In Defense of Self Help Books

pexels-self help

I read self help books. That’s right. I read self help books and trust me, I have heard all the comments and noticed all the judgy looks.

I can’t tell you the number of times someone has noticed me reading as they walk by, then stop and say, “hey, what are you…oh. It’s a self help book,” and quickly continue walking.

But really, what’s the big deal? Pregnant women read What to Expect When You’re Expecting and nobody gives them grief for it. Undergrads study GRE prep guides and no one looks down on them. Techies immerse themselves in coding books and onlookers think they are uber smart.

So, why is there such a huge stigma about reading text from the self -help genre? Let’s think about this logically. Self-help books explain how to improve various aspects of ourselves. Things like:

How to be confident.

How to be more productive with your time.

How to make money.

How to make friends.

How to find a meaningful relationship.

How to maintain said meaningful relationship.

How are these ideas lame? Does anyone on the planet think that confidence is lame? No. everyone pretty much agrees confidence is awesome. Does anyone you know want less money? Nobody I know. Does anybody you’ve ever met despise love and avoid connecting with others? Ok, you probably know a few people like this, but come on, we all know they are just fronting…they really do want to connect.

So what’s the dealio? Why should I be embarrassed to run into someone I know in the self -help section of the bookstore? Why don’t I read my copy of Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within at Starbucks, for all the world to see?

Well, the answer is very simple. Because reading a book about gaining confidence conveys the message that I don’t already have it. Reading a book about finding love leads others to the conclusion that I am a sad, lonely spinster.

Reading self help books is an admission that I am lacking in certain traits and possessions that make people attractive: happiness, money, friends. Reading these types of books proves that I am not perfect in at least one area, namely, whatever the topic of the book I am reading. I might as well post, “I am a loser with no friends” on my Facebook page. Why don’t I just tweet, “I’m broke and have way too much credit card debt.” How Embarrassing!

I get it, people want to put their best foot forward. They want to showcase their strengths and make themselves look as good as possible, especially in a group setting or in front of people they don’t know. Why? Because we all assume that our strengths will make others like us and want to know us better. But here’s the rub: we never gain more knowledge without first admitting that we don’t have it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice “the best way to make friends is to act like you don’t need any.”  Well, I think THAT’S pretty lame. Ya! How ‘bout them apples!?!?! I think it should be ok to say, “hi! My name is Nelly and I’d like to meet some new people.”

It’s ok to be imperfect. We’re all imperfect, after all, and everyone knows it. But it’s also ok to admit to the fact that we’re imperfect. To be open and upfront about the areas that we’d like to improve.

So, let me be the first to start –

Hi, my name is Nelly and I read self-help books. I would like to be more confident, manage my time better and improve my anxiety coping skills. I find that self help books, especially those written by subject matter experts, have some great ideas about how to accomplish these things.

Ya! Take that, Self-Help Haters!

Moded, corroded, your booty exploded!

So, hey, check out all the Self-Help books I am into on my NormalNelly profile. And comment on this post about what self-help books you love or want to check out.




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RAIN Strategy

rain pexel

Here is an important follow-up to my two posts from May 2016. My theme for the Springy month of May was “Feelings,” which is so appropriate because feelings got us springin’ all over the place!

I know this is true for me. Feelings of various types and magnitudes can send me soaring up, crashing down, floating on clouds, or just hovering in a paralyzed stupor.

The first post on this theme, How I Feel… was a collection of challenging feelings that I encounter very often and would like to feel less, such as anxiety, doubt, fear and stress. As noted at the end of this post, my go-to tactics of either ignoring these feelings or putting my head down and barreling through them do not work AT ALL! In fact, they make the whole experience a whole LOT worse for a lot loooooonger.

I am learning that these feelings need some love and attention before they will move along, away from me (thank you very much) and I want to talk about one FANTASTIC strategy I have been practicing to help them on their merry way.

The strategy is RAIN, which stands for:

  • Recognize
  • Allow
  • Investigate
  • Non-Identify

This brilliant strategy for properly attending to and really engaging with any feeling that surfaces is attributed to Michele McDonald, a longtime meditation teacher and cofounder of Vipassana Hawai’i, a meditation teaching institution.

Let’s go through the four steps:

  1. Recognize –In this crucial first step, you take a moment to stop and recognize, or “see” the feeling. You identify the feeling(s) by name…taking the time to double-check and verify that the feeling identification feels accurate to you.

I am feeling…scared. Am I scared? Or worried? Is that it? Scared. Scared. Yes. I am feeling scared. Very scared.

  1. Allow – Next, you allow that feeling to be there with you. This means you don’t try to evade it by thinking of something else, making yourself busy with a task or trying immediately to make yourself feel better. You simply accept the feeling as is and give it some needed attention. Acknowledging the presence of this emotion starts to ease the tension you feel and opens up the possibility of releasing it.

I am feeling scared. I have fear inside of me. I don’t want to feel this way, but it is here, so I am going to let it be here so that I can understand it. Fear is with me, and that is o.k.

  1. Investigate – This is where you dive a little deeper into the feeling. After labeling the feeling and acknowledging and honoring it’s presence, you contemplate why it has arisen in your mind. After all, feelings don’t come about arbitrarily like rolling a dice…there is always a reason or catalyst for their presence. Sometimes, the reason is obvious. Sometimes you have to be patient and search for the reason.

Why am I scared? Is there a person or situation that seems threatening to me? Threatening to my physical person? My ego? My job? Am I missing something that I need? What events have happened recently that may have triggered this fear?

  1. Non-Identify – With this last step, you begin to create distance between yourself and the challenging feeling. You do this by reasoning that you are not fear and fear does not define you. Rather, fear is a fluid emotion that can move out of your consciousness just as easily as it moved in. “Scared” is something that you are currently experiencing, not something that makes up who you are.

Fear is with me right now because my boss rejected my idea. I am scared that she doesn’t value my contributions and thus doesn’t value me as an employee. If she doesn’t value me as an employee, she might want to replace me. But this is a made up scenario based on an assumption. She has liked a lot of my past ideas. Not liking one idea doesn’t mean she doesn’t value me in my entirety. The fear I feel because of this is not who I am. Scared is not a permanent part of me. It is simply a temporary, uncomfortable feeling that is with me right now. Scared will pass through and away from me in time.

Now, a subtle, yet important distinction is that non-identify is not the same as disassociate. When I first started using this strategy, I thought of non-identify in terms of disassociating – running away from, almost shunning and cutting off the feeling, which is counter to the first two steps of recognizing and allowing. Non-identifying is more about understanding that the feeling is not a permanent component of who you are as a person; it is not a pillar of your character or being. It is something that your mind is currently interacting with.

Like all new things, implementing the RAIN strategy is not easy and it takes some getting used to. The hardest part for me is just remembering to stop and recognize challenging feelings as they come up. In order to give myself a helping hand when I first started using this strategy, I wrote it out on a small card that I kept in my wallet. I didn’t necessarily pull it out when challenging feelings came up, but every time I went into my wallet and came across it, I was reminded that it was available for me to use, and eventually, I started remembering to use it 🙂

While I primarily use this strategy for working through difficult feelings so that they will leave sooner, this is also a great strategy for remaining in the moment with positive feelings. Going through these steps with feelings I want to feel, like the feelings I wrote about in This is How I Want to Feel... makes them seem to last longer. I can appreciate the positive feelings more when I use RAIN because I experience them more deeply.

Isn’t that amazing?!?! The same strategy helps you to pass through the difficult emotions faster, but hold onto the desirable feelings longer. YES!!!

You try it – Go ahead. It’s pretty cool.


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Panic Attack 7/24/16


I was home watching my three littles and my husband had just left to go pick up a small plastic kiddie pool. You know, through one of those local buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook. We had been hemming and hawing the decision to buy the pool the day before, and finally decided to go for it, since this was an especially hot summer and we thought the kids would love it.

As soon as my hubby left to pick it up, the questions started whizzing through my mind — Was it really worth the trouble? What if we don’t even end up using it? We don’t have any room to store it. We don’t even have a place to use it since we live in an apartment complex. We can use it at my parents’ house, but what if they get mad at me for bringing it over? It’s a lot of extra work for the hubby. This is going to make his already bad knee hurt. He’s going to be pissed. My parents will be mad at me.

I tried to stop the now whirling cyclone of negativity in my mind and calm myself down. Deep Breath. It’s too late now anyway, I thought. He’s already left to pick it up. It’ll be fine. Deep Breath. Then he text me:

This thing is massive! It won’t fit.
Bringing the slide home. Hav to take
seats out of van, then go back for pool.

A tingly sensation rushed down both arms. My heart was knocking against my rib cage. Painful twinges shot through my left shoulder and pectoral area. Was I having a heart attack? Could it be just a muscle spasm? Was it my heart? I’m by myself with the kids! How can I get to the hospital? Oh my God! I should never have shown him the pool. He is upset and it’s all my fault.

The tingly feeling that had started in my arms spread over my chest and back. Oh my God. Deep Breath. Deep Breath. Deep Brea– but I couldn’t focus on my breathing. Electricity buzzed through my entire upper body. I got up off the couch where I had been watching cartoons with the kids and began pacing. They of course, started to follow me around.

“What are you doing, mama? Where are you going? What are you getting? Mama! Mama!”

Attention. Pressure. Eyes. Questions. Anger. Blame. Beating down on me. Can’t take it. Have to escape. Have to hide.

I walked to the bedroom but the panic came with me. I kept going into the bathroom, but the swirling thoughts, the fear, and my two kids aged 3.5 and 22 months came with me.

Then my two-month-old baby started crying. She needed to eat. In fact, it was now almost noon and my older two needed to eat as well. I rummaged through the pantry, grabbing the first thing I could and handed it to my toddler — a bag of dried apricots…I was going to regret that later!

I needed help. Get help. I called my mom while I made a bottle for the baby. A couple sentences into our convo, she could tell this was no run of the mill freak out. “Come over,”  she said.

When my hubs made it home (for the second time) and jammed that freaking pool and slide into our tiny garage, AND put the seats back into the van (OMG!) we loaded up the kids and booked it to my parents’ house. Thank God my husband understands me. I went straight to my mom, who gave me a much needed tough love session. Here is what she said:

“The reason that you get overwhelmed is that you don’t know how to prioritize. You have to be able to count to three. You have three priorities. Number one is you. You must take care of yourself first because everyone else depends on you. Number two is your kids. And number three is whatever you want – whatever you need at the time. But that’s it. One two three. Forget about everything else. If you have number one taken care of, then you can drop that off and add another one to the bottom — Kids, number three and number four. But as soon as you feel yourself starting to falter — WHOOOOSH! — you move back up and take care of number one. You take care of you. You have to.”

She just reached into my brain and pulled out a crippling habit that I was not even conscious of — giving every single thing on my list level one priority. I try to get it all done. Perfectly. Efficiently. On Time. Every. teensy. tiny. thing. The result is I either don’t get the important stuff done because I am focusing on the small stuff, or I am just so overwhelmed by the volume of IMPORTANT items that I just implode and don’t get anything done.

You see, I have a preschooler, a toddler and a newborn. That right there is more than enough to fill out 16 To Do lists. Add to that the reality that the older two had been sick with a cold for the past two weeks before passing it on, along with a fever, to my newborn a couple days before.

Small kids. Sick newborn. Maybe this was not the time to buy a second-hand kiddie pool.

It took many hours to decompress. For the jittering, the pounding, the shallow breathing, the looming, dooming, BOOMING thoughts to stop. Then I was just exhausted. Emotionally, mentally and physically spent.

But I learned a crucial life lesson. (Thank You, Mom!)

Count to three. And number One is always Me.


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