I love self-help books.
Adore them. Seriously.
My love of self-help books is largely thanks to my husband, who introduced me early on in our marriage to Stephen Covey and Les Brown. I’ve been a reader of self-help ever since.
I think the thing with self-help books is that the idea is that “well, if I read this book and put the ideas into practice, I’ll never need to read another self-help book again!” And while every self-help guru out there will basically state that, I haven’t found it to be the case.
Instead, I find that I read self-help books just as I read fiction: read the entire thing, and then find, later on, that certain parts of the book have stuck with me and changed me in some identifiable way. I have yet to find a self-help book that I read and wholly apply to my life. Instead, I take away little tips and tricks that fit with my personality, goals, and lifestyle, and apply them in a way that makes sense for me. There is no program or author that has singlehandedly changed my life. And I think, maybe that’s the best way to go about the whole self-help thing.
Think about it: deciding which parts of a particular program or model work best for you requires something rather important: knowing yourself, and respecting the person you are. You recognize your strengths and weaknesses. So when you reject some part of a self-help program and adopt others, you’re basically saying “yes” to the ideas that matter most to you as an individual. And all good self-help, at its heart, is about respecting and honoring yourself, even while knowing that there are things that you want or need to change.
My Favorite Self-Help Books
When I was trying to come up with the books that have helped me the most, these were the ones that immediately came to mind:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey: In addition to playing heavily off of the philosophy of Victor Frankl, Covey provides real, actionable processes for working toward goals and living in a more mindful way, before “mindfulness” became a buzzword in popular culture. While Covey is usually one of those writers that people think of as a guru for business people (and there is a lot of that in his books) there is plenty in here that anyone, no matter what they do or what their lifestyle is, to take and apply to their lives. The idea of the space between stimulus and response is one that changed my life, and proactivity is pretty much the habit I try to live by. All of what he calls the “private victories” are the bedrock of how I try to live my life.
First Things First by Stephen Covey: Covey again! This book expands many of the ideas in 7 Habits, but with an underlying sense of making sure you’re doing what matters, not just doing for the sake of doing, which is, again, a precursor of a lot of the mindfulness advice that is so common now in self-help books and blogs. It’s about not living life on automatic, or without examining why you do the things you do. I adore this book.
Live Your Dreams by Les Brown: This is old-school self-help, guys. The first self-help book I ever read, and it will forever hold a little piece of my heart. There aren’t many actionable steps, and this isn’t a program. Basically, it’s a pep talk from a guy who gives pep talks with the best of them. It’s a story about how it’s possible to change your life, and how to do it. It’s a stern talk about how important it is to respect yourself and believe in yourself, and to do the work it takes to get what you want.
Getting Things Done by David Allen: Lists, lists, and more lists. Categories and brain dumps and systems galore! This is, again, one of those books that seems to have been lumped in with business and management, but it’s so much more. If you are the type of person who thrives on lists, this book is the Holy Grail of “how to make lists work for you.” I don’t use all of Allen’s ideas (really, I probably don’t use most of them) but the notion of a “brain dump” and needing to get all of those ideas and to-dos out of your head so you can be more effective is something that has become second nature to me and I know it has helped my focus immensely.
Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod: Life S.A.V.E.R.S!! If you want to seriously take control of your life, change your mindset, and become better able to do those things that are most important to you, you need to read this book. All I know is that on the days when I don’t follow my morning routine, everything else feels off-track, chaotic, and wrong. When I do them, I feel focused and in control. Again, processes and routine, which are both things that I thrive on. My pal Cat recently mentioned this book in her awesome post about how to itemize your day for success, along with several other great suggestions — definitely worth a read.
The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs: This is maybe the odd man out on this list, because while she offers plenty of ideas for “how to” live simply, Luhrs’ guide is really about how to look at your life as a whole and decide how you can live more simply. From work to home, vacations to finances, health to your love life, Luhrs guides you along on a journey not only of inspecting your own life to see where you need some change, but also in breaking some of the preconceived notions of what it means to “live simply.” I adore this book, and leaf through it often whenever I start feeling more frazzled than I should.
Making It Work For YOU
I can see looking at the above list that I enjoy books that provide actionable steps and practices, rather than just theory or discussion. I like systems and programs, lists and goal-setting. So while this list of “best of” books works for me, these might be the types of books that those with a different personalty might want to set fire to. Again: knowing yourself helps. But while you’re figuring out which types of self-help books work for you, you’ll end up doing a lot of reading along the way.
I have found, for example, that anything that is too hippie-dippie, new age-y, or even once mentions that word “chakras” will make me want to throw my Kindle against the wall. And that’s just me — you may find the exact opposite, and that’s awesome! Reading self-help books, for me, has been an exercise in open-mindedness, in being able to look past those things that make me roll my eyes and look for those nuggets of wisdom that make any flakiness worthwhile. I seem to find something useful in almost every book I read, so it’s always worth it.
May you find the books that speak to you and take what you can from them — there’s no guilt in leaving the things that don’t work behind.