Self-Help Books That Won't Make You Gag—Trust Me, I've Read Dozens

Thank me later

(Photo: Getty)

At the ripe old age of 14, I was introduced to self-help books. Now one might assume the most pressing thoughts running through the mind of a 14-year-old girl aren’t how to achieve spiritual enlightenment or better their innermost self, but call me an old soul.

The Secret, while often portrayed as the ultimate self-help parody, served as my gateway read. The film turned book is written by Australian author Rhonda Byrne—who’s racked up a net worth of $60 million, thank you very much. With the help of success stories from contributors like motivational speakers and quantum physicists, Byrne teaches people how to live their best damn lives by applying the law of attraction.

Naturally, the possibility of living my best damn life intrigued me. I was barely a teenager, but I knew I had big plans and even bigger dreams of breaking into the media industry with the goal of being the face of a Canadian TV classic like eTalk. And you know what? The teachings in The Secret didn’t just resonate with me, but they also helped me change my life for the better. I worked hard to revive my town’s local radio scene, while doubling as the station manager and a broadcaster. That year, I was able to snag press passes to events like the MMVAs & WE Day and invite artists onto our radio station for interviews and live on-air performances. I was even picked out of a crowd to help broadcast a segment on MuchMusic. Then during my second year of university, I faced some mental health challenges and my therapist and I used the teachings found in The Secret to pick myself back up again. Through applying what I learned from the book, I was able to attract so many positive circumstances into my life, both big and small. In my opinion, The Secret worked and I felt I was proof of it but, to my horror, when I recommended the book to friends, this is what would usually happen:

(Source: Giphy)

Now that I’m in my early 20s, I get why old-school self-help tomes like The Secret draw more eye rolls than applause, I really do. This past year has provided me with more life experience than I had ever gotten before and now I too am craving a different voice. I don’t want to be passively told that I’m doing everything wrong and that I need to change my life. I want the perfect mix of wit, humour and thoughtfulness with a relatable voice telling me that I’m already in a good place. I want to be reminded that I should believe in myself and my existing abilities instead of being told how to change everything. Think of it as self-help with a healthy dose of self-acceptance.

After reading dozens of self-help books (literally), I’ve rounded up the best of the best and I’m convinced that these suggestions *won’t* make you gag, roll your eyes or throw your book across the beach à la Samantha Jones.

For when you feel overworked and overwhelmed: How to Get Shit Done by Erin Falconer (Simon & Schuster, $35) 

Self-Help Books: The cover of Erin Falconer's How To Get Shit Done against a bright blue background

(Photo: Simon & Schuster)

Why it’s life-changing: Canada-born author Erin Falconer wrote this book for women who are overwhelmed and overworked, while simultaneously living in a state of guilt and fear that they aren’t doing the absolute most with their lives. In How to Get Shit Done, the co-founder of wellness site LEAFtv assures readers that it’s OK to say no and take a step back, especially if your biggest strengths are becoming hindered and overshadowed by the craziness of your daily life.

My biggest takeaway: “Power comes from simplicity,” writes Falconer. How to Get Shit Done teaches that slowing down and decluttering your life will in fact make you more effective. And she’s right. I’ve come to understand that I don’t need to be good at everything, and I don’t need to have everything, either. With this in mind, I tackled the easiest area of my life first: my closet. I got rid of those “But what if I need this one day!” pieces and I couldn’t be happier that I did. I also stopped making an effort with people who had the habit of filling my mind with toxic thoughts, and I stopped spreading myself thin trying to juggle a bunch of different work opportunities. I finally feel comfortable not saying yes to everything and man, simplicity *is* powerful. 

For when you need to learn how to celebrate your talents: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (Penguin, $22) 

Self-Help Books: The cover of Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic against a bright blue background.

(Photo: Penguin Publishing Group)

Why it’s life-changing: I’m one of those gals who absolutely loved Liz Gilbert’s 2006 book, Eat Pray Love. So when I saw that Gilbert wrote a self-help book, I knew it would be an instant fave. In her writing, Gilbert is on a mission to teach us how to uncover what she calls our “hidden jewels” (a.k.a. our talents) and Big Magic endeavours to help readers avoid the fear associated with showcasing those hidden talents, while learning to recognize and act on opportunities. Gilbert’s latest work is also full of life hacks for budding creatives, including how to resist perfectionism at all costs and how to ensure that creativity does not equal exhaustion.

My biggest takeaway: Gilbert writes, “This, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” We’re all good at something, but sometimes we find ourselves suppressing our talents. Actually exposing our creativity to the world takes guts, but it’s worth it. For me, I had to get really honest about what I want to my future to look like, and what I want to pursue. While I could pick easier routes, I learned that I’d rather hone in on my creativity passions than take the easy way out.

For when you need to stop comparing yourself: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown (Simon & Schuster, $20)

Self-Help Books: The cover of Brene Brown's The Gift of Imperfection against a bright blue background.

(Photo: Simon & Schuster)

Why it’s life-changing: Brené Brown is the woman behind the viral TED Talk called The Power of Vulnerability, and those same teachings can be found in her bookThe Gifts of Imperfection. According to Brown, the gift that lies within embracing imperfection is that it gives you the right to be your most authentic self, instead of a fabricated version of yourself manufactured to please others. Brown delves into the dangers of comparison—you know, the way you might compare your own career trajectory to that of that old classmate you haven’t seen in seven years but follow on Instagram?and makes us aware of just how sacred our individual selves really are.

My biggest takeaway:  “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life,” writes Brown. Do you ever check a text message on your phone and then suddenly, two hours have gone by and you’re in a deep social media rabbit hole, wishing you were literally anybody else? Same. Wanting to be perfect is a seemingly inescapable part of our digital culture, which is why, as Brown teaches, we need to be hyper-aware of how we approach goal-setting if we want to maintain the healthy self-love so many of us have worked so hard to acquire. In my case, taking Brown’s advice to heart and applying it to my life in a really tangible way meant that I’d have to tone down the amount of time I spend looking at the Instagram explore page, resist the urge to compare my body to those of other girls and stop second-guessing my decisions and my abilities. Comparing and overthinking eats up a lot of time and energy, so instead of turning to social media when I have downtime, I’m trying to focus on ways to better myself, like trying different workouts, meal-prepping and chipping away at passion projects.

For when you have BIG goals in mind: You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero (Perseus Books Group, $19)

Self-Help Books: The cover of Jen Sincero's You Are A Badass against a bright blue background.

(Photo: Perseus Books Group)

Why it’s life-changing: The game-changing difference found in You Are a Badass vs. so many other self-help books is the fact that writer Jen Sincero (who is absolutely hilarious) trie to help us figure out why we’ve found ourselves in situations we’re not happy with while encouraging us to pay attention to the way that we talk about time, money and ourselves. Many of Sincero’s musings are very Secret-esque, teaching us how we can tap into all that the universe has to offer, but she also shares wisdom on how to be efficient, goal-oriented and above all, authentic.

My biggest takeaway: “To kick ass, you have to lift your foot off the ground,” writes Sincero. I’ve found this to be insanely true. Talk is cheap and you are the only person that is responsible for yourself, so do something, do anything, to start creating the change you wish to see in your life. For example, if I’m complaining about a lack of money, I owe it to myself to stop standing still and to start looking for a new job. The things I complain about tend to get worse until I make an active effort to switch gears and shift my focus to improving the situation instead of dwelling on it. Told ya, very Secret-esque.

For when you need a reminder that we’re in this together: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig (Harper Collins, $20)

Self-Help Books: The cover of Matt Haig's Reasons To Stay Alive against a bright blue background.

(Photo: HarperCollins Canada)

Why it’s life-changing: Haig’s story is one of the most open discussions about mental illness that I’ve ever come across. Although Reasons To Stay Alive reads like a personal story as opposed to a manual-style self-help guide, Haig’s writing is raw and relatable—and applicable to all our lives regardless of our individual mental health challenges. For someone who wants to gain some insight into the complexities of mental illness, whether it’s your own or that of a loved one, this read just might do the trick.

My biggest takeaway: “We are all echoes of each other,” philosophizes Haig. Reasons To Stay Alive truly helped me realize that I’m not the only one who has experienced what I’m experiencing when it comes to mental illness. I’ve struggled with anxiety and have been seeing specialists since I was six, but as of late, newer complications have popped up and I have had to go through a recovery process all over again. I find solace in Haig’s words. While we can never understand exactly what goes on in someone else’s mind, Haig’s honesty ensures that when it comes to the hardest of inner battles, we are not alone. And boy, is that ever comforting to know.


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