Personal development, Recommended Books, Spirituality

Top 28 Self-Development Books (2016)

Update: There are now two newer lists of great personal development books: One here and one here.

When it comes to valuable pursuits, reading is up there.

Aside from the fact that most of us find reading relaxing, the fact that relatively few people actively read gives you an edge when it comes to being successful in the things that are important to you. (How do you discover what those are? By reading of course :))

Life success coach, Tony Robbins, credits his reading habit as helping him “believe that, a) anything can be changed and made better, and if you couldn’t change the physical circumstance you could still change your experience of it; and b) it made me think that reading could transport me to another world where I could find the answers.”

Before he achieved massive success, Robbins “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 like me you’re a massive TR fan, you’ll be interested in knowing what his favorite books are).

Booky benefits 

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Reading is a magic elixir of health. It:

Hacks to get the most from reading

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Just a few tips on how to get the most from your reading:

  • Realize that you will forget most of what you read – and that’s okay. If you keep reading self-development books, after a while you’ll notice that a lot of the messages contain common threads. I think that the knowledge accrues over time and snowballs until one day you suddenly wake up with the wisdom of a person quadruple your age. 
  • Use ipad or kindle e-reader to highlight your best bits. This makes things less passive, more active. When I am reading an actual paper book, I use a highlighter pen. 
  • Write about what you have read (start a blog). Teaching something to someone else is one of the best ways I can think of to ingrain knowledge fast. If you don’t like to write, tell your friends what you learned.
  • Spend some time afterwards hanging out with your new knowledge. If a book has really resonated with me, I don’t go onto the next book right away. I take time to digest it all and try on the new concepts. 

To ingrain new knowledge, write about what you have read - or attempt to explain it to a friend Click To Tweet

Paper versus electronic

There is evidence showing that paper reading might be more beneficial in some ways. I reckon whatever gets the job done is best. 

These days I read on my ipad because I am on the move a lot. If you do and you read at bedtime like me, don’t forget to use your blue blockers (avoids messing with your hormone levels and disrupting sleep). 

Other reading guidelines:

  • Obviously if you want to bring benefits to an area of life, then target your reading. But any/all kinds of reading are beneficial.
  • If you are starting a reading habit, then start with ten minutes a day (or something equally manageable). Read this guide for other tips on habit change. 
  • For the love of God, don’t see through a book if you aren’t enjoying it. One cool guideline is give a book around a hundred pages to grab you. Which let’s be honest, is more time and commitment than some of us give humans.

My top 28 self-development books 

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Love and Relationships

Reading these won’t mean you’re not a dumb-ass in romance. But I can vouch for the fact that they will make you a more self-aware dumb-ass.

  1. In the Meantime: Finding Yourself and the Love You Want – Iyanla Vanzant

I read this after one painful breakup, and boy did it cast some light on a few matters! (Romantic) things have made a lot more sense ever since. 






2. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary D Chapman
Everyone needs to read this. No, seriously – even you married guys. My (happily married) friend James was given it by the minister who married him and his wife. I thought that was so cool. 

This book will transform the way you love, and the way that you communicate your own needs about how to be loved. It is powerful knowledge and I can tell you I have used it to improve all of my relationships (not only romantic). 



3. The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships, Neil Strauss

This gem, from The Game (aka mega sleaze manual from the noughties) author, is a recent addition to the knowledge arsenal.

It was everything I wanted Sex at Dawn (which is also pretty cool) to be: a really honest perspective on the merits of polyamory versus monogamy, and just generally awesome observations on the difficulties we face in modern relationships. Highly entertaining and perspective enhancing. 



4. Get the Guy: Learn Secrets of the Male Mind to Find the Man You Want and the Love You Deserve, Matthew Hussey

(This one’s for the ladies – sorry guys. For you, I would humbly direct you to the offerings of Mark Manson or Jordan Gray).

The reason I l love this so much as it isn’t about manipulating people (‘get the guy’ is a double entendres, meaning to understand the guy, too). In a kind-but-direct style, Matt Hussey talks all about being the kind of women who lives a ‘high-value life’. Awesome, practical and genuinely useful. If you took on board everything in here, you’d never waste your time on dodgy dudes again. 


5. Keeping the Love You Find: A Single Persons Guide to Achieving Lasting Love, by Harville Hendrix
Amazing (although dense in places) read that helps you to understand why you choose and attract the partners you do (it’s all about unmet needs from childhood). Illuminating and transformational.






Self-love/Self esteem

This gets its own category because I have never met a single human that doesn’t have work to do in this area. That, and it is just so fundamental to our ability to enjoy life and create one that is meaningful for us. 

6. I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead, Byron Katie

Byron Katie has probably contributed one of the most important concepts (‘The Work’) to personal development in our lifetime. Her teachings have transformed millions of lives. Read this and you’ll catch (and eventually stop) yourself from looking for love from outside sources. 




7. I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love, David R. Hamilton Ph.D

Really accessible explanation of how we become unstuck in the self-love department, and super practical ways to address that. Nice that it is written from a rare male perspective. I wrote an post based on this book, which you can read here. 




8. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field
Nathaniel Branden

For those of us that really want (need) to go to town on this subject, this is the book. Branden breaks this down into the six practices of living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully and personal integrity. Self esteem is the natural result of these practices. 




9. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown

Brene’s books have taken the personal development genre by storm and deservedly so. This one explains how to cultivate the courage, compassion, resilience and other things that help us to realize that we are already enough, flaws and everything. This really consolidated things for me.




10. You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay

Potent explanation of changing how you feel about yourself through affirmations. Told with wisdom and warmth. Might make you cry. 








There are so many in this category that have been beneficial. These really stood out at top tier for me, though. 

11. The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Deborah Ford

I’ll never forget the day I read this from a beach during a vacation in my late twenties. Prompted such massive ‘ah-ha’ moments, and I still use the knowledge now. Also the best explanation of projection I have ever come across. 





12. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle

Only me and approximately ten million others have found this mindfulness manual helpful in life. Really the key takeaway here is why everything except the present moment is a less optimal mental place to inhabit (only the book says that a lot better). 




13. After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, Jack Kornfield

Jack’s teachings have been awfully helpful for me over the years. This guide helps you to deal with adjusting to the real world after a transformational experience (like a weekend course). Dealing with the reality of what it means to live a ‘spiritual’ or soul centered life – that it’s still going to be sh**ty at times. 




14. Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins M.D. Ph.D.

Seriously powerful instructional manual on how to forgive. We all have people we need to forgive for our better health. 





15. When Everything Changes, Change Everything: In a Time of Turmoil, a Pathway to Peace, Neale Donald Walsch

Ridiculously helpful for leaning into scary feelings of fear and uncertainty.







Food, nutrition and eating psychology

There are a hell of a lot of great books out there on the subject of optimal nutrition now. Here is a teeny selection to give you an idea. 

IMO, everyone needs at least one solid grounding in Paleo nutrition, vegetarianism, live foodism, food/eating psychology and gut health. Oh and a few good books on cooking/food preparation, which I haven’t listed – but here is a decent list. 

16. Conscious Eating, Gabriel Cousens M.D.

Honestly, this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For me, it was transformational as I became aware of the other ‘properties’ that food has – affecting our bodies, minds, emotions, and spiritual life. Authoritative, in-depth and brilliant. 





17. Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, Geneen Roth

Geneen has helped many women (me included) break free from a negative body image. 






18. The Raw Food Detox Diet: The Five-Step Plan for Vibrant Health and Maximum Weight Loss (Raw Food Series)Natalia Rose

This was a really important foray for me into the raw food world. I still use its principles as a guiding post when it comes to my nutrition.





19. The Body Ecology Guide to Growing Younger: Anti-ageing Wisdom for Every Generation, Donna Gates

I don’t think I have encountered a better integrative guide to nutrition and natural anti-aging than this. 






20. The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet, Robb Wolf 

Switched me on to the Paleo diet – I needed to include this as my diet changed pretty significantly after reading it. There are many other reputable books on the same subject that have sprung up since this was published. Creds to Robb though, this is still one of the best for me.





Passion and Productivity

It doesn’t get more important than breaking down limiting beliefs and getting clarity in the area of purpose, passion and productivity. These things matter to all of us, and it’s a rare soul that doesn’t benefit from a little assistance. These books did that for me.

21. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield

So awesome. Highly readable, entertaining, and startlingly clear account of how ‘The Resistance’ operates to scupper our creative endeavors. Genuinely helps you to tame the beast. 





22. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Liz Gilbert is definitely one of my heroes. This isn’t like Eat Pray Love, which is also a life-changing read for lots of people. Big Magic gave me new and beneficial perspectives on what it means to live a creative life. And if (like me) you thought you wasn’t creative, then you’re very wrong – and you definitely need to read it.




23. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg

Another recent addition, I got so much from this and felt 100% more equipped to change unhelpful habits afterwards. Was moved enough to write this post based on it. 






Miscellaneous awesomeness

Law of Attraction

24E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality
Pam Grout

Highly transformational practical guide to how to do this ‘law of attraction’ thing. Quite startling to experience the experiments.





Quitting smoking 

25. Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking: The Easyway To Stop Smoking, Allen Carr

Had to include this, as reading it turned into quite the fork-in-the-road experience for me. Aside from the obvious health benefits of stopping smoking, it switched me on to the transformational power of books. After reading it, I sought to learn everything I could on health, wellbeing and personal development…and I’m still going.




Confident communication

26. Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up, Patricia Ryan Madson

Loved this. Transformed my levels of confidence and trust in myself in conversation with people. When you apply this, conversation begins to get super interesting – and a lot of fun.





Neuroscience/ meditation / habit change

27. Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One, Dr. Joe Dispenza

A cutting edge and exciting book on the mechanics of personal transformation. It’s accessible, and if you applied everything in here consistently, you’d be rocking.





Entrepreneurial spirit

28. Anyone Can Do It: Building Coffee Republic from Our Kitchen Table – 57 Real Life Laws on Entrepreneurship, Sahar Hashemi

Really feeds an entrepreneurial spirit. Reading this helped me to let go of limiting beliefs I had around achievement and inspired the hell out of me. 






Other cool reading lists 

man-791049_640 (2)1. Kim and Kalee’s 71 of the Best Books for Success

2. Good Men Project’s The 5 Best Books On Cultivating Healthy Relationships 

3. Development Good Habits’ 16 Best Personal Development Books

4. Quick and Dirty Tips’ Best Nutrition Books

5. Greatist’s must read books in health and fitness


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About Rezzan Hussey

Hi, I'm Rez, and this is my personal development blog! Brain training techniques, ancient teachings, personal transformation courses, self-development books - nothing's off the table here. I post twice per week. Stay and look around :)