Self-Help Stuff That Works
by Adam Khan
The best of the best of self-help. One hundred and seventeen short chapters on improving your attitude, preventing unnecessary negative emotions, being appreciated by the people you love, experiencing less stress, and more. The best use of this book is to consult it when you're down: When you feel upset or worried or angry or frustrated or stressed out. Browse through it, and you'll find a chapter that resolves your bad feelings right away. Keep it easily accessible and watch the quality of your life improve over time as you change your habits one chunk at a time.
Character Is Destiny: The Value of Personal Ethics in Everyday Life
by Russell W. Gough
A small, practical, penetrating look at ethics: What it is, why it is, and how you can improve your own ethics or character. It's an intelligent book, but easy to read and apply. Gough knows a lot about the history of ethics, so it is interesting in that way also, with plenty of quotes from Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and, of course, Heraclitus (whose quote is the title of the book). Trying to be a better person is an enjoyable and deeply satisfying pursuit, and this book is definitely helpful on that journey.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi's research is thorough, and the conclusions he draws are practical and solid. You can change the way you work and enter a concentrated, enjoyable state that increases your skill more often. This book is profound from the very first chapter. He attempts to answer the question: What is happiness? And looks at how it can be achieved. His is not a pie-in-the-sky view, but pragmatic through and through.
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Learn about how depression and pessimism develop and what you can do to eliminate much of it from your life. This is one of our favorite self-help books of all time. It is destined to be a classic. Seligman gives you a little history of psychological thinking through this century, and how we came to the understanding we now have through cognitive science. He shows you how your thoughts affect your feelings, and how those feelings affect your actions, your ability to persist and succeed, your health, your relationships, and so on. He talks a lot about the research, but in an interesting way. Not at all boring or overly scientific.
Good Mood: The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression
by Julian Simon
This is an excellent overview of the practical insights of cognitive science. And Simon adds a genuinely original contribution to the field: The idea that all our depressing thoughts spring from our universal tendency to compare ourselves or our circumstances to someone or something else. If the comparison is good, we feel good; if it is bad, we feel bad.
Of course, if you look at your own life in an overly negative or pessimistic way, your comparison may turn out worse than it really is, making you feel bad unnecessarily. And if you decide you're helpless to improve your state, that will make you depressed. From the simple idea of comparison, all the different modes of cognitive science are clarified and fit into the larger picture. Simon normally writes on economics. He wrote this book because of his own personal struggle with depression.
Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl was a prisoner of Hitler's concentration camps, and tells about his experiences. He also points out that he saw first hand that when a person feels his life has some meaning or purpose, that person was not only an inspiration to others, but could withstand more suffering without collapsing than a person who had no reason to try. Purpose gives strength and aliveness and meaning. It makes all the difference.
How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
by Thomas Gilovich
This is an academic book, but very interesting. It is full of studies showing that the very strengths of our human brains are also the cause of many of our most common mistaken beliefs. For example, our ability to generalize and see patterns from incomplete information is a highly intelligent skill that has been difficult to develop in computers. Yet that same intelligence-producing skill is also responsible for faulty conclusions we've jumped to. Our brain is so predisposed to see patterns, it sometimes sees a pattern that actually doesn't exist. The value of this book is that once you recognize the inherent weaknesses in your brain, you can compensate for them. In fact, the scientific method was developed to do exactly that: Compensate for our own tendency to misperceive reality and keep us from fooling ourselves.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie
This is the classic book on dealing with people, whether you want to simply make new friends or change someone's behavior or persuade someone to change her mind, you'll find useful, practical principles here. When the techniques are used with honesty and sincerity, you can reach a new level of kindness and courtesy in your dealings with people. Being assertive or being your honest self does not have to negate courtesy and politeness. Carnegie's book has often been criticized as a shallow way of manipulating people. But Carnegie makes very clear that the practice of the principles is a new way of life, and if you use them only as a bag of manipulative tricks, you will reap the superficial relationships you deserve.
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated
by David D. Burns, M.D.
If depression or pessimism is a problem for you, this book needs to be in your arsenal. It is clear, practical instruction on what you can do about depression. His list of ten cognitive distortions is worth memorizing even if you don't have a problem with depression, because they are the same distortions we make when we're upset or worried or angry. Once you know what distortions to look out for, you can spot them and therefore defend yourself against their destructive influence.
Mindfulness in Plain English, Updated and Expanded Edition
by Henepola Gunatarana
The practice of mindfulness is really a key factor in all self-help. In order to remember to drink enough water, or to avoid defeatist thinking, or to keep good posture, or anything you want to change, you've got to have a certain amount of mindfulness. You need to be able to be here and be aware. But beyond that, the foundation of mindfulness adds a quality to your everyday experience. One thing you probably would never regret is to say, "I was present for my life." Why live in automaticities and habits without much awareness of your experience? You can learn to become more mindful, and Gunatarana's book is the best training manual I've ever come across for learning that skill.
Self-Help Without the Hype
by Robert Epstein
This book is short and simple and presents three powerful ways of making changes in your life without having to rely on your own memory or willpower, and without needing to be someone you're not. The content is excellent. It's got some typos, but it's worth reading. It is written One-Minute-Manager style. It is a story of a novice learning from a master. Good, simple, clear, powerful. I highly recommend it.
by Cynthia Kersey
This is an excellent collection of true, inspiring stories of people who not only succeeded, but succeeded at a worthy goal. If you liked Just Keep Planting, you'll love this book. Besides the stories, there are short essays by successful people, encouraging you to cast your fears aside and go for it.
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last
by John Gottman, Ph.D.
Gottman explains exactly how to avoid what ruins marriages. About 25 years ago, he started interviewing newlyweds in his laboratory. He hooked them up to devices that measure physical responses (blood pressure, heart rate, sweat on the palms, etc.) and videotaped them while they discussed a subject that was volatile for them. He was then able to go back and study the videotapes and watch the records of blood pressure and heart rate and see how the person responded both outwardly and inwardly. And then he tracked these couples over the years. Some broke up. Some stayed together. He found something very specific that enabled him to predict, with an astoundingly high degree of accuracy, who will break up and who will stay together: How they fight.
Gottman's most important discovery, I think, is that it isn't the content of the fight that makes a difference, it's the process you use during an argument. If you use a lousy method of fighting, it doesn't matter if you're only arguing about a toothpaste tube, it can destroy your marriage.
The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
This book expands the work Csikszentmihalyi started in Flow, but while Flow was mainly concerned with turning individual tasks into a more flow-inducing experience, The Evolving Self teaches how to turn your whole life into an ongoing flow experience and gives some interesting historical examples of how that has been done.
Using Your Brain--For a Change: Neuro-Linguistic Programming
by Richard Bandler
Bandler is an innovator and an original thinker in the field of psychology. This book is a transcript of Bandler live in front of an audience, cutting up and cracking jokes as he is prone to do, talking about some of his unique and often practical views on how you can change your feelings, thoughts and behavior. Change is often easier than you think if you use the right method.
Voluntary Simplicity, Revised Edition: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich
by Duane Elgin
We have too much stuff, and after the continual bombardment of advertising since childhood, we are under the delusion that buying, having, owning material possessions will make us happy. Many are snapping out of the trance, and this book is a record of what people do when they realize things aren't the source of happiness.
How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything: Yes, Anything
by Albert Ellis, Ph.D.
Ellis is a pioneer in the field of cognitive therapy, and has been at it so long, he has boiled it down to some fundamental simplicities, making his work very accessible and practical. This is one of his newer books, and gets to the heart of the matter, clearly, succinctly, and in a way that you can use immediately.
Tao: The Watercourse Way
by Alan Watts
Watts is an enjoyable writer to read, and here you'll find penetrating insight into the Taoist perspective on life and why it can bring a greater peace of mind. This was the last book Watts wrote. In fact, he didn't actually finish it before he died, but what he left is worth reading. Watts often doesn't merely convey information but creates an experience, so that while you read, you understand, not just intellectually, but emotionally as well.
Heart of the Mind: Engaging Your Inner Power to Change With Neuro-Linguistic Programming
by Connirae Andreas, Ph.D. and Steve Andreas, M.A.
This book is a basic primer of neurolinguistic programming (NLP). It's easy to read and if you've never read anything about NLP, it's an eye-opener. The approach to emotional difficulties is novel, having come ultimately from Milton Erickson and his innovations in hypnotic trances. One of the creators of NLP, Richard Bandler, said that he tried to find ways of accomplishing hypnotic benefits without using hypnosis, and the result was NLP.
by Ellen J. Langer
Langer's research is known all over the world for its originality. She looks deeply at the mindlessness we all share, and she explains what you personally can do about your own mindlessness.
Growth Through Reason: Verbatim Cases in Rational-Emotive Therapy
by Albert Ellis
This is a book of transcripts of actual Rational-Emotive Therapy sessions. It's a good look at how the theory gets put into practice and what it can do. Reading these exchanges, you get the basic ideas in a lively and interesting way.
The Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and Therapy (Structure of Magic)
by Richard Bandler and John Grinder
This is a technical breakdown of how we make a map of the world, and how our language reveals the map we've made, and also how you can change the way you use language to improve your map. It is pure, unadulterated genius.
Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions
by James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D.
Pennebaker's research has become world famous. When you share a traumatic or painful experience with someone you trust (or even merely write it out in a journal), you will enjoy better health. Opening up is healthy. Keeping yourself closed off from others is unhealthy. Pennebaker shows you why and how you can open up.
Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion
by Carol Tavris
Full of good research, this book shows that much of our commonplace understanding of anger is dangerously off-base. If you have a lot of anger in your life, this is definitely a book you could profitably read five or six times. The book debunks many myths; for instance, the myth of suppressed anger. You'll also learn how to deal with your anger in a healthy way, and how to change the way you think so you can prevent feeling angry in the first place.
What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement Learning to Accept Who You Are (Fawcett Book)
by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
This is a top-shelf self-help book. Seligman demonstrates his broad and deep knowledge of all kinds of emotional and psychological problems like anger and anxiety, and tells you what the research has so far revealed about what you can do to improve.
Think and Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill
This is the classic success book. With his thirteen principles, Hill explains what a person can do to find a definite chief aim in life, to gain control over his own thoughts, and to stay optimistic and persistent in the pursuit of that aim until it is achieved. Playing Ball on Running Water: The Japanese Way to Building a Better Life
David K. Reynolds, Ph.D.
This book, as well as the one above, are a delineation of Reynolds' synthesis of Naikan and Morita therapies into a westernized version of self-help, called Constructive Living. This book is interesting, thought provoking, and relentlessly practical. The Constructive Living approach is especially useful for someone who has a lot of psychology training or someone who is often timid or neurotic.
Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude
by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone
This was written later in Hill's life, and has been given new life (and the addition of four more principles) by his association with the eminently successful Stone. The book is packed with useful principles and interesting anecdotes. It's a fun book to read.
Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety and Phobia
by Barbara G. Markway, C. Alec Pollard, Teresa Flynn, and Cheryl N. Carmin
If you feel awkward or uncomfortable talking to people or giving speeches, and you'd like to feel a lot more comfortable, this is an insightful book to read. It gives you practical steps you can take to feel less fear or anxiety and more pleasure interacting with people.
White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obesession, and the Psychology of Mental Control
by Daniel Wegner
Wegner has spent his entire career studying thought suppression and obsessional thoughts. He has learned so much, every page of this book is packed with interesting insights. If you've ever had a problem getting something out of your mind, or wished you had more control over your thoughts, or wanted to "think more positively," you should get this book and devour it.
The Relaxation Response
by Herbert Benson
If you would like a reliable method for reducing not only the stress in your life, but reducing the stressful way you respond to things, without having to change your thinking habits or learn yoga, read this book. The method is simple, doesn't take long, and works like magic.
Making Things Better by Making Them Worse
by Allen Fay
Some problems get worse the more you try to fix them. It makes sense, and it actually works in practice, after you have tried and failed to make things better by trying to make them better, to try to make them worse and see what happens. This book uses lots of great examples to illustrate the ways this technique can be used.
The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships
by John Gottman
One of the most valuable things I've gotten from any book lately is Gottman's idea of the "bid." Each thing someone says is a bid for connection, and the way you make those bids to others, and the way you respond to others bids makes a relationship better or worse. Powerful and simple.
The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night's Sleep
William C. Dement
Sleep is very important and more than half of us get too little of it. The consequences are enormous. Learn about the research, and find out how you can vastly improve how you feel every day. Even if you already sleep enough, you can improve the quality of that sleep. Great book with surprising insights on a fundamental subject.
Stop! You're Driving Me Crazy
by George Robert Bach
If you've got someone driving you crazy, this book will shed some penetrating illumination on your situation. Things will never look the same to you. You'll come away from this book with so much clarity about what is actually happening, you'll be amazed. The person driving you crazy is giving you two messages simultaneously that contradict each other. That's what makes you feel crazy. There is a specific thing that causes them to do that, and there are some practical ways you can bring sanity back into your life. It's all in the book. Well worth the read.
Bonus Book Recommendations
Adam's favorite inspiring true stories:
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (Avon Nonfiction)
Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure
Adam's favorite, most uplifting, most inspiring movies (and they're all true stories):
A League of Their Own
Rudy (Special Edition)
October Sky (Special Edition)