3 self-help books that worked for me

A self-help book should enable you to help yourself, right? Which self-help books (if any) have actually helped you to change, long-term? And why am I thinking about this now?

Well, I’ve been listening to By the Book, a lively podcast where two women experiment with one self-help book at a time. Comedian Jolenta Greenberg and culture critic Kristen Meinzer spend two weeks following the advice in a particular self-help book, then give their verdicts. Did the self-help book work? Greenberg and Meinzer are sincere in their efforts and brutally honest in their reports on the value of each self-help book.

Over my lifetime of so-far 82 years, I have read my share of self-help books. Jolenta and Kristen got me thinking about which ones have enabled me to change the way I behave. There they are in my memory, still influencing me. In each case I quickly responded: “Aha! That makes sense.” I embraced their concepts and practise their advice to this day.

Self-help books that continue to influence me

Book cover. Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. Karen Kingston. Photo of a black vase, a red poppy in a yellow vase, and a candle.
  1. Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui (first edition) by Karen Kingston (1999)

The original version of Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui was a tiny book, square if I remember rightly. The title alone had me converted. Instantly I could see that when you clear physical clutter, your place looks better and more soothing, and you feel better in your mind and spirit. I cleared up a shelf before I even started reading the book. I gave away multiple copies. The spirit of the book stays with me and (up to a point) the habits. (In 2016 the book was revised and updated with more new-agey aspects.)

Book Cover. New York Times Bestseller. Tiny Habits. The Small Changes That Change Everything. BJ Fogg, ,PhD. Founder of Stanford's Behavior Design Lab.

2. Tiny Habits. The small changes that change everything by BJ Fogg

When I grasped the principles and the practical steps for establishing tiny habits (not hard), that did produce a massive insight and changes in my behaviour. Don’t aim for ginormous, generic goals (like eating healthy or getting a film-star figure). Just start doing one tiny thing differently. Use the same trigger and reward yourself, every time. I did an initial free course by email that literally took five minutes a day for three weeks. And ever since then I apply the same proven principles and practices whenever I want to change my behaviour.

Read all about it and get the book too, if you want.

Book Cover. The 5-Minute Meditator. How to relax your body and mind rapidly whenever you want to. Eric Harrison. The Australian Edition. Photos i a row: people, peppers, butterfly, person and petunia against a blue sky.

3. The 5-minute meditator (Australian edition) by Eric Harrison

The illustrated Australian edition of this wonderful book is hard to find now, but you can download a PDF from The Perth Meditation Centre website. It helped me so much that I must have given away at least 50 copies to friends and people who seemed to need it at the time. Having found my final three copies I’m going to read it again. (And again.) Eric Harrison is a fully fledged Buddhist monk but he teaches a no-nonsense, practical approach to meditation. One gem from Eric Harrison (probably from a different book) goes something like this: “There’s no such thing as bad meditation.” That was so liberating for me, and I have found it is true.

How two self-help techniques combine to make change easy and permanent

For instance, if I’m in a big hurry in the morning I still meditate. Just for 5 minutes. Or even for 5 breaths. It’s a tiny habit, never to be missed. And there’s a world of difference between doing it (however briefly) and not-doing it.

A few days ago I got annoyed at a tall pile of books-to-be-read-or-returned. In ten minutes I’d rearranged them and cleared a space. Baby steps! My heart lifts every time I walk past that shelf, clear and orderly. Tiny habits and clearing clutter make a powerful duo.

Which self-help books have worked for you?

I’m pretty interested in your own experiences compared with mine.

  • Do you even read self-help books?
  • If so, which self-help books have actually worked for you?

By “worked” I mean that they actually enabled you to change your behaviour, long-term. They didn’t just change your thinking — when you did what they told you to do, you managed to change a habit or a way of behaving.

25 thoughts on “3 self-help books that worked for me

  1. Suzanne says:

    I agree that having a habit doing breathing exercises every day helps. Though not fully convinced about self help books though I do remember being a big reader of Louise Hay back in the 1990s. With age I have becomes more sceptical?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Louise Hay tapes were there when I desperately needed them and worked like magic. With age you maybe know how to cope?

      1. Suzanne says:

        Over the last few years have the art of resilience down pat.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        You had the need and met the need. Hard going. Well done.

      3. Suzanne says:

        Thanks, Rachel and wouldn’t life be dull if everything went to plan.

  2. granny1947 says:

    I can’t remember ever reading a self help book.
    There is one in my bookshelf by Patrick Holford
    Maybe I should give it a bash.
    Am very interested in reading the one about meditation.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What a lucky escape! (From multivitamin hell.) I think The Five Minute Meditator is free as a PDF from the link to the Perth Meditation Centre.

  3. Alan Ralph says:

    I had to chuckle at this post, as I’ve been selling off loads of books over the last few months to clear space ahead of a big redecorating project next year. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who bought lots of books over the years, the majority of which have gone unread and sat around gathering dust.

    Among those that I *have* read are “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo, which did help me get more serious about decluttering — that was given to my sister who is decluttering her home after years as a full-time teacher.

    The book I currently have by my bedside is “Quiet” by Susan Cain, which along with “The Highly-Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron have opened my eyes to why I’ve struggled so much over the years with social situations, and why it’s not a bad thing for me to spend time alone.

    I made my way through “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport earlier this year, it was an okay read and he makes some good suggestions for cutting back and using social media more thoughtfully, but some of the alternatives are definitely for people with money and time to spare. And as someone who stepped away from social media several years ago, I’m not really the target audience for this book anyway.

    It’s an amusing irony for me that I spent years buying books then never getting around to reading them, and now I’m getting off my behind and making positive changes I find a lot of self-help books are telling me stuff I figured out by myself.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, leave it long enough and we do learn a lot from the self-help book of lofe. (Gosh, I’m an oracle!)

  4. Are internet influencers the modern day self help book? If so then I shall continue to be ignorant of such beasts. Is it a man thing do you think?

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The horror, the horror! I get the message fromthe By the Book podcast that most self help books are written by young white men quoting Steve Jobs, and mostly read by women.

      1. I foresee a new project for you!

  5. I never helped myself to a self-help book. I had good advice from my SIL — a seriously addicted self-help book reader.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That is ultra cool 🙂

  6. LA says:

    I thought tiny habits was great

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes! BJ Fogg has worked in behavioral psychology for years. I’ma long term fan.

  7. Judith Baxter says:

    I have been a follower of self-help books for many years. In particular, I really liked Jim Rohn and have all of his books as well as those from many others. The one I found most inspiring, though was the Julia Cameron book the artist’s way. I am not an artist, although I do try to write, but I found this book, fascinating and useful.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I can’t tell you how many people b avesaid the a me about The Artist’s Way. And most of them have done her “morning pages” from time to time. I sometimes remember to take a day to imbibe art or beauty alone for a day, so something has stuck. I don’t know Jim Rohn, but will check him out.

  8. Mr. Wapojif says:

    I found Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows a fantabulous essay. It taught me to rely more on candles at night and relaxing evening shadows. Miso soup and the like. Calming!

    Plus, A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind taught my to embrace the therapeutic joys of cleaning. I relish scrubbing the dishes.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      These sound like my mind of books.

  9. cedar51 says:

    Yes I’ve read many, not recently – I think I was “told” to read certain types – none truly helped.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s probably the norm

  10. myrak says:

    https://perthmeditationcentre.com.au/ Yes still there available for download.

  11. Aisyah says:

    I love reading self-help books and I found enjoyment in reading them. A good reminder for myself I guess. The book that I love the most will be Zig Ziglar, Something To Smile About, and Mel Robbins, The 5 seconds Rules. I’ve read both books many times and they help me a lot in my life.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s good to find books that keep on helping you.

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