LBR. I’m a self improvement junkie.
There’s honestly a lot to be said for getting too invested in self-improvement; it can become a compulsion, something to strive for that feels good but at its heart is simply about thinking of yourself as deficient somehow. From when I was sixteen I was obsessed with productivity blogs and books such as Getting Things Done, 7 Habits, etc etc.
These days, I’m sure my desire to find the “perfect” productivity method was an attempt too control anxiety about my grades or whether I was good enough in my academic work (I’ve written about it more here). It was never enough.
Regardless, in small, careful doses it can certainly be useful. I try not to engage in this as a compulsion, i.e. when I’m feeling sad or worthless, or as a distraction from some feeling or activity. I use them to help me live by my values, to strengthen my boundaries, and learn about how to care for myself better. Gratifyingly, this has become a lot easier as the content I consume is generally based in mindfulness and values based living.
Anyway, without further ado, here is a small handful of the resources and blogs I’ve found the most helpful over the past few years. I’ll be updating this as I go along, so do check back.
This was THE book to get me into ACT. I think I found this after searching for resources for dealing with intrusive thoughts and compulsions. I’d been obsessively applying CBT and reading everything I could about that as a coping method, but not really getting anywhere. I came across Harris’ book, bought it on Kindle, then bought it paperback so I could properly mark it up and make notes on it. I still return to it every so often when I need a reminder of the basic principles of ACT (it’s easy to slip away from that sometimes).
Harris has a wonderfully humanistic style of writing that doesn’t shy away from noting that his life isn’t 100% perfect or devoid of ‘negative’ emotions because of applying ACT – but that’s the point. Everyone’s life is full of those emotions, and activating the ‘struggle switch’ often makes things harder for ourselves.
I particularly like the depth with which this book goes into techniques for cognitive defusion (such as turning them into a little song, picturing them on a TV, etc), which is great for dealing with intrusive thoughts and lessening their power on you. As an introduction to ACT I think it’s wonderful.
You’ll see me mentioning Mark Freeman a ton on this blog. There’s a reason for that: it’s because he’s had one of the biggest impacts on my life. I found his videos while frantically searching techniques to help me with OCD back in 2016. Mark is a wonderfully friendly guy and has such a unique but logical perspective on mental health where he compares it to physical health, or alternatively, learning to swim. It takes work — hard, sweaty work. It takes practice, especially if you’ve put hours into effectively learning how to drown.
It completely takes the shame out of the equation and the feeling that there was something wrong with me for having mental health problems. Instead, as his blog title suggests, everybody has a brain. Therefore everyone has mental health, and can take actions to make it better.
Baggage Reclaim is one of my absolute favourite blogs. After a very rough breakup, I happened upon Natalie’s posts from Googling ways to get through it; like so many people, it really switched my thinking around from blame to building.
Honestly, before I came to BR, no one had ever given me an actual reason to like or care about myself! It was just this thing that people supposedly were able to do if they possessed X quality, and… I never felt I was good enough to even entertain the prospect of being good enough.
Natalie really put things clearly for me: caring about myself is literally the only way to have good relationships with anyone, including myself. No one else could, or should have to fill the gap where value is — it’s already there. My lack of boundaries wasn’t a sign of love or care on my part, it was just fear of being vulnerable, or not being in control. And many other lessons she’s taught me via her blogposts.
Her writing is so engrossing, so logical, that it’s very easy to fall down the rabbit hole, especially when I’m feeling grim. However, when carefully read, BR, and her books, are amazing resources for learning to navigate interpersonal relationships. I’d also recommend the podcast.
This book, ironically, is quite long and a little overwhelming at times — if you read it all at once like I did anyway! In being that long though, it is definitely comprehensive. It breaks down some of the skills needed for mental health into tiny, 5 minute exercises called ‘breakouts’ — offering multiple ways to approach different situations in a more self compassionate and healthy way. It’s based in ACT, and is a great follow on from The Happiness Trap 🙂