A few weeks ago I received an email from a journalist asking if he could interview me for an article for the Independent on Sunday on self help books. Of course I said yes! I love self help books which have been instrumental in creating a lot of my core philosophies. The article, The Modern Fix: Do self help books really work, seems to attempt to discredit the self help industry as a bunch of charlatans who are only in it (the industry of writing self help books) to fleece the weak. I disagree.
Then yesterday, I received a call from the BBC asking me if I would be happy to talk on BBC World Service about self help books. Yes, Yes, Yes! But during the course of the conversation I had with them, it became apparent that there were lots of different opinions on what constitutes a self help book; continuously coming back to the question “are self help books therapy”. Self help books are a lot of things… a resource to educate oneself, an answer to a problem, a new way of looking at the world, a way of taking control of a situation … and yes sometimes therapy. But they are not only for when you are feeling low; they are a way of moving yourself forward in a way that will help you with your life.
In the beginning
Books have been a core part of my life ever since I was 7 and used to save up my pocket money for 3 weeks so that I could go down to the shop and buy the latest in the Mallory Towers series. These books then became my refuge and entertainment, as we moved cities and countries every 2-3 years until I was in highschool. My parents bookshelves were always heaving with self help books so I grew up believing that it was totally normal to read and refer to them if you wanted to change something.
In university, I started buying my own books and what I found was they offered me new perspectives; new ideas and new ways of thinking. I can’t even remember most of the books that I read back then, but I know I was seeking answers about how to achieve more. Do more. Be more. I read Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich. I read Dale Carenegie’s How to win friends and Influence People and I read Susan Jeffer’s Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway (we are running a Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway workshop in May with one of Susan’s trainers). These books filled my head with dreams and ideas and a sense of empowerment. I believed that I could do and be whatever I wanted. And I still do.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday where she was telling me that when she comes from a position of fear, she makes decisions that don’t serve her in the long term. I think a lot of us are like this. When money is low; when debts are mounting; when businesses are struggling; when relationships are failing; when life feels overwhelming we often make decisions that we live to regret. If we can create some space and introduce a new perspective through a book that is designed to help to deal with that exact situation, it can often be a massive help and support. These books can give us a sense of control in our lives when everything else seems to be spinning out of control; allowing us to take action in a safe way.
The feeling I got from the article in the Independent is that as there is no science behind self help books actually making a difference, this makes them unworthy of our attention. But how do you measure attitude? When I launched Women Unlimited, I deliberately made the decision that we would take a positive stance on business and life. I do fundamentally believe that we can change our circumstance by changing our behaviour. The old adage “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got” circulates round and round in my head every time I feel like I’m not achieving what I should be. So I try something new. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but it always means that I’m moving forward.
Not all books are created equal
There is another side to this though. Not all self help books are created equal and we have a responsibility to use common sense when applying what we read. I know there are lots of people out there who believe that the book The Secret will change their lives. Without having to do anything other than wish for it. And believe. The problem with this, is that it makes us passive and gives us a ‘wait and it will come’ kind of attitude. Action creates change. Not waiting.
In 2005, I read a book called the Magic of Thinking Big. This book became my bible for the next 5 years of my life. I thought that if I wanted to be happy, I needed to THINK BIG, have big visions and big dreams. Over time I have come to realise that this is not the path to happiness. The reason being, is that it stopped me from enjoying the journey. Constantly striving for more; more wealth, more things, more success, can leave us feeling empty and inadequate. The gap between our dreams and reality needs to be surmountable and to match the other areas of our lives that are important. My personal struggle came with balancing my business aspirations with my family aspirations. I could not be the mother I wanted to be if I was off focusing all my time on trying to build a multi-million pound business. And I knew what I would regret more if I made the wrong choice. By removing that pressure, I discovered that not only am I much happier but also, even as my children grow up, I don’t want the multi-million pound business any more. I want a business that serves me, serves my community and allows me to live the life that I want. Sometimes, what we aspire too, is not what it best for us.
If there is something going on in your life that needs changing, then you could do a lot worse than read a self help book and in many cases they can help you move out of a really stuck place. With the advent of customer reviews, the ability to preview books on Amazon either via Kindle or the look inside feature, you are able to determine pretty quickly if a book will be able to help. Here are some of my favourite books from the last couple of years…
Life without Limits by Lucinda Bassett. This book changed my life back in 2002 when I was feeling lost in my life and my business (my first business was placing consultants as a headhunter)… I highly recommend it if you are in a similar place. Six years later, it was also the inspiration for the name Women Unlimited!
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. I’m reading this now and it has really helped me to both understand what I need to do to achieve more in my business and to appreciate what I’ve achieved to date. Brilliant and easy to read with simple concepts.
The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. There are 66 of them in all. Jack Canfield has put together this weighty tome to consolidate all the principles that he has come across in his years in the self help arena
The Power of Less from Leo Babauta. I bought this book to help deal with the overwhelm of having too much stuff going on in my life. Six simple steps that helped me to simplify things.
The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield. Another great book from Jack which transformed my life from the first chapter as I realised that I get to choose what I focus on. I applied this to the chaos that made up every day of my life as I tried to get the kids off too school and now our house is a haven of peace and calm every morning (ok, that’s not quite true, but most days we get out of the house with no screaming and no stress)
One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer All about the power of taking small steps to make big changes. An easy book to read and a great way to approach business and life.
The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield. This fantastic books addresses motivation and the challenges that we face when doing anything. Particularly the hard stuff. A great book that applies to all areas of life.
59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman. I bought this book a few years ago when it came out and really enjoyed it. I’ve applied many of the principles that are in the book and it’s just plain interesting!
Please share with us your favourite self help books below, I’m always up for a good read!