Self-help books are obviously meant to do just that — help. But I've always been a skeptic when it comes to them. It seemed to me to be a lot of yoga poses and deep breaths without much else. Too good to be true, I often thought. These were assumptions, of course, but I couldn't help but judge them, cover by helpful cover. When I was asked if I could live according to a different self-help book for a week, I thought it could finally be my chance to see what the hype is all about.
Since my default setting is anxious with a capital A, I thought that maybe a little guidance might be just what I needed. But I actually didn't even know where to start. I'd never picked up a self-help book aside from Tiny Beautiful Things , which I'm not sure is even considered one.
So, for the past week I've picked some favorite self-help books, old and new, to see if they could actually help me relax. Total honesty? My hopes weren't too high. In the end, though, I was pretty pleasantly surprised. Here's what went down.
After I gathered all the books, I picked a tip from each one, something I thought could help a targeted problem: from stress to sleeplessness to procrastination (probably my biggest problem.) Then, every day for a week, I had one of these self-helpful tips in the back of my mind, determined to change my ways. Naturally, some were easier said than done.
Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life by Tom Rath
The Advice: "Learn to walk before you run: Walking increases energy levels by about 150%...instead of viewing a slightly longer walk as something you don't have time for, view it as an opportunity to add a little activity to your day."
I am SO guilty of this. Everything feels like a rush, even when in reality, it doesn't have to be. Learning to slow down and take a walk was something I rarely did. I always take shortcuts walking to and from work, and though I'm good with taking the steps over the elevator, I wanted to try this to slow myself down and relax in the morning, rather than starting out my day feeling frazzled.
I only recently got a Fitbit, another thing I never thought would happen, but here I am, reading self-help books and tracking my steps. It's been one day and I'm changing already! Well, kind of. I took this advice for day one, and have kept it going ever since. Really, I only need a shortcut in the winter, or if it's raining. I like walking. All I needed was the reminder to slow down and do it. Plus, the Fitbit motivates me more than I would've ever thought to get moving, making Self-Help Day One a success!
You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
The Advice: "Done is better than perfect: Nobody else cares or will probably even notice that everything isn't 100% perfect. Notice where you stop."
I've been a procrastinator since I was old enough to do it. Probably before I even knew the word. Sincero encourages readers to take note of where they stop working and reflect on why they're stopping or putting it off. I've never stopped to think about this before — I just stop when I need a break. Which, OK, fine, is every time I hear Twitter or Instagram calling, but whatever. I put this into practice at work, where I actually stop working less frequently, probably because I'm doing prescribed work, not something I necessarily need to be inspired for. When I'm writing for me, though, it's a different story. I am my own worst critic, and when I think something is less than perfect, that's when I find myself reaching for every distraction I can find.
Although it's good to know when and why I put things off until the last minute, it doesn't exactly help me stop doing it. You Are a Badass was one book I would really like to spend more time with, since most of it involved self-reflection rather than direct action. Overall though, I'd say Day Two was a success, because at least now I'm aware of what I'm doing, and I'll know what to look out for in the future when my procrastination bug inevitably bites again.
Meditation For Your Life: Creating a Plan That Suits Your Lifestyle by Robert Butera, Ph.D
The Advice: 1. List the causes of stress
2. Understand the essence of stress ("Stress" being defined here as feeling overworked/too busy/rushed, technology overloaded, stressed in relationships, constant worry, excessive behaviors, insomnia/oversleeping)
3. Examine your priorities
Butera encouraged stressed out readers to take a look inside themselves and understand what is making them feel stressed out. Looking at the essence of stress list was a wake up call, let me tell you, because I feel all of those things pretty much every week.
The first thing I did was "unplug" for a few hours, which is almost impossible for me. I'm attached to my phone along with the rest of the Millennial era. I made myself sit down by myself, without my phone, and read. Reading isn't the problem, sitting still and not fidgeting with my phone is the problem. OK, so maybe I wasn't exactly alone:
Overall, this one was the most stereo-typically self-help-y. I like being given a specific task, rather than just instructed to look at what's stressing me out. I can't call this one successful, but it wasn't unsuccessful, either. I think this one deserves a longer period of time spent with yourself and the book. Unlike You Are a Badass, though, I didn't feel compelled to spend that time. For me, this was the epitome of self-help books: deep breathing, deep thinking, with little result. I honestly could have spent time alone and unplugged without a book to guide me.
The Power Playbook: Rules For Independence, Money, and Success by Lala Anthony
The Advice: "Learn to be by yourself. How can you know yourself if you can't stand being by yourself?"
Another one I knew I would be terrible at — I hate eating alone. As much as I would love to be one of those very comfortable people who go to the movies alone, I'm just not. But I did go to lunch myself, and it actually was not too bad. I read my book, and nothing terrible happened. Amy: 1, Awkwardness: 0.
The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls by Cara Natterson
The Advice: In order to get 10 hours of sleep, you will need to go to bed between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. each night.
I know what you might be thinking: It's for girls. BUT so many girls are practically given this book like a bible, I wanted to revisit it. This was one of the earlier tips in the book, and I couldn't resist. I go to bed between midnight and 1 a.m. most weeknights, and end up hating myself for it every single morning, sleeping longer on weekends, and creating a terrible cycle for myself. I went for 9:00 because 8:00 is practically noon.
Despite my nostalgia and good intentions, this one was a disaster. I laid awake almost all night. My handy sleep tracker app said I slept for a whopping 1 hour and 17 minutes. OOPS.
Three out 5 successful self-help days! Not bad for as skeptical as I was. I might even go back for You Are a Badass. I feel like that one had a lot more to teach me.
What did I learn? Not to go to bed at 9:00 and use self-help books meant for children, for one. But more importantly: Learn to take time for myself. Whether it's during my new found walking time, shutting my phone off and browsing some stores, or just taking a lone lunch break, being alone might be a good thing!
Image: Amy Sachs; Giphy (2); CollegeDegrees360/Flickr