I’m an ISFJ, Enneagram 4, type-A personality and the oldest child. A dangerous combination. I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, make my house run more efficiently, help my kids learn more and be a better employee. With this internal motivation to always find fault with myself and want to change it, I’ve read A LOT of self-help books.
As soon as the constant studying of college was in my rearview mirror, I started with the personal development books. I read books that would help me understand my job better and books that made me a more effective social worker. I read to be able to participate in meetings and to run training sessions. I read about reducing stress and living more in tune with myself, especially in a job in which I felt all the feelings each day and couldn’t help but take them home with me.
PARENTING: THE GATE-WAY DRUG
Nearly as soon as my first pregnancy test dried, I started reading parenting books. I thought I needed to know everything about a healthy pregnancy, “what to expect” since I was expecting, what to eat, how to exercise, what tests would be done and what fruit my baby resembled each week. Then I read all the childbirth books. By the time I birthed that baby, I had no clue if we were using Lamaze breathing, Bradley husband coached methods, visualization or hypno-birthing. Thankfully, that delivery was so quick, we didn’t have to think too much about it.
As any parent can tell you, that’s when the real adventure started. And any time I had a question, I turned to a book. Feeding on demand or on a schedule? Co-sleeping? Sleep training? The best stroller, car seat, carrier, diaper? I assumed the correct answer must be in a book.
As it turns out, you can find answers, but everyone says something a little different. My first memorable foray into this confusion was in the midst of coming to terms with the fact that my baby hated sleep. He never ever slept. When he occasionally did, it was only in my arms. I turned to the sleep training books. One says to let him cry. Another to never let him cry. One claims to have a simple to follow 20 step method to getting a baby to sleep. One says she can accomplish it in two days, another says it takes months. In my sleep deprivation, my addled brain couldn’t make sense of all the contradictions.
It doesn’t get any better as kids grow. When should they start pre-school? What are the best activities for brain development? I need to find more diverse picture books! He needs more friends his own age. He needs to spend more time with extended family. We need more classical music in our lives. Is it better for him to spend more time alone and learn to solve his own problems or with his peer to learn social skills?
Somehow we survived his infancy and toddlerhood (thanks Mom!) and decided to do it all over again. And again. And again. So I got three more chance to make all the right choices. Add to the normal conflict, the pressure to make sure sibling relationships developed well and that they would eventually appreciate each other and become friends despite the daily occurrence of World War 3 in my living room.
Then we had to think about education. After three mediocre years of public elementary school, I decided to homeschool. Do you know how many books there are about homeschool methods???? I’m going to guess about 2.7 million, but that may be low. I spent the next two years reading and researching and questioning my every decision until I realized that homeschooling was making me (and by extension, my family) miserable. We now had four children and had to decide where to send them to school. Cue more stacks of research books.
While we decided on a lovely private school, I still worried about homework, emotional development, social skills, science fair projects, reading at home and participating in extracurriculars. Now, as my oldest approaches puberty, I’m hiding behind a huge stack of books, hoping not to provoke the monster. I have yet to discover how to become the Teen Whisperer.
Once the kids started getting a little older and I got a few hours of consistent (blissful) sleep each night, I remembered that I was a whole person, with wants and needs of my own. But what kind of person am I? I may have gotten lost in the chaos of four kids and went on a hunt for the real me.
One area I rediscovered was personality research. As a result of my piles of books on the subject, I know my Myers-Briggs personality, my Enneagram number and if I’m highly-sensitive, a lark, a marathoner and promotion focused. I’ve tried to learn not only what my numbers and letters are but how that affects how I work and live.
I was introduced to Trello to keep track of all of my notes and bullet journaling to help me follow through on the changes I was making. These tools have been an important part of ordering my life, allowing me to feel freedom and even in starting this blog. Structure is good for me (as it is people in general), and these tools are easy enough to use that they don’t get in the way of completing the task.
Another topic I researched was faith. Growing up in a very conservative, fundamental church, I took stock of my beliefs again as an adult and found that my church didn’t line up quite with what I actually believe. It’s hard to make the break from something that was ingrained since childhood. I again turned to my beloved books to discover how other people were dealing with this feeling of disconnection and disillusionment. I found whole groups of people who were redefining what “Christian” meant and looking back at the Biblical text in new ways. They weren’t creating something that isn’t there. They were looking at the Bible in a whole picture way that made more sense and was more applicable to our lives in the 21st century.
I’ve spent time reading books about household management, minimalism, cleaning routines, business, money management, time management, motivation and so many more. Each time I read another book, it gave me a chance to live inside someone else’s mind for a bit. I got to try on their thoughts and beliefs and decide if it was right for me and my family or if it was OK to disregard. In this process I found so many great authors and wonderful books. I also read some and thought “not for me.”
NAVIGATING THE MAZE
What I’ve learned is that most self-improvement books have something of value to someone. There isn’t a way that will work for everyone, so there must be hundreds of books on the same topic so there are lots of methods to choose from. The problem is finding the one that works for YOU.
Luckily, I’ve done a lot of trial and error and want to share all of those experiments. For each book, I’ll create a cheat sheet–a list of people the book is perfect for and those who probably want to look for something else. If that sound-bite is intriguing to you, read the rest of the review for more information.
After all that, if you are still interested, go get that book! You found a winner! Soak it in. Implement the changes and make your life now the one you have been dreaming of.
Let’s make the most of your precious time and narrow the field.