Recommendations for self help books that *actually* helped you?
February 9, 2022 2:31 PM   Subscribe

I would love to hear recommendations for self help books (of any kind) that you genuinely feel helped you to improve something in your life. Appreciate that it's about the effort you put in, but is there any book that inspired you, gave you useful advice or guidelines that you successfully made use of to make real tangible and long lasting improvements in your life?
posted by Sunflower88 to Human Relations (38 answers total) 136 users marked this as a favorite
Mary Hunt’s Debt-Proof Living changed my life. It helped me change how I thought about and dealt with debt/savings/spending and I am much more financially secure today because of it.
posted by skycrashesdown at 2:39 PM on February 9 [4 favorites]

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk (for reasons discussed here).
posted by caek at 2:39 PM on February 9 [15 favorites]

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Edmund J. Bourne
Helped me overcome an extreme flying phobia, a therapist I was working with recommended it as part of our work.

The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron
I still think about/consult this book when working through issues around creativity.

Hold Me Tight, Sue Johnson
Dated in some ways, but really helpful book for marriage/life-partnerships.
posted by caseyblu at 2:42 PM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Constructive Living.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:56 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I really liked the book Calm and Sense: A Woman’s Guide to Living Anxiety-free because it has a TON of techniques, is very non-judgmental, and the woman who wrote it has been through some shit but isn't weird about it. I employed a lot of the techniques already but was happy to have a few to add to my arsenal. NB: I am not anxiety-free but I have a lot of good coping skills that work well combines with therapy and meds. Also I don't think it's only for women, but some of the advice is specifically good for people who mentruate.
posted by jessamyn at 3:03 PM on February 9 [8 favorites]

Gettings Things Done. Don't approach it as a strict to-do list, but instead as a mindset with suggested tools for creating order in your life. Take from it and use what makes sense for you.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:12 PM on February 9 [11 favorites]

Seconding Getting Things Done. Mostly a couple of concepts that work well. I can't remember a lot of it, but the bits that stuck made it worth it.

How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K White. Mostly a good story about creating order when you've got a chaotic brain, but has some excellent concepts that I use a lot. "Housekeeping" is downplayed in importance nowadays, but goddamn do I feel like a grownup when I know where my keys are and my room can be vacuumed without a pre-excavation.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. Following on from getting my shit together with Dana, I actually followed the konmari method almost exactly. Which is very rare for me. It worked, it's been three(?) years and I still rolly poley fold all my clothes and marvel at the order. Also, I know where my passport is and only rarely lose the tv remote.
posted by kjs4 at 3:38 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

^^ Marie Kondo’s book, for sure.

Her method is amazing if you actually do it. TV spots focus on how she folds or the big purges people make... But the real genius of her method is that she frames clutter not as a problem of space and organization, but as a problem of dreams that you are regretfully holding on to, long past their time. So she addresses the regrets- and then the clutter falls away.

She starts with an exercise where you imagine your perfect life and what you want it to look like. Once you do that, you recognize that in your perfect life there actually isn’t a tuba, so it becomes much easier to discard your tuba.

You literally say thank you, aloud, to the tuba, for being a part of your dreams - and then you peacefully let it go. That’s why people can do those big purges in the first place.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:27 PM on February 9 [25 favorites]

I found When I Say No I Feel Guilty to be hugely useful in managing my relationship with my parents. Be warned, though, that it's extremely dated, and some of the examples have aged really poorly.
posted by Ragged Richard at 4:53 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

nthing Marie Kondo. It sounds so stupid, but I decided to try her clothes folding method, and suddenly my overflowing closet had tons of extra space without me having gotten rid of anything.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:55 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]

It’s been too long to remember the name, but in my 20s I got a cognitive therapy workbook for depression and anxiety and it changed my life. Nearly 20 years later I still go through some of the exercises in my head when things get difficult or muddled. I have no idea what would have happened to me without that book, I was a basket case and had received no education on handling emotions from my parents (other than to scream as loudly as possible or to take to one’s bed).

Raising a Secure Child - Circle of Security Parenting. The thought that behaviors my child does that are hard for me to handle are probably hard because when I was a child those same behaviors were dangerous to have around my own parents. Revelation. And makes it so much easier to stop and take a step back when things are difficult, and have compassion for young-me as well as my own child.
posted by acantha at 5:09 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

While frustrated at a job with opaque, contradictory levels of management and an unworkable workload, I picked up "White Collar Zen." It honestly changed my life to the point that half-way through the book, I realized that I was just completely wrong about my relationship to that workplace. I didn't even need to finish the book!
From the book blurb:

"The Way of the Hermit teaches detachment―the mental clarity you need to view your situation dispassionately and impartially, to perceive who is an ally and who is a competitor, to understand what is possible and what is not."

The examples used to illustrate this koan were brutally on-point for my people-pleasing and authority-trusting younger self.

Truth: My managers simply did not understand my job, and were never going to manage me well. I couldn't change them, so I needed to emotionally detach from them and their ideas. I stopped working on their busy-work goals, and stopped trying to make them understand anything about why their ideas didn't work. So freeing!

" The Way of the Warrior teaches the ability to act without hesitation at the proper moment."

The opportunity came to jump ship and I took it. And the situation that transpired when I left, left me with excellent opportunities elsewhere and great references! I never regret leaving that job.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 5:24 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]

Seconding The Artist's Way. I think it's more than just about helping with creativity, It's helped me get out of depressive funks a few times.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:55 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


Learning how to set boundaries to enhance connection, without being unkind/angry/rejecting/distancing, is truly life changing. Most people who learn about boundaries on the internet mainly make changes in the direction of distancing themselves from friends and family, which makes us feel personally empowered - but at the cost of damaging relationships which need not have been damaged. Reading these books helped me make changes in the direction of finding safe, affirming, and authentic ways towards connection, which made all my relationships stronger in addition to making me feel personally empowered.
posted by MiraK at 6:13 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

Harriet Lerner's books, the old Miss Manners (Judith Martin) books, and Byron Katie's Loving What Is have all been very positively impactful for me. I also liked and felt improved by Marie Kondo.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:26 PM on February 9

Playing ball on running water, the Japanese way to building a better life, by David K. Reynolds. I am an overthinker and it helped me learn some focus on doing, not just thinking.
posted by theora55 at 6:51 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

pema chodron: when things fall apart.
protip - read it before that
posted by j_curiouser at 6:54 PM on February 9 [13 favorites]

2nd-ing When Things Fall Apart, but I did read it in a "well, things have fallen apart" state, and it was very helpful. However, things having fallen apart is definitely not a prerequisite.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:00 PM on February 9 [4 favorites]

This CBT workbook outlines many useful techniques for looking at your thinking, changing core beliefs behind distorted thoughts and practicing mindfulness during chaotic emotions. It has been helpful for both depression and anxiety.

Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:03 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I don't see Atomic Habits mentioned here yet, but its definitely changed the way I think about habits and behavior change in a lasting way.
posted by carlypennylane at 8:59 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

Two books by Tara Brach — Radical Acceptance and Radical Compassion.
posted by imalaowai at 9:22 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

Ostensibly a personal finance book, it's actually about figuring out your values and living by them in a way that allows you to decenter money and other people's values.

That sounds weird, I know, and the 90s version of the book had some investment advice that will never work again (although it worked great when savings accounts had actual interest rates). Anyway, it's been revised for the economic apocalypse we're now living under, but the core of the book is eternally valid.

Your Money or Your Life
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:28 PM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport writes about learning how to focus despite the distractions of the internet. I just reread this and picked up some more ideas.

Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. The authors say this book is about making ordinary art, which they define as art not made by Mozart. It's about how fear can stop us from making art and what we can do about it. This is another book I reread periodically.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. Dacyczyn is the godmother of modern frugality. In a similar vein, I'd recommend Living More with Less by Doris Longacre (also her More with Less Cookbook). Longacre writes in the Mennonite tradition and adds focus on living sustainably and learning from people in third world cultures.
posted by FencingGal at 3:56 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]

It is not a traditional self help book but, reading why we sleep by Matthew walker. Made me really prioritize proper sleep hygiene.
posted by skaggig at 4:16 AM on February 10

I will third any of David K. Reynolds books on Morita therapy. All of them contain similar content. Particularly useful for overthinkers.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:01 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]

nthing marie kondo.

the highly sensitive person's workbook was really eye opening for me and i recommend it to anyone who "feels too much"
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:37 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C Gibson. As someone who grew up a scared kid with an angry parent, this was like a kind person coming over and telling me that everything I've felt and couldn't explain was valid.

Seconding Atomic Habits, The Complete Tightwad Gazette, and How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk.

(Note, I have no children and no plans for any, and I don't live like the author in the Tightwad Gazette either but I found both books very helpful.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:46 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]

I truly believe that The Depression Book by Zen teacher Cheri Huber saved my life.
posted by Lexica at 12:10 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]

People are recommending The Artist's Way so I'd like to nominate The Essential Woodworker ( HB or PDF). After working for years in animation and feeling no real ownership of my creative contributions, being able to fill my personal space with solid, sturdy, useful objects has been essential to my wellbeing. I think it's worth nearly anyone's time to browse through it.
posted by brachiopod at 12:58 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Stop Walking On Eggshells helped me greatly to grow out of stasis with my narcissistic/pleaser parents.

Games People Play, though dated with some sexism, has been invaluable to me, see a previous comment I've made about that book.
posted by panhopticon at 1:04 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Here are some that really helped me at different stages in my life:

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston - this was the clutter gold standard (published in 1999) before Marie Kondo. Many, many similar themes. I particularly loved it because it goes into detail about what holding on to clutter really does - the impacts go well beyond just taking up space. I read Kondo's book as well and they're both good, but this one is my favorite.

All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren (yes, that Elizabeth Warren) and Amelia Warren Tyagi - I routinely give this book as a college graduation gift. Just straight forward advice on how to set up your spending and saving in a way that's sustainable and doesn't require constant tracking of spending. Wish I'd read this right out of college; it would have had even more of an impact in my life.

Stop Walking on Eggshells by Mason and Kreger - as a daughter of one person with BPD and what is apparently a classical pairing with a narcissist, I found this book life-giving. I understood my parents so much better and so many things from my childhood were explained. I felt validated and heard and it gave me tools to improve my relationship with them.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz - this one may be a bit on the spiritual side, but it had a big impact on how I use my words and it really shaped my thinking. People tend to either love it or hate it.
posted by widdershins at 1:39 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. was really helpful for me
posted by DebetEsse at 2:22 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]

I just came here to post Burnout, which I've read twice (the second time I did all the exercises, which helped), and while I am still burned out (because This Goddamn Timeline) I have better tools and some important insights.
posted by epersonae at 2:32 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]

David D. Burns The Feeling Good Handbook. Often recommended, and for very good reason.
posted by chromium at 2:44 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]

Yeah. Here are 5 books that legit changed my life trajectory:
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
David Burns' Feeling Good and Feeling Good Handbook
Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook

Melody Beattie's Codependent No More
What Color is Your Parachute Job Hunter's Workbook
posted by Miko at 11:20 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]

Similar to misanthropicsarah, I am reading the related "The Highly Sensitive Person" on recommendation of my therapist (who suggested I might be an HSP, and she was right on the money), and it's been very helpful.
posted by radioamy at 6:18 PM on February 12

Seconding Burnout.

Not really specifically self-help, but Devon Price's Laziness Does Not Exist really helped me work on some of my internalized capitalism and recognizing that actually I'm doing a ton already and the self-imposed guilt trips are more of a reflection of societal weirdness, not anything I'm doing wrong. Learning that people can only work effectively at high efficiency for like 3 hours was a total game changer in how I think about time management and planning my work day.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:22 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]

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