You can judge the value of a personal development book based on the concrete changes it produces in your life. Do you walk away happier or more productive? Do you walk away with a set of skills you didn’t have coming in?
By that metric, these are the best personal development books I have ever read.
If I taught a class called “Living: A Guide To Do It Right,” this list would constitute the best syllabus I could compile.
I’ll be adding to this list. Not just the new revelations, but the old ones whose lessons have become so ingrained in my mind that I forgot to mention them. For now, here are the 12 best personal development books (up until now).
Religious texts aside, I’d bet this has been the most impactful book of the 21st century. Add up all the businesses that have been created and all the people who have been affected by those businesses – it’s
staggering. It’s no question why. This book is chock full of life-changing mindsets: the low-information diet, batching, fear-setting, the idea of a “muse” business….it’s a modern masterpiece. If you want to live a life with more freedom to travel when and where you like, to do the things you like with who you like, start here.
This is a book about how to control those things that so often control us: emotions. Yes, it can be long-winded. But read it bit by bit over several weeks, pausing to do the exercises when prompted. When you’re finished you’ll have a toolkit to manage your feelings every single day. It’s kind of like the guidebook to living that they forgot to give you in school. If you’ve not read him, I know Tony Robbins may seem overhyped and the title is cheesy as hell, but give this book a shot.
In my opinion, high self-esteem is what distinguishes the people who are truly successful in life from those who aren’t. That’s why this book is so amazing. It teaches you to think and to act in ways that will make you brim with pride. And it’s got concrete steps you can take to actually improve your self-esteem, rather than simply theorizing about it. If you’ve struggled with doubts of your self-worth or if you suspect that you might not be maxing out your self-confidence, read this book.
I’ll be honest, if you read the Cliff’s Notes of HTWF, you won’t be impressed. There is very little in this book that can be boiled down to a shocking one liner. But the sum total of the stories Carnegie shares will transform how you relate to other people. You’ll find yourself out and suddenly a story will pop into your head. You’ll handle the situation differently than normal and things will go better than normal. This is the foundational text on speaking with other people. Read it.
This book has an incredibly simple message. Do less. This isn’t just some surfer mantra – the energy we all put into managing several different projects, keeping up with so many requests isn’t JUST more stressful. It actually is the purest form of laziness because it keeps us from getting what really matters done. You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle by now, but spending 200+ page with this book is almost guaranteed to illuminate an area of your life where you’ve yet to apply it. It’s simple, but the returns are huge.
It’s absolutely shocking how irrational people are. But it’s not just sometimes: our irrationality occurs predictably and Dan Ariely demonstrates that with panache. By the way, when I say “how irrational people” are, that includes YOU. From spring cleaning to free coffee, there are so many areas of your life where your own irrationality is secretly subverting you. And simply arming yourself with that knowledge is often enough to protect you from the downsides of irrationality. As a bonus, the odd things people do start to make much more sense!
This book is why this blog exists. It’s the reason I went from “guy with 50 half-written articles no one has ever seen” to “guy who has sold thousands of copies of his book.” If “someday” you’d like to be an artist of any kind–musician, writer, painter–read this book. It will strip away the excuses you have for waiting and leave you with a single mandate: start producing. The only reason it isn’t at the top of the list is because it is specifically for artists.
Just about every book that has been written on persuasion in the last 28 years has drawn heavily from Cialdini’s Influence.
It’s the grandaddy and it’s good. You’ll learn how to defend yourself against the common persuasive tactics used by everyone from politicians to Girl Scouts. You’ll also learn how you can tailor the messages you send daily so that people are more likely to happily comply. Like many of the books on this list, it is a powerful handbook for speaking with humans.
We think we know what makes us happy. Read this book and you’ll find out you don’t. The most common misconception is that achievement of certain goals leads to happiness. That may mean a raise, a certain physique, arriving at a long awaited vacation. But research shows time and time again, that none of these things lead to lasting happiness. The true path to increasing happiness is to improve how you feel right now. It’s by changing your mindsets. Read this book to learn exactly how.
Habits aren’t just something that we do from time to time, like biting our nails or twirling your hair. They are fundamentally who we are. You’ll learn that we spend 40% of our waking hours engaged in some sort of mindless habit. That’s 40% of you day that can be spent becoming the person you want to be or moving away from that person — all depending on whether or not you learn to manage your habits. Read this book in conjunction with Willpower to take control over that 40% of your life.
Doing the right thing is hard. We also struggle from time to time to find the stregnth to drag ourselves out of bed and to the gym or to do the project we have been putting off (in my case writing this list). The good and bad news is that willpower isn’t something you have or you don’t. You don’t have to muscle through those difficult times and “drag” yourself to the right thing. There are simple ways to cajole yourself so that doing the right thing becomes infinitely easier, almost unthinking. That’s what you’ll learn in Willpower.
Are you a giver or a taker? Many people fall into one category or the other. They get walked on like a doormats or tread on others without realizing how they’re damaging their relationships. Give and Take will teach you how to manage the careful balance between the two extremes. You can reap the rewards of a social network that is excited to offer you help without coming across as a demanding jerk.
See any that I left out? Drop me a note in the comments so I know what books to check out next!