What Self Help Books Have Really Taught Me
I love the idea of becoming a better person every day. And when I say better, I mean kinder, more compassionate, happier, wealthier, more productive, and I know that not everyone defines their “better” the same way. But most people, no matter what their better may be, desire to create a life they are proud of. Hence, the genre of the self help book.
I love self help, mostly because I love the idea of working every day to become my best self. Not everyone feels this way, I know that. And I also know that there is no perfect version of ourselves that we will one day become. No one wakes up one day as their ideal self. But we are on this planet for only so long, and the least we can do is try to show up better each day than the day before. So of course, I fall into the category that loves the feeling that reading a self help book gives. But I do recognize that reading the book is not what creates a better me, it is what I do in my life that does that.
Self help books can be motivating and inspiring guides, or a reminder that you are still not where you want to be. I think the latter comes from when you read a motivating book, or listen to an inspiring podcast, and yet you don’t change anything about your life. You take in the inspiration, feel good about yourself for a few minutes, feel hopeful that you will grow closer to that ideal version of yourself, and then go do the exact same thing you did the day before. I want to avoid that tempting behaviour, so I try to take at least one action/change from each book I read and find a way to bring that into my life.
I read 6 self help books this past year and I intentionally took (at least) one thing from each of them that I have implemented into my life. I did not use one of them as a complete life guide. But I did intentionally become a little better by reading each of them. I want to share the things I took away from each book, in the hopes that you might think intentionally about self help, self betterment, and your own takeaways as well.
Be Impeccable With My Words
From The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Being impeccable with your word means to speak from the heart of who you truly are, and to understand that your words have power. I have always been the kind of person to speak before I think and I have been working on changing this. I have started speaking slower. Especially at big social gatherings, I try to be quieter and not interrupt people or say things without saying them in my head first. This is not to stifle my thoughts and feelings, but to make sure I really mean what I say. Another change is that I think about my ideal conclusion before I have big conversations with those I love, especially about tough topics. This means I have less heated emotions when I have these conversations and I can be confident on my thoughts and words.
Depend On Only Myself For My Happiness
I am actually still working on this book, The Mastery of Love, also by Don Miguel Ruiz. I learned a really tough lesson in the first three chapters of this little book: I rely too heavily on others for my happiness. And of course, I know this is not a problem unique to me, but I recognized myself in Ruiz’s explanation of people who care so deeply about what those around them think of them. I resonate with that statement so much and it makes me cringe. I live for approval and recognition from others, and that can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and unhappiness. SO… I have come up with a couple ways to combat this: create my own happiness, and spend more time alone. These go hand in hand as a way for me to find contentment in time spent with myself and recognize that I don’t need someone else to make me happy.
Take Responsibility For My Stress
From the exceptional Adam Kreek, The Responsibility Ethic is a book that I recommend to everyone. It includes 12 strategies to take responsibility for your life. It was hard to choose just one of these responsibilities to implement at first, but I chose taking responsibility for my stress. Stress is neither positive nor negative inherently. But taking responsibility for whatever stress you have is super important if you are going to stop blaming stress on outside factors. I picked two ways to take responsibility, I do my best to turn negative stress into positive stress, and I stay organized.
Negative stress is the kind of stress that limits you, positive stress motivates you. So if I get overwhelmed or stressed after waking up late or making a mistake, I now try to notice it and use that pounding in my chest to motivate me to get better. Fix the problem, work out twice as hard, or clear my head. The trick is noticing my stress and then intentionally changing it into motivation. The other is organization, because chaos breeds stress. So now I keep my house clean, my workspace organized, my to do lists neat, to limit the stress that clutter brings me.
My Choices Matter
I am going to share this passage from Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, to explain my outlook on how our choices matter.
“We all get dealt cards. Some of us get better cards than others. And while it’s easy to get hung up on our cards and feel we got screwed over, the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decide to take, and the consequences we choose to live with.”
And that’s that. The choices you make in your life are yours. Don’t blame your circumstances on others because we can only control our own choices with the cards we have been dealt. I have been working on making more positive daily choices. Like choosing to not drink a beer at the end of the day. Or choosing to go for a run when I am grumpy. I have started implementing habits that I choose for my life (read the post about those, here) and even more importantly, I have been working on owning up to my mistakes. If I make a mistake, I notice it and I own up to it. I apologize and make amends if I can, and then I move forward. And let me tell you, it feels a lot better than blaming others for my own choices.
Pay Myself First & Use the 10% Solution
This one is a bit of a double header, I have always paid myself first, but hearing it from the pages of The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, just re-affirmed what I have always known. That financial success is possible with simple rules. What I mean by paying yourself first is to put money into savings (whether it is $10 or $1000) before you pay for anything else. This will help cut your spending on the things you don’t need, and help you prioritize what does. The 10% solution is also from The Wealthy Barber, the idea is that generally, we can all afford to save 10% of what we make for the future. The Wealthy Barber recommends putting this money into a mutual fund and then don’t look at it until you are ready to look at retirement. The longer you can do this, the higher your return will be. (I wrote a blog post all about this) and I did just that, I upped the amount I was putting in my mutual fund to 10% of my income and I upped my mutual fund to a higher risk/higher reward fund, and I NEVER look at it. So when I do look at it in 25 years, I will be happily surprised.
Gratitude is the Key to Greatness
I have said it once, I will say it again, gratitude and perspective are the biggest life-changers. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero talks about how gratitude is the gateway drug to awesomeness. Starting a daily gratitude ritual (practice/habit) has really set up my life for success. Because if you are grateful for the life you have, then you can be happy while creating an even better one. I have talked before (read my blog post here) about how I use the Grateful app to log 3-5 gratitudes or small wins of my day, every day. And wow, it has made me a much happier human. Another thing to try is looking at your small actions of each day as positives, instead of looking at your day/week/life as a whole, and thinking that it is not all you want it to be. I had a rough day the other day, feeling as though I had got nothing done and had just been in my sweats all day. But then, I thought about my lovely shower, my extra sleep, my delicious lunch, and how even though my day was slow, it was not a failure.
I’ll admit that I used to laugh at the idea that a book filled with inspirational quotes could change someone’s life, and I still kind of do think that. Because self help is just the name of a genre of writing that is aimed at selling us the idea that we can be better than we are now. But that doesn’t take away the fact that we can. We just need to take the feeling of inspiration and hope we get from these books, and turn it into actions that get us there.