5 Things You’ll Actually Learn From Self-Help Books

Why do we all love self-help books so much? Is it because we find comfort in a detailed action plan that promises to take us from A to B? Or maybe it’s because social media encourages endless comparison and makes us feel like we have to be the best, happiest and most productive version of ourselves at all times? Whatever the reason, the self-help industry is booming: according to The Guardian, sales of books under this genre reached record highs in 2019. But can waking up at 5am, avoiding procrastination and meditating on a daily basis really change our lives? Marianne Power – who followed the rules of a new self-help book every month for a year for her new book Help Me!  – isn’t so sure. However, that’s not to say her experiment was a failure – we sat down with the author herself and found out the lessons she really learnt from it all…

1. Love yourself! You’re perfectly imperfect just the way you are…

“At the beginning, I really thought that I was broken and I needed to fix myself. I thought following these books would make me a perfect person – I swear, I thought if I just tried hard enough I could become one of those shiny magazine people which is just ridiculous. I thought I’d stop worrying, I’d meditate everyday, I’d stop drinking wine, I’d become this clean living person who magically started a business and made loads of money…Of course, none of that happened. I became a complete mess but I learnt a lot from the mess so I wouldn’t change how it went. In the end, I realised that I was never broken – I was human! All humans have good days and bad days, strengths and weaknesses. Life is just messy and self-help books are never going to fix all of your problems or make you into a perfect person because perfect doesn’t actually exist. So, the biggest lesson I learnt from all of these books is that I don’t need to change. I just need to accept and love myself.

Now, I like reading them from the point of view that I’m already okay the way I am. If I can learn a bit more then that’s cool, but I’m not under huge pressure to change everything about myself. Go a bit easier with it all –  if something makes sense to you then that’s lovely, but if it doesn’t then never mind. Do it all with a bit more lightness.”

2. You need to work out which type of self-help book works for you…

“There were probably three that worked best for me: ‘Fuck It’ by John C. Parkin, ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle and ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers.

‘Fuck It’ is all about caring less about things and relaxing. He says that ‘fuck it’ is the Western expression of the Eastern philosophies of accepting and letting go. So when you say ‘fuck it’ to worrying about your weight, your job or your money, you relax and then weirdly things tend to go better. Sometimes the more we try to force stuff the less well it goes.

‘The Power of Now’ is all about trying to be right here right now. The author says that most of us spend our lives in our head either worrying about the future or beating ourselves up about something we did wrong last week…or ten years ago! He says that you should ask yourself – ‘do I have a problem right now, this second?’. The answer is almost always no so just breathe. I think the books about changing your mindset were really helpful for me, personally.

That being said, ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’ is the first book I read and was a very active book that said you need to go out and do something that scares you every day. I really went for it – I did stand-up comedy and naked modelling. I jumped out of a plane and I chatted up men on the Northern line. It was a full-on month. So, actually the books that tell you to go out and do something can be similarly effective because sometimes you really have to take action. I also did something called ‘rejection therapy’ which is where you have to be rejected by another human everyday – it was brutal but really rewarding. Ultimately, it was having a mixture of mindset changing books and active books that worked for me.”

3. You get out what you put in…

“I did so many crazy things in the name of self-help but they were honestly so rewarding!

I did naked yoga and ran across a lane of burning coals. Plus, I walked up to a guy I fancied in a coffee shop. I sat by my laptop trying to get the courage to go over to him for hours and when I did – god bless him – he acted like it was the most normal thing on earth and asked me to sit with him. He got me a coffee and we ended up going on a date.

When I did the stand-up comedy (which was absolutely the most scary thing I could think of doing – I was sick the morning I did it because I was so terrified), the fact that it went well totally shocked me and made me realise that we are capable of way more than we think!  Since the book has come out, I’ve had to do a lot of public speaking and a lot of interviews which I wouldn’t have had the courage to do if I had not made myself do stand-up comedy.

One time, I was trying to chat up this guy on the tube during rush hour. It was one of those really quiet rush hours when everyone is looking at their Kindle or has their headphones in, and I saw this guy and started talking to him. I could see the woman next to us taking out her headphones to listen to what I was saying. Even though it wasn’t a success in terms of getting a date, I got a real feeling of liberation from doing something I would normally be way too scared to do. I got a huge rush of energy and it made me think ‘god, why do we make such a big deal out of all this for? Who cares if this man that I don’t know thinks I’m a bit weird?!’. Our fear isn’t that life of short, it’s that we don’t feel alive while we’re living it but a lot of us go through our days in a bit of a daze. When you start to behave differently, it’s really exciting and made me feel like the world was full of possibilities!”

4. Real lasting change requires you to do more than just read the book…

“If you find a book you like, don’t just race through it and read the next one and the next one. A lot of us think that the act of buying the book and skimming through it means that we have somehow improved ourselves. Then, we buy the next one and can get into a shopping buzz with it all. So, I would say, if you find a book that you like, read it, read it slowly, re-read it and please please please do the exercises! Lots of self-help books will give you these little questions and ask you to journal about something or fill out a table. I used to skip out the exercises. For example, I’d never really think about my spending if one of the questions asked me to look at my spending and evaluate how you feel about money and your families relation to money. It turns out, doing the exercises is actually really rewarding and very helpful in terms of understanding yourself.”

5. You can’t do it all on your own…

“Brene Brown is one of the authors I read who I really love and she says she doesn’t like the term ‘self-help’ because she doesn’t think we’re meant to do it by ourselves. She thinks we’re meant to help each other and that what we really crave is to talk honestly to other people about what we’re going through.  We need other people! I was always someone who was quite independent and would try to figure out stuff on my own but actually, we all really need relationships and friendships. Now, when I’m struggling I prefer to pick up the phone and admit it to someone rather than keep all my worries to myself. I think we’re all worried about bothering other people or being miserable but the other person is doing exactly the same and the moment you’re honest, your friends will listen and feel that they can do the same when they’re struggling. When we’re all doing the ‘yeah, fine thanks’ and then going home and crying in bed we’re not really doing anyone any good.”

 

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