20 Best Personal Development and Self-Help Books
Personal development is such a nebulous topic. In reality every single book on this (now 200+ title) list is a great personal development book.
For the sake of this list, my choices for this section all revolve around books that are more about igniting passion and giving ideas rather than a step-by-step action plan. This list includes, the grandfathers of all self help books, and it also has some of the modern masters of inspiration, education and self-empowerment.
These books all DO have actionable steps to take, you will learn things, but I feel that their true purpose is as inspiration and motivation.
1. The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
Any avid reader of self-help books will recognize Jack Canfield. Creator of the popular motivational “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, Jack has been inspiring people for years. In “Success Principles”, Jack gives 65 methods for transforming your life. If you are looking for a single self-help book that gives you a ton of great ideas on how to improve your life and your success, this would be the one.
However, die-hard personal development fans may find some of these ideas to be rehashed versions of ideas they have heard before, not fresh new ideas. The principles are repeated here due to the simple fact that they work! Even if you know all 65 principles before buying the book, I believe it can be an excellent refresher on things you need to do to achieve the success you desire.
2. Think and Grow Rich: (Revised and Updated for the 21st Century) by Napoleon Hill
It could be very easy to think that a book about achieving success written 80 years ago and based on the success principles of men like Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford would be stale and out of date, like a dry history lesson. This simply is not true. While there are admittedly parts where you have to substitute modern methods of execution for old fashioned counterparts, the basic principles themselves are based on human nature and just as true today as they were 80 years ago.
This book is a classic and for good reason. Over the past 80 years many successful people have read this book and gained from it knowledge and insight that have helped them to achieve their own success. When a self-improvement book sticks around for as long as this one has, there has to be a reason for its longevity and success.
3. The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Most people who achieve any degree of success will tell you that attitude is a big part of the success equation. Positive thinking will not magically make success happen, as this books “successor” The Secret, would have you believe, but positive thinking can put you into position to make the most of it when it happens. So skip the “Secret” and go write to the first (and best) book on getting your mind right for success.
One slight negative is that many people complain because of some of the religious overtones of the book. While Dr. Peale is clearly a faithful Christian, I believe this book has merit for you regardless of personal faith. Just listen to the good advice.
Note: some of you may like The Secret. I mean no offense to you in this review. The positivity aspect of the book is fine, I simply have a problem with the idea that the “universe will deliver” success. I believe the only way you get success is to go out and work for it. Let’s agree to disagree.
4. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers takes a scientific look at what it actually takes to achieve success. Unlike some of the other books on this list, it does not give a specific list of the things you need to do to achieve success. It looks at very interesting anecdotes that support the main point of the book, that success is not achieved by luck, attitude or even skill, but that the only real measurement is the time we put into our skills. People who achieve higher degrees of success almost always have more time building the skills they use for their success.
This book is quite interesting with some really good stories and anecdotes. It is an enjoyable read.
5. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen
I am not by nature an organized person. Due to this fact I would say that reading GTD for the first time was a life changing experience. Allen gives solid advice on how to plan all the aspects of a hectic life (both business and personal).
This book comes with a solution to all the chaos life throws your way. It can help you stay organized and on top of everything. I do not currently follow all the tenants of GTD. I have incorporated a more web based approach as I discuss in my book on Evernote. But I still feel Getting Things Done is a must read, even if you discard his specific approaches, the core ideas will still shed light on many ways to be more productive.
6. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Leohr and Tony Schwartz
Everyone thinks time is the enemy. I can’t count how many times I have heard, “I don’t have time for that” or “I wish I had the time”. The central idea of this book is that people have it backwards. Loehr and Schwartz state that energy is the key, not time.
Success is about creating a series of “life-sprints” not a marathon. By laser focusing on tasks, then completely resting, you actually can get a lot more done in less time and live a happier and more fulfilling life at the same time. This book makes some excellent points. The next time you hear yourself saying, “I don’t have time” to do something important, you should reach for a copy of this book. Unless you don’t have time for that… then I can’t help you.
7. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Just like the previous entry, “Think and Grow Rich” Carnegies book is another classic from the 1930s that still packs a ton of truth bombs in it’s nearly 90 year old pages. While T&GR was about the principles of success, Carnegie discusses the personal habits that lead to success. Included are: the twelve ways to convert people to your way of thinking, six ways to make people like you, and the nine ways to change people’s opinions without arousing resentment.
Regardless of what you intend to do with your life, other people will always be there. Carnegie gives you the tools to effectively recruit others to your cause, rather than have them potentially be obstacles. A must read classic on dealing with other people.
8. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris
I have to admit, I have a few mixed feeling on Tim Ferris in general. On one hand, let’s face it, the guy is a bit of jerk. Additionally while there is some great information, it might not pertain much to people who just want more from their 9-5 lifestyle, and are not really into the idea of a “digital lifestyle”.
On the other hand, however, this book does an excellent job of challenging people to rethink the status quo and evaluate how to make the most of their time. Time does an great job of explaining how to make the most of the digital lifestyle, how to get started with this business and does it all with a fierce energy that will get you motivated.
If the idea of making a living online appeals, this book should be a must read, and is likely already on your bookshelf. If you are just looking for tidbits to develop your personal productivity, attitude or health, this might be a book you can miss.
9. Crush It! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion- by Gary Vaynerchuk
Crush It! has a few problems these days. Mainly is that the core idea of the book, fresh and new when it was first released, has become a bit dated. Most people have come to understand the revolutionary power of Social Media and the effect this can have on any and every single business.
However, a good portion of this book is also about following your dreams and turning your passion in a career. While this book no longer imparts what I would call “new” information, it is still extremely motivational. Gary Vaynerchuk has an incredible amount of energy and reading what he has to say is sure to get you motivated to get out and conquer the world.
10. Let Go! by Pat Flynn
“Let Go!” is Pat Flynn’s inspiring story. If you do not know Pat, he is a normal guy, trained as an architect who began to work as an online entrepreneur when the architect business got rough. In this inspiring story Pat shares the challenges he faced and the keys to his success.
Much like “Crush It” the value of the specific lessons are of less value than the inspiration it can give you to achieve success. If you want specific’s for achieving success through Pat’s methodology his podcasts and website are chocked full of actionable information.
11. Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Steve Scott
Yes, that’s me. I won’t give any qualitative review of this book, since I am biased. But I do think it is a good one.
Habit stacking is based on a method to incorporate small habits into daily life. These small habits are easy individually, but are often the sort of things that “fall through the cracks” in a hectic life.
Habit stacking makes it possible when you add DOZENS of small changes to your daily routine. Rather than trying to make dozens of individual habits part of your routine (something next to impossible) you only have to work to incorporate each “stack”.
By doing these small tasks in a block you can plan for the time to act on these tasks in your daily schedule and stick firm to implementing these habits on a daily basis.
These habits don’t require much effort. In fact, most of these habits ONLY take five minutes or less to complete. by doing these small tasks in a block you can plan for the time to act on these tasks in your daily schedule and stick firm to implementing these habits on a daily basis.
12. Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream by James Altucher
The climate of business and personal success is changing. The times when going to college, working a job for 40 years and retiring a success are evaporating before our eyes. Altucher shows a path to creating art, make money and achieve success through non-traditional methods.
Altucher’s sense of humor and brutal honesty make this book a great read. He doesn’t pull any punches even sharing many of his personal failures as well as successes.
Choose yourself. Choose this book.
13. Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial by Tony Robbins
This is another book I struggled with the decision of whether to place on this list. On one hand Robbins has always seemed to me to be as much of a salesman of change as he is someone with fresh ideas. However, there is no denying that this book covers some important ground while still being inspirational.
Robbin’s point with this book is to take charge of your life in all the important ways: emotional, physical, mental and financial. All of these important parts dovetail together and work with each other for you to achieve greater success. Only when you are at the peak of performance in all categories can you truly be your best self.
14. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
Have you ever felt on the top of your game? Answers and ideas flow freely. You feel energized and alert. You feel happy and content. You are in control. This is a state Dr. Csikszentmihaly refers to as “flow”
The flow state happens to everyone from time to time, but it can be engineered to happen more frequently and when it does the happiness, content and satisfaction it brings can have a lasting halo effect on our lives. Part science and part philosophy this book does an exceptional job of relating to us not only how to get more done, but how to live happier and fuller lives due to having an understanding of the “Flow.”
15. 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class by Steve Siebold
This book is great at what it is, a summary of all the current thinking in the realm of peak performance. While not groundbreaking, it digests hundreds of self-help and personal development books and relays the important pieces succinctly and clearly. A wonderful book that will save you time and money giving you the highlights of the best modern thinking on the subject of improving your personal performance in all aspects of life.
16. Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation by Edward L. Deci
One of the keys to success in life is self-motivation. Most people will perform when they have to at work or at home. Self-motivation means going that extra mile and not needing the external commitments to get things done. When you can become self-motivated, achievement will follow as surely as the sun rises in the east.
But self-motivation is not something that is always as easy as it might sound. Deci showcases all the current science on the subject of motivation and explains the hows and whys in simple to understand terms. You likely have ideas of what motivates you already, but reading this book will give you a clean and clear understanding of your motivation.
17. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Being an introvert I kept saying. “That’s right” and “So True” constantly while reading this book. Another book on this list, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” does a great job of showcasing the importance of being a “people person” and how this can lead to success. However, this advice introverts (myself included) have a hard time following. Being the loudest and driving your ideas home to others does not necessarily make your ideas the best.
Susan Cain has a book that can make any introvert proud of their nature. She shows ways many introverts have achieved high levels of success, even in “people person” positions of authority. This is an important read for introverts to understand why we act the way we do and an important book for extroverts to help them understand the remaining 1/3 of the population.
18. Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive, and Build Your Dream Business by Chris Ducker
This is a personal development book for a fairly narrow niche. These days many tasks can be outsourced and delegated, specifically if you have your own business or side hustle. Trying to do everything yourself is not a growth mindset. This book lays out clear paths to outsourcing significant amount of work in a methodical manner.
If you have no need for outsourcing this book is not for you. However if you have ever thought about the possibilities of outsourcing mundane tasks, then this book should be a must read.
19. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition by Dr. Robert Cialdini
This book will help you understand the importance of social proof, scarcity, authority, reciprocation and more on others and how it can help you to get the important “yes” or purchase in your business or at work. People’s decisions are often not made by a rational argument and well laid out plans. It is important to truly understand why people really choose the way they do.
20. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play
However, there are good scientific reasons why people procrastinate and just as many good science backed methods to overcome procrastination. Dr. Neil Fiore gives an exhaustive overview of why we procrastinate and what we can do about overcoming procrastination.
If you enjoy reading nonfiction books, then I encourage you to check out the Blinkist app.
Blinkist is an interesting concept…
Blinkist summarized over 2,000 of the bestselling books and put them into condensed 7 to 15 minute reads (or “blinks”). The idea here is to give you the key insights and important lessons — without wasting your time on pointless information.
Blinkist book summaries are perfect for anyone who wants to maximize those random moments when you have to kill time. Like when you want to kill time before an appointment or you’re standing on a long line at Starbucks.
You can use Blinkist to complete a book daily, learn the valuable lessons, and avoid the fluff that often pad longer books.