Update as at 11/10/2016: There is now a newer list of my top self-development books.
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).
Reading is a magic elixir of health. It:
- Makes you more empathetic.
- Enhances connectivity in the brain.
- Improves ‘Theory of Mind‘ – basically makes us better thinkers.
- Is one of the best ways there is to acquire information rapidly (see Tony Robbins quote above).
- ‘Irrelevant reading’ sparks creativity.
- Improves memory.
- Helps to improve emotional IQ.
- Lowers stress and depression.
- Reduces the risk of developing dementia.
- Makes us feel good and happy.
- Creates otherwise positive neurological change in the brain.
- Helps to improve your attention span, writing skills and vocabulary (pretty critical things).
- Makes you a hotter prospect (YES!)
Hacks to get the most from reading
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are so many in this category that have been beneficial. These really stood out at top tier for me, though.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Law of Attraction
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.
Neuroscience/ meditation / habit change
Other cool reading lists
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