Sep 11

Top Self Development Books: Recent Poll Results

What is the best self development book you’ve ever read and why is it different from the rest?

This is the question that was posed to me and many others recently by SelfDevelopmentSecrets.com. And now the results are available here—but if you’re not up just yet for perusing the lengthy list, the following may be helpful.

Picked by the 200-plus polled “influencers” in highest numbers are the following:

Not only is there a fuller “bests” list on the selfdevelopmentsecrets.com link, further downward is each contributor’s name and his/her more detailed response.

Here’s the paragraph I submitted:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott is the only self-help book I’ve read on repeat. Those interested in self-development who have little or no interest in learning about writing needn’t be put off by that part of the title, as Bird by Bird has so much else to say about how to take things a step at a time and how to eschew perfectionism and generally how to be in the world, and author Lamott does this without being preachy or clinical or annoying. Lamott writes in such a clear, humorous, self-effacing style you just feel like she’s your friend who cares about your well-being.

In a previous Minding Therapy post (2012) I excerpted part of the introduction to Bird by Bird, worth repeating here:

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard…
…(T)hirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

For extra measure, a few favorite quotes from Bird by Bird:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.

You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

Jan 17

“Bird By Bird”: All-Around Great Advice From Anne Lamott

One of my all-time favorite books is prolific author Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995). Called “hilarious, helpful, provocative” by the New York Times, it’s filled with great tips for writers that apply to many aspects of life as well.

The concept she describes is a vivid example of the “one step at a time” philosophy. Below is an excerpt from her book’s introduction:

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard…
…(T)hirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Three additional quotes from the book that are pertinent:

I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments. It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.