8 Entertaining Self-Help Books (That Actually Help)

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Amanda Nelson

Staff Writer

Amanda Nelson is an Executive Director of Book Riot. She lives in Richmond, VA.

This post is sponsored by Penguin Random House Audio.


Start off the new year with some inspiring audiobooks!  From personal improvement, to spiritual listens, to health and fitness advice, audiobooks are a great way to digest this useful content while on the go!

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It’s hard to find a self-improvement or self-help book that is actually a joy to read. They practical ones can be very dry and mechanical, the more organic or spiritual ones can be cliché and, for lack of a better word, woo. It’s not too much to ask for helpful books that also include a few nice turns of phrase! Here are a few books I’ve read to improve my life in one way or another that I found myself reading not just to do that, but because they were just fun reading experiences:

Big Magic GilbertBig Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert has faced both adoration and criticism for her better-known memoir Eat Pray Love, but no one can deny she has writing chops. Big Magic is essentially Gilbert’s treatise on the concept of creativity, and while it gets a little too supernatural for my brain, her idea that human beings have little control over the formation of ideas and only have a responsibility to show up and work, relieves a lot of creative pressure.


power of habitThe Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

A truly fascinating look at something that seems very simple: how and why human beings form habits, and how to break them or make new ones. There’s a lot of neuroscience here, but Duhigg (an award-winning reporter, so no stranger to a good sentence) condenses it down and weaves it into human interest stories and anecdotes well enough to keep it from feeling dry. And you’ll probably learn something about yourself, to boot.


the-desire-mapThe Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte

Danielle LaPorte is like if your yoga instructor was also a Canadian who curses a lot and appreciates bourbon and rock ‘n roll and is very good at eyeliner. The Desire Map is her guide to rethinking how you create goals by focusing on how you want to feel instead of what you want to do or achieve. Like Big Magic, it takes a lot of pressure to perform and not fail away, and helps you get at the meaty center of what it is you’re really after. The book comes with a workbook I found really helpful to go through at the beginning of last year, and I’ll probably re-do it this year.

year of yes by shonda rhimesYear of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Of COURSE the woman who gave us the brilliance that is Scandal writes an entertaining book. This is part self-help/part memoir, and I found both parts to be equally helpful. Upon realizing that she was saying no to most things in her life out of fear or anxiety, Rhimes set out to spend a year saying yes, and this is the chronicle of how that turned out. It helped me rethink the reasons why I accepted or didn’t accept new things or people or experiences in my life, and also the woman can tell a good poop joke.

So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal NewportSo Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

We all hear “follow your passion” when it comes to choosing a career track, but what if you don’t really have one? What if your passion isn’t hiring? Newport does a deep dive into how people with jobs they love got there, and finds out that it has infinitely more to do with finding a niche, filling it, and getting truly excellent at that job than it does with trying to line up your hobbies with your job.


gritGrit by Angela Duckworth

Like “following your passion,” talent is also a poor guarantee of success, and Duckworth is here to prove it. Instead, doing well in life comes down to grit: perseverance, follow-through, nose-to-the-grindstone stuff. She’s a good writer and has that Duhigg ability to distill neuroscience into interesting stories about human beings and their lives.


41ckz3db7wl-_sx352_bo1204203200_The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

This is obviously a parody of Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (a book with which I have several problems), and a cursey one at that! But it’s also a very affirming guide to no longer caring about things that are 1) outside your control and/or 2) not worth your mental labor. Things like other people’s drama, getting a “bikini body,” or what other people think about your life choices. You do you, man. You do you.


The Checklist Manifesto by Atul GawandeThe Checklist Manifesto by Atul Guwande

A book about checklists has the potential to be so dry and boring and blah, but this one is engrossing. Gawande is a surgeon and approaches the concept from that background (his story about how instituting a simple checklist procedure into the operating room has reduced fatalities by a third had my jaw on the floor), but he also pulls from aeronautics and other industries to make his point that in a world of increasing technological complexity, using old-fashioned checklists can be the most radical and effective thing you can do to solve problems.