Along with vampire fiction and chick lit, self-help may just be one of the most stigmatised literary genres. It's often dismissed as a cacophony of overly optimistic, meaningless buzzwords and cringe-worthy advice. But in a sea of cheesy titles, there are gems that shouldn't be overlooked. Here are some non-cheesy self-help books that many people swear by. While they may not be a quick fix for our lives' problems, they can give a new perspective that may just make things a little better. Whether you're navigating a rough patch or just want to improve your life, find the perfect title for you below.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
In a perfect world, we would be able to follow up on our goals without fail, but we all know that it's not easy to do in practice. If you're someone who has tried countless times to start a good habit — waking up early, exercising in the morning, or eating a healthy diet — but always seem to end up reverting to "normal" after two weeks, then this book is for you. Promising to guide you on how to make "good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible", Atomic Habits provides actionable advice that you can immediately apply in your life such as how to "design your environment to make success easier" and what to do to "get back on track when you fall off course". The tips by author James Clear are claimed to have been founded from tried-and-tested ideas in psychology, biology and neuroscience so you can expect to steer clear from abstract motivational prose.
Kamal Aakarsh Vishnubhotla reviewed this book on Medium and recommends it, saying, "As someone who has been trying to change habits since quite a few years (and failing miserably), I concede that this book helps me take my efforts a bit more seriously."
Memorable quote from the book: "Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”
The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
Branding itself as one of those non-cheesy self-help books "for people who can't stand positive thinking," The Antidote isn't your typical read. It veers away from any of the usual encouraging phrases you'll see on Instagram posts or hear from motivational speeches. Instead, it talks about the "negative path" and emphasises the fact that embracing life means embracing everything about it — the good and the bad. This book also features interviews from people who live their life with the belief that our never-ending mission to banish all the bad from our lives is what's actually making us more miserable. If you've had enough of toxic positivity that's so ubiquitous on social media, you might want to pick this book next and you'll find a new perspective. Instagram book reviewer @rubiesreads gave the book a five out five rating and said: "For someone who is often battling their own negative vs positive thought war, this was really comforting. Read it, it’s bite-sized and excellently researched."
Memorable quote from the book: "What actually causes suffering are the beliefs you hold about those things."
Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl
Cringe-worthy moments haunt us even years after they happened. Sometimes, the memory can pop at the most inconvenient time. We're just minding our own business, going through our mundane tasks when we're suddenly reminded of something so embarrassing — cue the cringe! Whatever that memory is though, it's not gonna be the last time you'll do something cringe-worthy. So how do you deal with it? Author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness Melissa Dahl wants you to see it as an opportunity for growth. After finishing the book, you might just learn how to laugh off the awkwardness! Goodreads reviewer and academe member Elizabeth said, "As a sociologist and academic, I know first-hand how tedious and dry peer-reviewed articles can be, so I appreciate Dahl's ability to sum up research in an accessible and relatable way. And as someone who is also introverted and awkward, I feel like I learned a bit about myself from reading this book."
Memorable quote from the book: "If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are,” the philosopher Alain de Botton has written, “the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun."
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie may be more known for his book How To Win Friends And Influence People, but he has other non-cheesy self-help books that are also worthy of a read. More than seven decades after it was published, the advice found in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is still relevant especially during these times when we're dealing with many uncertainties in our lives. The book offers a step-by-step guide on examining and dealing with worry so we can cope with it with ease.
Psychotherapist Karl Melvin, who admits to indulging in worry, said that this book "could really make a difference." "The honesty of the author in sharing his own personal experiences is particularly refreshing as it highlights how similar we all are in our need to overcome worry," he said in a review.
Memorable quote from the book: "Our thoughts make us what we are."
Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig
While depression is a deeply personal experience, it's one that many people — one in five people, according to this book — encounter in their lives. Matt Haig's honest account of how he battled depression with the help of loved ones is gut-wrenching, inspiring and enlighting all at the same time. Goodreads reviews rated it highly and people who have struggled with depression lauded this self-help slash autobiography for its raw look into what it's like to live with a mental illness. One reviewer said: "Inspiration almost drips off the pages. It's honest and vivid enough to make a difference even for people who have done no personal trips to the hellish planet of Depression."
Memorable quote from the book: "To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames."
(Cover photo from: Lenin Estrada via Unsplash)
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