I have so many self-help books lining my shelves (and stacked on my nightstand), I could build myself a cozy cottage out of the paper and bindings and live in it happily ever after.
So my 2017 challenge to read 1 self help book a week for four months was not fueled by a Netflix addiction, or an out of control addiction to Skype, Candy Crush, or Tinder. It was fueled by my obsession with buying books with words like empower, joyful, ignite, and nourish in the title from the self-help section.
I have always been an avid reader, especially since moving to the city, so it’s not like reading 1 book a week was a totally out of my comfort zone. Instead, this goal was rooted in two things: first, a deep desire to replace my inclination towards erotica and comedian memoirs for something that would stimulate my brain and challenge me to change and tweak parts of my life one week at a time. And second, to actually read the books I compulsively bought every time I ventured to Barnes & Noble. Four months later, and I can say say that this challenge has changed my life for the better. Here’s what it as like:
I Had To Get Over My Fear of Reading A Self Help Book In Public
The majority of my reading happens on the subway, with a solid 50 (total) pages getting read on the commute to and from work everyday- the JMZ train makes the perfect mobile reading nook with its slow moving rhythm and always-available seating. While I had no problem folding back the covers of my soft-core romance novels and indulging in fantasy on the subway, I did struggle with the vulnerability that came with sporting a self-help title in public. So I started with books from New York Times Best Sellers and Amazon Top Hits, such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson, You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness And Start Living An Awesome Life by Jen Sincero, and The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein, and slowly made my way to lesser known titles such as Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice, & Build Your Dream Life by Lisa Sugar and Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burney and Dave Evans. That being said, I realized is that New Yorkers don’t give a sh*t what a stranger is reading on the subway and by my third book, I flaunted my cover like no one was watching, because basically, no one was.
I Cried On The Subway
Not only do New Yorkers not care what a stranger is reading on the subway, but it turns out that New Yorkers also aren’t particularly put off by a weepy twenty-something year old on the train, which is both good and bad news. For one, I could cry freely while reading my self-help book without feeling embarrassed or self-conscious, but had I been crying about something other than a book I think I would have appreciated the knowing look from a stranger.
My self-help books didn’t make me cry because they made me feel helpless. Quite the opposite, actually. They made me cry because sometimes they just really GOT me. From Gabrielle Bernstein asking, “In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?” and Glennon Doyle Melton saying, ““I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, ‘For the same reason I laugh so often–because I’m paying attention.’ I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide” to Stacey Griffith reminding me that, “Of course yes is a powerful word, but so is no. By saying no to things that aren’t aligned with your intentions and goals, you are reinforcing and making space for what is important to you. Saying no to the things that take away from your goals creates space for them and tells the universe you are focused on them” some of these books were full of FEELS.
I Made Connections With Strangers
When I wasn’t crying on the subway or hiding my book-cover, other women would often ask me if I was enjoying the books I was reading…. especially when the titles had curse words in them. If you’ve walked past the self-help section in any bookstore (especially Barnes and Noble) you might have noticed an influx of books with “fuck” “bad-ass”, “kick-ass”, or “bitch” in the title. Don’t believe me? Check out the first 8 titles of of the list I provided at the end of this article.
Over the course of the last four months I have had at least 5 conversations with women on the subway who had either just started or had just finished the very curse-containing book I was reading. Turns out these curse-filled self-help books are taking away the stigma of not only reading self-help books, but talking about them! With strangers! My personal journey for internal improvement helped me create on-the-whim connections with other self-help aficionados on New York public transit.
I Was Less Stressed
A 2009 study by Sussex University showed that reading can reduce stress by as much as 68 percent. While most of the books I read were far from “soothing” with their swear-filled covers and calls to action, the simple act of reading put me into a very focused and zen state of mind, while also helping me feel like I was taking the reigns of my life. It’s been proven that not only do self-help books can help those suffering from stress, but it can also help those suffering from depression. The University of Manchester published a report that concluded that those who are severely depressed can benefit from these books as much as others. Psychologists call this “bibliotherapy” and it appears to help those in need. It is clear that reading self-help books can help improve someone’s mood by decreasing stress, and helping ease the symptoms and feelings associated with depression, even if a person would not identify themselves as either stressed or depressed.
I Was Inspired To Make Better Choices and Positive Actions
Most of the “personal development” books that I read came with exercises and prompts to get their readers thinking about the choices they make and why you make them. From Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski prompting readers to think about their sexual experiences and You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero encouraging readers to think about the negative feelings they associate with money, to The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck by Sarah Knight giving readers space to list out what they do and do not give a fuck about. By reading books that required a high level of introspection and interaction, I found myself remembering the different activities throughout my day and dialing my choices towards “positive” as often as possible. I became super aware of what I was choosing to fill my days with, so that I could do more of what’s working, and less of what’s not.
I Began Personal Growth Projects
Is it coincidence that two months into my four-month project that my freelance writing business began to grow in new ways? I don’t think so. All the positive thinking, decision making, and better choices made me hungry for growth and excellence. I found myself mapping out a vision of my life and crafting an action plan that could help get me where I want to go.
My Challenge Was Supposed To Last One Month, But I’m Keeping It Going
Unlike some of my exercise experiments, this is a way of life I can totally get behind. I have experienced and seen good for me benefits that have made me a ier, healthier, more relaxed, and dare I say “more successful” person. Plus, my experiment has helped me realize how much time I have in my day to read (On the subway? Check. The fifteen minutes before my work shift starts? Check. In the line at Starbucks? Check. Waiting for my oatmeal to cook in the microwave? Check.). As I have found more chunks of time to read, I have been able to not only read one self-help book a week, but also read a second book in any genre- sorry, erotica, it seems I just can’t quit your steamy scenes.
Curious what the 19 self-help books I read were? Check out the list below:
1. F*ck Feelings: One Shrinks Practical Advice For Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems By Sara Coughlin and Michael I Bennett, MD
2. F*ck Love: One Shrinks Advice For Finding A Lasting Relationship By Sara Coughlin and Michael I Bennett, MD
3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck by Sarah Knight
5. Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do (A No F*cks Given Guide) by Sarah Knight
6. You Are A Badass: How To Stop Doubting Your Greatness And Start Living An Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
7. You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero
8. 52 Ways To Live A Kick-Ass Life: BS-Free Wisdom To Ignite Your Inner Badass by Andrea Owen
9. The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein,
10. Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice, & Build Your Dream Life by Lisa Sugar
11. Designing Your Life: How To Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burney
12. Two Turns From Zero: Pushing To Higher Fitness Goals– Converting Them To Strength by Stacey Griffith
13. Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski
14. Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton
15. In The Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice From Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney
16. The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
17. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Mari Kondo
18. The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent A Year Trying To Sing in The Morning, Clean My Closet , Fight Right, Read Aristotle, And Generally Have Fun by Gretchen Rubin
19. 20-Something, 20-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction by Chrissy Hassler