Awesome – you’ve picked out a self-help book! But that’s only the first step…now you’ve actually got to read it and try to have your needs met by it. The following are some tips on how to best use self-help books and get as much benefit from them as possible.
Designate some time each day to read the book. These are the types of books that are meant to be read slowly. You need time to process the information being given, do the activities, and think about how the content of the book relates to you, your experiences, and your feelings. I strongly suggest that you don’t read a self-help book all in one sitting.
Do the activities! Activities…exercises…whatever you want to call them. Do them. If you’ve chosen the right book to meet your needs, the activities will probably be extremely beneficial and will help you to meet your goals. The activities aren’t there to take up space – the author genuinely believes and advocates for their usefulness. They will help you to integrate the information being presented and may be the first step towards making the changes that you’re seeking.
Remove ‘should’ from your vocabulary when reading self-help books. That inner voice that we all have can be quite demanding. It often tells us that we should be able to do something or that we shouldn’t be feeling a certain way. It’s kind of a jerk. I’m a strong advocate for the abolishment of ‘shoulds’ in everyday life, but let’s just talk about self-help books. Self-help books can activate those ‘shoulds’ as we read about the successes of others, learn seemingly easy and straightforward strategies, and compare ourselves to the material. I can’t stress enough that each person and situation are unique – there is no right or wrong way to feel, experience, or heal. ‘Shoulds’ imply that there is and tend to give people false expectations of themselves.
Be judgmental. Yup, that felt weird to write. I don’t often encourage people to be judgmental. However, in this case, I will. I want you to read your self-help books with a critical mind. While we may desperately want to believe that an expert will have the ultimate solution to our problems, it may not be the case. Every person, every situation, every feeling is different. When it comes to mental health, there is not one solution that is 100% effective. You will need to judge for yourself whether the content presented will be useful and life-changing for you. There is a ton of research showing that, if you don’t buy into a certain treatment, it will be much less effective. It may even be completely ineffective.
Know when to choose another. As I mentioned last week, there is no definitive way to choose the most ideal self-help book. It’s totally possible that you might find yourself not liking your choice, rolling your eyes throughout, skipping sections, or even frowning as you read it. Those would be signs that it’s time to call it a day with that book…put it down and choose another. You may need to do a bit of trial and error in order to find what you really need.
Accept the idea that sometimes a book is just not enough. I really wish that I could tell you that a book will solve all of your problems…but sometimes, it’s just not the case. Knowing when it’s time to call it quits with self-help books and seek out other forms of assistance is really important. Moving on from self-help books may mean seeking out a counsellor, seeing your doctor, talking to a friend or family member, or attending a group. There are lots of ways to find help if the books aren’t cutting it!