Self-help books that help?
October 15, 2005 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in finding self-help books that have actually helped people. Has anyone read a self-help book that really did significantly improve their lives (or some aspect of their lives)?
posted by INTPLibrarian to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Two books that made a positive change for the better in my household. I'm not sure if either technically qualifies as self-help.

1. No More Sleepless Nights - solid talk/discussion about sleep problems, how to deal with them, how not to deal with them. In my house, the sleepless one decided it would be easier to try some of the techniques in the book instead of going through tthe laborious process of keeping a sleep journal and the tips given really did help our situation.

2. Driven to Distraction - dealing with ADD/ADHD in practical useful ways and learning to identify ADD-ish behavior so that you can learn to strategize dealing with the behavior and not get stuck focusing on "why can't you just remember this?!" non-productive thinking patterns. The guy who wrote the book is ADD himself so the focus is really on chanelling ADD patterns not medicalizing and medicating only [there is good info on medication but also information for people who decide not to medicate]
posted by jessamyn at 11:25 AM on October 15, 2005

'Change your life in Seven days' by Paul Mckenna. If you work hard in those Seven days, it can make you much more positive.
posted by lunkfish at 11:32 AM on October 15, 2005

I'm not a fan of self help books. However, I found the Dance of Anger and Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner to be extremely well-written and sensible.
posted by jeanmari at 11:34 AM on October 15, 2005

I know a bunch of people who've had a good experience with Body For Life. I'm not really one of them, but I have seen some pretty impressive transformations with that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2005

I'm a huge fan of self-help books. My faves, with ones I've read most recently first:

Take Time for Your Life, Cheryl Richardson - Learn to say no to stuff you don't want to do and give yourself more time for fun stuff.

Boundaries, Townsend and Cloud - I was kind of put off by this being a Christain self help book, despite being a Christian myself. But very practical book about setting limits at work and home.

The Dance of Intimacy, Harriet Goldhor Learner

Codependent No More, Melanie Beatty

The Feeling Good Handbook, David Burns - practical behavioral advice on dealing with things like procrastination, job interview anxiety, etc. Not enough if you have a serious problem in your life like an alcoholic spose or something. but great for everyday neuroses.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:43 AM on October 15, 2005

Despite the corny title, Steve Chandler's 100 Ways To Motivate Yourself was absolutely incredible. Very practical without exercise after exercise as you find in many self-help titles. Everyone I have recommended this to, who actually read it, has thanked me. Excellent!

posted by Independent Scholarship at 11:43 AM on October 15, 2005

Not sure whether either of these would be considered "self-help," strictly speaking, but:

David Allen's "Getting Things Done" and Howard Gardner's "Changing Minds" have helped me tremendously in both my personal and professional life.

GTD is tremendously overhyped on the Internet and I react instinctively against that kind of thing, but once I got past the personal-taste-induced backlash I found that it's actually a very well thought-out and common-sense system for organizing your work, with a significant but thankfully ignorable dose of rah-rah you can do it encouragement thrown in.

I haven't come close to implementing all the ideas in it, but I've already realized some significant productivity gains.

And Changing Minds is about exactly what it says it is - how people are persuaded to change their thinking. The author is not a business guru or salesman, but an eminent research psychologist and teacher; he presents an integrated theory of how people process information and make decisions, and more significantly how they can be persuaded to change their views and opinions. This is not a "how to sell your ideas" cookbook, and some of the most powerful information in the book actually focuses on how you can change your *own* mind--modify your own thoughts and behaviors.

Good stuff.
posted by enrevanche at 11:50 AM on October 15, 2005

Feeling Good (despite the cheesy title) always tells me what I need to hear to get through pretty much any situation.
posted by softlord at 12:05 PM on October 15, 2005

I only read the first chapter of Die Broke, but that was more than enough to get an alternate perspective on what I expect out of work, life, money etc
posted by forallmankind at 12:09 PM on October 15, 2005

Cutting Loose helped tremendously during various stages of my divorce. I've also given it to a two friends over the past few years during their own divorces, and they both found it as helpful as I did.
posted by scody at 12:31 PM on October 15, 2005

I'm sure we had this exact question before but I can't find it. Anyway, I third Feeling Good. I like it better than the sequel that selfmedicating (heh) recommended.
posted by callmejay at 12:53 PM on October 15, 2005

I read self-help books now and then. I've heard a zillion peole here recommend Feeling Good lately, so I've borrowed it from the library and am preparing to read it.

Of the books I've actually read, there are two that I recommend enthusiastically, without qualification.

The first isn't a self-help book, but a nutritional text book entitled Understanding Nutrition by Eleanor Noss Whitney. I have a blue-and-yellow paperback edition that I bought for about twenty bucks sometime in the early nineties. Understanding Nutrition does a remarkable job of clearly explaining how the body works, how it processes food, and how a person can eat and live well. As I say, it's a textbook, but it doesn't read like one. It offers practical advice in clear, concise English. It's an excellent book.

I recently read (and summarized many financial self-help books). They all essentially gave the same advice. But the most practical of the lot, the most accessible, the cream of the crop was Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Forget worthless financial books like Rich Dad, Poor DadYour Money or Your Life offers sound easy-to-follow advice that works. It's changed my financial mindset (as well as my actual financial condition) over the past year. I regret I didn't read it when it was first recommended to me several years ago.)

Another financial self-help book I like is Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover. His debt elimination suggestions are quite effective.

I've tried to use Getting Things Done, which many people swear by, but I have some fundamental self-discipline and procrastination issues to address before that system can truly be effective for me.
posted by jdroth at 1:13 PM on October 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness changed my entire outlook on life.
posted by Otis at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2005

I'll fourth (or whatever) Feeling Good. It gave me actual tools that I could use to combat my depression and negative thinking. This shit seriously works.

For understanding my own personaility type, and why I can be extroverted and yet still easily overwhelmed by people and loud or crowded situations, I've found Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person extremely helpful.
posted by MsMolly at 2:38 PM on October 15, 2005

Deborah Tannen's "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation" was a real eye-opener to me when I first read it. Tannen is a linguist who decided to study men and women as if they were two different cultures -- as if they were, say, French people and American people stuck in a room together. She analyses how the sexes commonly misunderstand each other. Her book really helped me communicate better with women -- and even with some men (some men use conversational styles which are generally female and some women use "male" modes of speech.)

One thing I learned from her book that transcends gender: there are people Tannen calls "high politeness speakers" and other people she calls "high involvement speakers." HP speakers feel that they must wait for a pause before contributing to a conversation, or they will be interrupting, which is rude. HI people continually interrupt -- not to be rude, but to show that they are interested and engaged in the conversation.

In groups of HI speakers, no one considers these interruptions rude. In fact, they may consider someone who DOESN'T interrupt as rude (if they don't interrupt, they can't be interested in what I am saying!).

My family (Jewish intellectuals) is like this. We all interrupt each other, and we don't consider it rude. It's what happens during an exciting conversation when everyone is engaged. But when I went to college, I was constantly accused of rudeness when I interrupted other people. I was totally confused at first, because I was just trying to show my interest.

As with most things cultural HI people and HP people are not in conflict as-long-as they are with other people of their same type. But when they are with the other type, the HPs feel like they can't get a word in (or be allowed to finish a sentence) and the HIs feel like the HPs aren't interested in the conversation.

Tannen has a sequel, which is also good, called "That's Not What I Meant!", a book about gender-culture confusion in the workplace, called "Talking from 9 to 5 : Women and Men at Work" and a really interesting book called "The Argument Culture : Moving from Debate to Dialogue" which is about trying to SOLVE conflicts as opposed to what we usually do, try to decide on a winner and a loser.
posted by grumblebee at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2005 [4 favorites]

If you get a good self-help book, think of it as you would an instructional book for, say, tennis or playing the piano. Just reading it will barely do you any good.

Read it once, highlight passages, take notes. Plan time every day to do the things you want to achieve. After a few months, read it again. It will give a new perspective, make you aware of things you missed the first time. Think of new ways to apply it to your everyday life. After a year, read it one more time. You'll have new understanding and, if you're lucky, you might start to see the big picture.

If you really want to change or get good at something, reading a book about it is less than 1% of the work required to achieve your goals.
posted by driveler at 3:31 PM on October 15, 2005 [3 favorites]

Learned Optimism addresses the ways in which bad thinking can create a lot of negativity in your life (and then offers ways to recognize and break such mental patterns). It did a lot for me.

Also, there was a one or two page section in Financial Peace that I wish someone had shown me in high school. It addresses the issue of compound interest and how much better it is to start saving money at a young age. The book overall is not for everybody due to its occasional preachiness, but otherwise it's the economic primer quite a lot of us never got from our parents or schooling.
posted by kimota at 3:38 PM on October 15, 2005

Your Memory: How it Works and How to Improve It

Excellent book, provides tools for doing just what the title says.
posted by sirion at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2005

I want to second Your Money or Your Life, which helped me figure out more about my career than any career or motivation book ever could.

And The Artist's Way for absolutely everything else.
posted by xo at 4:26 PM on October 15, 2005

Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: lessons from the new science of behavioral economics has been the most helpful financial book on money management/finances I've read. It's not a self-help book, per se (there are no "lesson plans") but it was very enlightening.

I second The Artist's Way.

And this might sound really stupid, but Cook's Illustrated magazine has turned me into a decent cook, because they spend a lot of time explaining why a recipe works or doesn't.
posted by luneray at 7:33 PM on October 15, 2005

Comfortable with Uncertainty was my first exposure to Buddhism, but the book isn't "about" Buddhism. I bought it solely because the title captured my attention.

I can't recommend this book highly enough, especially since your desire is for change, not information. The internal benefits I got didn't require converting or meditating: I just started experiencing life differently.

I read one teaching every night right before falling asleep. If I remember those days right, that's when everything started to change.
posted by Moistener at 8:35 PM on October 15, 2005

If you're gonna read GTD, read Ready For Anything along with it. His 52 "meditations" stir up the deeper personal patterns around life/work. I recommend reading one-a-day for a while.

I read GTD and was glad. Then I read RFA and was a lot more gladder.
posted by Moistener at 8:42 PM on October 15, 2005

(FWIW, I'm INTP as well.)
posted by Moistener at 8:44 PM on October 15, 2005

The Stress and Relaxation Reduction Workbook was the text in a college stress course. Really pragmatic and helpful. Don't get the hardback, it has no illustrations, and using it in a course that makes you practice this stuff was really helpful.

Andrew Weil's CD on breathing is very cool too, and immediately useful.

There's religious stuff too, but I'm guessing that's not what you're looking for. If so, email me.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance had a big impact on my thinking and identity about 15 years ago.
posted by mecran01 at 10:55 PM on October 15, 2005

Though not meant as a self help book but as a career guidance book, "The Pathfinder" by Nicholas Lore, helped me mainly in the self-help area (how to get over fears and do things). It's like a personal coach who's there for you when you reach out for it. I still keep it around for when I need it.
posted by mirileh at 3:26 AM on October 16, 2005

I think that many self-help books can be genuinely helpful, when they are addressing the right problem, for the right person, at the right time. And that combination is going to be different for everyone.

In my case, I found all of the following books useful at different times: "Conversationally Speaking", "Buddhism Plain and Simple", "The Now Habit", "Getting Things Done", and "Now, Discover Your Strengths."
posted by xulu at 10:01 AM on October 16, 2005

(I'm also INTP).

I agree with xulu that it depends on the person, the situation, and the time. No self-help book is going to help if you're not in the right mind for it. As important, or more important, than finding out what works for other people is finding out what works for yourself.

I wish I had more help to give. Best of luck.
posted by Eideteker at 10:35 AM on October 18, 2005

I would second Learned Optimism and The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, especially the former.
posted by WCityMike at 11:07 AM on October 18, 2005

sorry I missed this question earlier.

I read and reread this book Happiness is a Choice for several years -and began to make changes.
Then I went to a weekend program, and I began to get it on a whole new level. Over time I have truly changed my worldview, my beliefs, and am Much Happier! the book and related stuff are here . You can read several chapters at that site. Highly recommended. It truly changed my life, but as they say at 'Option', it's not the Only way, use it if it works for you.
posted by judybxxx at 6:45 PM on November 3, 2005

« Older "Best Practices" for Preparing to take PHR Exam?   |   Major UPS PROBLEM Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.