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Getting The Most Out of A Self-Help Book

Self help book is a huge industry. Walk into a bookstore and you are sure to find a lot of titles to choose from. And amidst that plethora of books, we can expect to see some gems and some junks.

Some people, I included, like to read self help books. But there is a downside to this that we might not realize.

Reading self help book might be just another form of fashion statement. Yes, you heard it right. I am sure you do have some friends who go around touting a certain self help book as his or her favorite in the hope of being seen as ambitious, driven and keeping up with the trend.

How to Talk to Cats and Dogs is already out? I’m going to get that, read it and talk about it later. Unlimited Attraction has also been released? Oh yes, another book to be added in my book shopping list!

And so reading self help books become just another fashionable items in the same category as collecting shoes or handbags.

But still, this healthy dose of skepticism should not stop anyone from reading self help books. When we were small kids, we grow physically. Now that we don’t grow physically anymore, we should grow ourselves another way.

Reading self help books is a way to grow ourselves. But not all self-help books are able to support this kind of growth. So when I look for a self help book, I prefer a book that fulfills certain criteria.

First, having a central theme that runs through the whole book.

For instance, the central theme of Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins is about applying Neuro Linguistic Programming as a tool for self improvement.

I got the book when I was 15. The truth was, I got the book then because the Head Boy in my boarding school during that year had been talking about the book. Most of the juniors admired him, his intelligence, athletic ability, and leadership talent. And of course wanted to be like him. One of them was me. I bought the book, read it, could not really comprehend the material but thought hey, it’s cool and intellectual to be reading the book.

When I left the school and started my varsity years and reread the book, the book started to make sense to me. One of the materials talk about creating instant rapport with another person through mirroring. That technique alone has helped me to do so with a lot of people and opened so many doors of opportunities.

Other than that, I strongly suggest anyone intending to read the book to understand and apply the Precision Model. It is highly useful to understand the structure behind problems faced by human in daily life. Only when we understand the structure we can really tackle and address a problem and not taking a Band-Aid style solution.

On the other end, some self help books tend to be too cluttered with fluffy think positive mumbo jumbo from cover to cover. I find some of Bryan Tracy’s books, with the exception for The Psychology of Selling, fall into this category.

Strange enough, I find Think and Grow by Napoleon Hill falls in this category as well. I did have a second hand copy of the book but I was not able to get myself to finish reading the book.

There are just too many think positive hoohaas plastered all around the books. And at some point it is tiring to read these kinds of book.

The second criteria I look for in a self help book is having concrete actionable items or at least a framework to effect some changes at the end of a chapter. Among the books that fall into this category are of course Your Erroneous Zone by Dr Wayne Dyer and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

Reading Your Erroneous Zone really helps me to shed approval seeking mentality from myself. Before that, I thought I am already doing what I can to not seek the approval of others. But after reading the book, I pushed the be-independent-and-don’t seek-approval –from others mentality further and live a more truthful life.

I strongly recommend anyone seeking some real improvement to get the book. I usually recommend people to get a second hand copy of any book but due to the value contained in Your Erroneous Zone I strongly urge you to buy new copy and give Dr Dyer some money from your purchase 😀

The third criteria is a self help book should be genuinely promoting self help and is not a thinly disguised sales pamphlet.

Let’s take a look at Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The book is extremely popular, selling very well but just look at the subsequent series of the books. Almost all of them are nothing than rehash of earlier materials in some other books. We Want You to be Rich which is co-written by Donald Trump and Kiyosaki is actually a catalogue disguised as a book to promote CashFlow boardgame and Trumps University programs.

Secrets of The Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker is a bit unique. The book fulfills the first criteria of having a theme that underlies the whole book. The theme is that if we change our financial blueprint, the financial architecture changes by itself.

The book also has some practical action items to change and realign understanding of wealth building process. But it fails the third acid test.

Towards the end of the book, which deals with getting continuous financial education, we can find very heavy sales pitch of T Harv Eker’s program. Instead of leaving the readers to choose their own avenue of financial education, readers are being bombarded with repetitive suggestions to go for advanced programs by his companies.

That chapter sort of spoils the whole gold nuggets contained in the book. But still the book is a good read.

Currently, I have adopted another useful ways to read self-help books. I scribble some notes on the same page if the material in that particular page makes me think of something.

This way, I can later work on the ideas instead of having it lingering in my mind only.

So those are my ways of getting the most out of self help books. What are yours?

Leave your thoughts below.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • very nicely written. 🙂
    I have a wide range of genres when it comes to a book. But maybe when we are to look and read a book, we have to do it so with an open mind.

  • “Personal Development for Smart People” by Steve Pavlina is a good start for self help.

    I find Bob Proctor’s way of presenting “Think and Grow Rich” with his own interpretation in “Born Rich” far more interesting and insightful than the original book.

    “The Secret” and “Rich Dad Poor Dad” which sells like candies give a “starting a new cult” feeling.

    Whilst Bryan Tracy gives an impression of like what a typical high school english essay would be like.

    “Photoreading Whole Mind System” by Paul Scheele (recommended by Steve Pavlina) is a good skill to acquire to read self help junks fast, despite some “photoreaders” do photoread fiction books, I’d only photoread non-fiction, particularly self-help and textbooks.

    BTW did you just missed out “The Game” and it’s kind? 😉


  • I generally avoid self-help books. I prefer books that, as you mentioned, is promoting some general theme/idea. Maybe because I’m more interested in knowing more stuff than trying to apply it in my life.

    The categories of books I liked is kinda wide and vague. They are books like Freakonomics (economics), Black Swan (random events?), Purple Cow (marketing) and What the Dog Saw (no idea bout this one heh). I also avoid auto-biographies.


    Hi TS ,
    It is good to know a lot of things eventhough we don’t intend to apply it. I consider that as “expanding our comfort zone”.
    As for the books, books by Seth Godin are in my list actually. 🙂 I am not sure which one to start though 🙂
    Gladwell, I read Blink but The Tipping Point , Outliers and WTDS not yet.
    Black Swan,I’ll google that.
    Freakonomics, hmm..I categorise that book as pop economics 🙂

  • I like all of Seth’s books but some of them can seem rather repetitive. Since he’s known for marketing stuff, I would recommend Purple Cow and Permission Marketing. As for Gladwell’s books, some ppl don’t like how he interpret facts in his own way. I just find it interesting to know how he thinks actually.

    But if you were to read one book in your lifetime, I will recommend Black Swan. To me, it’s tooo important to not read it. Freakonomics, err well they like to call it behavioral economics. Combining best of psychology and economics or so they say =)

  • mamal

    I had never been drawn to self-help book, motivational book or anything like that in the market…don’t ask me why…i seriously don’t know how to answer that…as i told you kc long time ago back then when we were in varsity days…you were the one who loves to read…and i was the one who loves the experience of it…the feeling of failure, success and the experimental going-ons in doing things…

    I guess self-help book is kinda cool…but totally not my cup of tea…i love reading…but i love reading senseless stuffs and specific subject…mostly are fiction…yeah i am a hopeless dreamer…maybe thats why i dont like self-help books…coz i love to dream…hehehe…escapism from reality…

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