Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Sunday, 8 February 2015

Self Help Books With Embarrassing Titles That Are Actually Awesome

The Debrief: Don't get put off by books that promise to unfurl the real you. Some of them are actually not shit.

It’s a shame that self-help books have such shit titles, because some of them are actually pretty good.

Sure, you could sit at home and privately Google ‘Why is my heart so cold and black and dead’, but skim-reading a list about how to be happy with one eye on Twitter and another on an article about pugs with their heads stuck in laundry baskets isn’t going to have the same effect as a 200-odd page of non-fiction. 

Because the titles are so cringey, you might be put off being seen to buy them (hello, Amazon) or to read them in public – but that guy opposite doesn’t care whether you’re feeling the fear and doing it anyway as he’s preoccupied with what he’s having for lunch.

So why not retreat to your bedroom and have a go? I’m a firm believer that a) we can all do with a bit of self improvement – if you think this doesn’t apply to you, may I direct you to Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test and b) there’s no better antidote to a shit week than getting stuck into a copy of The Power Is Within You, Babeflower AKA How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Embrace The Fact That We’re All Babeflowers. 

So here are the books with shit titles, that will actually do you some good. Read them in private, read them in public, read them up a tree surrounded by little tree-gnomes. Just read them. 

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers


Why it’s good: You have no idea how much crap is knocking about your head that you’re too scared to engage with. Yeah, you should ask for a pay rise or get rid of that toxic relationship, or quit your job, or go to that high-intensity fitness class, but it’s so much easier not to because hey, change is scary.

Doing stuff is frightening. But all the stuff you’re not doing doesn’t just go away, it’s lurking in the back of your brain and eating away at your happiness. Even little things, like being too scared to quit smoking in case you find out you can’t, falls into the ‘Stuff I’m Scared Of' box.

So get rid of those lurking fears and start doing all the things you know will make you happy. On a side note, go buy The Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allan Carr (not the comedian) (and yes, I’m obsessed with self-help books). 

Best bit: The Whole Life Grid. Basically, you divide a square into nine boxes and fill each box with something you need that makes you happy. Food, relationships, friendships, family, job, side projects, religion, anything.

So, when I was in a relationship that was making me sad, looking at this grid made me less afraid to get rid of him – yes, that grid will be empty, but look at all the other shit you can start focusing on. Same with your job – if it’s a big part of your life but it’s not making you happy, then get rid of it, because the world won’t stop. You’ll just feel better. 

The Art Of Asking: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Let People Help by Amanda Palmer


Why it’s good: It’s like former Dresden Doll’s frontwoman, current singer-songwriter, former living statue, artist, wife of Neil Gaiman and all-round fucking awesome woman Amanda is sat in a bar talking to you.

Through working through her own experiences of living as a struggling artist, this will make anyone creative and afraid to throw themselves in the deep end feel like peeing into the wind. It’ll also make anyone who has ever been afraid to accept money from someone they love, or help from a stranger, re-think the motives behind their pride.

And on top of this, she demonstrates how you make a relationship work, even if that person is the polar opposite to you, through good communication and being totally honest. You’ll also start following her on Twitter and get obsessed with her blogs. 

Best bit: The swearing, the honesty and the fact it doesn’t read like a self-help book – so it’sperfect for those who find their arse clenching at the first mention of ‘the power of the mind’ and instructions about ‘visualising a healing light’.

The opening anecdote about how asking for a tampon is a ‘constant, karmic tampon circle’ really sets the tone. 

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman


Why it’s good: Directed specifically at women, these two journalists go in search of confidence – what it is, why we don’t have it, and whether it can be learned. Spoiler: you can, and they give you some really good tips on how to nail it.

The good thing about The Confidence Code is how reassured it makes you feel if you’ve been feeling lacking in the self-esteem department – no, it’s not your fault and yes, you can do something about it.

It also made a palpable difference to how I went about my daily life, and you have no idea how much confidence affects everything until you actually get some. 

Best bit: They don’t just go on about how you can kick ass, but how you can help young women (and girls) feel more confident. The concepts include praising progress, rather than perfection; challenging them; avoiding being overly critical or overly praising; concentrating on sports and health rather than looking all pretty.

You’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re spreading the lurve. 

 Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray


Why it’s good: OK, so this is a book solely based on gender stereotypes, and the fact that men need to go into a little ‘mancave’ every now and again, and that women operate on a metaphorical wave of hysteria that sweeps them into the Bay Of Tears And Shouting, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Alright, so it’s occasionally flagrantly sexist, telling women they should ‘go shopping’ whenever the man needs to go into his mancave. And yeah, OK, it basically tells women to concede to men and that, if he’s in his mancave, she should be happy with whatever he can give her to avoid causing a scene.

But if you look past the fact that this has dated, and that John Gray is a bit of a tool, there’s some really good insight and help for functioning in a relationship without yelling things like, ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU WANT TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES ALONE WHY CAN’T I HANG OUT AND STARE AT YOU WHY IS THAT WEIRD?’.

Also, the way the book describes women wanting an emotional connection, to be listened to, and having meltdowns in the form of waves that build up and then explode, describes me fairly accurately. Soooo. 

Best bit: Apart from the sexist parts – which are pretty funny – this helped me understand relationships. The overarching themes make sense, and are really reassuring (especially if you’ve just had a big fight and bought this book in an attempt to ‘like, understand each other better’).

While everyone’s different, you’ll be able to recognise what he’s on about. If you haven’t ever dated a person that just wanted to be left alone, or kept trying to get in your face even though you asked for space, then you’ve either blanked that relationship out of your memory, or you’re an inanimate object. If there are flowers in the top of your head, you might be a vase. Amazing that you got this far into the article.

How To Stop Worrying And Start Living by Dale Carnegie


Why it’s good: This was written in 1948, and the advice still stands true. Although its biggest criticism is the fact that his 10 sections state the obvious, if the principles that self-help don Dale Carnegie (I mean, what a name. The man must have smoked so many cigars) lays out are so simple, then why the eff aren’t you doing them? Why aren’t I doing them?

This book is the written equivalent of your mate saying exactly what you need to hear, despite the fact you already knew it, making you go and finally bloody do it. For a few weeks at least, until you lapse into your old ways and have to read the book again. 

Best bit: The immediacy. Start following the advice, and you’ll see a difference very, very quickly. Plus, you’ll feel so much better. You can also finish it in a night, if you’re the sort of person who reads self-help books through the night. In which case, maybe we should start a nocturnal book club? 

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Follow Stevie on Twitter: @5tevieM

Photographed by Luke & Nik

Tags: books