When was the last time that you read a self-help book that actually inspired you and moved you to change? If you’re like us, you’ve read a lot of self-help books and you’ve realized that many of them basically say the same things.
Today, we wanted to highlight some books that personally moved us to change and also radically changed our view on the concept of “progress.” And what better day to give reading recommendations than National Read a Book Day? If you’re looking for some fresh self-help books, perhaps these will help.
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by David M. Kelley and Tom Kelley
Creative Confidence focuses on unlocking creativity through action. Planning is all well and good, but we don’t learn or grow solely by planning.
We’re scared of failing, so we spend countless hours planning how to avoid it. In reality, failing is the fastest way to learn what does or does not work. Now, we can’t completely forego planning. But we can learn to recognize when “planning” is really procrastination.
For example, at some point I had decided I couldn’t post new prints to my Etsy store until I had X number of designs completed. I had decided I couldn’t work a problem in the bouldering gym if I couldn’t do the first move. After reading Creative Confidence I began identifying these behaviors as ploys of procrastination under the guise of preparing for the future. I wasted time on arbitrary checkpoints and plans instead of simply trying.
Instead of waiting for “some day,” I listed prints whenever I made something I loved. I climbed whatever I wanted. As a result, I designed more and I climbed harder. I also made plenty of bad designs and I fell off the wall a lot. But the faster I failed, the faster I learned.
I’m now more willing to accept that some days, or even most days, I won’t draw something I like, nor will I regularly complete routes. And that’s okay. It’s still progress. Ultimately, Creative Confidence taught me how to foster my potential instead of limit it. If we learn how to feel our way through these experiences and own our stories of struggle, we write our own endings. When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
Jen Sincero’s goals with this book are to “identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, blast past your fears so you can take big exciting risks, figure out how to make some damn money already, learn to love yourself and others, set big goals and reach them.”
This book addresses progress in an interesting way that really resonated with me. We start off by learning what a “badass” is in Sincero’s terms. To her, a badass is someone who believes they have potential and goes after a goal or a lifestyle that creates more potential and confidence. So rather than teaching the reader how to progress towards badassery, she instead establishes that you’re already awesome; you just have to accept that you’re awesome, and you can feel awesome on a daily basis.
Her course of progression is basically owning up to one’s potential and forgiving yourself when you don’t believe in yourself. I find this more refreshing than other ideas on progression, mainly because it’s more obtainable and more fun. It’s changing your mind about who you are and what your boundaries are, and then many other things fall into place.
Overall, I’d recommend this book for anyone who’s very exhausted from trying to “do it all,” is tired of running into the same wall, or doesn’t feel like they have control over their situation.
Check out the book’s Goodreads page to learn more about the book.
Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
Brown’s Daring Greatly and many of her other works focus on Theodore Roosevelt’s quote about “the man in the arena.” These first works argue that vulnerability is worth the fight; it’s worth stepping into the arena.
Rising Strong is different. Rising Strong focuses on the dirty struggle of shame and failure and coming “short again and again” when we risk stepping into the arena of vulnerability. If Daring Greatly is the “why” for vulnerability, Rising Strong is the “how.”
My initial draw to Rising Strong was Brown’s honesty about fighting in the arena. She knows that failing sucks, and rising hard takes more than a pat on the back and an encouraging word. She doesn’t “gold-plate grit,” or sugar-coat the pain we experience when we choose to fight after failure.
Another selling point for me is Brown’s connections between rising strong with storytelling and creativity. Brown actually worked with some of Pixar’s best to figure out how 3-part storytelling helps us identify our own story. Each story has 3 acts. Act I. The invitation to the arena. Act II. Falling in the arena. Act III. Rising strong in the arena. Identifying where the first two acts begin help us know the path to Act III.
Rising Strong resonates with those willing to wrestle with their own story and become passionate about creativity, curiosity, and writing your “own brave ending.”
The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
The Four Tendencies is for all self-improvement nerds and anyone who’s frustrated with their seeming inability to establish effective habits and routines. For example, you may repeatedly try and fail to write daily or show up to work on time. Turns out, the problem isn’t that you lack willpower.
According to Rubin, each person is an obliger, questioner, rebel, or upholder, and each tendency has strengths and weaknesses. While of course no person’s behavior is entirely predictable, working with our tendencies rather than against them helps us achieve.
For example, obligers struggle with their own expectations but respond readily to external accountability. Thus, an obliger who wants to exercise daily should turn that inner desire into an external expectation. He or she might download a tracking app or agree to give an exercise buddy a ride to the gym every day.
While Rubin’s previous book, Better Than Before, discusses the four tendencies as well, The Four Tendencies goes into more detail. The expanded explanations are particularly useful for obligers and rebels, who will likely need more individualized solutions and plans than questioners and upholders. You can find out your dominant tendency by taking Rubin’s online quiz.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird is specifically aimed at fiction writers — but even though I don’t fit that category, I still found a lot to love in this little book. Anne Lamott is known for her gentle wisdom and irreverent humor, and this book is no exception. If you’d like a taste of her writing, I recommend taking a look at quotes from Bird by Bird on the book’s Goodreads page.
Overall, we can sum up the main message of Lamott’s book as this: if you want to write, then you must start somewhere, and writing just one little, terrible thing is better than never writing at all out of the fear of messing up. Lamott believes in writing truly awful first drafts and being wise enough to know that somewhere in that first draft you will find something good — which will help you write a better second draft.
For a recovering perfectionist like myself, Bird by Bird is a compassionate reminder that starting to write at all is an achievement, especially if I can muster up the bravery to write the things I believe to be true and worth saying. If you would like to read the advice of someone who commiserates with your struggles and wants you to succeed, pick this book up, especially if you’re interested in writing fiction.
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
This book aims to turn self-improvement into a task you tackle naturally instead of a list of should-do’s that hardly ever get done. (I’m looking at you, New Year’s resolutions.) In Better Than Before, Rubin focuses on helping you get to know your natural tendencies and use them to your advantage.
For example, I have a chronic desire to eat healthier, but I can never enforce the 80-20 rule in my diet. I’m terrible at keeping my not-so-healthy food intake to 20 percent of what I eat. Better Than Before taught me that I do better as an abstainer than a moderator. If I outlaw soda and other foods that tempt me to overindulge, I’m more likely to stick to my health goals.
Reading Better Than Before, I realized that the practice of living a progress-focused life looks unique in every person. The book empowered me to stop playing the comparison game, which often leads to this train of thought: “If I can’t do it that quickly, that skillfully, and that successfully, I shouldn’t start at all.” Yikes! Now instead of judging myself by other people’s habits and outcomes, I evaluate myself based on my own tendencies.
These are our our top picks. Which books have inspired you to change your life? We’re always looking for inspiring reads.