Ancient Methods of Self-Help Still in Practice Today

You might be surprised to learn that most of the modern self-help ideas that we practice today really aren’t new ideas at all.

Every modern book that you’ve read on self-help, including “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, came from ideas from the past – even ancient ideas.


This method of self-care has been around for eons and comes from India. There are many different types of Yoga practice today that purport to help everyone take care of mind, body and spirit.

The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests.


 Studies have shown that prayer changes brain chemistry and helps people who pray positively to have more positive lives and feel happier. Various types of prayer has been around since civilization started and likely before. By giving over problems to a higher being, humans have found ways to become happier.

From the Latin precari “to ask earnestly, beg, entreat” is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication.

Prayer can be a form of religious practice, may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words, song or complete silence.

When language is used, prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creedal statement, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person. There are different forms of prayer such as petitionary prayer, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, and praise.

Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing transgressions (sins) or to express one’s thoughts and emotions.

Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit, asking for divine grace, spiritual connection, or for the sake of others.


 Originating in Asian countries, meditation has actually appeared in many different cultures as a way to relax, focus on big questions, and try to access parts of our mind that we don’t know how to get to. Today, mediation is thought to lower blood pressure and help people with serious diseases deal with treatment better.

Some of the earliest written records of meditation (Dhyana), come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism around 1500 BCE. The Vedas discuss the meditative traditions of ancient India. Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India.

Positive Thinking

You might think of this as new-age but nothing could be further from the truth. The idea of positive thinking actually started with the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Today, positive thinking can be seen in books and programs like “The Secret”.

Positive thinking has religious roots, but it doesn’t come from any one religion. Rather, it evolved from all the world’s religions through the New Thought Movement. Harvard professor, psychologist, and philosopher William James (1842-1910) wrote extensively about new thought in his 1902 book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, calling it the “Religion of Healthy Mindedness.” He said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that man can alter his life simply by altering his attitude of mind.”


 Some people believe that everything is derived from fate and that our lives are preordained. So, to be truly happy you have to come to acceptance of the divine, and control your actions through self-discipline rather than try to control what happens.

Self-acceptance is embracing who and what you are, your strengths as well as your imperfections. Simple enough, but where the interpretation of this concept varies widely is what this ultimately means in a practical sense.

Of course achieving self-acceptance doesn’t mean you can just settle in for the long haul and never worry about doubts or limiting beliefs again. With or without our cooperation we change with each new experience in life.

Fortunately, acceptance is something you can nurture and strengthen over time. The challenge then is learning how to embrace your true self – the good, the bad and the quirky – in a way that it becomes a natural part of your growth process.


 Epicurus taught that the best way to be happy is to try to experience a lack of pain. And that you can do that through surrounding yourself with friends and family and experiencing pleasure as much as possible, but not in a hedonistic sort of way. But, we ourselves are responsible for our happiness, not outside forces.

Self-sufficiency (also called self-containment) is the state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction for survival; it is a type of personal or collective autonomy.

Aristotle lays down two conditions which happiness must fulfil. It must be perfect, and it must be self-sufficient. Aristotle, in making self-sufficiency a requirement of happiness, defines the self-sufficient (to autarkes) as ‘that which on its own makes life worthy of choice and lacking in nothing’.

Aristotle’s requirement that happiness must be self-sufficient is used as a principal argument by those who wish to press an inclusive interpretation of the concept of happiness in Nicomachean Ethics.

The Golden Rule

Confucius is said to have come up with the idea of treating others as you would have them treat you. Today, this can be said to be the “Dr. Phil” style idea: that you show people how to treat you by how you treat them and yourself. You set the standard and the idea on what can be done to you and around you.

Matthew 7:12English Standard Version (ESV)

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”


 The Greek philosopher Plato came up with the idea that you needed to study yourself deeply to understand and uncover the gifts that God has given you so that you can find your true purpose. You can find some of these ideas presented in the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.

In “A Theory of Human Motivation”, by Maslow, he explicitly defines selfactualization to be “the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially.

People who seek the frontiers of creativity and strive to reach higher levels of consciousness and wisdom, were described by Maslow as ‘selfactualizing‘.

As you see most of these self-help methods were started long before you were born. They were just repackaged into new by various authors, doctors and theologians as their own ideas. Some of these self-help masters are not so straightforward about where their ideas came from, whilst others quote directly from the ancient philosophers.

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