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
- 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.)
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.
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.