We, humans, are very different from other animals. But, the difference is not merely physical. Just like other animals, our bodies are composed of carbon, we have guts in our stomachs, we need water, air and, food to keep going, then we die. In fact, based on physical comparisons, we dwindle in features and abilities – speed, power, flight, toughness, lifespan etc.
What sets us apart is our intelligence. It is our edge. It enables us to get what we want. It is the reason we have plastic, electricity, and rockets.
Intelligence is like computer software. And, just as we need the latest software for our computers to run smoothly and do more stuff, we also need to upgrade our intelligence to live happily and do meaningful work. But, unlike apps that can be updated over the internet, we update our minds by learning – observing, listening, conversing, and reading.
There is often a great deal of things to learn from books. Books are text-based backups of the intelligence of the author. And, self-help books are one of the richest sources of intelligence – they contain practical and immediately implementable information we can use to upgrade our intelligence.
By reading self-help books, you can
- learn new information and skills.
- gain new perspectives on your problems and desires.
- develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your needs.
- discover solutions to your problems or ways to achieve your desires.
- feel more motivated and empowered to take action and change your life.
But, you must read good books; else you might be wasting your time, or worse, corrupting your own intelligence. Yes, when you read books that give advice that worsens your life, the life of others, or the world in general, your intelligence has been corrupted.
“Be careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.”– Paxton Hood
That’s why in this blog post we will be showing you how to find good books, how to read them, and how to ensure you get the best out of them.
How To Find Good Self-help Books:
Most books are copies of copies or a combination of multiple copies; just like a cook steals recipes from multiple chefs. When you are starving, it doesn’t really matter what you consume, but as your hunger subsides, it becomes important to cut the junk.
Here are some tips on how to find good books from the best thinker:
- Ask for recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues who read: This is great because they already know your personality and interests, and having gone through the books themselves, hence, are in the best position to know which book holds the most value for you and your specific situation.
- Check out book lists from reputable sources: Many websites and magazines publish book lists, such as The New York Times, Goodreads, and The Oprah Magazine. I have also found MarkMansons.net’s book recommendation section useful in finding books in the self-help niche.
- Use online resources like Goodreads, BookBub, or The StoryGraph: Websites like these allow you to search for books by genre, author, or theme. You can also see trending books and their reviews on these websites.
- Browse the shelves at your local bookstore or library: If you have a bookstore or library near you, you can walk in and search for books. You can also ask the librarian or salesperson for recommendations.
- Pay attention to book awards and prize winners: It is hard for a book that isn’t well-written or at least holds some substance to win prizes and awards. Being on the best sellers list – on platforms like Amazon – is also a good indicator that a book is worth checking out.
- Check out the books a good book mentioned: Many books often reference other resources, including books worth checking out. I know I got to learn about The Black Swan and Anti-Fragile by Nassim Taleb from reading another book that mentioned it.
- Follow reputable authors on social media and Newsletters: Ideas and books are prolly the best things in the world for authors. So, by stalking them on social media, you will get to hear them talk about other books they’ve read or are reading from time to time.
How To Read a Self-help Book:
Many readers underline, highlight, and bookmark when reading. I know it can be helpful for locating key ideas in physical books, but it is not as necessary in digital books, where you can easily search for keywords. However, I still think that doing these things is a monumental waste of time.
You’re not reading to pass an exam. You are reading to glean the central idea, point, or argument. In a good book, the caption of the chapter (which can be found in the table of content) should summarize the big and most important idea. The rest of the chapter is basically to get you to understand. The key is understanding.
Besides, if the book holds sufficient substance, you might find yourself marking all through the book, making the intention of easily locating the good idea or concept a bit pointless. Unless you intend to just steal nice-sounding quotes and post them on social, it is best to focus on understanding, and then implement what you are reading. Besides, marking your book is just sort of messy
“So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”.– Acts 8:30 (NKJV)
Anyway, enough of my rambling. Here are exactly how you should read a self-help book to get the most out of it:
Read books that address your concerns or needs
Self-help and personal development books are medicine for the mind. And as such, they should be taken when you’ve been diagnosed with a certain ailment of the mind. Perhaps you are feeling unhappy, unlucky, unseen, lonely, fearful, stuck, confused, hopeless, depressed, or worse. In such situations, it makes sense to read.
And, the truth is there is always something to fix, hence the need for lifelong learning.
The best time to read self-help books is when you’re ready to make a change in your life. Don’t read books that don’t address your challenges, or add value to you else you won’t be motivated to continue, or will simply be distracting yourself from your real issues.
Sit down and ask yourself what you are lacking. What have people often complained about you? What do you wish you have or could do more of as a person? If you feel the need to read but aren’t sure where to start, you can talk to a therapist or counsellor who can help you find the right book for you.
Start with authors that you trust and enjoy reading
Every book is written for a group of people, and you may not always fall within the group no matter how popular it is. For example, there are a lot of self-help books by Christian authors that Atheists would consider woo-woo. And, there are also a lot of amazing personal development books by Atheists that Muslims might consider blasphemous.
So, when starting a new book, approach it like a date – observe the book, see
- if the writer is qualified or endorsed to talk about the topic,
- if the author’s value and approach aligns with yours,
- if you like their writing style, wording, and tone,
- If you’re part of their target audience,
If you don’t feel the book was written for you, you’re gonna have a bad time reading it.
Read multiple books at once
We have limited attention span, get fatigued, and feel bored. No matter how good a book is, you may simply get tired of reading it and might need to put your mind on something else (especially if the book is voluminous). This is why it is genius to have two to three other books lined up that you can switch between.
Remember, it is not a competition to finish a book or two within a day. The point is to ensure your mind doesn’t get closed off – i.e. that you understand. The point is to ensure you keep absorbing all the information and lessons in the book so you can use it to fix your issues.
I often find myself leaving some books for days, weeks, and even months, while I read other books and do other things with my time. Of course, if there were lessons learned, I will keep implementing them. And, when I’m motivated I get back to it.
Read through your confusion
When reading, you will often stumble upon sentences that do not make any sense to you. You will go back and read them over and over again, and it will often seem like the more you read the less you understand. The solution is to keep going.
If you’ve read a line twice and it doesn’t make any sense, keep reading. Oftentimes, the context you need to make sense of the idea is ahead. Sometimes, it might be in the next sentence, other times it will be at the end of the paragraph. In a few books – books which were not well written in my opinion – you will have to read an entire page to grasp the idea.
Sometimes, you may not be able to ever understand that line, and that is okay. It’s an entire book. There are thousands of lines to read. Just keep going.
Skip sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books
Following the previous advice, sometimes you may encounter sentences, paragraphs, or chapters that are redundant, confusing, or unrelated to you. There is no need to torture yourself by reading them. You don’t have to go through it. You should skip, skip, and skip until you stumble upon something interesting.
And, if you skip entire paragraphs, pages, and chapters and still can’t find something worth reading, then it is okay to skip that book altogether. Remember the first tip.
Take breaks and reflect
If you read a line that hit you hard, it is best to pause and allow it to swirl in your skull a little. Try to imagine, and think about how it applies to your life. Is that you? In what ways is that sentence true in your life? In what ways could you possibly implement them?
Take time to think, think, think. Sit down, or lie down and look up. Close your eyes if you need to. Try to see the path the writer is showing you. The more you can juxtapose your life to the lessons and advice given, the more you can see the way.
Talk about what you read
When you read about a new idea or concept, don’t hesitate to bring it up if you find the opportunity in a conversation. In fact, ideas from books are great conversation starters, and often such conversation will expand your understanding of the concept more than just reading ever could.
It is also good to talk about ideas you read in a book because during conversations ideas get tried and tested by people with other perspectives and ideas. And, very good ideas often stand through a wide range of circumstances ad emerge better, stronger and more refined. But sometimes they break. Whichever the case, it is good to know where and to what extent ideas do and do not apply.
There are offline and online groups and forums where you can find people discussing different ideas from different books. You can join the conversation. Sometimes you won’t believe how deep some rabbit holes of ideas go.
Write about what you read
Writing about what you read is the best way to test how much you understand. Sometimes you think you understand while in reality, you do not. For example, many people think they understand how a car works – engine, tires, and fuel – but the workings of a car are far more complicated – from the internal combustion engine or batteries to the gear system and transmission, the complete functioning of a car is something not so many engineers can explain on their own.
So, trying to explain ideas you’ve read is a good way to reveal your ignorance and help you figure out what you need to learn more about. Sometimes you might have to do some googling, or maybe read another book just to get to the nitty-gritty.
For instance, I’ve read a lot of books about making money, but I’ve had to go back to read about specific concepts – like SEO, branding, sales, and marketing – just to start making some money.
Don’t just assume you understand. Test your understanding by writing. You can write in a journal or better still write on a blog.
Practice what you read:
Following the previous point, after reading a book – and even doing deeper research to understand the nuances of the subject – you still have to practice because that is where the true learning happens.
It’s like they say, you can’t learn to box by reading a book. Perhaps getting your tooth knocked out would inspire you to go read more about how to guard your chin (which might be something that didn’t occur to you at first).
The more you practice, the more you make mistakes, and the more you make mistakes, the more you read to find solutions. It’s a good loop.
Read the book again
Not everything will make sense to you the first time you read a book. It may be because of your limited vocabulary, lack of experience, or that it just doesn’t apply to you. Whichever the case, as you go through life, absorb experiences, read other books, and interact with more people, your capacity to comprehend more ideas from books expands.
Hence, a good book is best read multiple times, but not at once. You must first go out and live. Read other books. Implement some of the things you’ve read. Soak up more experience and vocabulary. Then revisit the books with an elevated perspective and awareness.
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Next Steps: Self-help book recommendations and other resources
Self-help books can be a valuable resource for personal growth and development. However, it’s important to remember that they are not a panacea. They won’t solve all your problems overnight.
Here are 10 powerful self-help books I recommend you check out:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
- Rejection Proof, by Jian Jiang
- Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
- Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker
- Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
- Influence, by Robert Cialdini
- 12 Rules for Life, by Jordan Peterson
- Atomic Habits, by James Clear
- Can’t Hurt Me, by David Goggins
- The Brain, by David Eagleman
Other resources you might find useful:
- How To Cultivate The Habit of Reading [And Enjoying It]
- Why I Like Reading
- Benefits of Consuming Educational Content [And How To Effectively Do So]
- 10 Books That May Change How You See The World And Yourself [W/ Summary, Discussion, and Big Ideas]
I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.