Motivational That Bookish Life

Self-Help Help: Advice on Reading Motivational Books

There is a specific happiness that comes with walking outside while listening to a motivational audiobook. Just the act of consuming something designed to improve you improves you. Because taking a step toward self-improvement is a form of self-improvement in itself, right? I’ve become a connoisseur of self-help-audiobook nature walks and the more I read, the more I understand this: I will never agree one hundred percent with one hundred percent of any book’s advice, so I need to stop trying.

Here’s what happens. I’ll be walking along my familiar nature trail, smiling at passing ducks, happily agreeing with everything the author has to say and then – BAM! – she presents an idea I don’t understand or connect with and I’m totally thrown for a loop. Why don’t I agree with that? I’ll worry. Is it because I’m avoiding this issue in my own life? Am I too cynical? Am I’m too naive? 

This preoccupation can then go one of two ways. Sometimes, it makes me frustrated or even upset. I cling to our difference of opinion and wave it around my mind, poisoning the rest of the book until the author wins me back over with something that fits squarely within my own line of thinking. Or – and this is the much healthier approach – I can let it go. I can give myself permission to politely disagree. I can consider the idea, look at it from a few angles, and then nicely say No, thank you. After all, why should I expect to agree with everything this author has to say? If I can’t agree with my husband or my mom or my sister about all aspects of life, why on earth would I agree with a everything a complete stranger believes?

I’m not saying that these moments of disagreement should be ignored, but rather viewed with curiosity, open-mindedness, and a firm grasp on your own beliefs. Sometimes a self-help author will posit something that irritates me. I won’t be able to get it out of my mind, like a kernel stuck in my teeth. But if I analyze it with patience, sometimes I discover the reason it bothered me so much is because it I needed to hear it, but didn’t want to hear it. And sometimes it is just an idea I can try on like a new shirt and throw out if it doesn’t look good in the mirror.

Perhaps this advice is obvious to some people (if it is, congratulations, you’re more mature than I am), but I have the tendency to accept what others say without analysis if they are presented as successful, qualified experts. If someone has published a viable self-help book, they probably know a few things, but they don’t know everything. So go forth and read all the motivational books you want, but be sure to give yourself permission to relax and disagree.

Or don’t. You can metaphorically crumple this blog post up like yesterday’s newspaper and toss it in the trash. It’s up to you.

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