Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Help Me! One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-help Really Can Change Your Life


HelpMebookHelp Me! by Marianne Power
was a fun little romp. I’ve said recently that if I am going to read and enjoy a memoir (or essays), I have to like the author’s voice. And Power has a very distinct voice. She’s Irish, living in London, and her style is sort of Bridget Jones or, as one Goodreads reviewer put it “this memoir reminded me of a Sophie Kinsella novel.”

I’ve only read the first Shopaholic book, but I totally get it.

Anyway, Help Me! is Power’s memoir about one year in her life in which she attempts to actually take the advice given in her favorite, or just well-known, self-help books. She’s a self-help book addict, so to speak, and though she’d read it for years before writing the book, she noticed that she moved from one book to the other without ever really applying what she’d read.

One of the things I liked about this book is that it gives a view of the self-help industry, and it is a billion dollar industry, from the view of someone who buys in to the various popular gurus’ advice while possessing enough self-awareness to criticize it thoughtfully. Though, as you’ll see, Power gets deeper into the world of self-help and starts to lose her perspective.

Power is funny and endearing throughout. She had me from this paragraph:

“So why did I read self-help if it didn’t, well, help? Like eating chocolate cake or watching old episodes of Friends, I read self-help for comfort. These books acknowledged the insecurities and anxieties I felt but was always too ashamed to talk about. They made my personal angst seem like a normal part of being human. Reading them made me feel less alone.”

That is exactly why I read self-help. I have a few shelves devoted to it myself (though it’s mixed in with some other general spirituality/philosophy/psychology stuff):

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I mean, I also read it so I can use some of the advice, but, admittedly, follow-through is not my strong suit. But it keeps me inspired. I’m not looking for a fix, let alone a quick fix, for any of my problems at this point. I’m just looking for ways to continue working on myself.

Anyway, if you read self-help, I think you’ll really enjoy the books Power chooses, her methods of applying the advice given, and the consequences that play out in her personal life. As a self-help reader, I felt like an insider. I recognized every book and author and much of the advice.

I also appreciated Power’s critique of gurus and methods, though she doesn’t approach this with the intention of an exposé. She’s sincere about her interest and her attempts to find advice to apply to her own life. Still, I found the chapter on Tony Robbins especially poignant. Power attends a three-day event of his and the whole thing reminds me of one of those kooky mega-churches with Christian rock music and a pastor with trendy facial hair. It’s fascinating.

Anyway, whether you like self-help or not, I’d recommend this one. I enjoyed Power’s personality and insights; plus, she’s a journalist, which means her writing is particularly adept. That can be hard to find with funny writing. I so often read books where the author is funny but a bit clumsy.

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Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence

34964841I like talking to people, but I unfortunately possess the unsociable qualities of both shyness and introversion. The two don’t always go together, but if you have them both, they do tend to feed on one another.

That means it takes A LOT of energy for me to engage, no matter how enjoyable I usually find it. After a social interaction, I’m always glad to have connected with other people. It just takes a lot of chutzpah on my part to get out there.

That’s why I was attracted to Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence by Amy Alkon. At first, I ignored this book because I’m getting kind of impatient with the whole using-a-swear-word-in-a-title trend. Not because I’m against swearing, but because I just think this concept is a bit overused and at least some of the time, it seems like a ploy to get millenials to buy books.

All that aside, Unf*ckology is billed as a “science-help” book, which appealed to me. And I ended up enjoying it. Here are a few things I learned:

“Fake it ’til you make it,” a strategy that has pretty much gotten me through life thus far, is a methodology backed by science. (Validation!!) Impersonating a confident person you admire, paired with practicing body language that conveys confidence (walking tall with your head up, for example), is an especially potent combo. These behaviors can actually convince your brain that you are, in fact, confident.

That idea stems from the theory of “embodied cognition,” which posits that the way we think is influenced by other systems in the body than just the brain. From wikipedia: “the features of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, bodily interactions with the environment (situatedness) and the assumptions about the world that are built into the structure of the organism.”

And, as Alkon puts in from a self-esteem perspective: “By consistently changing how you behave (down to how you move, breathe, and carry yourself), you can transform how you feel about yourself, how other people see and treat you, and who you are.”

Alkon explains a few other related concepts, citing the studies that back them, and the last part of the book is a sort of “how-to” manual mostly based on exposure therapy. Essentially, if you are afraid of spiders, you need to be exposed to spiders, feel the intensity of your fear, and then notice when being near a spider doesn’t kill you. That’s a very nutshell example, but I’m giving you the gist. Alkon lays out some ideas for exposure to anxiety-inducing social situations and guides you through the process.

As someone who’s fairly educated about social anxiety, I didn’t read a whole lot that was new here, per se, but I liked that she gave us the science and then told us how to apply it at the end (science→help). I’ll definitely be trying some of the exposure techniques. And you better believe I’m gonna’ keep faking it ’til I make it. It’s science!

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