Maybe Now? A Reflection on Self-Help Books

Welcome  Have you ever taken on a self-improvement project or read a self-help book, full of optimism, thinking “Maybe now I’ll get this right.  Maybe now, with all this help and wisdom, it will finally take hold and I’ll apply it.  Maybe now I can get my act together.”?  I read a lot of self-help books, in genres ranging from diet and exercise to faith and religion.  I read books on improving relationships and improving my mental health.  I read a lot, but these texts dominate my book shelves.  Every book I pick up, I intend to apply the helpful words to my own life, getting the most from my book purchase and from my own life.  But if it were as easy as reading a book, we’d all be rid of our worst habits and sins, we’d all be incredibly healthy and fit, and all of our relationships would be nothing but positive.  So how do I take my love for these books and my desire to change for the better, mash it up with real life and actually see results?

Food For Thought  I recently finished an online book/Bible study with Proverbs 31 Ministries using the book Why Her? by Nicki Koziarz.  When I saw the title and read the description for this book, I knew I needed to read it, ASAP!  I have this lingering and very annoying habit of comparing my life to seemingly every other woman on the planet.  This behavior is a big source of negativity in my life and leads to sinful thoughts and behaviors, so I’m always trying to kick the comparison habit, like a smoker trying to kick nicotine.  Like so many bad habits and addictions, though, it seems to be ingrained in my brain to look and see what she has, what she does, or how she looks and pass judgements on myself.  I don’t want to be her, but I feel like I’m missing out on some of the best parts from her life.  I can highlight key words, complete reflection questions, and cross-reference in my Bible, with great intentions.  But in a matter of a few hours, I’m scrolling through social media or looking out into my neighborhood and immediately fall back into the old habits of comparing.  So what is the deal?  It’s not that I don’t agree with what I read.  It’s not like it wasn’t scripturally supported.  It’s not like I haven’t been honest with myself.  And it’s not that I haven’t taken it to God in prayer.  I have…a lot.  Am I just destined to be stuck in this negative thought pattern?

Last night I had a conversation with my husband about the current book I’m reading, Anxious for Nothing by Max Lucado.  I mentioned that it, too, was a good book offering wisdom in a subject area where I know I need lots of help.  I also predicted it would be like so many other books, where I read and enjoy thoroughly, but then can’t seem to put my new knowledge into practice.  I stated that I don’t feel like the books actually help me, once I close the pages.  But my husband disagreed.  He says they do help me.  Sometimes it’s good to get another’s perspective, so I was curious about his comment.  He said, like with any road to “recovery,” it all starts with seeing the truth and naming the behavior what it really is.  He said he has heard me label my behaviors out loud or bring a line of defense from one of the books, such as when I kept saying, “Her gain is not my loss…her gain is not my loss.”  He reminded me that this a powerful step in the right direction.  So I started thinking about these small steps I’m taking, working to change a negative pattern in my life.  Here are some things that seem to help me most:

These steps can apply to any area of self-help, physical, mental, or spiritual.  When starting the book, it’s important to identify what you want to get out of the book.  With Why Her?, I knew I wanted to spend less time and emotional energy comparing myself with others, specifically in the areas of appearance, career, and home.  I kept my notebook and highlighters handy.  I’ll admit I can be a bit over-zealous when it comes to highlighting.  But I can easily go back and find key points when I need a refresher or reminder.  In my notebook, I made sure to write down key take-aways from each chapter addressing my targets, along with anything else I wanted to keep fresh in my mind.  Research supports that we remember more information when it is also written down, rather than only read.  My husband is my current accountability partner.  He also enjoys reading so it’s natural for us to compare our books.  Of course, being patient is always a hard step, but in my case, I’ve had almost 40 year to develop bad comparison habits.  I cannot expect them to disappear after just a few weeks.

The seventh step serves as a critical follow-through step.  Since I completed the book, I’ve had days that were really hard and days when I noticed progress.  When I struggled, I wrote about it in my notebook, being specific about what was hard.  It may be looking at someone’s vacation pics on social media, watching a home improvement show, or being in a conversation about someone’s growing business.  It is equally beneficial to recognize ways I’ve improved.  On the positive side, I turned off notifications from social media and I’m only on social media for a few minutes at a time and only a few times a day.  This is because I noticed a pattern where a few minutes on social media can lead me to hours of comparison struggles.  With my latest reading, Anxious for Nothing, when I begin to get anxious about something that’s probably not a big deal, I say a quick prayer, “God, I don’t want to feel anxious about this.  I trust You to take care of this.  Please help me have peace in this moment.”

So next time you find yourself perusing a self-help book, help yourself to some mercy, too, knowing that change doesn’t happen instantaneously and we won’t achieve perfection.  Maybe now I can see that I’m on a long journey of baby steps to self-improvement.

Today’s Scripture   Proverbs 4:7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

Today’s Recipe  My data analysis tells me you all want more easy weeknight dinner recipes.  Consider dinner as good as done tonight, with a few simple and frugal ingredients.  Here is a fast and easy dinner of Taco Mac & Cheese.

Taco Mac and Cheese
Just 5 ingredients will get a spicy mac and cheese dish on the dinner table in almost no time at all!

 

Taco Mac and Cheese (serves 8)

  • 16 oz elbow macaroni (I used American Beauty large elbows)
  • 15-oz jar queso dip (I used Pace Jalapeno Jack Queso, because it’s tomato-free)
  • 10.5-oz can cheddar cheese soup (I used Campbell’s regular cheese soup, because the spicy cheese soup had tomatoes)
  • 4 or 5 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 of a 9.75-oz bag of taco-flavor Doritos, crushed (I put them in a large zip-top bag and crush with my hands)

Turn oven to 375 degrees and spray a 9×13 casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.  Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.  Pour queso and cheese soups into pot, along with macaroni and green onions.  Stir to coat macaroni with cheeses.  Dump the macaroni and cheese into prepared casserole dish.  Top macaroni with crushed taco Doritos.  Bake 25 minutes.  Serve with a green salad, if desired.

Variations: You can also add in sliced black olives, diced chiles, diced bell peppers, or Mexi-corn when you add the sliced green onions.  Use what you have and what your family likes!