Many folks believe that the notion of self-help is a relatively recent phenomenon, but self-help actually is an ancient tradition that is still going strong. Long before there were 250 varieties of Chicken Soup for The Soul, advice-seekers were looking for answers in the Tao Te Ching or through the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Today, self-help is an $11 billion industry, with Amazon listing almost half a million choices in this popular category. According to some estimates, up to a half of American adults have bought at least one title on weight loss, relationships, joy, or other common concerns.

With such a vast selection, how do you find what you need?

Consider these tips when shopping for self-help books and then for translating what you read into concrete action.

What to Look For

1. Check the science. Remember that you’re investing your hopes as well as the cover price of the book. Does the book (or program) make realistic claims? Do the reviews suggest that it’s psychologically sound? Look closely at the author’s credentials and experience as well as the reviews that people leave.

Some advice says to ignore any 1 Start reviews, but I look at those, too, and discern for myself whether what they are saying has validity.

2. Follow your faith. You may have an instant affinity with writers who share your religious beliefs. What are other members of your congregation reading? I don’t practice a particular religion myself, but I’ve always enjoyed the teachings of Ernest Holmes and other people from the New Thought movement. So I always look for recommendations from them in the pages of Science of Mind magazine.

3. Know the target audience. Publishers often market to a specific demographic. For example, the biggest buyers of self-help books tend to be upper-income women on the east and west coasts. Ensure that the message seems pertinent to you.

4. Feel engaged. Enjoy some laughter and entertainment while you’re enriching yourself. You’ll probably pay more attention to the text if you like the writing. And I find that I’m much more likely to remember the words of an author who uses humor to get their message across.

5. Browse multiple categories. All kinds of books are taking a self-help angle these days. You may find the information you’re looking for in memoirs and fiction, as well as psychology and business. I love reading novels that also include business and marketing lessons.

6. Stay up to date. Recent research may cast doubts on certain conclusions in books that used to be bestsellers. For example, many doctors and nutritionists now say that it’s okay to eat eggs regularly even if you’re watching your cholesterol.

But there are some classics that never go out of style and are timeless in their teachings. For example, anything by Napoleon Hill or Jim Rohn, Earl Nightingale or Zig Ziglar.

How to Apply What You Read

1. Consider counseling. While you can find valuable information in books, some situations may call for extra assistance. Talking with a therapist, or a psychologist, or even a qualified life or business coach allows you to receive individual feedback or access to medical care if necessary.

2. Think critically. However popular a book is, you still need to evaluate whether it works for you. Beware of extravagant claims like, “Become a millionaire in thirty days!”

3. Take small steps. Big changes often start with simple tasks. Look for tips that you can implement right away to build momentum and confidence. Make just one simple change at a time and try it out for awhile to see if it works for you or sticks. I wanted to add drinking more water into my daily routine, so now, every morning when I first get up, I drink a 16-oz. bottle of water.

4. Go back for more. Some critics joke that self-help books must not work because at least 80% of consumers buy more than one. Would you give up on a restaurant just because you wanted to eat again the next day? Becoming happier and stronger is a life-long process.

5. Be flexible. You’re one of a kind. Check that a book encourages you to adapt the program to your own style and personality. You might like to read a work cover to cover or you might browse chapters for takeaways you can try out immediately.

6. Prepare for lapses. Sick children and leaky roofs can interfere with the best made plans. Does the author suggest what to do if you’re looking to get back on track after a few delays? And can you forgive yourself, re-start and move on, when you do lapse?

7. Track your progress. How will you know if what you’re reading is paying off? Some books have forms for setting and evaluating your goals, or you can design your own. Measuring your success creates great motivation and is truly the key to your success with any book or program.

Self-help books can teach you how to talk with your teenager, manage diabetes, find more joy and happiness in life, or just enjoy more peace of mind.

Shop wisely and then put your new knowledge to work in your daily life. Action is the only thing that leads to success.