7 Books to Help You Get Through Hard Times and Inspire You to Come Out Stronger
Books accelerate your knowledge and help you become wise quickly because you can mentally download the experiences of other people, often smart, successful, and strong people.
You can experience years or decades of their life in the span of a few hours. Books give you the opportunity to digest these insights in a different way.
The author doesn’t know you personally, so you don’t take their insights personally. You’re allowed to sit and think about how the lessons apply to your laugh.
These books can help you during hard times, not just to endure them, but to get stronger because of them.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
I make this little joke to myself whenever I don’t feel like writing — “Viktor Frankl survived a concentration camp and wrote a book after. You can get your writing done.”
Seriously though, this book will help you perceive your situation in a totally different way. And you will find yourself thinking “Wow, if he can do this, then I can handle my own situation.”
The book details Frankl’s experiences being held prisoner in a concentration camp. We all know the holocaust happened, but when you read about it in vivid detail you understand just how cruel and evil it was. Imagine waking up every day to the smell of dead bodies, watching people collapse and die during work hours, or being randomly chosen to be put in a gas chamber.
Many people in the camp, rightfully so, reverted back to base animal instincts to survive — if the person next to you dies, take their good clothing, if informing on someone else or finding a way to make it so that someone else dies instead of you, so be it. Your sense of morality tends to change when you’re in a literal life or death situation on a daily basis.
Frankl chose to try and find meaning, something positive, in his situation. He focused on his wife who he was separated from (sadly she died). A psychiatrist by trade, he turned the strategies he used to stay sane and turned them into logotherapy. which in short, is the process of helping you find meaning in your life regardless of circumstances, which is what he did.
His philosophy boils down to choosing how to respond regardless of the situation. No one would have blamed him for choosing to respond horribly to a horrible situation. I’m almost certain I’d break under such conditions. But he didn’t.
Just the pure contrast between what he went through and what you’re going through will be enough to help you snap out of your negative feelings.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love From Dear Sugar aka Charyl Strayed
“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”
I had to read this book in pieces because some of the stories in it just floor you.
Cheryl Strayed, author of the runaway bestseller Wild and many other hits, once had an advice column under the pen name Dear Dugar. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of some of the best questions and answers from the column.
Strayed is a beast of a wordsmith and she’d answer the questions from readers by first giving these long-detailed accounts of her own life to meet the reader where they were at. Her answers would never say here’s exactly what to do. More like here’s a similar experience I went through, what I drew from it, and how it applies to your life.
Some of the stories she tells in the book are just brutal. Here’s how she opens one of her letters:
My father’s father made me jack him off when I was three or four or five. I wasn’t any good at it. My hands were too small and I couldn’t get the rhythm right and I didn’t understand what I was doing…”
That’s what makes the book so special, though. She hides nothing about her own life, which makes the readers more comfortable sharing the raw truth. As a reader you get a window into human psychology you’re hard-pressed to find elsewhere because humans do a good job of burying and hiding these emotions.
Just reading the broad range of experiences from her readers and her own life helps you get perspective on what’s going on in your own life. It also teaches you compassion for others. You’ll see by reading some of these stories that people who seem okay on the surface are truly struggling with some dark demons. We all have them.
Reading the examples in the book will help you deal with them.
The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
The Meditations is the best self-help book of all time. The entire ethos of the book could be summed up by saying everything you experience in life is an interpretation and nothing more. Actually, one of my favorite quotes from the book says exactly that:
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
You go through life thinking your perception of it is an objective reality, even though it’s not. I do the same thing. Your feelings and perception of the world feel so real to you, which is why people get caught in mental traps.
If you feel slighted, you could just as easily not feel slighted. If someone tries to harm you, you could choose not to be hurt. You don’t have to look at the cards as stacked against you. Instead, you can dispassionately decide your next move.
Many people have hopped onto the stoicism bandwagon, but its true purpose reveals itself when it’s not easy to be stoic. Practicing this form of philosophy is supposed to teach you to be non-reactive to every situation and use your own mind to not just endure, but thrive when any situation comes your way.
Every time I read the book, I calm down because it helps me look at every problem in my life with this interpretation:
It’s all in your head. You don’t have to feel the way you’re feeling right now. You’re choosing to feel this way.
When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub
“This much I knew As soon as you feel comfortable that’s when It’s time to start over.”
This book taught me to always look for the “side entrance” to any situation and always look to pivot and make the next move. See, most people live in a world where arbitrary rules govern their behavior. As Jerry’s experiences in the book show you, rules are bendable, everything is negotiable, and you can always find ways to turn nothing into something.
Jerry Weintraub went on to become a Hollywood superproducer and manager for many famous musicians. And he did it by finding creative ways to solve problems and never letting initial adversity get in his way. He figured out a way to become Elvis’s manager and take him on tour. How? He called Elvis’s current manager at the time 365 days in a row.
Think about that level of persistence.
The Colonel, Elvis’s manager, humored Jerry and threw an insane obstacle his way. He said he’d let Jerry take Elvis on tour if he came up with a million dollars in 24 hours. Jerry got the money. He went from 0 to 1 million dollars in a single day. How? Well, ultimately he found a rich Elvis fan to back him, but the genesis of his success was the fact that he didn’t default to defeat instantly like most people would.
Think of the times we’re in. Even during a pandemic, money and opportunities are abundant, but most people don’t have that hustler’s mentality. If their income source goes away, they throw their hands up and wait for their government check. Instead, they could adopt Jerry’s mindset and ask themselves, what’s the next move?
The Elvis story is one of many in the book that’ll teach you how arbitrary ‘the rules’ really are. From getting jobs he wasn’t qualified for whatsoever to making impossible situations happen like turning one of Elvis’s shows from a dud with 60 percent attendance to a ‘packed house’ in a matter of hours, you’ll learn how to harness the powers of persuasion, perception, and persistence to help you get what you want.
Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger
“What is the point of being on this Earth if you are going to be like everyone else?”
Many people, maybe you, feel trapped in your lot in life, especially now.
What if I told you achieving whatever you want just required you to set goals and use repetition until you got it right?
Tota recall tells the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life and how he used this simple philosophy to literally achieve every goal he set:
- Become a body-building champion
- Become not just an actor, but the world’s highest-paid actor, which he achieved with Terminator 2
- Make millions with real estate investing
- Get elected to the most powerful position a non-U.S. citizen could attain, Governor of California
He put his mind to achieving goals and just kept doing the work until he reached them. That’s it.
If you want to build muscle, you need to do lots of reps. Just lift heavy pieces of metal over and over and over again and you’ll get stronger. When he wanted to learn how to make millions in real estate, he studied real estate investing and studied thousands of properties. He took acting classes and tried for tons of different roles.
You have to read the whole book to understand his mindset. He starts out as this dirt poor kid from Austria and he gets his hands on a body-building magazine. He tells himself, “this is what I want to do with my life.” And as a teenager, he has certainty in his ability to pull it off as long as he trains.
Think of where you’re at in life right now vs. where you want to be. You just need to have certainty in your future goals backed by constant training.
People always ask me how I learned to write the way I do. I put my reps in. I’ve been writing almost every day for 5 years. I look at my old work and it feels like someone else wrote it. No fancy tricks at all…just wrote my ass off.
Most people fail because they look at success as something outside of their capability. Well, it is, in the beginning, which is why you train yourself to get better.
Want to make more money? Study money and practice ways to get it.
Want to get in shape? This is obvious and straightforward.
Want to pull off any goal? Reverse engineer the steps it takes to succeed and, again, train.
The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
“If an emotion can’t change the condition or the situation you’re dealing with, it is likely an unhelpful emotion. Or, quite possibly, a destructive one. ‘But it’s what I feel.’ Right, no one said anything about not feeling it. No one said you can’t ever cry. Forget “manliness.” If you need to take a moment, by all means, go ahead. Real strength lies in the control or, as Nassim Taleb put it, ‘the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.’”
Think of this book as a contemporary version of the Meditations. Ryan chooses many modern examples to expand on the practice of stoicism and helps cement in the message with each one “what stands in the way becomes the way.”
You think you want an easy life, but you don’t. You think you want to avoid problems, but it’s your ability to solve those problems and overcome them that gives your life meaning. The book often talks about being able to handle yourself under pressure.
Like I wrote about in this article, self-improvement is fun and cute and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but if it doesn’t help when shit hits the fan, then what’s the point of it?
If you want to be a leader, not just of others, but primarily of yourself, you have to learn how to handle adverse situations without freaking out. This book taught me to always pause and think of what to do next when things go south.
For example, Amazon suspended my book on launch day and I missed out on hundreds, maybe even thousands of sales. When I woke up to an inbox filled with madness and chaos from all my fans telling me the book was suspended, I took a deep breath and asked myself, what’s next? I handled the problem and everything went smoothly from that point on.
Weirdly, it felt good to deal with adversity during the launch of a book heavily focused on dealing with adversity. I’m not a perfect stoic by any means, but I have learned to see the upside in my problems.
Try to flip your problems on their head. Use the concept of Amor Fati, which means to love what happens to you, regardless of what happens.
On their face, these concepts are absurd to the way we normally think. Love a pandemic? Love losing your job? Really, love the world spinning into chaos?
But when you focus on not just acceptance of hard times, but how such times can make you stronger, you do get a strange reward and sense of meaning you can’t get any other way.
Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement by Ayodeji Awosika
Look, honestly, this book was written specifically to give you the tough love you need to build mental toughness. It’s a book that teaches you the things you need to know instead of the things you want to hear.
In short, life isn’t fair. Society is structured for you to fail in many ways. Incentives, human nature, and even blind luck come into play in terms of your life turns out and how successful you’ll become.
I meet you where you’re at. I understand you have a unique set of circumstances that led to where you are right now. You have that mixture of the decisions you’ve made plus elements of your life that are totally out of your control like your immutable characteristics.
I wish that we could all operate on a level playing field in life, but that’s now how life works.
Your only chance to live the life you want starts from the starting place you’re given, fair or not. The book will teach you the mindset you need to thrive in spite of those circumstances and it teaches you valuable skills to escape them like how to find your talents and strengths, build profitable side hustles, and look for ways to achieve massive success with little to no risk.
I took everything I learned in the process of going from a broke, depressed, and substance-abusing convicted felon to a three-time author, TEDx speaker, with millions of readers per year.
If you think my blog posts are good, the book is about 100 times better.