Ihad to think very carefully about this list of personal growth/self-development books!
I’ve read a lot of self-development books. And though loads have been interesting and insightful, only a relative few have stayed with me for years and years.
A great personal growth book can change your life. I agree with motivational speaker Tony Robbins, who says reading has always given him a lot of hope, and helped him “believe that anything can be changed and made better”. Before he achieved massive success, Robbins apparently took a speed-reading course and read 700 books in seven years—all on psychology, physiology, anything that could make a difference in life. (If you’re curious, here are his favorite books).
I’ve been doing a less intense version of that myself. It wasn’t always self-development books; when I was a kid, I’d chomp through the Anastasia series (remember those?), and later Agatha Christie and – of course – Dan Brown. But since my mid-twenties, I have gravitated towards personal growth books. I must have gotten through hundreds. Some have had a more longer lasting impact, and as I said, these are the ones that made the cut.
Let’s get to it.
Success/ personal effectiveness
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Stephen Covey
Read if: You want the fundamentals in effective personal management. Stephen Covey’s habits changed my life. I re-read this recently, and although it didn’t make the same impact it did years ago (obviously), I still felt like I benefited from the reminders. The first principle – all about taking responsibility – is something I live by.
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
Read if: You don’t like traditional self-development books, but want to read a story that’ll change the way you see the challenges of your life. I’m going to just say it: everyone should read this.
The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and business, Charles Duhigg
Read if: You want to understand exactly how to change your habits. If you are interested in that subject, you should probably read this article.
The Four Agreements: a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz
Read if: You need a powerful code of conduct to live by: one that will bring you more happiness and fulfillment.
Mindset: the new Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck
Read if: You want to understand how one single belief that you have (or don’t have) can shape all of your decisions and affect your life. This is another self-development book I wish I read earlier.
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon
Read if: You feel like being inspired to conquer the world. Austin makes you feel like genius is within all of our grasps. Which in a way, it is.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield
Read if: You want to understand why you procrastinate and finally to stop doing it.
Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life, Shakti Gawain
Read if: You want to teach yourself the go-to tool of athletes, top performers and entrepreneurs. Here is a guide I wrote to CV.
The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness, Jeff Olson
Read if: You want to empower yourself to take manageable steps in the direction of your dreams.
Anyone Can Do It: Building Coffee Republic from Our Kitchen Table – 57 Real Life Laws on Entrepreneurship, Sahar Hashemi
Read if: You want to start the business of your dreams. This non traditional self-development book will always have a space in my heart – it made me realise that opening a restaurant wasn’t for me.
As a Man Thinketh, James Allen
Read if: You want to know how your thoughts create your life. This short self-development book is very powerful. Everyone should read it as it really inspires you to take control of your thinking and thoughts.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport
Read if: You want to be successful in your work during this time. This is an important self-development book for right now. Cal’s book changes the way you relate with your smartphone and other electronic devices. Read an article I wrote based on the book here.
Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, Patricia Ryan Madson
Read if: You want to be a more confident, authentic communicator and just loosen up and enjoy your life more.
Psychology and self-knowledge
The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul, Danielle LaPorte
Read if: You want to understand why the goals you set for yourself fill you with dread and apathy, and how to really set goals. See also article on how to set goals.
Why Do I Do That?: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives, Joseph Burgo
Read if: Yes I know I keep saying it, but everyone needs to read this to understand how and when they use defense mechanisms to alleviate anxiety, but also to stay stuck in life. Here is an article based on the book.
The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso
Read if: You want to understand your unconscious patterns of behaviour, and a road-map for your spiritual development and progression. This was the most important personal growth book I read in recent years. Read this article about the Enneagram for more of an idea on what it us.
Love and relationships
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, 3rd Edition: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships, by Marshall Rosenberg
Read if: You want something practical to empower your communications in relationships. I wish I read this sooner than I did. It has definitely changed my life.
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary D Chapman
Read if: You want to understand how to love your partner better, and tell them how to love you better. Everyone needs to read this, if only to know what everyone keeps talking about. If you have never come across the five love languages, they are the different forms that each of us give and receive love. Loving your partner in the wrong language for them might mean you can be wasting a lot of effort, only to find you still have an unhealthy relationship. Gary says knowing eachother’s love languages is a secret to relationship success. Having lived with this knowledge for quite a few years now, I have to agree it is important.
Keeping the Love You Find: A Personal Guide, Harville Hendrix
Read if: You want to understand more about how your unmet needs from childhood influence your adult relationships. This incredible self-development book explains how choosing better partners and sustaining intimacy in relationships requires confronting baggage from your childhood. It explains how emotional legacy from our formative years means we unconsciously gravitate towards certain types of partner. It is quite heavy and hard work but really insightful. Hendrix has written other very popular books on related content.
The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship: A Toltec Wisdom Book, Don Miguel Ruiz
Read if: You want to finally understand that love comes from within not without.
Attached: Create Your Perfect Relationship with the Help of the Three Attachment Styles, Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Read if: You want to identify your attachment style and understand your style affects your relationship happiness. See also this article on 14 things you need to know about Attachment Theory.
I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead, Byron Katie
Read if: You want to stop trying so hard to gain love and approval of others. Byron Katie has probably contributed one of the most important concepts (‘The Work’) to personal development in our lifetime.
The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Deborah Ford
Read this: If you want to finally understand why you get aggravated by the things you do, and how that keeps you stuck in life. I’ll never forget the day I read this from a beach during a vacation in my late twenties. Completely changed my life. Showed me how to recognise my hidden emotions. This book was my first introduction to the Shadow Self, which I now think of as one of the most important aspects of ourselves to be aware of.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle
Read if: You’re interested in waking up to your power and ability to control your own perspective and happiness. This personal growth book has sold over 2 million copies and changed a lot of lives.
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins M.D. Ph.D
Read if: You are interested in freeing yourself from negativity. This is probably the book I have given away the most times. The letting go technique is a mechanism of surrender which you can just use as life happens.
When Everything Changes, Change Everything: In a Time of Turmoil, a Pathway to Peace, Neale Donald Walsch
Read if: You have just been through or going through a huge unsettling change.
The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, Pema Chodron
Read if: You want a life-changing approach to showing up with the challenges in your life.
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, Tara Brach
Read if: You want to learn how to love and accept yourself more. See also this guide I wrote to some of my favorite exercises from the book.
Creating on Purpose: The Spiritual Technology of Manifesting Through the Chakras, Anodea Judith
Read if: You want a different perspective on how to realize your highest aspirations. Eastern philosophy says there are seven stages to manifesting anything – whether it’s a start up, a book, a painting, a relationship, or even just a habit. Read this article for an idea of what the book is all about.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives, Dan Millman
Read if: Traditional spiritual books irritate you a bit. This book leads you to great universal truths through the story of Dan Millman, a world champion athlete, who takes an inner journey whilst guided by a powerful old warrior named Socrates.
The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT, Russ Harris
Read if: You want freedom from anxiety. You can read the main takeaways about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) here. This is full of practical mindfulness-based exercises that I haven’t come across elsewhere. The distinction between the Thinking and Observing self helped me hugely with my mindfulness practice.
Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, Joe Dispenza
Read if: You want to understand exactly how you can reprogram your negative brain. In my opinion, Joe speaks the clearest about the mind body link.