Stuff That Works
by Adam Khan
The best of the best of self-help. One
hundred and seventeen short chapters on improving your attitude,
preventing unnecessary negative emotions, being appreciated by
the people you love, experiencing less stress, and more. The
best use of this book is to consult it when you're down: When
you feel upset or worried or angry or frustrated or stressed
out. Browse through it, and you'll find a chapter that resolves
your bad feelings right away. Keep it easily accessible and watch
the quality of your life improve over time as you change your
habits one chunk at a time.
Character Is Destiny: The Value of Personal Ethics
in Everyday Life
by Russell W. Gough
A small, practical, penetrating look at
ethics: What it is, why it is, and how you can improve your own
ethics or character. It's an intelligent book, but easy to read
and apply. Gough knows a lot about the history of ethics, so
it is interesting in that way also, with plenty of quotes from
Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and, of course, Heraclitus (whose
quote is the title of the book). Trying to be a better person
is an enjoyable and deeply satisfying pursuit, and this book
is definitely helpful on that journey.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi's research is thorough,
and the conclusions he draws are practical and solid. You can
change the way you work and enter a concentrated, enjoyable state
that increases your skill more often. This book is profound from
the very first chapter. He attempts to answer the question: What
is happiness? And looks at how it can be achieved. His is not
a pie-in-the-sky view, but pragmatic through and through.
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your
by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Learn about how depression and pessimism
develop and what you can do to eliminate much of it from your
life. This is one of our favorite self-help books of all time.
It is destined to be a classic. Seligman gives you a little history
of psychological thinking through this century, and how we came
to the understanding we now have through cognitive science. He
shows you how your thoughts affect your feelings, and how those
feelings affect your actions, your ability to persist and succeed,
your health, your relationships, and so on. He talks a lot about
the research, but in an interesting way. Not at all boring or
Good Mood: The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression
by Julian Simon
This is an excellent overview of the practical
insights of cognitive science. And Simon adds a genuinely original
contribution to the field: The idea that all our depressing thoughts
spring from our universal tendency to compare ourselves or our
circumstances to someone or something else. If the comparison
is good, we feel good; if it is bad, we feel bad.
Of course, if you look at your own life
in an overly negative or pessimistic way, your comparison may
turn out worse than it really is, making you feel bad unnecessarily.
And if you decide you're helpless to improve your state, that
will make you depressed. From the simple idea of comparison,
all the different modes of cognitive science are clarified and
fit into the larger picture. Simon normally writes on economics.
He wrote this book because of his own personal struggle with
Man's Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl was a prisoner of Hitler's concentration
camps, and tells about his experiences. He also points out that
he saw first hand that when a person feels his life has some
meaning or purpose, that person was not only an inspiration to
others, but could withstand more suffering without collapsing
than a person who had no reason to try. Purpose gives strength
and aliveness and meaning. It makes all the difference.
How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human
Reason in Everyday Life
by Thomas Gilovich
This is an academic book, but very interesting.
It is full of studies showing that the very strengths of our
human brains are also the cause of many of our most common mistaken
beliefs. For example, our ability to generalize and see patterns
from incomplete information is a highly intelligent skill that
has been difficult to develop in computers. Yet that same intelligence-producing
skill is also responsible for faulty conclusions we've jumped
to. Our brain is so predisposed to see patterns, it sometimes
sees a pattern that actually doesn't exist. The value of this
book is that once you recognize the inherent weaknesses in your
brain, you can compensate for them. In fact, the scientific method
was developed to do exactly that: Compensate for our own tendency
to misperceive reality and keep us from fooling ourselves.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie
This is the classic book on dealing with
people, whether you want to simply make new friends or change
someone's behavior or persuade someone to change her mind, you'll
find useful, practical principles here. When the techniques are
used with honesty and sincerity, you can reach a new level of
kindness and courtesy in your dealings with people. Being assertive
or being your honest self does not have to negate courtesy and
politeness. Carnegie's book has often been criticized as a shallow
way of manipulating people. But Carnegie makes very clear that
the practice of the principles is a new way of life, and if you
use them only as a bag of manipulative tricks, you will reap
the superficial relationships you deserve.
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and
by David D. Burns, M.D.
If depression or pessimism is a problem
for you, this book needs to be in your arsenal. It is clear,
practical instruction on what you can do about depression. His
list of ten cognitive distortions is worth memorizing even if
you don't have a problem with depression, because they are the
same distortions we make when we're upset or worried or angry.
Once you know what distortions to look out for, you can spot
them and therefore defend yourself against their destructive
Mindfulness in Plain English, Updated and Expanded
by Henepola Gunatarana
The practice of mindfulness is really a
key factor in all self-help. In order to remember to drink enough
water, or to avoid defeatist thinking, or to keep good posture,
or anything you want to change, you've got to have a certain
amount of mindfulness. You need to be able to be here and be
aware. But beyond that, the foundation of mindfulness adds a
quality to your everyday experience. One thing you probably would
never regret is to say, "I was present for my life."
Why live in automaticities and habits without much awareness
of your experience? You can learn to become more mindful, and
Gunatarana's book is the best training manual I've ever come
across for learning that skill.
Self-Help Without the Hype
by Robert Epstein
This book is short and simple and presents
three powerful ways of making changes in your life without having
to rely on your own memory or willpower, and without needing
to be someone you're not. The content is excellent. It's got
some typos, but it's worth reading. It is written One-Minute-Manager
style. It is a story of a novice learning from a master. Good,
simple, clear, powerful. I highly recommend it.
by Cynthia Kersey
This is an excellent collection of true,
inspiring stories of people who not only succeeded, but succeeded
at a worthy goal. If you liked Just
Keep Planting, you'll love this book. Besides the stories,
there are short essays by successful people, encouraging you
to cast your fears aside and go for it.
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can
Make Yours Last
by John Gottman, Ph.D.
Gottman explains exactly how to avoid what
ruins marriages. About 25 years ago, he started interviewing
newlyweds in his laboratory. He hooked them up to devices that
measure physical responses (blood pressure, heart rate, sweat
on the palms, etc.) and videotaped them while they discussed
a subject that was volatile for them. He was then able to go
back and study the videotapes and watch the records of blood
pressure and heart rate and see how the person responded both
outwardly and inwardly. And then he tracked these couples over
the years. Some broke up. Some stayed together. He found something
very specific that enabled him to predict, with an astoundingly
high degree of accuracy, who will break up and who will stay
together: How they fight.
Gottman's most important discovery, I think,
is that it isn't the content of the fight that makes a
difference, it's the process you use during an argument.
If you use a lousy method of fighting, it doesn't matter if you're
only arguing about a toothpaste tube, it can destroy your marriage.
The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
This book expands the work Csikszentmihalyi
started in Flow, but while Flow was mainly concerned
with turning individual tasks into a more flow-inducing experience,
The Evolving Self teaches how to turn your whole life
into an ongoing flow experience and gives some interesting historical
examples of how that has been done.
Using Your Brain--For a Change: Neuro-Linguistic
by Richard Bandler
Bandler is an innovator and an original
thinker in the field of psychology. This book is a transcript
of Bandler live in front of an audience, cutting up and cracking
jokes as he is prone to do, talking about some of his unique
and often practical views on how you can change your feelings,
thoughts and behavior. Change is often easier than you think
if you use the right method.
Voluntary Simplicity, Revised Edition: Toward a
Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich
by Duane Elgin
We have too much stuff, and after the continual
bombardment of advertising since childhood, we are under the
delusion that buying, having, owning material possessions will
make us happy. Many are snapping out of the trance, and this
book is a record of what people do when they realize things
aren't the source of happiness.
How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable
About Anything: Yes, Anything
by Albert Ellis, Ph.D.
Ellis is a pioneer in the field of cognitive
therapy, and has been at it so long, he has boiled it down to
some fundamental simplicities, making his work very accessible
and practical. This is one of his newer books, and gets to the
heart of the matter, clearly, succinctly, and in a way that you
can use immediately.
Tao: The Watercourse Way
by Alan Watts
Watts is an enjoyable writer to read, and
here you'll find penetrating insight into the Taoist perspective
on life and why it can bring a greater peace of mind. This was
the last book Watts wrote. In fact, he didn't actually finish
it before he died, but what he left is worth reading. Watts often
doesn't merely convey information but creates an experience,
so that while you read, you understand, not just intellectually,
but emotionally as well.
Heart of the Mind: Engaging Your Inner Power to
Change With Neuro-Linguistic Programming
by Connirae Andreas, Ph.D. and Steve Andreas, M.A.
This book is a basic primer of neurolinguistic
programming (NLP). It's easy to read and if you've never read
anything about NLP, it's an eye-opener. The approach to emotional
difficulties is novel, having come ultimately from Milton Erickson
and his innovations in hypnotic trances. One of the creators
of NLP, Richard Bandler, said that he tried to find ways of accomplishing
hypnotic benefits without using hypnosis, and the result was
by Ellen J. Langer
Langer's research is known all over the
world for its originality. She looks deeply at the mindlessness
we all share, and she explains what you personally can do about
your own mindlessness.
Growth Through Reason: Verbatim Cases in Rational-Emotive
by Albert Ellis
This is a book of transcripts of actual
Rational-Emotive Therapy sessions. It's a good look at how the
theory gets put into practice and what it can do. Reading these
exchanges, you get the basic ideas in a lively and interesting
The Structure of Magic: A Book About Language and
Therapy (Structure of Magic)
by Richard Bandler and John Grinder
This is a technical breakdown of how we
make a map of the world, and how our language reveals the map
we've made, and also how you can change the way you use language
to improve your map. It is pure, unadulterated genius.
Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions
by James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D.
Pennebaker's research has become world
famous. When you share a traumatic or painful experience with
someone you trust (or even merely write it out in a journal),
you will enjoy better health. Opening up is healthy. Keeping
yourself closed off from others is unhealthy. Pennebaker shows
you why and how you can open up.
Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion
by Carol Tavris
Full of good research, this book shows
that much of our commonplace understanding of anger is dangerously
off-base. If you have a lot of anger in your life, this is definitely
a book you could profitably read five or six times. The book
debunks many myths; for instance, the myth of suppressed anger.
You'll also learn how to deal with your anger in a healthy way,
and how to change the way you think so you can prevent feeling
angry in the first place.
What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete
Guide to Successful Self-Improvement Learning to Accept Who You
Are (Fawcett Book)
by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
This is a top-shelf self-help book. Seligman
demonstrates his broad and deep knowledge of all kinds of emotional
and psychological problems like anger and anxiety, and tells
you what the research has so far revealed about what you can
do to improve.
Think and Grow Rich
by Napoleon Hill
This is the classic success book.
With his thirteen principles, Hill explains what a person can
do to find a definite chief aim in life, to gain control over
his own thoughts, and to stay optimistic and persistent in the
pursuit of that aim until it is achieved.
Playing Ball on Running Water: The Japanese Way
to Building a Better Life
David K. Reynolds, Ph.D.
This book, as well as the one above, are
a delineation of Reynolds' synthesis of Naikan and Morita therapies
into a westernized version of self-help, called Constructive
Living. This book is interesting, thought provoking, and relentlessly
practical. The Constructive Living approach is especially useful
for someone who has a lot of psychology training or someone who
is often timid or neurotic.
Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude
by Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone
This was written later in Hill's life,
and has been given new life (and the addition of four more principles)
by his association with the eminently successful Stone. The book
is packed with useful principles and interesting anecdotes. It's
a fun book to read.
Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety
by Barbara G. Markway, C. Alec Pollard, Teresa Flynn, and Cheryl
If you feel awkward or uncomfortable talking
to people or giving speeches, and you'd like to feel a lot more
comfortable, this is an insightful book to read. It gives you
practical steps you can take to feel less fear or anxiety and
more pleasure interacting with people.
White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression,
Obesession, and the Psychology of Mental Control
by Daniel Wegner
Wegner has spent his entire career studying
thought suppression and obsessional thoughts. He has learned
so much, every page of this book is packed with interesting insights.
If you've ever had a problem getting something out of your mind,
or wished you had more control over your thoughts, or wanted
to "think more positively," you should get this book
and devour it.
The Relaxation Response
by Herbert Benson
If you would like a reliable method for
reducing not only the stress in your life, but reducing the stressful
way you respond to things, without having to change your thinking
habits or learn yoga, read this book. The method is simple, doesn't
take long, and works like magic.
Making Things Better by Making Them Worse
by Allen Fay
Some problems get worse the more you try
to fix them. It makes sense, and it actually works in practice,
after you have tried and failed to make things better by trying
to make them better, to try to make them worse and see what happens.
This book uses lots of great examples to illustrate the ways
this technique can be used.
The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening
Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships
by John Gottman
One of the most valuable things I've gotten
from any book lately is Gottman's idea of the "bid."
Each thing someone says is a bid for connection, and the way
you make those bids to others, and the way you respond to others
bids makes a relationship better or worse. Powerful and simple.
The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine
Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and
a Good Night's Sleep
William C. Dement
Sleep is very important and more than half
of us get too little of it. The consequences are enormous. Learn
about the research, and find out how you can vastly improve how
you feel every day. Even if you already sleep enough, you can
improve the quality of that sleep. Great book with surprising
insights on a fundamental subject.
Stop! You're Driving Me Crazy
by George Robert Bach
If you've got someone driving you crazy,
this book will shed some penetrating illumination on your situation.
Things will never look the same to you. You'll come away from
this book with so much clarity about what is actually happening,
you'll be amazed. The person driving you crazy is giving you
two messages simultaneously that contradict each other. That's
what makes you feel crazy. There is a specific thing that causes
them to do that, and there are some practical ways you can bring
sanity back into your life. It's all in the book. Well worth
Bonus Book Recommendations
Adam's favorite inspiring true stories:
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (Avon Nonfiction)
Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure
Adam's favorite, most uplifting, most inspiring movies (and they're
all true stories):
A League of Their Own
Rudy (Special Edition)
October Sky (Special Edition)