Self-help books are not everyone’s cup of tea. I recently had a discussion with a friend who virtually recoiled in disgust at ever reading one. I personally love them. I also simply can’t resist. As soon as someone presents me with a potentially life changing idea, I just have to know about it. What if it really is a world changer and I ignored it? What if they really have discovered the meaning of life?
Okay, so sometimes you have to kiss a “self-help frog”, but I can honestly say, I have no regrets in my reading journey, other than sometimes you have to read a lot of padding to get to a single amazing nugget.
Here are five, among the many that I have read, that made the biggest impact:
1. The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck
This is a real classic and is famed for the opening gambit about life being hard, and that once you acknowledge that, it isn’t anymore. There is a ridiculous amount of value in that simple truth. I read this book just after the birth of my first child and I couldn’t leave it alone. I remember sneaking into quiet corners to read it – often getting caught like a naughty schoolgirl. Even writing about it now makes me want to read it again.
The book explores all manner of concepts and is particularly interesting as the author is a psychotherapist and uses actual case studies to make his points. He covers parenting and the impact of neglect and over protection; probably why this was so potent to me at the time. He covers interpretation of religion and openness to something bigger, a concept he refers to as grace. He also looks at the idea of romantic love, how that simply can’t last and why it shouldn’t matter.
The only downside for me was that in my joy and intrigue in reading it, I researched the author and discovered his wife had left him and his children disowned him, but I can only hope he just learned his lessons too late.
2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
I read this just before being expatriated to Malaysia. It was a book I had always intended to read and I felt that a time when I very much needed to win friends (because I’d suddenly have none!) would be a good one.
The main thrust of this book is that in dealing with other people, you need to consider that the other person is in the most part not so bothered about what YOU want, even the selfless ones. Once you’ve got that down, the rest is just about spin and technique. It’s about smiling, remembering names, considering what’s in it for the other person, not being a moaner and listening.
After reading this, I was really mindful about all the scenarios when I met new people in my new life. It all rang so true. When someone new remembered my name I was delighted! I personally called one of my now best friends Caroline for the first five months when her name is Catherine, but I think she appreciated the fact that I was consistent in my error. This book may be considered common sense, but it was common sense I don’t think I really had before.
3. The 5 Love Languages by Gary D Chapman
A previous boss recommended this one to me. I think I had been bemoaning the fact that my husband had considered it okay to buy me a couple of CDs for Christmas. The book was a pure light bulb moment. The premise of the book is that every individual sees love in different gestures and as such their responses to certain things can be explained. The book begins with a questionnaire that results in you and your partner’s two lead languages from a possible five. These are Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts and Quality Time.
So much became instantly evident to me by doing this. Without directly declaring our languages I could see why the CD gift bothered me and why hubby was not as thrilled as I had expected with his Ralph Lauren shirt. I could see why he was so grateful that I had made him an omelette and why I didn’t give him a round of applause for taking the bins out! It was all there, a complete epiphany.
It was all about playing to what the other person valued and not what you did. pI now thank Colin very graciously for washing up… and I get jewellery for my birthday now, not CDs. Result!
4. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Now this one really is a book that suffers for its genius title, because the title really is the book. The rest really is padding, but that doesn’t actually matter, as it’s still an accessible and enjoyable read, full of nice examples.
For me the outstanding message from the book is that failure just isn’t a problem, it’s something that should be embraced and treated as a learning experience, part of the journey in getting to something better. A bit like M Scott Peck’s message, once you have that in your psyche, you are okay because you no longer need to worry too much about failing. I found that to be a very valuable message. As a writer, rejection and critique is part of the territory. With this book’s message in mind, it makes all that so much easier to deal with.
5. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
This is my most recent self-help read. It was recommended to me by a friend that I find to be happy, calm, confident and cool. She loved this book and so I felt that it would be in my interest to have what she’s having!
I also loved the book. Reading it was like spending time with the best virtual friend you could possibly dream up. The idea behind the book is that the author Gretchen was at a stage in her life where, whilst she wasn’t unhappy she had a sense of missing something. So she read everything she could find about happiness, from Benjamin Franklin to Carl Jung. Then, from that she derives 12 personal commandments (such as “Act the way I want to feel”), and a selection of secrets of adulthood (for example, people don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think).
The main thrust of the book however, is a month-by-month set of challenges she gives herself in 12 different areas of life from marriage to money to faith, with a self-assessment of how she got on and what the lessons were for her ongoing life.
I defy anyone not to get something out of this book. For me it was little things like sing in morning. They were just little things that make a difference with a little bit of attention and refocusing.
And there they are. My top five and I have read many.
I will conclude with my final offering of self-help, and it’s a song; Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen by Baz Lurhmann), 3 -4 minutes of the best advice I think you will ever get.