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01/12/2016 09:55 am ET

4 Truly Enlightening Ideas From Self-Help Books

Looking to make changes? We sifted through this year's new releases, eliminated anything superficial or silly and discovered a few practical, illuminating techniques.
  • What You Want: To stop having crazy-angry feelings that get you nowhere.
    Let's say you watch the news, and end up getting upset about illegal logging in Brazil. What do you do next? You might vent t
    .
    Let's say you watch the news, and end up getting upset about illegal logging in Brazil. What do you do next? You might vent to your friends at a dinner party. Or you might leave a furious comment on a website. Either way, you're still seething. Thankfully, Wharton School professor Adam Grant, author ofOriginals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (out in February), offers concrete suggestions on how to reframe our unwieldy frustrations into "empathetic anger." "Instead of venting about the harm that a perpetrator has done, we need to reflect on the victims who have suffered from it," Grant writes. In a recent study, conducted by social scientists from Harvard and Columbia, people who watched a CEO overpay himself, while underpaying an employee, were spurred to action when encouraged to focus on the suffering person (the employee) rather than the villain (the CEO). In other words, when we zero in on the bad guy, we usually get mad, rant and don't do much. When we look at the victim, we find a way to help—and end up feeling empowered.
  • What You Want: To find out what you (really) want to do.
    Figuring out what you're meant to do in life is hard. You probably like a bunch of things, love a few other things and worry
    .
    Figuring out what you're meant to do in life is hard. You probably like a bunch of things, love a few other things and worry that committing to any of them might land you in a fireball of failure. In his book, Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, Todd Henry, an author and consultant, has come up with a practice called "50 Notables" that helps you rethink your options.

    Take a pen and paper, he advises. List 10 instances when people responded to your ideas. Then ask yourself: Why did they respond? What did you do that compelled them to listen? Next, list 10 times when you were moved emotionally. Then 10 times you felt angry over an injustice. Then 10 of your greatest hopes, and 10 times you've solved a problem. At the end of this process, you'll have 50 specific examples of your strengths, passions and dreams.

    Now, writes Henry, the work begins. Look for patterns. How did your ability to convince someone of your idea correlate with an instance when you were moved emotionally? How could your success at solving a problem be used to pursue a dream? "These categories," writes Henry, "are a great calibration tool to help you figure out how to direct your work." And life.
  • What You Want: To help a friend who says she's stuck.
    Starting a conversation with a friend who's floundering can be tricky. It's not as if you're going to say, "Hey, you're super
    .
    Starting a conversation with a friend who's floundering can be tricky. It's not as if you're going to say, "Hey, you're supertalented and smart, why are you still stuck as an assistant, or not starting your own company or dating jerky lowlifes?" But author and entrepreneur Seth Godin has a more subtle way of getting people to open up, which he writes about in his (reissued) book, Poke the Box. Though Godin's exercise was developed to foster team-building in corporate cultures, we think it can also be effective in your personal life. The next time you're having coffee with that friend, ask her, "What are you afraid of, when it comes to massive failure or massive success?" This focuses her attention on the general ideas of "failure" and "success," instead of her "failure" and her" success." Then she's more likely to speak specifically and honestly about her dreams—and what might be holding them back. The next step? Go home and ask yourself the same question. (Gulp.)
  • What You Want: To find more hours in the day.
    Writing a to-do list might make you feel better&mdash;but it's not always the best way to get things done. In his book <i><a
    .
    Writing a to-do list might make you feel better—but it's not always the best way to get things done. In his book Get Smart! How to Think, Decide, Act, and Get Better Results in Everything You Do, author and business consultant Brian Tracy proposes revising that list with what he calls a "triage" exercise. His name for this is ABCDE. First, you need to establish which of your tasks is most important. Instead of thinking about what work is required, or how you'll get it completed, simply consider the consequences of not getting it done. Category A jobs have "serious potential consequences," writes Tracy, if you don't tackle them. B jobs are less important than those in the first category, but not doing them has mild consequences. C jobs can be done with breaks along the way. D jobs can be delegated. And E is for tasks that can be eliminated. Put a letter next to each "to-do" on your list, revise the order alphabetically and start with the A's.

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