How To Choose a Self Help Book That Actually Works

So you feel like reading a self help book. Welcome to America! We have them all. Maybe you're in the sort of funk that only a chipper title can cure — How to Stop Worrying and Start Living , anyone? Maybe you've trying to cure yourself of a bad habit, like chronic procrastination, and think that a book might help — what about The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play? Or maybe you just want to rule the world with your mystical feminine energy — you're in the market for Women Who Run With the Wolves , obviously.

But before you order every remotely positive book off Amazon Prime, make sure you're choosing one that's actually going to help. A book that vaguely promises to "make you more happy!" might not be the best choice for you if you're really just trying to work that legendary 4-hour workweek. A book that promises to get you "ruling the entire world in five days OR FEWER with MINIMAL BLOODSHED" should be avoided at all costs. Here are a few simple guidelines to help you choose a book that will act a little bit more like a therapist and a little bit less like that guy with the signs about Russian spies who's always sitting in front of Old Navy, yelling through a megaphone.

Note: if you're seeking help for a more serious disorder, like depression, OCD, or crippling panic attacks, please seek professional help first before attempting to read your way out of the problem.

Identify What You Really Want Help With — and No, "General Help With Stuff" Is Not An Answer

You know how everyone's been raving about Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up ? After seeing mentions of this dreamy little book everywhere, I finally caved and bought it. It's great — but I didn't really need it at all. I don't have a hoarding problem, I'm pretty organized, and I move apartments so frequently that I don't even have that much stuff. I simply fell into a common trap: Everyone was gushing about how the book changed their lives, so I wanted MY life changed, too.

Avoid this trap by trying to identify the deep, elemental root of your issue before you buy anything. Do you need help with exercise — or do you actually need help with underlying motivation? Do you want to vaguely "eat healthier" — or do you suspect you might have food allergies and need something like The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook ?

Look for a Book With Narrow Focus That Specifically Addresses Your Problem

A study called "Popular Self-Help Books for Anxiety, Depression and Trauma: How Scientifically Grounded and Useful Are They?" found that the most effective books for depression and anxiety were the ones that focused on something specific, like OCD or social phobia, rather than promising to generally Make You Feel Much Much Better. This is applicable to any sort of self-help area — the more specific the focus, the more effective the treatment.

You Want Worksheets. Lots of Worksheets!

The study also found that the most successful self-help books included what the business bros call "actionable steps" — basically, something that you can easily implement IRL. This might include step-by-step instructions, worksheets, or an entire online network that's there for you when you slip up. The point is, look for a book that has structure, not just one that fills you up with vague claims and then abandons you in the wilds of the self-help aisle.

Look Critically at the Author

Listen: You do not need to take advice from any random person on the Internet, myself included! Check out the author's credentials — do they have a degree in the field? Do they cite applicable studies? How's the quality of the writing? Was the book written in 1345?

Avoid Hyperbole

We all know that the world of self-help books can be a little ridiculous. Without naming names, I'll just say that there's a book out there insisting that you can cure serious mental issues by tapping on various parts of your body. If a book promises to cure all your bodily woes through the MAGICAL POWER OF CHIA SEEDS, or fix your foggy brain through ONE EASY AFFIRMATION THAT YOU ONLY NEED TO SAY AT THREE A.M., or make you rich and famous and beautiful through this SIMPLE TWO-STEP MIND TRICK THAT INVOLVES MAGIC, you may be better off alone.

Read the Reviews

Well, duh. But are the reviews full of people saying "I have anxiety and this book made it 100000% worse"? Pay attention. Consider a jury of your peers — sure, some of them seem a little odd, but they're an easy way to get a sense of a book's effectiveness.

Pick a Book That You Really, Really Want to Read

Why slog through something that feels like homework? If the self-help book that speaks to you most is a little silly and has glitter glued all over the cover, who cares? So what if it has the word "Inner Goddess" in the title? Sometimes a little warm, fuzzy, easy advice is all you need.

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