The used to be called ‘self-help books’, but the name is not all that has changed. Many people are finding that reading personal development books regularly gives them a huge advantage in their studies, their career and their life generally. That is why we’ve listed 10 excellent personal development books here, and included a short summary of their content.
1. Atomic Habits, by James Clear
Subtitled “An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones”, this is a book which can change nearly anyone’s life. The focus is not on huge, sweeping changes in the way you live, though. Bug changes are scary, difficult and prone to disrupting lives. Atomic Habits focuses on making small but important changes every day
Atomic Habits looks at ways to make miniscule changes into lifelong habits by leveraging a few simple tricks. These include ‘Habit Stacking’, the ‘Two Minute Rule’, and making proper use of ‘The Goldilocks Zone’. Perhaps more importantly, this book looks at the neuroscience of how and why these tiny changes can be so effective at making people more happy, motivates and productive.
2. Awaken the Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins
Robbins’ book outlines an entire programme of self-mastery. It lays out each step in detail, and imparts lessons which will be instrumental in allowing you to come to grips with your life, discover what you were really meant to do with it, and gain greater influence over your own destiny.
That sounds like a tall order, but again it isn’t about doing something Herculean once. It is about making the right choices consistently, over time. It isn’t a ‘solution to all of your problems’ so much as a plan for deciding what is important to you and taking control of your work, finances and relationships in order to build the life that you want and deserve.
3. Deep Work, by Cal Newport
This book bills itself as “Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”, and it doesn’t fall far from the mark. In essence, the book focuses on one thing – how bloody difficult it is to focus on one thing in the modern world. It points out that ‘Deep Work’ – the ability to focus on a cognitively difficult, demanding task – is becoming ever more rare in the world, and that you can achieve great success if you can master it.
Essentially, the idea is that the modern world – computers, communications and especially social media – is all designed to distract you and sap your ability to focus deeply on a single goal. Admittedly, we could all be a little better at that. Cal Newport may already be known to you from his Study Hacks blog, and this piece is particularly useful both to students and professionals.
4. How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
If anyone knows the name of only one self-development book, it is probably this one. It is a true classic, and was still number 19 on Time Magazine’s leader board of the 100 most influential books of all time in 2011 – despite being written in 1936.
This is truly the grandfather of all self-development books, and focuses on improving your communication skills and social awareness. If you can do that you’ll become more successful in life and work almost without trying.
5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
Another modern classic, this book focuses on something the author calls ‘the character ethic’. It shows you how to better align your personal values with some of the timeless, universal principles that philosophers, ethicists and religious leaders have been espousing for thousands of years.
At its core is the idea that you can change your basic values by the kinds of habits which lead to independence and later interdependence. It’s about doing the things which lead to success because they reflect your values, not simply because they lead to success.
6. The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind, by Alan Wallace
Similar to ‘Deep Work’ above, this book focuses on making proper use of your only real resource – your time and attention. Unlike Deep Work, though, the route suggested here is through meditation. Wallace exists at a curious intersection, being at once an esoteric Buddhist and a scientist.
The book shows you how to use meditation as a tool to enhance your ability to focus, as well as to make the kind of meaningful persona changes which improve your ability to experience love, compassion and above all clarity.
7. The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz
This is another book which has been around for generations. First published in 1959, the book focuses on inspiring the rear to change their life, and then gives them the tools to do just that.
The book takes you through the process of overcoming negativity and disbelief in your own power, shows you how to think positively, and then focus your creativity into achieving real results ‘in the now’. It also guides you step by step through constructing your own programme to success.
8. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
This book focuses on taking the latest behavioural science and advances in psychology and making them into tools for transforming your own life. It outlines the concept of ‘Keystone Habits’, and shows you how great figures in sports, business, politics and social movements have used these keystone habits to ensure their own success.
Duhigg shows how establishing the right habits can fulfil nearly any personal goal, from weight loss to your personal life to your career.
9. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
Though it was published more than 70 years ago, this book was recently listed as the 6th bestselling business book. Note, though, that the title is misleading. You can apply these teachings to almost any life goal, not merely financial success.
It was one of the first books to focus on taking hold of your so-called ‘destiny’, and controlling your environment to yield the kind of life you really want.
10. What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, by Shad Helmstetter
Helmstetter’s book focuses on the internal monologue we all have, and how utterly toxic it is that so much of those words are negative! We are far too hard on ourselves, it seems, and this negative thought prevents us from leading a fulfilling life.
The book suggests ways to improve your inner voice – something Dr Helmstetter calls Self-Talk – and your life, but starts by helping you understand how and why you think the way you do. By learning how to inspire rather than belittle yourself, you can achieve nearly any goal.
Do you have trouble finding personal development books which are truly ‘on point’ for your situation? It doesn’t matter – nearly any book can help you.
It turns out that reading any kind of a self-development book regularly, even so little as a chapter a day, has tremendous benefits on a person’s quality of life. For example, picking up the ‘self-development book habit’ often leads to the following 5 results, no matter what books you and up reading.
The self-development books you read don’t have to be written about your career or your interests specifically to be helpful to you. They don’t have to be about the problems you yourself are facing. They don’t have to convey any actionable advice about your career, your interests or the challenges you face. Reading them will still help you to learn about yourself and to improve yourself generally.
- You begin to view both the world around you and yourself in a more positive light.
We’ve written elsewhere about how positive attitude can make studying or nearly any other endeavour more successful, and this is a great way to get the ball rolling.
- You’ll begin to make better choices, even if you aren’t conscious of it.
Many of these books focus on doing things – even very small things – to improve your life. Better still, because you’ll be thinking more positively, you’ll take more positive actions even when you aren’t following those instructions.
- You’ll begin to expand your life, rather than to ‘improve’ it.
Each book offers glimpses at new truths and hidden possibilities. These need not fundamentally change your life to impart meaningful differences. Just by expanding what you see as possible, you’ll live a more fulfilled life.
- You’ll begin overcoming your old limitations.
All of that inspiration and expansion will take you beyond what you thought your limits were, in small ways and in large. You’ll begin to see potentials you would never have spotted before, and stretch yourself to achieve them.
- You’ll undertake more – and more important – personal projects.
All of this will cumulate in you taking on challenges which would have once seemed impossible, doing jobs which you would never have attempted, and just getting things done in ways you could never have imagined.
Of course, you may have to read quite a few of these books before you begin seeing dramatic results. As many of these books note, change is gradual, and cumulative. Little snowballs begin to roll down hillsides, becoming avalanches of personal growth. Just get into the habit of being inspired. All the rest comes almost as a matter of course.