By Christine Song

The Best Self Help Books: Find the Right One for You

Find the perfect match for you and your goals.

When you’ve got a problem, you can bet there’s a self help book out there that has an answer or approach for you to try. 

But how do you find the best self help books in a vast sea of options?

We are lucky that today, there are books for just about every problem you might be facing: improving relationships, dealing with a loss, overcoming addiction, becoming happier, learning to be more productive, earning more money, being more organized…

Self help books are meant to help you, but you have to find the right one for you, and shouldn’t settle for just anything. If you choose a book by an unqualified author or one with an approach that doesn’t work for you, you’ll be back at square one in no time.

The best self help books help you work through a problem by paring down the huge amount of information out there into one logical strategy. They are a great option if you have a specific problem that you want to work through on your own, particularly if you’re feeling like you’re not sure where to start.

The goal of reading a self help book should be to learn from the book, then take what you learned and start the real work. Your effort comes in the form of acting on and implementing what you’ve learned; passively reading the book and putting it on the shelf with no follow-up won’t change you or fix the problem you sought to solve. Taking action is the hard part, and that’s where many self help book readers get tripped up and others just get turned off completely.

However, the best self help books inspire action and help you get started. And we are here to help you find those books so you can start improving your life.

No matter what your preconceived notions are about self help books, here are some tips on how to find the best self help books and a few recommendations to get you started. 

Finding the best self help books for you

When you’re looking for a self help book, it’s important to do your research to find the right one. The ones with the flashiest covers aren’t necessarily the best.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself as you’re browsing your options:

1. Who wrote it? The book’s author should be credentialed, an expert, or someone with significant experience in their field. Their educational and professional background is important, as well as whether they authored the book themselves or partnered with a ghost writer. Evaluate an option by using the questions below:
  • Did the author write the book themselves?
  • How long ago did the author practice or participate in their field?
  • What experience do they have on the topic of the self help book and/or is their field of experience tied to the topic?
  • When was the book written? Has it received any criticism from other experts in the field?
  • Have they written other well respected books?

2. Will you read it? Be honest with yourself - if a book doesn’t seem valuable or if the writing style really bothers you, it might not be the right fit. Read the back, read the table of contents, scan a few chapters... the book needs to draw you in and make you want to read more. Otherwise it’s not worth spending your money.

And though academic books may contain great information, a self help book should be written in terms that allow you to understand the information that is being presented. You should feel you have a clear path forward, with the steps laid out in an easy-to-follow manner. 

The best self help books acknowledge that you are human, and may need to take breaks or have resistance to their ideas at first. They should present strategies that help you overcome these roadblocks, not expect you to just power through on willpower alone.

Ask yourself, “If I buy this book, am I sure that I will read it, finish it, and do what it recommends?” The answer should be yes!

3. Don’t assume that because it’s popular, it will work. Just be cautious...that’s all we’re saying.

Popularity doesn’t necessarily correlate with results, and everyone is different. It’s hard to gauge how effective something is based on anecdotal, subjective comments from other people. Be critical in your evaluation of an option, and try not to buy into hype. Remember you have to implement and act on what you’ve read, so it needs to work for YOU. Not everyone else.

By being selective about what self help book you invest your time and money in, you’ll save yourself even more time and money down the road.  

6 of the best self help books

While there are hundreds of thousands of self help books out there to choose from, some classics are almost always helpful (or at least give you a good place to start!). Here are some of the best self help books to help you tackle the biggest challenges in your life:

  1. Best for increasing productivity and efficiency: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Stephen R. Covey is famous for a reason - it’s full of smart tips for becoming a more effective person, both personally and professionally. It’s been around a while (first published in 1989), and has sold over 25 million copies and comes highly rated.
  2. Best for bringing out and showcasing your initiative: Being passionate and persistent can lead you to greatness, even if you’re not a genius, according to Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. What you’re born with isn’t everything and this book aims to show you how to control your destiny.
  3. Best for building your network and establishing strong relationships: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie outlines ways in which you can effectively communicate with different people, build relationships, and make people feel respected and valued. Filled with anecdotes and written in a conversational style, it’s an easy read that can deliver instant results.
  4. Best for living in the present: Living in the present, not the past or future, can be challenging. Releasing and letting go of anger, jealousy, and resentment is sometimes that much harder. But that’s where A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle comes in and can be of help. 
  5. Best for bringing focus to what you’re doing: Distractions are everywhere; if you’ve noticed that they are taking over your life, you’re not alone. Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World gives you tips and strategies for staying focused, tuning out distraction, and doing that magical thing called “deep work”.
  6. Best for inspiring declutter: Tidying has been elevated to an art in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. With detailed yet easy-to-follow guidelines, you’ll get the tools you need to declutter and organize your life into something that inspires you.