How to Read Self Help Books

how to read self help books

Reading a self help book is a little tricky. Either you try to apply everything you read all at once, causing a mental (or physical!) breakdown and fetal position rocking, or you read it all…and never do anything with it. Both result in no tangible improvement whatsoever. Clearly, neither are suited for the young enthusiast that you are, trying to improve your life. Turns out, you can do it differently. How to read self help books isn’t quantum physics, you just need to keep these simple things in mind.

For the longest time, I actually fell into the Read & Not Do Shit category. I read every self help book I could get my hands on but never really put the things out of the books into practice. Before I used to beat myself up over that, but now I realize that self-help books are a very specific, weird type of book that should come with a manual on its own how to most effectively read them! And making mini-manual is my JAM, son.

This how you best go about reading self help books.

1. How to read self help books? Read with your own life in mind. 

The first thing you should always keep focused on is how the book can help you with your life. Otherwise, you fill your head with the author’s story, information you can’t really use, tips that aren’t even applicable to your situation and that’s not going to very helpful.

I mean, I think it’s great that Example Eddie found a partner by applying Social Strategy #432, but I think my boyfriend would get a little upset if I did the same thing. Just like it has no use for you to learn how to do a great job interview while you have a great job and no intention of leaving. I mean, you can read it, but keep in mind that it’s less important than the stuff you could use to improve your life right fucking now.

2. Take it slow. 

This is not a fiction book where you can skip over a boring conversation or rush through the riveting build-up to get to the plot. In these books, if you read over stuff, you’re going to miss stuff. So really try to take it sentence by sentence. Let it sink in a little, think about a certain phrase or quote for a minute before you go onto the next part.

3. Take notes.

This, to me, is absolutely essential. Scribble in margins, grab a notebook, put in post-its, underline, mark up, all that. I make my books look like I’m a kid in high school, doing homework. There is a gap between the author’s helpful written words and the practical use for its information into my life, and I bridge it through ferocious note taking. By reading so actively through taking notes, I make those words practical immediately. It ensures a better and more concrete understanding of what I’m reading.

So (ab)use your self help book like you did your books in school. They’re to-do books, notebooks. Make them yours so the information becomes more yours too.

4. Try doing a few of the assignments in the book.

Often, these types of books come with assignments or tips. Try them. Seriously. I’ve heard they are in it for a reason and not just for decoration. Crazy, right?

5. Select

You can’t do everything at once. So, as you read or after you’ve read it, make a list of the things you’d like to try.* Pick one, two max, to try and implement into your life the upcoming days and weeks. By picking (a few) small thing(s), it becomes simple and concrete to take immediate action and just try out how it works for you.

*If you want, you can make it a mental list but honestly, if you knew how much it helped to think on paper, you’d write that shit down.

6. Evaluate. 

There’s the real punch line: just because some smart ass wrote it down desn’t make it a universal truth. Epiphany: not everything will work for you, not even if it did for somebod else before. So, if you’re a night owl and meditating at sunrise does not give you mental peace but overwhelming rage instead, maybe it’s not the best idea to keep trying. And if the Cabbage Diet give you gas, for the love of God (and people around you) please realise you need to try something else.

If it works, if it’s effective and you’re reaping benefits, continue. If it doesn’t work, you can either try to tweak it so it can be effective or you stop and start doing something else. Just do whatever you need to do to make something work for you.

I hope this short guide how to read self help books helps you on your way. (Obviously) I LOVE self help books and I truly believe they can lift your spirits, help you make better choices and live your best life. As long as you don’t overdo it of course.

Have fun!

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  1. Hi there,

    I really like this article. As someone said: to learn a new habit, you must unlearn older one. This is why I am trying to create a new habit of reading a book to its fullest and trying to forget the older one. Believe me, it’s hard. So far I have been reading self help books wrongly. I was seeing that I am becoming a better person day by day or months by months but I always feel that I am missing something. I was extracting only 20-30% off a book. Maybe one reason is that I don’t keep journals. Anyways, I really like this article and I will definitely use these rules when I read a self help book tonight.

    I must say that I like your writing style more than I like this article. Haha!

    Blessings from India

  2. I suffer as well from the same problem I ended up with your conclusion. A practical manual is needed to implement the self help tips. After experimenting many ideas I managed to achieve relative success wit the following tips:
    1) breakdown and simplify down to earth in very practical and simple terms very few tips from the book.
    2) target specific actions aiming on applying the self help tips. For instance if it is speed reading decide that tomorrow I will read my report assignment with this method.
    3) handy checklist of the tips. Write down in it what you will do like; comprehend the paragraph overview.. check, skip the words.. check.. This indeed was the most effective method with me because I can systematically implement the tips.
    Good luck,

  3. Thanks for the tips it was really helpful. I’m the type that tries to apply everything I have read when reading and this makes me take forever to finish a book and it is not helpful.

  4. Really very nice and practical ideas/strategies have been narrated by you , by following these six steps anybody can get the maximum from a self helf book which it really means for, just reading in a lighter way may not serve the purpose , one has to dig out the thoughts burried by these great scholars in their great piece of works . Here i would like to add one thing :- one should read any self helf book many times because you can not get the whole from it in just one or two rounds of reading. It is not just a book rather it is the treasure of the author’s knowledge for which he took decades to earn and to serve you.

  5. I was looking into some self-help products yesterday and got curious about how these things work. Knowing that they serve primarily as a guide as you are to select which of the tips you could practice religiously to not overload yourself as you’ve mentioned is kind of an interesting concept to explore. That said, I’m not really a fan of books which is why I might start with just looking into some self-help videos on the internet. Thanks!

  6. Thanks for pointing out that when reading a self-help book it can be helpful to take it slow, let it sink in a little, and think about certain phrases before you go on to the next part. I am thinking about reading a self-help book about understanding disruptive change because I think that it could help me work out some family issues. I think that reading it slowly and thinking about how to apply it to my life would allow for me to be able to actually make a change in my life and further my understanding in an area.

  7. It was helpful when you explained that taking notes immediately helps you by ensuring practical and concrete understanding of what you’re reading. Lately I’ve been struggling to feel happy in my day to day life, so I’ve been wanting to shop for some inspirational books about happiness to give me some strategies. Thank you for sharing this article and providing some great ideas to help me get the most value from reading the book!

  8. Thank you! Especially on Corona days I am reading through tons of books i bought but didn’t read due to excuses. Now I have all the time and I’m reading one by one. But wanting to learn all of them is fucking overwhelming 😀

    Maybe for other ones suffering:
    – I am reading through and marking important points
    – than I am write down all marked text to my OneNote Page on my Laptop, so I have the essence of the book for me

    Now I want to use the tips mentioned here and write down 1-2 actions out of the essence to apply it to my daily life.

    Keep going!