5 Self-Help Books for Skeptics

by | May 9, 2020

From 2014 to 2017, I lived in China and the Marshall Islands and taught science to high school and community college students. One of the things I missed the most about living in the US was having access to my local library.

Sarah, one of my oldest friends, borrowed e-books from her library and generously lent them to me so I could still read without breaking the bank.

I had periodic requests for specific books, but I depended on her judgment quite a bit. I’d tell her I needed more books, and she would send me another batch. It was like having my very own book Christmas every 4 to 6 weeks.

During that time period, I was still reading mostly fiction (with the occasional celebrity memoir thrown in), but sometime in late 2016, I read my first self-help book (The Secret by Rhonda Byrne) and had a major life revelation. The major life revelation is a story for another day, but that book started my journey into personal growth, which continues to this day.

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I had a conversation about self-help books. She thinks they’re just plain boring. I disagree.

I’ve read a lot of personal growth books the last 3-4 years, and several stand out that were definitely not dull.

I decided to compile a list of five self-help books (plus two sequels) to help draw skeptics like Sarah into the world of personal growth.

Except for the first book, they are are listed in no particular order.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

This book is my number one pick for self-help skeptics because the author was a skeptic himself (and not a small one).

After a panic attack on live television, Dan Harris, a correspondent for a national news outlet, began his journey into meditation. He was extremely skeptical about meditating at the beginning of his journey, and now he’s built a major empire around it.

“Woo woo” meditation stuff only makes up about 5%-10% of the book. He describes the events in his life that led to the panic attack, plus behind-the-scenes information about working as a news anchor for a national TV network, which I found particularly interesting.

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

Mark Manson teaches something called “urban” self-help. It’s not touchy-feely with positive affirmations or rainbows and unicorns. A lot of his advice is contrary to the personal growth information you hear about today.

In the book, Mark shares his insight into what really matters in life (I had multiple “aha” moments) and how you can stop wasting your time caring about $h!t that doesn’t matter. (Hey, if he can swear so can I. Hehe.) The book is also very entertaining. I laughed out loud several times when I read it.

Mark started out as a blogger who helped people with relationships and all sorts of life problems. The title of this book is also the title of one of his most popular (and longest) articles. He now has millions of followers (including me) and wrote another book, Everything is F*cked: A Book about Hope. The sequel isn’t as personal as the first book, but it is still chock full of great advice and more “aha” moments.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb is a psychotherapist who needs to talk to someone after a difficult life event. This well-written (and very entertaining) book describes her experience with Wendell, her new therapist, and gives us a sneak peek into what it’s like to be a therapist (apparently they’re regular people just like us; who knew??). You also follow along as she works with five clients and their stories of loss and healing.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

As you can tell by the sassy title (it makes me want to do a z-snap), this book is meant to give you a major kick in the @$$ (yes, more swearing). Rachel dissects the lies you’ve been told all your life and tells you how to work through them and live the life you deserve.

Rachel also started out as a blogger like Mark but changed direction when women started asking her for advice.

She’s a busy working mom who shares her journey of moving to Los Angeles at 17, finding her husband, and frustrating aspects of mom life. Her writing is very real and refreshing, and she doesn’t hold back about anything.

The sequel, Girl, Stop Apologizing, is also excellent.

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I just love books that are full of helpful advice that I can apply to my own life. I honestly believe this book has saved many relationships.

The premise of the book is that there are five love languages, and if you and your partner aren’t communicating using the right one, your relationship will never work. I think the whole idea is fascinating and have seen it played out in my own relationships over the years (ahhh, hindsight).

Where do you stand on personal growth? Are you a skeptic like my friend Sarah? Have I convinced you to read one of these self-help books? Let me know in the comments below!


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