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A few years ago, burnt out and anxious, I knew I needed to make some changes in my life. I set about building a ‘toolkit’ to help me. Having been an avid reader since I was a child, I naturally turned to self-improvement books.
Now, I’ve read some absolute tripe along the way I must admit, but I have also found some gems. These are the ones that I have found to be full of practical advice that I can use in everyday life.
So without further ado, here are 3 of my favourite self-improvement books.
How To Win Friends And Influence People In The Digital Age (Dale Carnegie)
If you are looking for easy to apply, practical advice then this book is for you! First written in 1936, the book has been updated to show how the principles can be applied in today’s world of technology. Don’t let the publication date of the original put you off, it really is an easy read!
The book is brimming with good old-fashioned common sense.
Let me give you some examples of what I mean.
Bury Your Boomerangs
Carnegie’s first piece of advice in this chapter is “don’t criticise, condemn or complain”. Not always easy to apply in practice, particularly in these days of celebrity gossip and internet trolls but still, very wise advice.
At times, one can wonder whether criticism has become more prevalent than compassion and judgement more prevalent than grace in our communication media. There is no disputing that snark is chic.
The authors remind us that any complaint or criticism can quite easily reach the ears and eyes of millions of people in an instant, even if this was not our intention.
Consider the example of Mel Gibson who left a racially charged message on his ex-girlfriend’s voicemail. According to the book, his global influence took a huge tumble as a result.
The degree to which you can be heard today is best thought of not as a burden or blessing but as a responsibility. Those who accept this responsibility with humility, compassion and a trustworthy zeal are much quicker to rise because others remain willing to listen.
The book is packed full of advice, but there were a few sections that particularly resonated with me.
Affirm what’s good
The book gives the story of Abraham Lincoln who used this idea to good effect to keep the nation together. Seven states had seceded from the union. Lincoln was clear about the consequences of this, but in a famous speech he said
We are not enemies but friends. We must not be enemies.
Lincoln could have got frustrated, he could have shown anger towards the seven states. Instead, he showed compassion and forgiveness and extended the hand of friendship.
The book asks whether you can remember a time when someone surprised you with “underserved grace or unconditional forgiveness”.
It could have happened many years ago, but it is likely that you still remember it, along with the accompanying emotions.
Take interest in others’ interests
One of the things I particularly love about this book is that it’s full of stories which are easy to relate to. There are a couple which stand out in the section entitled ‘Take Interest In Others’ Interests’.
The first is a story about Andrew Sullivan, a top political blogger. He decided that he wanted his blog, “The Daily Dish” to be about more than politics.
So he came up with an idea – he asked his readers to send him photos of the world outside their windows. The site’s traffic increased by over thirty per cent.
The second story is about a business owner called Steve Beecham. Beecham had a couple of failed businesses under his belt when he attempted to set up a mortgage company.
He realised that his problem had been his tendency to focus on business rather than on building relationships.
Following a chance encounter in a car park with a celebrity who asked him lots of questions about himself and his life, he started to apply this same approach to his business dealings.
He says that he “decided to become a problem solver with no strings attached”. In a matter of months, he had turned his company around.
Many of the calls to his office are nothing to do with mortgages. People ask him questions on all manner of topics. For example, where to go for dinner and who to call about life insurance. He has become a trusted source of advice in his local community.
At the time the book was written, the majority of his business referrals were coming via word of mouth.
Have you ever tried to address an issue with a company only to have your complaint ignored?
Dave Carroll, the lead singer of a little-known band encountered exactly this during a trip with United Airlines. He had boarded the flight when suddenly someone shouted, “they are tossing guitars out there”. Dave looked out of the window and saw, to his horror, the band’s guitars being thrown about.
He spoke to the cabin steward who told him to speak to the staff outside.
This he did only to be told “but hun that’s why we make you sign the waiver”.
He hadn’t signed any waiver…
When he retrieved his guitar when the flight landed he wasn’t surprised to find it had been badly damaged.
He then spent over a year trying to get someone from United Airlines to listen to his complaint. Eventually, he paid to get the guitar repaired himself.
He wrote a little tune entitled ‘United Breaks Guitars’ which he then uploaded to YouTube.
the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airline’s stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall and it plunged by 10% costing shareholders $180 million, which incidentally would have bought Caroll more than 51,000 replacement guitars.
There’s a lot of advice in the book relevant for bloggers too. For example, the authors talk about asking lots of questions.
They specifically say about your ‘digital space’
Read others’ posts and messages closely; comment or reply with questions and do it for at least five different people a day. In addition to that, use your posts and updates to ask more questions of your friends and followers. You may be surprised at how many people respond.
How To Have A Good Day (Caroline Webb)
Again I initially listened to the book on audiobook and then went and bought a paperback copy so that I could refer to it and make notes on its pages!
A bit like Dale Carnegie’s book, the main focus is on building effective relationships with others.
The book is split into easily digestible chapters with practical ‘how to’ sections contained within.
There are some great chapters on setting goals, prioritising and how to be more productive.
My favourite chapter, the one I have returned to the most, is the chapter on relationships. Here, for example, is a simple step by step approach you can use if you sense someone is upset or irritated.
Notice. Be factual and tell the person what you’ve noticed. Then ask them for their perspective. Caroline gives the example “I noticed that you frowned when I made that suggestion. Can I ask what was on your mind?”
Acknowledge. Once they have shared their thoughts with you, acknowledge that you have understood. You could say something such as “I’m sorry, that must be annoying, concerning, irritating”. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think they should be feeling the way they are. Making them feel heard helps to reduce the defensive stance that they are likely taking.
Offer. Ask whether there is anything you can do to help improve the situation.
The chapter also offers some excellent practical ways to raise difficult issues with skill and to resolve tensions. Great advice for dealing with difficult situations and toxic people!
All in all, this is definitely a book to keep close at hand for reference! Click on the book image below to get it for yourself.
Decluttering At The Speed Of Life (Dana White)
If you are ready to declutter then this book is for you
! Dana White’s system is so simple that it’s sheer genius!
I had read and enjoyed Marie Kondo’s famous book ‘The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up’ and had purged my house of quite a lot of stuff I no longer needed. I found it less easy to keep on top of all the stuff and soon got tired of folding and stashing things vertically…
One of the best tips in the book is what Dana calls ‘The Visibility Rule’.
This simply means starting with the most visible areas first.
Using Dana’s simple steps (which will be drummed into you throughout the book) you can declutter a visible space in about ten minutes.
I’ve done it and I can tell you the result is so satisfying!
Very often it will spur you on to do a bit more decluttering as it so lovely having all that extra space after a small amount of effort.
The most useful chapter in the book is entitled ‘Steps for Working Through an Overwhelming Mess’.
In just nine pages, Dana goes through everything you need to declutter your home. The rest of the book then goes through applying this room by room.
1. Ask the two decluttering questions
“If I needed this item where would I look for it first?” Take it there now. If the answer to this isn’t immediately obvious then ask
“If I needed this item, would it ever occur to me that I already had one?” No? Then keep a ‘donate box’ to hand and put it straight into that. (If the answer is yes then ask yourself the first question again…)
2. Make it fit
This has been a game changer for me!
It’s based on a very simple idea called the ‘container concept’. A container is anything which holds ‘stuff’. All containers have limits, you can only fit so much stuff in them. You can see a personal example of how I got on with this in my more detailed review of this particular book.
If you go to put something on the bookshelf, in the drawer etc. and it won’t fit then you need to remove something else to make it fit. The thing you remove either needs to go in a different place (ask yourself the questions in the first step) or into the donate box.
This simple principle has helped me declutter spaces on an ongoing basis! This is one of the things I most like about the book. You don’t have to set a whole weekend aside to ‘declutter’ – you can do ten minutes here and there as you feel like it and when you have time.
I still have a few spaces I would like to work on, but it has definitely made an impact on the amount of clutter in my life! Check the book out now.
I would love to hear if you have you read any of these self-improvement books? Or if you are going to read them now?! Do you have any similar books you would recommend?
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