The best self-help books to get you through pandemic work-life

May 13, 2020

6 mins

The best self-help books to get you through pandemic work-life
Rose Costello

Editor and writer

Whether you’re on furlough, looking for work, or just mulling over your career, these books can help you find some inspiration. We have chosen six of the best self-help books you may not have heard of and shared some of the most powerful lessons they hold.

1. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

As we face into a dramatically changed world, we are all going to need to be more resilient. It will be crucial to know how to bounce back when this crisis ends. Working hard and sticking to your goals helps, but so too does having passion, according to Duckworth. “Grit specifies having a passion to achieve a particular top-level and the perseverance to follow through.”

Better yet, Duckworth, whose father repeatedly told her as a child she was “no genius”, explains exactly how anyone can develop the grit needed to accomplish great things. You don’t need to be particularly gifted, just ambitious. She advises exploring what inspires you, then setting goals that stretch you and take you to the edge of your comfort zone. “The focus on talent distracts us from something that is at least as important, and that is effort.”

  • Top lesson: You don’t need to be born with great talent to achieve great things.

2. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

How do you project confidence in a time of uncertainty? How do you exude that sense of calm often described as presence? The answer, according to Cuddy, is to be yourself. That sounds twee, but the Harvard Business School professor doesn’t mean slouching around doing whatever takes your fancy. She means being true to your unique character.“Presence is…the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.”

Whether you’re leading a team from a laptop in your kitchen or facing a job search once lockdown is lifted, this book can help you to develop your sense of self.

So how do you get there? “Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves. In this psychological state, we are able to maintain presence even in the very stressful situations that make us feel distracted and powerless.”

Change can be incremental and Cuddy offers some questions to begin the process. Ask yourself: What three words best describe you as an individual? What is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and best performance? What are your signature strengths and how can you use them?

Finding your own answers, then marrying them with physical tips and tricks, will give you the skills to handle meetings, presentations, and interviews with ease.

  • Top lesson: You can learn to tap into your deepest self and use that to exude genuine confidence.

3. The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters

It sounds a gimmick to say that we all have a bit of a monkey brain, but it’s a physical fact that different sections of the brain work differently. Psychiatrist Steve Peters has labeled them human, chimp, and computer, rather than using scientific names, just to make this book easier to understand.

Anyone who has ever sabotaged their own success will be relieved to hear that it could be because of the chimp inside taking control. How do you stop your emotions ruining your career? Peters, who has worked with British Olympic teams, says it’s all to do with taming your chimp mind. Your ‘chimp’ brain thinks only of survival, but your human brain wants to live life with purpose.

“Either you or the chimp will make the decisions in your life. If you both agree, there will be peace. When you don’t agree with the chimp, then it typically attacks you and the attacks can be emotionally very painful. Managing this struggle is critical to happiness and success.”

Each chapter explains different aspects of how you function. There are also exercises to do. The promise is that by doing them you will see immediate improvements in your daily life and, over time, will develop emotional skills and practical habits to help you become the person you want to be and live the life you want to live.

  • Top lesson: Once you understand why your mind bounces around like a chimp, you can learn to tame it.

4. Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy Seals, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal

It’s essential to block out the noise of news updates and social media alerts if we are to get any work or study done in these challenging times. The ability to focus deeply is a huge benefit. But there is a step beyond that which can help us to be even faster and more creative than we might dream, according to Kotler and Wheal. It involves getting into a state of “flow”, which is the way you feel while doing something you love such as surfing, singing, or painting. It’s like moving to a higher level of consciousness.

“The conscious mind is a potent tool, but it’s slow, and can manage only a small amount of information at once. The subconscious, meanwhile, is far more efficient. It can process more data in much shorter time frames.”Tapping into that altered state is the key to massive achievement, according to the authors. In a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, top executives reported being five times more productive in flow, explains Kotler.

  • Top lesson: Anyone can learn to harness the flow state to be more productive and creative than they ever imagined.

5. The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma

As the pandemic pushes out the chance of a promotion for so many employees, it’s tempting to forget about leadership skills. That would be a mistake, according to Sharma. Act like a true leader now, whatever your role, and the rewards will come—eventually. Leadership isn’t just for leaders is the lesson behind this modern-day fairy tale that tells the story of Blake Davis, a salesman from Milwaukee, and his quirky mentor. “Imagine getting to world-class in your career but reaching your absolute best in terms of your health and your relationships and levels of happiness. I can show you exactly how to have all of this. And it is a lot easier than you might think.”

Easy, but not completely effortless. The answer is to reject mediocrity, aim for mastery and nurture your relationships.“We all need to lead where we are planted and shine where we now find ourselves.”

This crisis does not have to hold you back. You can learn to recognize and then seize opportunities in times of deep change. Regardless of your position, you can work with and influence people as if you were a superstar—thus setting yourself up for success. “Every one of us has unrecognized powers and disowned potential that are far superior to the power conferred by title. Once you learn how to awaken and then apply these powers, every element of your life will explode into success. Leadership then becomes automatic—the default at which you work and play.”

  • Top lesson: Even the lowest employee can show leadership in how they approach their work and their colleagues.

6. Happiness at Work by Srikumar Rao

Rao is not a fan of positive thinking or affirmations (so please don’t call this a self-help book). He warns that our tendency to label everything that happens to us as good or bad is not helpful. When we say something is bad, the odds grow sharply that we will experience it as such, he explains. “A man will find that as he alters his thoughts towards things and other people, things and other people will alter towards him.”

We get carried away when we achieve good results at work and then too downhearted when things go badly. That isn’t helpful and can hamper your decision-making. Taking responsibility is useful but you need to be aware that you cannot control everything. You will be happier and more successful if you realize that all changes are temporary. “The single most important thing you can do is to recognize that we do not live in a real world. We live in a construct and we made it.

We live by what he calls “mental models”, which are our preconceptions as to how the world works. We have models as to how best to get a job, to get ahead at work, to find a mate, and even choose a car. But these are just constructs created by our own experience, influences, or upbringing, for example. We need to see these for what they are, then we can change our reality. “You forget that everyone you meet, everyone in the world, is a human being stuck in the same predicament, trying with their imperfect intellect to make sense of this immensely complicated firmament.”

  • Top lesson: Change is the only constant and all we can control is our response to it.

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