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Adulting 101: 7 books to start your self-help journey

Perhaps we can all agree: taking care of one's mental health is no walk in the park – for many, it's a sprint in the forest – and the speed in which we run may hurt us even more. Some of us, however, may already have an arsenal of weapons at hand to make our journeys easier –  sharp machetes and protective armor, in the form of healthy coping mechanisms, affirmations, and self-care rituals.

On top (or outside) of professional therapy, some may choose to hit the gym, to reach out to friends, or get lost in hobbies, while others prefer to hang around casually by the self-help section, perusing through countless titles guaranteed to help you live "your best life."

For those that use self-help as a form of self-care, I'm with you – it's reassuring to know that tough love, motivation, acceptance, pep talks, and introspection prompts are just an arm's reach away; a slump-saver that you can turn to any time.

Note: Self-help, the worldwide phonemeon tackled by celebrities, industry experts, and professionals via talk shows, books, and podcasts, isn't so much about someone rigidly telling you what you should or shouldn't do, as others may say – the magic of self-help lies in the magic word: "self." 

These books give you the tools you need to better yourself, sure, but at the end of the day, they merely help you help yourself. This, alone, can already be very empowering. 

So go through a few chapters during breakfast, while in transit, or before bed – take notes, highlight, and dog-ear like crazy – because if it helps you, why not? 

Like a therapist, it's also important to find the right books for you. But for those still inching their way into the world of self-help, here are some beginner-friendly book suggestions for every reason and for every season you may find yourself in.

The Anxiety Toolkit by Dr. Alice Boyes

If you've ever struggled with anxiety, you probably already know how frustrating it is to be your own biggest hurdle. Whether it's being productive, maintaining relationships, performing at work, or simply making daily decisions and finishing household tasks, negative self-talk can get incredibly paralyzing.

Dr. Alice Boyes presents "strategies for fine-turning your mind and moving past your stuck points" in The Anxiety Toolkit, as she helps you identify your own "pain points" for improvement. She helps you recognize your triggers, your learned destructive thought patterns, and then offers practical tips on how to shift from this awareness to conscious rewirement.

Thank you @DrAliceBoyes for joining me on the Podcast! Get the first chapter of her book (highly endorsed by Oprah!) “The Anxiety Toolkit” FREE when you subscribe to her website Home Page - Dr Alice Boyes - Blog https://t.co/d6warfkfEl And read her #Blog on Psychology Today! pic.twitter.com/u6r3xiRbpe — Bob Acton (@DrBobActon) January 26, 2018

Common cognitive distortions are tackled here, such as rumination (replaying and overthinking a past situation), fear of feedback and criticism, avoidance of important tasks (yes, procrastination), and even perfectionism. These habits cause us to get "stuck in our own minds", which Dr. Boyes aims to correct with clinically-approved strategies, self-assessment exercises, and quizzes, within a gentle, non-judgmental atmosphere. 

After all, it is a "toolkit," so expect to be doing the work, too. 

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Self-help isn't limited to just psychotherapy – spirituality and enlightenment can play a big factor in one's self-healing, too. 

Do "awareness," "higher consciousness," "spiritual awakening," and "presence" strike a chord? If so, great – these phrases are what make up Eckhart Tolle's book of spiritual enlightment, as he imbibes to his readers the power of "now," guiding us on how to harness the strength of the present. 

Similar to yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, The Power of Now helps you become aware of your physical body and the unlimited power of your "being/essence." It acknowledges the compulsive thought patterns our ego and minds conjure for us on a daily basis, and stresses the importance of not attaching ourselves to the mind's noisy chatter.

Instead, Tolle highlights the "observing self", which distances itself from the ego's pain. It is the "higher consciousness" that merely observes the mind, and knows that its "true self" is more than that. This can be achieved, he says, by practicing present-moment awareness everywhere, every day. The answer is not in the future, but in the steps you take today.

The book may be a bit heavy-handed for first-time self-help readers and not recommended for non-spiritual readers, but go ahead if you're curious about waking from your "unconscious" auto-pilot state. To live in more peace, Tolle will teach you how to ground yourself to the present moment, awaken your power inside, breath deeply, rise above your ego, free yourself from the mind, improve your relationships with others, and most importantly, with yourself.

The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

If an attitude of optimism and faith is what gets you up in the morning, then why not harness it? This is the backbone of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, as he "demonstrates the power of faith in action." Positive thoughts of faith, coupled with concrete, practical action, according to Peale, can help "energize your life, give you the motivation needed to reach your goals, break the worry habit, and be kind to yourself."

"Attitudes are more important than facts," a line from the book says, and this is what the book reminds us of: that how you think about a fact can be more impactful than the actual reality itself. Mixed in with appropriate bible verses to give you the prayer push you may need, as well as tips on daily silence, forgiveness, and emotional self-mastery, Peale's centuries-old book may just be the self-help blend your current situation needs.

Note: This was written in the 1950s, so the language and perspective may be a bit rigid and dated, as it doesn't take into consideration today's perilous world of social media, tech, and the recent advances of mental health research. Nonetheless, it's a good reminder on how to live life, especially if you're a firm believer in positive change starting from within. 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Clearly, Mark Manson doesn't give a f*** – and neither should you, as his book says. 

If you're not into the inspirational, self-coddling tone of some self-help books, Manson doesn't too, and that is precisely why he wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, of which the gist you can already tell just by the title alone. 

Candid, real, brutally honest, and heavily peppered with curse words here and there, Manson is no sugar-coater, telling readers that inner turmoil mostly stems from giving too many f*cks.

"Most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given," he said. "This makes us feel we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times. This is when life fucks us."

Admittedly, Manson's treatment was abruptly raw at first, but it gradually becomes refreshing as his IDGAF attitude begins to resonate as more pages are turned. He guides us on how to reserve our limited "fucks" for only the most "fuckworthy of situations," which according to him, makes life and its rejections a little easier. We simply have to spend these f*cks with care, choosing where and who to give them to.

If you've spent too much time and energy caring about what others think or involving yourself in trivial situations that actually don't require all of you, Manson helps to develop your ability to "control and manage the fucks you give," while also reiterating that this does not mean being "indifferent," but rather, being comfortable with "being different" and by focusing your f*cks on something bigger than your adversity.

7 Habits of Highly-Effective People by Stephen Covey

Got goals to achieve but motivation be lacking? Self-help business guru Dr. Stephen Covey's classic habit-building book 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People swears by the effectiveness of the "timeless principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity" in achieving one's ambitions, whether personal or at the workplace.

"If you want small changes in your life, work on your attitude. But if you want big and primary changes, work on your paradigm. Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world," Covey said, which reflects the habits stated in the book, such as being proactive, having an outcome-oriented mindset, putting first things first, seeking first to understand, then to be understood, among others. 

Whether you're still a student, a fresh grad, or a budding team supervisor, Covey's words of practical wisdom can get you places, if you're willing to put in the work – it is still a "habit" after all, and habits take at least 21 days to form!

This Book Will Make you Mindful by Dr. Jessamy Hibberd and Jo Usmar

Mindfulness is all the peaceful rage now, and for good reason. It's another term for "stopping to smell the roses", reminding us how to to appreciate life's moments fully through simple, relaxing techniques: deep breathing, grounding our senses, positive self-talk – which can be done any time of day.

 

Whoop! Just received the first copies of my new books (out on 8th Jan, wink wink, nudge nudge). pic.twitter.com/UVdmT9mXvJ — Jo Usmar (@jousmar) December 19, 2014

For anxiety-prone individuals who are at the onset of panic attacks, This Book Will Make You Mindful can help you reel yourself in before your negative thoughts and physiological responses spiral out of control.

This cute, simple, how-to book covers the basics of mindfulness – how to breathe deeply to center yourself, how to take note of your posture while working, how to eat and taste food better, how to ground yourself to the present moment albeit with worries – all in bite-sized content and catchy chapters, complete with helpful mind maps, venn diagrams, readable charts, and table exercises.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

Also a decades-long classic, Richard Carlson's Don't Sweat The Small Stuff is an easy read – no psychological jargon, self-exercises, or timelines to watch out for – just a list of reminders on how to live our daily lives better and to keep the little things from overtaking our lives.

Expect short chapters entitled after simple reminders (e.g. "Remember that life isn't an emergency," "Pick your battles," "Be a less aggressive driver"), with personal anecdotes from Carlson that help provide context and relatibility to situations, considering this book was published in 1997. It's bite-sized content you can start your days with – one chapter every morning – reminding yourself to "choose being kind over being right," or to "do one thing at a time," among other tips.

They're simple reminders, but ones we tend to forget under the fast-paced, stressful circumstances we rush through every day. Carlson reminds us to "understand separate realities" to develop compassion when dealing with other people, that it's hard to be a contented person if you keep score of all the favors you do for others, and that a lot of our stuff is actually "small stuff." – Rappler.com

Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.

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