Five Self-Help Books That Saved My Sanity
I love a good self-help book.
Truth be told, they’re the only genre of books that I read. My husband finds this disconcerting. On our most recent beach vacation, I sunned on the lounge chair next to his, feverishly reading, highlighting and making notes in the margins. “Why can’t you just read trashy romance novels like most women?” he asked.
I said something to the effect of, “I’m not like most women.”
I’m not embarrassed to admit that I read all three Fifty Shades of Grey books in rapid-fire succession over a long weekend, but other than that momentary escape from my life, I can’t name a single non-self-help book that I’ve read in recent years.
I love reading self-help books because I consider it time very well spent. I learn about myself, and then I better myself. And sometimes, when I come across lessons that are particularly life changing, my head explodes.
I often get asked which self-help books are my favorites. So, here you go — my five favorite self-help books listed in the order that they entered my life and then promptly changed it.
Holy goodness. If you’re up for deep thoughts by Eckhart Tolle, this is the book for you. My head exploded at least 15 times reading this book. It’s a mind-blowing, game-changing look at how stress is caused by being “here” and wanting to be “there,” or being in the present but living for the future or running from the past. Eckhart says that this desire for metaphorical time shift is the split that tears you apart on the inside.
Favorite quote: “When you live in complete acceptance of what is, that is the end of all drama in your life. The conflict in you will cease to exist when there is no longer any clash between the demands and expectations of your mind and what is.”
Key takeaway: If you can find the ability to live in the present moment, in this precise moment — not the one before or the one after — then you will find inner peace.
I can’t talk about this book without feeling profound gratitude for its author, Gabrielle Bernstein. In this vulnerable take on her own life, Gabrielle documents her breathtaking transformation from a shell of a human being (successful on the outside but lost on the inside) to an enlightened woman lit up from the inside.
I’d always been interested in the idea of meditation, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it because everyone I heard talking about it was very monk-like, until I found my Spirit Junkie. She provides some basic tips and tricks that make getting started less scary and more accessible.
I cried the first time I did it.
Favorite quote: “When the source of your happiness lives in the arms of other human beings, you’re totally screwed. I was on an endless search to feel good enough. And my ego had convinced me that everything I needed in order to feel complete was ‘out there’ when it was ‘in here’ all along.”
Key takeaway: It’s OK to admit your life is spinning out of control or that you’re on the hamster wheel to nowhere happy.
Contrary to the title, this book is not really about food or God. This book takes a remarkably introspective look at women and our uncanny ability to believe that we’re broken on the inside while also believing it’s unacceptable to acknowledge it on the outside. The author, Geneen Roth, uses her counseling expertise to share countless stories of women avoiding their own reality. If you read this book, you’ll develop a super power that helps you avoid taking objective facts (you’ve put on a few pounds) and turning them into moral judgment (therefore you are a complete loser). It’s life-altering advice regardless of what kind of God you believe in or what you ate for breakfast this morning.
Favorite quote: “When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you.”
Key takeaway: If you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s because you don’t love yourself. The key to all happiness and well-being is a sense of self-compassion. Get some.
4. Finding Your Own North Star
If you’re stuck in a rut and think you maybe, possibly, should do something different with your life/career/marriage but you have no idea where to start, start here. Filled with actionable exercises and deep questions for you to contemplate, this book was written by Martha Beck, who is Oprah Winfrey’s life coach. I believe everyone needs a life coach.
There’s no way I could have found the courage to leave a successful advertising career and become an entrepreneur if I hadn’t read this book and written on every single page. By chapter four, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
Favorite quote: “Happiness is an inside job. You are the only person who can figure out exactly what makes you happy. It’s your job to define and articulate your needs. Even if others were willing to articulate your needs, the fact is that they can’t do it.”
Key takeaway: You must determine what excites you and what drains you if you want to find a greater sense of happiness and inner peace. Writing it down will shed light on the life you’ve been living but perhaps not paying attention to.
If you have a mean voice in your head that questions your every move and it’s wearing you out, this is the book for you. Michael Singer does a remarkable job of making you aware of the ugly voice in your head and teaching you some tips and tricks for getting it to quiet down. There’s no inner peace in the world like a quiet mind.
It’ll be the greatest gift you ever give yourself.
Favorite quote: “You will someday see that there is no use for incessant internal chatter, and there is no reason to constantly attempt to figure everything out. Eventually, you will see that the real cause of the problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.”
Key takeaway: Everything will be OK when you can learn to be OK with everything. And when that happens, you’ll stop trying to control everything and the mean voice in your head will yell at you less.
Whew, there you have it, my five favorite self-help books and the reason my husband officially thinks I’m crazy.
I hope you’ll take the time to pick one of them up and learn about what’s going on in your own life and mind. As human beings, we spend so much time studying everything from the history of the Civil War to how to turn zucchini into pasta. Maybe it’s time to add yourself to the list of things you need to learn more about.
There are plenty more where these came from, but these are the foundational five. The first five I ever put in my ever-growing library of self-help books, and the five that had the most profound impact on my life.
Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.
Stumbled on your site today and looking to get a few books read, then do this thing! Since this is from 2016, would you change this list at all? I’m halfway through You are a Badass and I’m craving more.
Hi Amy! Good for you taking control and starting your self-help journey. Honestly, I wouldn’t change much about this list and only have two additions: Hungry by Dr. Robin L. Smith and of course, You Are a Badass – which it sounds like you’re reading now! Sending you love! – Katherine