An introduction to self-help books, what got me started on them, and why you should start your own self-improvement journey.
It doesn’t take knowing me very long to establish that I like to read, or at least I did once upon a time in great abundance of a certain type of literature. For instance, if you ever find yourself in my office perusing my book shelf, you will notice that I essentially only stock two categories of book: textbooks and self-help books.
In a podcast with the children’s’ author and start-up entrepreneur Will Hamilton-Davies, I broached the topic of self-help books to glean his opinion on their importance in his own endeavours. Interestingly, I was asked to define exactly what I mean by ‘self-help book’.
My response is rather self-explanatory, in that I see any book that helps you to improve or achieve any result that is based upon intrinsic factors to be a ‘self-help’ book (a book that helps the self), though we did come to the absolute agreement that such literature under that title has developed a bitter taste for being wishy-washy generic fodder being peddled out to gullible readers seeking enlightenment from someone who – in a vast amount of cases – is not necessarily any more enlightened, successful, or respectable than you or I.
It’s a real shame that self-improvement has developed this unfairly associated paradigm, as it is the single most important factor in achieving success in any field.
I personally only started reading about 4 years ago, and it stemmed from a peculiar sequence of events in which I was going through one of my manic entrepreneurial episodes and had decided to move into my car in the early hours of the morning and drive up the country going from shop-to-shop in an attempt to sell my wares of boxing/fitness/nutrition themed t-shirts that I was printing in my one-bed flat.
On my first night I pulled up a winding country lane somewhere in Yorkshire, where I found a little lay-by where I tucked-up for the night. Come morning, we realise that I also had my dog Mo with me on this adventure, so the first thing I had to do was open the windows to let out the condensation and give her a little walk.
On this little wander, it wasn’t long before I realised I was right next to a little Christmas tree farm, but never-the-less I continued to waddle and generate ideas for a vitamin-based children’s book series that I was also attempting to conjure at the time (more on this later).
While lost in this fantasy world, I had failed to notice when coming back to my car that I was in fact parked outside someone’s house, and by the way he was walking over to my car he didn’t seem very happy about it. Not happy about it at all.
I have never been one to shy away from my come-uppance, so as I heard “What the hell are you doing?!” I walked toward him on the opposing side of a tall fence that separated us and simply told him the truth.
“I’m so sorry Sir, I drove up this lane late last night and I didn’t realise there was a house here, I thought this was a lay-by, it was pitch black when I arrived, I am very sorry and I’ll get out of your way”
“What are you doing driving up here late at night anyway? This is a private road.”
“I can see that now and I can only apologise, I’m currently trying to drive up the country to sell t-shirts and I’m sleeping in my car. I don’t really know what I’m doing”
It was at this point I remember him looking at me with this thoughtful considered look, as he peeked under his big curly hair and moved his mouth around his expensive adult braces. After a little while he just said:
“Would you like a toasted tea-cake?”
Well, safe to say I was a little taken-aback, and normally I will be overly polite and say no, but I was rather hungry and he had something about him in his demeanour that my gut told me I should listen to. Needless to say I took him up on this offer, so he escorted me to his rather lavish country house and told me to wait outside as I played with his two Labradors.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” – He asked as he poked his head out of the door.
“Yes please, thank you”
He came out a moment later passing me my breakfast and took me over to a little step in his luscious garden where I could sit down. Under his arm he had a book that had clearly been heavily thumbed, and he went on to tell me about how he owed everything he had to this one book. The house, the land, even the Christmas tree farm that he rented the land out for, had all been accumulated very recently and all in one go as he had built it from essentially nothing.
He’d also recently won an award related to a property business, and we talked extensively about productivity, morning routines, positive mind-set, and general entrepreneurial stuff. As we rounded up our chat, he gave me the book and emphatically enforced how important it is that he wanted me to have his copy.
He loved the idea of the children’s book and said I should pursue that, though I don’t remember anything being discussed about the t-shirts. As we walked back to the car he passed it over and wished me luck, but before I took off I scribbled a note on a scrap piece of paper and left it on a rock behind my car, hoping he would find it.
It simply said “Vitamin A is for Adam”, and I will probably never find out if Adam ever saw it.
Needless to say, I eventually read this book and, originally published in 1937, Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’ has been the bible of my life ever since. In this book, the father of all self-help literature explains the similarities and universal principles that underlie every successful person he has ever interviewed.
This may not sound too grand, but let’s consider that he was tasked to interview such men as J.D Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Charles Schwab, and many other fathers of the capitalist society we live in today. These were the men that not only were incredibly influential and successful, but they were essentially the first to achieve the status that so many chase today. Let’s also account for the fact that Mr. Hill was commissioned to write this book by none other than Andrew Carnegie himself! This is no wishy-washy pile of nonsense, it is the foundation upon which all other books have been built (and in many cases ripped off… Looking at you ‘The Secret’).
To round up this rambling side story that’s taken up too much of your time already, the point I wanted to make when I set out to write something at 3am this morning was the one key principle that resides not only in this book, but in all others that I have gone on to read in the following years, and that is to value your own development before even considering the development of your next project or path.
We must develop from within to achieve success without, and as such we must always seek to learn from others far smarter than ourselves. I have read countless of these books over time, but there now reside a small few which I keep close by at all times and advise others to read as quickly and often as possible. They are:
- Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
- The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
I could go on to list forever, though these books are principle to the formation of a persons’ character. I actually got rid of over 70% of my books in my recent move, and although I slightly regret it, I can’t say I’ve lost anything with huge value as most other books are meek imitations of the above.
I have in-fact also gone on to re-write my personal mission statement this morning and thought I should demonstrate this important activity by placing it in plain site on the website. I would strongly recommend you follow this activity and write your own statement of intent and principles. If you want any help, advice or resources in starting your own self-improvement journey then please make sure to get in touch with me – I would love the opportunity to make some use of the knowledge I’ve gained so it wasn’t time wasted!
You can read my personal mission statement by clicking here, and you can get in touch with me directly via the contact form right here. Otherwise, feel free to reach out publicly on social media and potentially save others from asking the same question. You can find links to all my profiles at the bottom of the page.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing about your improvement over the time to come.