At the beginning of 2020, I set myself the challenge of a six month long ‘self help’ book ban.
In the post, I talk about that fact that I had fallen into a trap of, rather compulsively, reading self help books to try and better understand myself, my habits and my responses to situations and thoughts. I wanted to try and get a handle on my mental health, so that I was better equipped to deal with negative thoughts. However, I began questioning whether these books were actually helping me, or just causing me to constantly second-guess myself and overthink my thoughts, and well, that could be a never-ending cycle.
Like I mentioned in the original post, self help books can be a great resource if they’re used in a constructive, focused way to help you better understand a particular subject or area of life, as long as you’re taking healthy, positive or actionable information from them (whilst also viewing the work with a critical eye, and not just taking it as absolute fact or list of compulsory changes to your life).
For the ban, I set out with two key goals.
One, break the habit of mindlessly reading self-help books. Two, broaden my reading horizons in terms of genre and author. Well, nearly a whole 12 months later, I can put a big tick next to both of these.
Stepping away from self help books made me really think about their impact on me, and how I could be better spending my time. I’ve had the space to stop over-analysing my thoughts and actions and I’ve replaced this time and habit with much more fulfilling books that fill me with love, joy and inspiration.
In having more time to read in 2020, I made the conscious effort to step outside of my comfort zone and read a broad range of authors, genres, styles, and more. I’m so glad I did as I’ve found out about incredible authors, fallen back in love with the horror genre, read more than I ever have before and been inspired to start writing my own stories.
But, just because I’m not reading self help doesn’t mean I have stopped learning either!
Alongside learning about form, style and all the great things you naturally discover whilst reading, I sought to read books about experiences that are different from my own and to learn from the invaluable work and words of people from different communities. I want to continue to be a better ally and that always begins with listening and learning.
I’ve been incredibly grateful for books such as Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall, How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford and Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, which are full of eye-opening and important information, particularly for white people and white women to digest. It’s also been important for me to read more fiction and non-fiction by queer authors, Black authors, trans authors and translated works from authors across the globe.
There’s so much more to be learned by expanding who and what we read. That’s been one of the most important take-aways for me from this year of reading. It is a privilege and pleasure to be able to read so widely and learn about different experiences, cultures and stories.
So, will I go back to self help books?
For the time being, the answer is no. Whilst I’m not entirely banning myself from self help forever, it would have to be a stand out book to draw me back to the genre. I’m currently too enthused and excited about the huge variety of books that lay ahead of me, all the new reads that I can’t wait to get stuck into, to return to a genre that, looking back, wasn’t serving me all that well.
Right now, reading itself is helping more than I can say – and that’s enough for me.