My top 7 self-help books

One of my all times favourite activities is to read, so it’s really no surprise given my profession that I have an insatiable interest in books about the human condition. Here is a list of books that I highly recommend for their ability to inspire, teach and translate sometimes complex concepts into practical tools for living.

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  1. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

    I had so many aha moments reading this outstanding book that I had to physically stop myself from highlighting the entire book.  Brené talks about the values of courage and vulnerability and explains how to develop shame resilience, which is crucial for our psychological health as well as that of our kids.  Brené Brown is not only funny and insightful, she really knows her stuff.  In this book, Brené’s main premise is that as human beings we are wired for connection, yet to actually experience deep connection, intimacy and joy in our relationships, we need to be open, authentic and vulnerable with each other.  Being open and vulnerable can be risky and scary and can easily trigger shame, particularly for men, who have often learnt the hard way that vulnerability equals weakness.  Ultimately though, Brené emphasises that the rewards far outweigh the risks.  This is a very important book for our times.

  2. The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle 

    Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher who had an intriguing spiritual awakening in the middle of the night in his late 20s.  This thought-provoking book contains Eckhart’s essential philosophy on the self, as he explains how our minds get in the way, how we get caught up in the same old dramas of our lives, continually re-triggering our old pain.  His teaching is simple:  learn how to become fully present in this moment and it will transform your life.

  3. The Places that Scare You, Pema Chödrön 

    Pema Chödrön might be a Buddhist Nun, but before that she was a schoolteacher living an ordinary life just like the rest of us.  In my humble opinion she’s one of the wisest people on the planet. She gives wise and compassionate guidance within a Buddhist framework on how to live through life’s more challenging moments.  Budddhism has a lot to offer Western psychological thought and Pema Chödrön has the ability to speak to everyone about everyday challenges, no matter what their preference or faith. I love this little book and continue to return to it for inspiration.

  4. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges 

    I read this book a few summers back on the beach and pretty much the only part that was saved from the highlighter was the covers. This is a brilliant book on managing life’s transitions, one of my all-time favourite topics. An important distinction to understand is that transitions are not the same thing as change.  Change happens to you (ie you’re made redundant) or a change can arise from within you (you feel differently about something or someone). A transition is your inner response to that redundancy or change – ie how you feel about it, think about it and experience it.  As you know, life is made up of many different transitions and they can be very painful and challenging to work through.Bridges has come up with a 3 stage guide to help us all manage the transitions in our lives with more ease and understanding.  The first stage is grieving what you have lost.  Grieving losses is important because you cannot move forward whilst you are still holding onto the past. The second stage involves sitting with uncertainty and often chaos because you are in between the two phases of your life. You’re no longer where you were and you’re not yet where you’re going. This stage is the most challenging because of all the uncomfortable feelings that can arise (like confusion and fear) and because it can really shake up your sense of identity and stability.  It’s important to be patient when you are here though because somehow it’s through this murky-ness that the new ideas and potential for living a new way arise. It’s literally allowing a transformation to occur from within you. The third stage is where you step into your new identity or way of being and move forward.  It’s a wonderful book to read when you are going through a transition because it helps you understand that there is a process occurring and it will, ultimately, resolve itself.

  5. Man’s search for meaning, Viktor Frankl 

    This is an incredibly powerful book about our need to find meaning in our lives and how this meaning can save us, even in the most difficult of circumstances.  Viktor Frankl details his harrowing experiences in concentration camps during World War II and the discoveries he made about the nature of being human.  Whilst at first glance this seems an odd choice for a self-help book list, there’s something incredibly moving and powerful in his account of survival against the odds.  His experiences prove that whilst we can’t avoid suffering, we can choose how to cope with it and find meaning in it.  These very human qualities can help us move through situations and look forward. At the very least, it’s a shining example of the strength and resilience of the human spirit. An unforgettable book that should be read at least once in your lifetime. 

  6. The 5 Love Languages, Dr Gary Chapman 

    This easy to read book is a gem for relationship strengthening – the basic concept being that we all have different needs in love and one of the problems we experience in our relationships is that we don’t necessarily speak the same “love language” as our partner.  For example, if (metaphorically speaking) you speak Chinese and your partner speaks Spanish, and you’ve never bothered to learn your partner’s language (Spanish), you’re likely to experience communication issues and have lots of unmet needs in your relationship. This book sets out the 5 main love languages that Dr Chapman devised from his decades of work as a couple therapist.  It is well worth reading as it opens your eyes to your partner’s way of seeing things and needs that you may not have previously appreciated.  It also opens up the possibility of fresh conversation about how you could learn to speak each other’s language and take more interest in each other’s way of seeing the world. When people feel understood it goes a long way towards creating stronger, more connected relationships. 

  7. Intimacy & Solitude, Stephanie Dowrick 

    Here, Stephanie Dowrick brings her wealth of experience as a psychotherapist to issues of identity – which is well worth reading if you are trying to figure out who you are (no matter what stage of life you are at), or if you are keen to achieve greater intimacy in your relationships.  It’s about learning how to be independent and connected in an authentic, meaningful way.  Stephanie is a beautiful writer; I find all her work brims with wisdom and soulfulness.

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