but encouraged within the self-care space.

The global pandemic has also done its part to increase the growth in self improvement statistics since 2020. Covid-19 restrictions have led to lockdowns, job losses, furloughs and the shutting down of thousands of small companies. In this situation, increasing the need among employees to be proficient is boosting the demand for skills development programmes. The health crisis has also brought attention to the once taboo topic of mental health. The impact of extended lockdowns, fear of the unknown, unemployment and grief has brought mental health and wellbeing to the top of the list. This segment is anticipated to see significant growth over the next few years. Society’s increased awareness about mental health and psychological wellbeing is expected to drive the demand for mental health and wellness programmes.

Self improvement goals

Writer Virginia Corona in a January 2021 article for Scholarlyoa, identifies the 10 most common self improvement goals as:

1. Identify 2-3 aspects of your life in which you want to achieve change.

2. Clearly define the change you want to have.

3. Define your values and make sure they match the desired outcomes of the change you are striving for.

4. Set goals.

5. Identify resources.

6. Identify obstacles.

7. Make a precise process plan.

8. Make sure that going through the whole process is worth what you want to achieve.

9. Write a letter of support to yourself.

10. Take the first step.

Guru mania

In case you’re in the market for a self improvement guru, here’s a list of some of the top experts in the field (in no particular order):

  • Tony Robbins – Awaken the Giant within.
  • Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now.
  • Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • John C Maxwell – Everyone Communicates but few Connect.
  • Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People.
  • Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich.
  • Wayne Dyer – 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace.
  • Deepak Chopra – Quantum Healing.

We live in very interesting times. Might not be a bad idea to invest in yourself and jump on the self improvement bandwagon. As the words suggest – you can only become better for it.

If this blog post resonated with you, please feel free to leave a comment below.



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Dadaz123 Premium
Maria, thank you for this historical perspective of change. I had no knowledge that self-improvement had been in the hearts of men for this long. I used to think it's a relatively recent phenomenon dating back to classics like Dale Carnegie's ' How to Win Friends and influence People ' and Norman Vincent Peale's ' Power of Positive Thinking.'
People love change but are scared by the steep price they have to pay for it. Only the determined few are willing to make the sacrifice.
Dhind1 Premium
Change does come from within. It is hard to come to grips with the preciseness of that term.

Everybody says, "I want to change", but few are willing to go through the steps necessary for change. As a species, we do not like change.

Thank you for this post.

Brongsugah Premium
Hello Alex, I totally agree with you in terms of change coming from the inside out. It is definitely not an easy process and it is continuous along this journey we call life. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Always welcome it.

Zoopie Premium
Great post. You have put together some excellent information. Thanks.
Brongsugah Premium
Thanks a lot Stephen. Much appreciated.
eminentcopy Premium
Thank you for the excellent post, Maria.
Brongsugah Premium
You're so welcome Muslimah. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Jessiefido Premium
Wow Maria! What a great read!

I totally agree that we live in a time where the self improvement of ourselves is becoming more and more important.

You have listed some awesome experts in the self improvement field here, I could do with seeking advice from all of them from time to time!!

Cheers for the info my friend and have a spectacular day!:-)
Brongsugah Premium
Thanks a lot Nick! Truly appreciate you reading and commenting. I am of the opinion that knowledge in all spheres of life can only benefit us, so I'm all for improvement on many levels. Always a work in progress. Enjoy the rest of the day and here's to the soon to come Frisatsu!

Jessiefido Premium
Always welcome my friend!

Gaining knowledge in all aspects of life will always be beneficial to ourselves if we use the knowledge we have gained wisely.

It's important not to let what we have learnt sit idle, if we do so, then what is the point in learning?

Frisatsu is less than an hour away now for me Maria, I hope that yours goes fabulously well!:-)
Brongsugah Premium
You're so right about the use of knowledge. It only becomes information if we just let it sit idle. Great point!

Enjoy your Frisatsu my friend!

Jessiefido Premium
Thanks Maria, you too my friend!:-)