Do All of Those Self-Help Books Make a Difference?

Seven Micro Tips for Reaching Your Goals (from the Best in Personal Development)

During a recent workshop discussion, a participant asked, “How many books have your read?!”

Clearly, I mentioned quite a few books that evening. I wasn’t being an excessive research quoter (really, I wasn’t). But – yeah – I have read a lot of personal development books over the last couple of decades and currently read on average 2-4 books a week. It’s easy for me to read that much because I I love non-fiction, Self-Help being among my favorite genres. (And easier still thanks to listening to books via Audible on my phone while driving to a biz meeting or walking my dog or waiting for my kids to come off the field from a practice.)

As a pragmatist, the next day I panicked  wondered about what good all that reading has done for my self-improvement and contribution to the world. There is no way that I could implement successfully every method that I learned from hundreds of self-help books. In the case of personal development – unless it has helped me – um – develop personally, what’s the point of it all?

Just to test it out, I brainstormed (no cheating so from memory) two lists – one micro tips and one macro impact – lessons gained from some of my favorite self-help books that I continue to use regularly. Here is a sampling of long-lasting, simple tips that I use as I pursue goals and dreams that matter to me:

  1. Make a list of people whose opinions matter to you on a one inch square of paper. If you have ever worried too much about impressing others, then try this tecunnamedhnique from Brene Brown’s Rising Strong (audio). Write down the names of everyone whose opinion about your dreams should be of concern to you on a one inch square piece of paper. If you can’t fit everyone on the square, shorten your list because it’s too long. Always important, but particularly powerful when setting out on new goals and dreams where your confidence may be unsteady. (Side note: This is the best book I have read on developing authentic relationships including with oneself.)
  2. Start every new project by clearing out a drawer. This tip from Cheryl Richardson (a Life Coach before coaching was cool) and NYT best-selling book, Take Time for Your Life only takes about 10 minutes, but can yield immeasurable positive impact on outcome. It will keep you organized even if you do mostbook_ttfyl of your work online. More importantly, it sends a clear message to the Universe that you are taking your dream seriously by intentionally making physical space for an important goal.
  3. Incorporate a new habit by reducing your need to think about it. In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath share how a corporation finally improved its safety record by changing the location of a dispenser to the entrance of the door all plant staff walked through. Although technically a business book, this tip is relevant to personal improvement too. Often new goals and dreams require new habits. Whenever I start on a new project, the first question I ask myself is what simple, effortless changes can I implement so that I can set my day up for success. Writing a list the night before, clearing your desk of everything but a pen and index cards, and setting a timer for writing are some examples.
  4. Ride the wave of fear for 90 seconds and then onward. Abby Seixas, Author of Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Lifeshared this secret (which she credits to Pema Chodron) in her book and it has been life changing for me. Fear is part of the building and creative process because our brains can’t differentiate between the threat of a lion running toward us and writing your first blog post. The good news is that feelings won’t last if you ride them out. By simply sitting with the feeling of fear for a 90 seconds rather than attempting to push it away, the feeling may dissipate. (Important note: This is meant for regular old variety fear, not clinical anxiety or other mental health issues.)
  5. Spend a few minutes daily free writing to reduce self-doubt and increase creativity. You may feel perpetually confident and fearless, but if not, spending a few minutes everyday in what Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way calls “morning pages” will help free you from the negative self talk that interrupts creativity. I use the Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal which provides one lined page per day for morning pages with inspirational quotes from Cameron interspersed throughout.  morning pages journal
  6. Complete the essential first. Essentialism is not about being particularly efficient; it is focused on doing what’s most important. Before you start your work day, ask yourself this question to determine what task to focus on from Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:”What is the highest possible contribution I can make towards my goal?”
  7. Create a “no” index card. Life is constantly vying for your attention. The bigger your dream, the more you have to say “no” to competing interests (for a time) as you work toward it. Keep an index by your phone or computer and travel with it. Write on the card your polite but clear “no” with your own version of: “I would really like to help you out, but right now my schedule is completely full.” or “I can’t make it, but thank you for thinking of me!” This trick is not from a self-help book, but from Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters)
    (Ironically the reason he ended up teaching a writing class to female inmates he quips is because he didn’t have his “no” index card by his computer when he was asked. Good thing he had it with him the other 100 times so he had time for this one.)

Phew – all of those reads have been more than just for fun – they actually improved my daily habits! Next time, I will cover what major impact I have seen in my life thanks to the best in self-help.

How about you? What habits do you still use that you learned from a favorite book?

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