Books and Culture

Not all self-help books work—but these 8 will actually rewire the way you think, live and do your job

With so much of our lives being spent at home these days, now is the perfect time to self-reflect and become the best versions of ourselves.

Books are a great way to do that. The problem, however, is that there are so many to choose from. How do you tell which ones will truly lead to growth?

As an avid reader, I've spent much of the year reviewing memoirs, novels and self-help books. Here are eight that will actually teach you how to think smarter, live better and have healthier relationships:

1. "The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection and Courage" 

By Kelly McGonigal​

Adding more physical activity to your life can do more for your happiness than other things, such as wealth or social status.

In "The Joy of Movement," Stanford lecturer and psychologist Kelly McGonigal blends insights from neuroscience and anthropology, along with her story of how she became an exercise instructor, to show how movement can be a powerful tool for relieving depression, anxiety and loneliness.

2. "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body"

By Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson

Self-help advice can often peddle a lot of nonsense, from healing crystals to various detoxes, that have no basis in science. But "Altered Traits" is backed by a mountain of mindfulness research.

Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman and psychologist Richard Davidson explain how meditation, when practiced over a long period of time, can increase our resilience, compassion and ability to focus.

3. "Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World"

By Cal Newport

Screen addition, along with the constant pings from various digital devices, are culprits in many people's lives.

In "Deep Work," Cal Newport, a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, offers a prescription for eliminating distractions that lead to task-switching and a decrease in productivity. His techniques will help you produce better work, while also attaining a sense of true fulfillment.

4. "Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think and Do"

By Jennifer L. Eberhardt

Particularly relevant to the current moment, "Biased" is insightful analysis of race-based stereotypes.

Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychology professor at Stanford University, uses cutting-edge research on racial bias — its roots and how it works in our minds and throughout society — to help us fight bias at both a personal and institutional level.

5. "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed"

By Lori Gottlieb 

Thinking about therapy, but not sure if it's right for you? Hollywood-based therapist Lori Gottlieb gives readers front-row access to what goes on in her sessions.

Combining narratives from her patients, along with her own life struggles, Gottlieb demonstrates how the process is much more rich and emotional than most people think. "There are so many misconceptions about the experience," she says. "It's a very active process."

6. "Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted and Afraid to Die"

By Amy Fusselman

"Savage Park," which reads like a novel, is named after a playground that the author and her family was introduced to on a visit to Tokyo. There, kids lit fires, wielded hammers and moved wood to build forts (a polar opposite of what American parents are accustomed to).

While the book may be of more interest to parents, its central theme — balancing risk and reward — is relevant to everyone.

7. "Mating in Captivity"

By Esther Perel 

If your relationship is on the rocks, you might want to consider picking up a copy of "Mating in Captivity."

Without using any cliched advice or worksheets, renowned couples therapist Esther Perel writes about how adding some lust and excitement can help improve your love life. The first step? Leave unrealistic expectations and emotional housekeeping out of the bedroom.

8. "Thinking, Fast and Slow"

By Daniel Kaheman 

Daniel Kahneman, a psychology professor at Princeton University who is well-known for his research on decision-making techniques, reveals where we can and can't trust our intuitions.

In "Thinking, Fast and Slow," you'll learn how to balance two types of thinking (one is more quick and emotional, and the other more deliberate and logical) can prevent the mental glitches that often get us into trouble.

Jessica Stillman is a writer and editor covering lifestyle, literature and entrepreneurship. She has written for TIME, Fast Company, Inc. and Forbes. Follow her on Twitter.

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