10 Self-Help Books That Will Actually Help You
The notion of self-improvement can often seem like a solitary endeavor. After all, it begins with the word “self.” But while we’re all unique beings with our own sets of circumstances, struggles, and gifts, at the end of the day, there are many universal components of being human.
The booming self-help market indicates that many of us already recognize the wisdom of turning to others when it comes to self-improvement. However, the sheer amount of information offered by this very popular genre can also feel daunting to anyone just dipping their toes in.
From self-love to creativity and general tips for self-improvement, this post of our ten favorite self-help books is here to get you started!
1. Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Self-help books don’t need to be dense, in-depth texts to make a positive impact on your life. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a short but sweet affirmation to start — or end — your day on the right foot.
This is exactly what Lin-Manuel Miranda set out to do, pre-Hamilton, when he started writing aphorisms and bits of poetry to help him bookmark each day positively. He began to share his messages on Twitter, each morning and night, and after they became increasingly popular, he turned those tweets into Gmorning, Gnight! — a charming book complemented by its Shel Silverstein-esque illustrations.
Allow for the possibility that the best of you is still inside you, waiting to emerge.
Prepare the way, bit by bit.”
2. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor
The pursuit of happiness might just be one of humanity’s earliest, universal endeavors, right? Well, according to Shawn Anchor — a psychologist who conducted one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard — the path to happiness so many of us have been taught is wrong. Not only is it wrong, it’s actually backward.
Happiness isn’t the result of scoring that dream job, getting that promotion, buying that big house, or any other such conventional measures of success, says Anchor. Happiness comes from within, relying on our ability to adopt a positive mindset, and it’s this “joy of being” that allows us to be successful and accomplish our goals.
With a focus on the workplace, The Happiness Advantage strives to help people reprogram their definition of happiness as an entity almost separate from the self, so they can start living more joyful lives.
“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change; it is the realization that we can.”
3. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon
“In good times and bad” is a refrain that especially speaks to people these days. Because many people are heeding official advice and staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a pervasive pressure to use this time to “get things done.” But in light of the strange and difficult circumstances, summoning creative energy is a difficult task right now — regardless of the extra free time people may have on their hands.
This is why Austin Kleon’s guide to sustainable creative output might be the book for you right now. Full of tips for long-lasting motivation — like how to worry less about getting things done, and more about the actual work you’re doing — it’s a great read for those of us who might be looking for a boost of productivity, while keeping in mind that creativity is not a linear state, and accommodations need to be made.
“Creativity is about connections, and connections are not made by siloing everything off into its own space. New ideas are formed by interesting juxtapositions, and interesting juxtapositions happen when things are out of place.”
4. Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Lori Gottlieb is here to tell you that’s not true.
Gottlieb is a psychotherapist who, despite having her own successful practice in Los Angeles, one day found her world crashing down around her, landing her on the doorstep of a fellow therapist. Switching back and forth between the role of patient and clinician, Gottlieb comes to realize that while our problems may take different shapes, all humans struggle with similar, universal challenges.
With striking candor, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone effectively strives to destigmatize therapy, dives into what it means to be human, and encourages readers to see their struggles as one of the things that connects us all.
“But part of getting to know yourself is to unknow yourself—to let go of the limiting stories you’ve told yourself about who you are so that you aren’t trapped by them, so you can live your life and not the story you’ve been telling yourself about your life.”
5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Positivity, Manson argues, does not lie in acting like everything is great. Some things just suck, and there’s no two ways about it. Instead of always turning lemons into lemonade, what if we try to be better about eating lemons — without having to douse sugar on them. What if we acknowledge our flaws, fears, and limitations, and learn how to accept, forgive, and love them? Surely then we’ll be better equipped to see the good in our lives, while also striving for what matters to us.
This is the raison d’être of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: to encourage readers to stop trying to be positive all the time, and to evaluate what happiness really means as individuals.
“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Most authors are certainly no stranger to introversion. In fact, being an author and being an introvert often go hand-in-hand. And while extroverted promotional tasks like book marketing might feel daunting for introverted indie authors, this state of being can also come with many strengths for writers — such as the powerful skill of observation.
Susan Cain’s book is a rallying cry for all the introverts out there, pointing to prominent figures such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and Eleanor Roosevelt as examples of introverts who changed the world. The ability to listen deeply, spend hours happily alone, work independently, and exist in quiet, Cain believes, are powerful tools when it comes to leadership. For anyone who’s ever wondered if their soft-spokenness is a flaw to be fixed, this book is for you!
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
7. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The “muse” might be one of the most elusive concepts out there. It paints inspiration as this bolt of lightning striking us, or a lightbulb going off above our heads. And only once those epiphanies occur can we create.
But creativity, as the bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love argues, isn’t a state of being; it’s a journey. Exploring how ideas are formed, what creative success means, and the fears and doubts that stop us from living truly creative lives, Elizabeth Gilbert strives to help readers reconnect with their playful, imaginative selves — so that we can stop solely focusing on output, and start enjoying the process.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
8. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
From successful novelist Anne Lamott comes a quintessential companion for writers and artists of all kinds. Tackling not only a number of craft-related subjects, Bird by Bird digs into the mental and emotional realities of creating something out of nothing. Of reaching within ourselves to leave words where once was only paper; to create stories out of what were previously jumbled ideas; to turn “to do” into “done.”
Her method? Taking things step by step. Or, as Lamott’s father would say, “bird by bird.”
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”
9. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
If you’ve ever done improv, you’ll know that the #1 rule is to say “Yes, and…” “Yes, and” is a signal that you are a willing participant in the act of creation. When you say “yes and” to a scene partner, it means you’re willing to go along, to build upon what they’ve put forth. “Yes, and” — or simply just “yes” — can be an incredibly powerful statement.
This is the sentiment that Shonda Rhimes — the creator of How to Get Away With Murder, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal — proffers in Year of Yes, a personal recount of the year she spent challenging herself to accept the opportunities coming her way.
The result of this social experiment? You’ll have to read to find out. But trust us that her lessons are applicable to all writers out there, who are constantly challenging themselves to say “yes and” as they create works of literature.
“If I don’t poke my head out of my shell and show people who I am, all anyone will ever think I am is my shell.”
10. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
After experiencing professional burnout and realizing she’d been operating on flawed perceptions of self-worth and success, Brené Brown started seeing a therapist and began a journey that brought her up close and personal with an acquaintance many of us are all-too-familiar with: shame.
With The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown encourages readers to realize comparison is the enemy of fulfillment, and perfection is an entity so abstract it might not even exist.
If you’re an author struggling with writer’s block, this book may just be the reminder you need to leave self-doubt and public perception behind, and focus only on what you’re trying to create.
“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”
This is a guest post by a Reedsy contributor.
What title would you add to this list?