This year, probably because I got married and turned 30 in one fell swoop (#majorlifeevents), I spent a lot of time reading various self-help and wellness books. Many of them I found compelling and thought-provoking. Ergo, here are my recommendations:
1. GO TO THERAPY. These books are fascinating and useful, but if you have real issues you need to resolve, such as taking baths and/or finding inner peace, then twirling and drifting about in your own mental spin zone is not going to get you very far. Make 2014 the year you start therapy or commit to working hard with your shrink. For low-cost counseling and therapy options, check out Mental Health America or the APA. No matter how smart and self-aware you believe you are, I promise that you need insightful and objective commentary on you sh*t. Get thee to a therapist!
2. THE POWER OF HABIT: WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO IN LIFE AND BUSINESS by Charles Duhigg. Start at the beginning. You have, over the course of your life, developed many bad habits, which you really, really, really want to replace with good ones, hence all your New Years resolutions…and yet… The process of reforming your routinized self is both easier and more riddled with psychological and societal land mines than you may imagine. Duhigg’s book, a journalistic approach to this topic, contains lots of practical insight as to how to avoid pitfalls and successfully change intractable parts of your life. Then, you can tackle the institutionalized bad practices at your workplace, because he also explains how company cultures are formed and can be altered.
I was excited to hear Duhigg speak last month at the Random House Health & Wellness Open House (#RHOpenHouse), and he made a very inspiring point about the cascade effect of good habits. According to research, when people exercise, they also use their credit cards less and do the dishes sooner. In my paraphrase, this phenomenon is due the fact that people who exercise tend to think of themselves as “people who are in control of their lives,” and so they, therefore, end up taking more control. It is a virtuous circle. Attn: This book is coming out in paperback on January 7 — you can order your copy here.
Sounds good, right? And yet, you’re afraid you’ve still got too many mental barriers. OK, then, read:
3. THE HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS: FINDING MODERN TRUTH IN ANCIENT WISDOM by Jonathan Haidt. Award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done tons of groundbreaking research on human behavior and morality. This book is a kind of survey of the thought regarding human happiness and wellness, from the ancient roots of Western civilization and Buddhist philosophy to modern discoveries in clinical psychology. Haidt takes a cue from Plato, Aristotle and Buddha in exploring the question: what leads to human flourishing? His answers are fascinating and surprising. He elucidates his metaphor of choice: the human soul is an elephant with a rider atop it (trust me, it makes sense when you read it.) He extols the virtues of meditation, psychotherapy and Prozac. Though an atheist, he makes a compelling argument for spirituality as fundamental to happiness. I was totally engrossed in this book.
And on the subject of ancient wisdom, go ahead and read:
4. THE APOLOGY (of Socrates) (by Plato). You can read it for free HERE. Socrates was executed in Athens in 399 BC for (allegedly) corrupting the youth, not believing in the traditional deities and generally being a provocative nuisance to powerful people in a city that had just suffered devastating military defeat in the Peloponnesian War and seen its democracy upended by oligarchic tyrants and then fragilely restored.
In the Apology, written by Plato after the fact, Socrates defends himself against what he calls the “false charges” of his accusers, whom he belittles and name checks into posterity. But then Socrates accepts his condemnation, even welcoming his own death sentence.
All of which begs the questions: What are you doing with your life? Are you living according to your inner code of ethics? Are you following a vocation to which you are uniquely called? Are you pissing people off sometimes (or a lot) by being right?
If not, then maybe you need to get on that.
As Socrates says to the assembly regarding his sons: ”…if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, – then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing.” Figure out how you can be making Socrates proud. For starters: commit to your values and don’t be a poser.
5. DO THE WORK by Steven Pressfield. Do you ever feel like your life is a cosmic battle between good and evil? Do you ever think that in striving to express yourself, you are at war with some malicious, maniacal, all-defeating demon? Good news! You’re right. Pressfield argues that your enemy (and the enemy of all creativity) is an ever-present force called Resistance. Fortunately, he also describes how to defeat Resistance and achieve your goals. This is a manifesto you will want to read over and over again.
OK, so you’re good on background and inspiration and you are making war against Resistance. But in case you need more practical, day-to-day tools, read:
6. THE TOOLS: 5 TOOLS TO HELP YOU FIND COURAGE, CREATIVITY, AND WILLPOWER – AND TO INSPIRE YOU TO LIVE LIFE IN FORWARD MOTION by Phil Stutz & Barry Michels. As a chronically anxious person, I know how impossible it feels to get out of your head sometimes. You may really be trying to make positive change happen, and yet your day-to-day feels miserable and/or you are too caught up in mental anguish to take necessary action. While therapy, I believe, is essential to understanding where our anxieties, compulsions, propulsions, mental roadblocks et al are coming from, sometimes you just need a practical method, in the moment, to spur you out of stressful gloom and doom and into a productive, encouraging place. THE TOOLS was in the gift bag from the Random House Health & Wellness Open House (#RHOpenHouse) and I think it delivers on every promise in that long subtitle. The authors’ evocation of “Higher Powers” can feel super cheesy, but if you buy into it, which I suggest you do, then these tools turn out to be incredibly helpful. I wrote the tools on an index card and use them every day, for real.
The bottom line: Change is possible. You are destined to achieve your goals. Reading is fun. I hope this list is helpful. If you have any books to add, please comment below! May we all have a productive and blessed 2014!
I made the Self Help = Help Yourself sign in the Studio Design app.
Rebecca Coale - aka Becky - is a writer, musician and producer. She and childhood best friend Jessica Donalds created Dating & Hookup and founded J&R Creative Media. Becky blogs about love poetry and modern life & womanhood. She lives with her husband, Howard Coale, and their family in Manhattan and Philadelphia.
datingandhookup.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click to submit your work to us. We love you.
Follow Dating & Hookup on Instagram
Follow Jess on Instagram
Follow Becky on Instagram
Follow me on Twitter