Self-improvement or self-help genre as it is popularly called, has been around for centuries and now serves as one of the basic pillars in business literature.
Sometimes, it gets the rap from higher moral authorities. They say self-improvement books don’t have the intended influence and most of them are plain fluff.
There is no doubt that many self-help authors only peddle a rehash of ideas.
But, amongst the pile of dead wood, there is a small fringe of self-books that can change your life trajectory forever.
Now the catch is that these books help only if you consciously apply their learnings, otherwise, the effect wanes off sooner than you can imagine.
You read a book, you get a massive boost of motivation. A few hours later, your attention shifts to something else, and all the motivation goes poof. It just fizzles out.
Remember unless you apply the learnings, NOTHING will change!
Without further fuss, here is my collection of 23 self-improvement books that will enable you to become a better version of yourself. These books will change your perspective, pull you out of the hole you have dug yourself into, reinvigorate your dead passions, skyrocket your ambitions and ignite a raging inferno inside you:
#1. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
‘The Compound Effect’ has been driving our lives for better or worse, says Darren Hardy.
In the nutshell, the compound effect is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. This seemingly insignificant idea embodies the crux of the book.
Hardy affirms that there are success mantras. Whatever you need to be successful is already within you. All you need is a new plan of action and a new plan of action is what ‘The Compound Effect’ provides.
#2. How Full is your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton
‘How Full is your Bucket’ is a short and breezy read. It runs to 128 pages.
Donald Clifton wrote this book in the final stages of his cancer along with his grandson Tom Rath.
The book is based on a simple metaphor that Clifton devised – The dipper and the bucket. It says that all of us have a dipper and a bucket.
We can use this dipper to either fill other people’s buckets – by saying positive things and thus replenishing our own bucket – or we can use it to dip from their buckets – by saying negative things and emptying our own bucket.
If you are interested in having more friends, making your workplace more productive, enjoying closer relationships with your family and friends, then this is the book for you.
#3. Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith
hy don’t we become the person we always want to be?
Marshall Goldsmith in his book “Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts” becomes your guide and helps you figure out the answer to the question.
A trigger, in the words of Goldsmith, is any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions. Every waking moment, these triggers – positive and negative – either spur us on or act against us.
Goldsmith’s book reinforces the fact that behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process and stems from small efforts, repeated day in and day out.
If you are willing to make a lasting behavioral change in your life, look no further.
#4. The Art of Extraordinary Confidence by Dr. Aziz Gazipura
Dr. Gazipura is a clinical psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on “social confidence”.
The book starts off by explaining that achieving your biggest dreams is possible if you are willing to do two things:
- Be willing to do whatever it takes.
- Do whatever it takes.
The book then outlines on how to do just that. It explains how to take an ownership stance in life instead of a victim stance, how to overcome the stories we tell ourselves, and how to resolve fear.
If you want to get over social shyness and anxiety, “The Art of Extraordinary Confidence” can do wonders for you.
#5. The Miracle Morning: The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8AM by Hal Elrod
A head-on collision with a truck almost killed Hal Elrod when he was 20. Doctors declared that the comatose Elrod won’t ever be the same even if he survived.
Not only did Elrod survive, he also became an ultra-marathon runner, international keynote speaker, and a bestselling author.
In his book “The Miracle Morning”, he lays out a 6-step plan for you to defeat mediocrity and start living the life of your dreams.
The underlying essence is simple: start to win each day. Wake up intentionally a little earlier than usual. In that extra time, you work on improving yourself.
Elrod notes, “Always remember that where you are is a result of who you WERE, but where you go depends entirely on who you choose to be, from this moment on.”
#6. The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
There is no way any self-improvement booklist be complete without David Schwartz’ book. Originally published in 1959, “The Magic of Thinking Big” is a timeless classic.
The fact that the book still gets widely recommended and sells thousands of copies every year stands testimony to its timelessness. The central idea of the book is: Believe You Can Succeed and You Will.
Schwartz sets up a plan for an impressive living with the resources you already have.
Recommended for everyone who wants to change their lives right now in a better direction. Here’s my biggest takeaway from the book: Don’t sell yourself short. If you don’t believe in you and what you can accomplish, why should anyone else?
#7. How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger
Another timeless classic on this list. Published in 1992, Bettger’s book is a must-read for salespeople.
However, let that not dissuade you. Even if you are in another profession, the book holds life-changing lessons for you, too.
There are lessons that all can take in terms of learning to sell oneself since one of the sad truths of today is that there are many amazing people who constantly undervalue and undersell themselves.
Bettger essentially demonstrates that you reap what you sow; what you get out is what you put in.
#8. Habit Stacking by S.J. Scott
The Wall Street Journal bestseller, “Habit Stacking” highlights a unique approach to stacking up habits.
Basically, you string together many small habits to achieve big results in life.
S.J. Scott supplies 127 examples of such small habits.
The premise that smaller changes are easier to start and maintain will resonate with everyone.
#9. Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy
If the title of Brian Tracy’s bestseller confuses you, let me decode it for you.
Brian took a cue from Mark Twain’s famous quote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
He wants you to eat the “task” or “goal” you have always wanted to achieve right in the morning, then the rest of the day will be smooth.
My biggest takeaway from the book: “Successful people are those who are willing to delay gratification and make sacrifices in the short term so that they can enjoy far greater rewards in the long-term.”
#10. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Influence is a book you need to read in self-defense if nothing else, if for no other reason.
You have no idea how many times a day people try to influence you using the techniques described in this book.
If you like to think that you are someone who thinks for yourself, you would be wrong.
I think even anyone with a healthy dose of cynicism or business sense will read this and be surprised that these tactics work.
This book shows just how much you respond to influence cues in your environment without any thought at all. Unfortunately, we all function on autopilot far more often than we realize.
#11. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero
This is the only book on this list that teems with self-deprecating humor on self-help literature.
“You are a Badass” became an instant New York Times bestseller and created a huge buzz on social media. Everyone and their grandmom were recommending Sincero’s book.
Sincero’s voice sets this book apart from other books of this genre. She is straightforward and in-the-face with her suggestions. Her candor and casual expressions make the reading fun.
#12. Let go by Pat Flynn
Pat Flynn is the guy who airs the famous ‘Smart Passive Income’ podcast. If you go to his website, you’d see his income reports flashing on the top. That reflects volumes about his self-confidence.
This book is specially meant for fence-sitters who think they can’t get off the ground due to one reason or another. Flynn’s writing will light a rocket under you. It will galvanize you.
You’d learn that no matter what the circumstances, you can reach your goals if you have the courage to take action. Courage to take action is what the book instills in you.
#13. The Ant and the Elephant by Vincent Poscente
‘The Ant and the Elephant’ is not your typical self-transformation manual. Rather it’s a beautiful parable with the plan of self-leadership embedded in it.
I had finished this book in one sitting when I read it five years back. It reads like a breeze.
Poscente’s parable has two main characters – Adir the ant and Elgo the elephant. Actually, he uses them as respective metaphors for conscious and unconscious parts of the brain.
Poscente weaves his allegory around our lack of awareness about the underlying prowess of the unconscious brain (the Elephant). In his words, if we enable our conscious brain (the ant) to work concertedly in tandem with our unconscious brain, the possibilities of what we can achieve could be endless.
#14. No more Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover
If you feel like that despite all your sacrifices you make for your family, you go underappreciated… read this book.
“No More Mr. Nice Guy” isn’t about not being nice.
It is, in fact, about being nice…but being nice to yourself so that you can unburden yourself from the shackles of your past and start working towards the life you have always wanted rather than towards the life you were programmed by your past to want.
It explains why Nice Guys really aren’t all that nice and clearly demonstrates how changes in behavior can dramatically transform your relations in a very positive way.
#15. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
If you are one of those puritanical types, you’d better crouch for cover from Manson’s F-bomb barrage. The best aspect of the book is that the author speaks his mind and he doesn’t give a **** whether you like it or not.
The central premise of the book is to get you to know your limitations and accept them. Manson believes that it’s only when you accept your shortcomings, do you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
If your best friend’s picture-perfect Instagram account made you feel miserable and you can’t decipher exactly where you fit into this universe, this is the book for you.
Mark Manson helps you create realistic measurements to avoid feeling desolate in the first place.
#16. The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch
Richard Koch – a London-based entrepreneur and a successful investor – builds upon the concept put forth by Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto.
The 80/20 principle is a principle of selectivity and focus.
Koch will help you identify those few activities (20%) that help you achieve 80% of your results. Similarly, you’d know which 80% of activities consume most of your time and contribute little to your growth, like watching TV.
The idea is to do repeat, multiply the vital few activities and cut down on trivial many.
#17. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gwande
The main idea of the book is that checklists are the way to get intensely complicated things right.
Atul Gwande, a surgeon and now a bestselling author, is worried that despite gaining tremendous know-how in every field, the experts sometimes flub the execution. The reason he cites is a lack of checklists.
He corroborates the premise with ample supporting evidence from his experience in operation theatre. The real-life scenarios in the book will resonate with you and convince you to start deploying checklists. Go for it, it’s a fascinating read.
#18. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
Rules are meant to be broken! Rules are for suckers!
Whatever our notions about rules, the fact remains we spend most part of our lives following rules. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, sets forth his rules for living a life well-lived.
This is not an easy book to read. Some of the narratives are long-winding, some lessons are complicated and mired in allegories. Yet once you finish it, you’d be glad you read it.
The two rules that resonated with me the most are:
- Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
- Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient
#19. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
This one is a powerhouse book if you plan to change your habits or shall I say, if you plan to kick the old habits and want to replace them with more rejuvenating ones.
The central argument of the book is: “Habits can be changed if we understand how they work.”
Charles Duhigg’s book draws on academic research, hundreds of interviews with scientists and researchers and people who have successfully changed their habits and thus, their lives.
If human behavior fascinates you, and you’ve always wondered about the gripping influence our brain has on our lives, this book will make a great addition to your bookshelf.
#20. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
This is the book that put Tim Ferriss on the map. An international bestseller that made Ferris a formidable name in the business circles.
I particularly liked his notion that we don’t have to subscribe to the idea that we need to do the same thing over and over again for the rest of our lives.
We can get involved in one activity, get good at it, make money with it, take a mini-retirement, and then look for something else to do.
Ferriss does a stellar job encouraging and motivating the reader that this is a great way to live, make a living, and turn it into a lifestyle. Pick up this book, if you haven’t already, this will change your thought process.
#21. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
This book will give you an interesting perspective on life by shifting your focus to everyday things. You do the mundane things right and the cumulative effect will boost your personal development.
Jeff Olson encourages the reader to achieve whatever he wants in life through a handful of daily positive practices, and demonstrates through its lucid arguments the consequences of either applying these practices (which only 5% of the population does) or not applying them (the 95% whose lives remain less than ordinary).
#22. He who thinks he can by Orison Swett Marden
There is a good chance that you won’t have heard of Mr. Marden. A successful magazine writer and author of a bunch of bestsellers, Orison S. Marden started writing around the late 19th century.
“He who thinks he can” was published in the year 1908 and contains more than 100 years of indubitable wisdom.
You’d get a strong sense of deja vu after reading some of the material. The reason is that many modern-day motivational gurus regurgitate what Orison Marden said more than 100 years back.
For instance, he underlined the key attributes common in all wantrepreneurs a century ago: the abundance of self-distrust and tendency to wait for the perfect moment to arrive.
I recommend this to anyone who needs perspective on struggle and decision-making.
#23. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The real McCoy of the personal development arena. Late Stephen Covey’s book is a true publishing legend, it’s the most influential self-improvement book of all times.
The book firmly embossed Covey’s status as the go-to management guru of the 90s.
He talks about 7 mental habits in the book that you need to master to live a full, purposeful and good life. These habits are applicable today more than ever as they are the timeless principles not just for getting stuff done, but for looking at yourself from a higher perspective.
The book became an instant bestseller when it was published in 1989. Three decades later, it continues to sell having sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. How? Because books like these ignore trends and pop psychology.
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” – Stephen Covey
While no book stands alone, this booklist puts the big picture together for the readers.
See, most self-improvement books reinforce 4-5 ideas such as forming habits, getting into habit groove, doing small things well, instilling self-conviction that you can pull off anything, etc. However, each author has a way of telling it differently with different, engaging methods.
The quest for self-improvement appears to be hardwired in humans. We seek it all the time. Even the people who have achieved it all in their lives continually try to find areas of improvement.
The problem occurs when you seek self-improvement literature as if it’s a magic pill.
From Socrates and Samuel Smiles to Orison Swett Marden, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale and Jim Rohn — they all had their own way of saying the same thing.
All of these legendary scholars can’t be wrong.
All of them told their readers in their writings that positive thought leads to positive actions and positive results if the aim and the purpose are passionately believed.
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