Self-Help At Your Fingertips

  • To keep things upbeat and fresh, I’d like to depart from the typical essay every so often.  In the next two entries, I’ll give you my list of the Top 10 Self-Help Books I’ve come across over the years, starting here with general topics, and ending next with the MI (mental illness-focused).


    When I was 25, I bought How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People, my first foray into remodeling myself.  Les Giblin’s slim yet powerful book carried me through my 20s, and I re-read it every couple of years during that rocky time.  It was originally published in 1953, and as far as I’m concerned, it should stay in print until eternity stops.

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    In 14 short chapters, he unlocks the secrets to personal fulfillment, with titles such as “How to Use the Technique Called White Magic.”  To quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “To be able to listen to others in a sympathetic and understanding manner is perhaps the most effective mechanism in the world for getting along with people and tying up their friendship for good.  Too few people practice the ‘white magic’ of being good listeners.”


    Giblin gives us “Seven Ways to Practice Listening,” and not only that, tells us why it’s in our best interest to adopt the strategies he reveals.  In each section of the book, he details effective human relations techniques, and at the end of the chapter, sums up its main points.  Who would’ve thought to “help the other fellow like himself” (to deal with troublemakers)?  Or to “adopt the attitude and action you want the other fellow to express?” (To guarantee another person will respond favorably to you.)


    The bottom line: I’ve had this book on my shelf for close to 20 years, and it’s still in good condition and a trusty reference.  Best yet, it’s available on for under $10. 


    Next, I’ll share with you the #1 self-help book I’ve ever bought, which isn’t touchy-feely, but offers practical solutions for overcoming stumbling blocks.  Don Greene, Ph.D’s Fight Your Fear and Win I found while browsing the local independent bookshop three years ago.  You take his “Seven Skills Survey” (by hand, in the book, or online.  It’s not hard to complete and score physically; however, the Web site computes your responses and gives you your individual profile as soon as you complete the test.


    Relax; there are no right or wrong answers.  Greene, a performance coach, tells us that, “In as little as three weeks you can acquire the skill that puts your dream within reach.”  Note: he didn’t say you’d achieve your goal in three weeks; however, you’ll be well on your way. 


    What holds us back?  A low score on any of the seven skills: determination, energy, perspective, courage, focus, poise and resilience.  He devotes a chapter to each skill, and walks you through the actions to take to boost yourself in that area.  For each skill, he gives a 21-day plan for strengthening that ability.


    This next one may surprise you!  Another self-improvement book, a true “reference” guide I use every day, is the Oxford American College Dictionary, and you can buy it in the bookstore for about $25.  In my lean years, I thought hard and long before plunking down the money on this baby, but it was well worth the cost.  I use this lexicon to look up the words I use in my writing, to make sure they’re the words whose intention I meant.  Okay, so maybe you’re not a writer.  However, enriching your vocabulary is only beneficial—and if you’re like me, you’ll get lost in the alphabet.  Learn a new word a day, and you’ll boost your self-confidence.  Truly, when you use your brainpower, you’ll increase your life energy.

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    Another essential book, Caterina Rando’s Learn To Power Think, I found at a library book sale for only one dollar.  Billed as “A practical guide to positive and effective decision making,” it deserves to rub covers with any of the other self-help bibles.  Again, this great guide is short and sweet, all the better to keep your interest.  Rando knows that to change your thoughts truly enables you to change your life.


    One of the best ideas she gives is to use a self-coaching tool she calls your POW—Personal Objective Word.  It’s a “word or phrase you use to motivate yourself into action.  You say it to yourself on waking and throughout the day to remind you of your objectives.”  My POW was the image of “globe pearls.”  I’d seen in the Sundance Catalog an ad for a pair of earrings, resplendent and round, and I conjured up the person who would wear them: an impeccably dressed career woman in a little black dress, moving with grace and ease throughout a cocktail party.


    When I found myself needing to attend a formal dinner, I repeated the phrase over and over as I walked to the restaurant: “globe pearls, globe pearls.”  Indeed, this bolstered my confidence.  I saw myself sparkling, and witty, and well received.  It really did affect the outcome of the night.


    After reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, I felt inspired.  The German poet’s correspondence stands the test of time, for everyone to read, see and savor.  It’s a small, delightful book; measured and big-hearted and humble.  In the letters I learned a lot about life, about the poetry that is life, and the passion of an artist.


    In letter seven, he hints at what I’d known: “We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us: it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult: that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.”


    Often, as MI advocates, we feel as if we stand alone in our convictions.  To know that others out there fight the good fight every day, alongside me, gives me the courage to continue on what is sometimes a lonely road.  That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. 


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    Rainer Maria Rilke was on to something, in these letters written from 1903 to 1908.  Years ahead of his time, he was a mentor to a young poet, and now his words are immortalized.  I’ll re-read this book every year or so.  It is full of simple yet not-so-simple truths. 


    The book is only $10—so try it, buy it!  Join me in my next blog when I talk about self-help books specifically geared to schizophrenia.



Published On: May 24, 2007