Diary of a Self-Help Book Junkie
My name is Lisa and I’m a Self-Help book junkie. Yes. There. I can admit it. I’ve read them all, from Dr. Phil to Gretchen Rubin. The Happiness Project, Choosing Happiness, The Joy of Less, The Bounce Back Book, The Miracle Morning, The Motivation Manifesto and many, many more of these “how to” books line the shelves in my home office. I even read How to Finish Your Dissertation Once and For All and Get On With Your Life while doing my doctoral work. (Great book by the way).
So, what am I up to now?
Currently, I’m reading Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock. I even have strategies for using my strategies! Using a pomodoro timer for productivity at work, but can’t leave the social apps alone? Get a “big brother” app that limits your computer use to Office programs only, or use another app like WriteRoom to limit what you see on your screen while you write.
Well, you get my point. As a person with Bipolar who functions at a fairly high level, working as a full time university professor, I think I’ve tried just about every self-help trick in the book. Do they work? Of course they work! As long as you use them as designed. Ah, now there’s the kicker. You have to have some self-discipline in the first place to use them.
The thing about tricks and strategies are, if you use them when you are in a period of wellness and they become habits, then when you are experiencing a period of depression, or even not thinking clearly because of a manic episode, it’s more likely you will continue to use these shortcuts and still be able to function at a relatively good level.
Some of the things I’m currently doing to work through a period of depression include keeping both a paper calendar and an electronic calendar to keep myself on time and on target. I also have made it a habit that when I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is go to my laptop. Now, I know, there are a lot of “mindfulness” people out there that will tell me that is a really bad habit; that I need to gently ease into the day, or begin with a good run. (Is there really any such thing as a “good” run?).
But by starting my day at my work station – and I’m lucky that I can work from home at least 1 or 2 days per week (and I work 5 or 6 days a week) – it’s become ingrained in my mind that no matter how I’m feeling, or what negative thoughts might come into my head, my body knows to head for the desk and begin to process thoughts. The thoughts may be simple emails, could be some easy grading, or even Facebook or Pinterest for an hour, no matter what I engage with, at least I am engaged and not just laying there staring at the ceiling or turning over and curling up in the fetal position because I feel like crap.
I also learned to have some weekly recurring appointments that force me to get dressed and get out of the house. I really hate exercise, I don’t even run for chocolate, but I have a friend that likes to walk and talk. So every Friday morning at 9:30 we take a mile and a half walk at a fair clip and she talks while I listen. Again, it gets me moving and out of the house at least once a week. I also have breakfast every weekend with my folks at 5:30 a.m. This time, we eat something simple and they listen while I do most of the talking. After twenty-some years of therapy, I have learned most of the therapy strategies and I just need someone to listen and my parents are happy to do so for me.
I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with self-help books as long as you do two things: 1) Take them with a grain of salt. And 2) Use them as strategies only. Don’t read them because you think there’s something “wrong” with you, there isn’t. But why spend the precious energy you have trying to figure out how to do something when, most likely, someone out there has already tried it? If you don’t learn any good strategies, at least you’ll learn the ones that don’t work.
For example, if you are like me and hate to exercise, then wearing your running clothes to bed is not going to make you want to jump up and run two miles in the morning. I also learned that, for me, preparing bento boxes Sunday night for the week, while nice the first week, is a royal pain the night before Monday morning when all I really want to do is vegetate instead of preparing lunches for the week. However, if you have a tendency to run late in the mornings, then perhaps for you, making bento boxes ahead of time is a good strategy.
There is literally hundreds of productivity and time saving “how to” books, apps and strategies out there. You may find value in engaging with a personal coach instead of a therapist if you aren’t struggling with interpersonal or other serious issues and just need a little help getting going or being productive at work. If you have read a great book, or use a fantastic app, share it here with me; I’d love to hear from you!
Photo by Sean MacEntee
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