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  • M - HopeLine Volunteer

On Self-Help Books: What to Try and Why

For as long as I've been able to read I've been reading nearly every day. There has never been a time when I didn't have a book (or a few) on my bedside table, waiting for me to wind down before sleep. Most days it's fiction, but every once in a while, a current bestseller self-help or how-to finds its way into my hands.

I don't remember the first self-help book I read, but I remember how I felt opening it:

"This is it. I will read this book and my life will be changed forever. I will be the happiest, most beautiful and successful woman to ever walk this earth. Yes."

After a few books of the sort, when it obviously didn't happen, I just gave up on unrealistic expectations and started reading with a bit more skepticism. Apparently, that was a good approach, because I did end up reading some amazing books that changed the way I see and do some things. Here's the list.

1. The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols.

Next time you are having a conversation with someone, think about all the times you are responding with “I..” or “me too..”, or “in my situation…” Pay attention to how every story, every sentence, brings a memory or a story in your head about yourself. It is natural, but it is not what the other person wants to hear when they tell you something. You think you are sharing a similar experience and opening up, but it comes across as “yes, but what happened to me is more interesting”. If you notice that about yourself, this book is for you.

I picked it up when I started volunteering at HopeLine. I wanted to become a better listener. This book is very well written and structured. At the beginning, it describes in detail how most of us are not very good listeners. How we wait for our turn to talk, instead of hearing the other person. How we are quick to judge and give advice or opinion. How we get overly excited or upset over any news just to show how much we care. Don’t feel bad. Most of us were not taught how to listen, we just watched our parents interact with us and the world. However, it is never too late to learn.

Is it guaranteed to make one a better listener? Of course not. It requires effort, practice, and intention. It does, however, help us become more aware of those moments when we fail to listen; when our conversations seem to take an emotional turn, halt, or end with one side feeling hurt. If you only learn one thing from this book, it is worth a read.

2. Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

While book #1 focuses on listening in all situations of our life, this one give you the tools to use during a crisis, a fight, an argument, difference of opinions, a conflict.

Well apparently, in difficult situations, particularly when there are disagreements, you do not have to choose between being quiet and brutally honest. There are ways to be honest without the brutal part, and this book describes what they are.

Compromise is not something to aspire to either. You can always find a common goal with someone you disagree with. At the end of the day, we all want the same things; it's the means we use to get these things is what we fight about.

3. Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

Who is a better person to teach you about negotiating than the FBI’s former lead kidnapping negotiator? At the time, his methods were revolutionary, and based on (wait for it…) active listening!

Similar to the previous title, this book teaches you to talk and negotiate with people, and get what you want without the other side feeling cheated or taken advantage of. However, it focuses more on active listening and creating a relationship with the other party, even when starting with the wrong foot (ahem… kidnapping).

The book is full of captivating case studies from the world of kidnapping, and, later, business strategy (after retiring from the FBI, Chris Voss created his private business consulting firm).

If you work with people, or if you interact with businesses, store clerks, landlords, car dealers, teenagers, your boss, read this book.

4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Wow, what an incredibly cheesy title. Doesn't it make you immediately go "Yeah right, learning how to clean my house will change my life, sure"? Luckily, I was not put off by it because I read about the book and the author on someone's blog. Marie Kondo (or Konmari) hooks you into reading the book by assuring that you only need to organize your house once, over a course of 3-6 months, and will never have to do it again. You discard the things that don't make you happy and keep the ones that do. That sounded amazing to me, and before I even received the book, I went through my closet and dumped about half of it. It was after I got the book, when I realized that I was supposed to discard with respect, thanking each thing for serving its purpose, and say good bye to it (seriously). I still miss that H&M belt with a peony I so foolishly tossed aside.

The entire philosophy of only keeping the things that bring you happiness made me see my possessions differently. If I catch myself feeling guilty over an expensive dress I bought forever ago and don't really like that much, I realize that keeping it doesn't make me happy. I must thank it for the lesson learned and move on. I'm not as eager to spend my money anymore either, I make sure I really love the thing I buy.

Konmari goes into extensive detail about organizing clothes in the drawers. The first time I read it I thought: "There's no way I will keep up with folding my shirts and socks (yes, folding socks!!!) after laundry and neatly stacking them vertically in the drawers. That crap just takes way too much time." I tried it anyway, and, surprisingly, still doing it almost 2 years later.

I respectfully discarded most of my books, makeup, jewelry and clothes. I gave away the Konmari book to someone who really wanted it. I purchased a few quality items for my closet, and I don’t feel like I have nothing to wear.

One of the surprising side effects of having your possessions in order, according to Konmari, is letting other people and their possessions just be. If you have an urge to organize your husband's/children's/parents' things, that means you are not happy with your own stuff, so you need to go take care of it first. I didn't stop thinking about discarding half of my boyfriend's book collection, but instead of nagging him about it I remind myself that I'm just probably unhappy about that messy bookcase in my office room.

It is a great book with a philosophy I can follow. If it makes you happy - keep it. If it doesn't - thank it for the service and say good bye.

5. Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov

Oh look, another cheesy title! Don’t be put off by the B word. Sherry insists that it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

This book is gold. There was a time I could not understand why guys either didn't stick around or didn't commit to me. "I'm so nice! I cook him a nice dinner any time he comes over, and do his laundry, and take care of him, and make sure he's safe and happy. Why won't he love me???"

This book helped me understand the mistakes I was making. I did not give the hunter a chance to hunt. I dropped the dead moose at his doorstep and then wondered why he didn't like it.

This book does not teach how to play games or how to be mean. No, it teaches how to respect yourself, and how the woman who respects herself acts. It is full of stories from real people, men and women alike, and lessons we can learn from them. Also, it is absolutely hilarious and a must read for all women.

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