I became interested in personal development a few years ago. My goal was to learn how to manage myself better by understanding how the mind works and building good habits.
Since then, I’ve read quite a few books on the topic. Here are the 10 books that I found most useful in my personal development journey. They are the ones the had the biggest influence on changing the way I approach life, and hopefully, in reading these, they will have the same positive effect on your life too.
Note: Clicking on any of the book images will take you to my more detailed review of the book.
1. Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz (Amazon link)
This is the book that started it all for me. I would consider it required reading if you are going to take your personal development seriously. Dr. Maltz provides information and exercises that you can apply to your life immediately. I would consider Psycho-Cybernetics a foundation book in the realm of managing one’s self, which starts, as Dr. Maltz explains, by understanding and managing one’s thoughts.
2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Amazon Link)
There’s a reason why this book remains a perennial best-seller, is consistently talked about by motivational speakers, and has been read by many successful people. The book is full of sound and solid principles that enable you to build the processes and habits to not only achieve success but also become a better person along the way. It’s another foundation book that I would urge you to read before proceeding with other books on this list.
If you are only able to read two books on this list, I would strongly urge you to read 7 Habits and Psycho-Cybernetics. These two books alone will change your approach to life.
3. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson (Amazon link)
The best books are those that have a simple message, such as the one in The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. His point is that overnight successes do not exist. Instead, our success is based on making a series of good choices that compound over time and lead to success. The same process works in reverse – a series of bad decisions will ultimately lead to our failure. The good news is this according to Olson. When you end up on a bad path, you are always only one decision, one choice, from getting back on a good path. It’s simple, powerful, and something you can put to work for you right away.
Having and maintaining a positive outlook on like, especially in difficult and dark times, is one of the keys, in my opinion, to living at peace with one’s self. Dr. Peale goes through numerous examples of how he has seen the power of positive thinking do wonders in other people’s lives, including his own, and explains how you can put the power of positive thinking to work in your life, regardless of your situation. It’s a message that’s just as applicable today as when it was first published in 1952.
5. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen (Amazon link)
My favorite development books are those that stand the test of time, so it’s not surprise that 4 of the top 5 books were first published over 30 years ago. In the case of As A Man Thinketh, it was first published in 1903. What Allen stated over 100 years ago remains true today. Our thoughts shape our lives. What we think determines who we are. The vision that you hold in your mind, the ideal that you cherish in your heart – this you will build your life by, this you will become.
It’s a short read at under 50 pages and proves that you don’t need to write a book of 300 pages to communicate a simple, powerful, effective message.
6. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (Amazon link)
Most of the books you read on personal development are theoretical. The Happiness Advantage is an exception. Achor leverages research done while at Harvard to show how people who make the choice to be happy live more successful and fulfilling lives. The key is people who make the choice to be happy. His research follows people in similar circumstances so he could see and record the outcomes in people who took different approaches to life. The Happiness Advantage will reinforce the fact that we will all have a choice to make, and making the choice to be happy is the best approach.
7. Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday (Amazon link)
As part of my personal development journey, I’ve discovered Stoicism, a philosophy from ancient Greek and Roman times. Stoicism is seeing somewhat of a revival thanks in part to the efforts of Ryan Holiday. He has written numerous books around the philosophy. Ego Is the Enemy is rooted in Stoicism but also offers many other great insights. My biggest takeaway was that at any given time in the circle of life, we may be aspiring, succeeding, or failing. With wisdom, we understand that these positions are temporary, not statements about our value as a human being.
8. Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck (Amazon link)
In Mindset, Dweck separates people in two types – those who have a growth mindset and those who have a fixed mindset. Her research shows that those people who believe that we are always learning and can improve our skills (growth mindset) achieve more success than those who believe we born with an innate set of skills (fixed mindset). She points out, of course, that we are all a blend of the two mindsets. However, the more we are able to adopt a growth mindset, the better off we will be.
9. Essentialism by Greg McKeown (Amazon link)
There are a lot of books out there that talk about the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule, or the Law of the Vital Few. Essentialism is written in that vein. Of the books I’ve read on the subject, McKeown does the best job of explaining the concepts behind the principle and how you can integrate it into your daily habits. He even goes into specific situations that can throw you off course and provides recommendations on how to handle them to stay focused.
Learning how to incorporate the Law of the Vital Few into your daily life is an important habit. Essentialism is more practical and applicable than many similar books I’ve read on the subject.
10. Mastery by George Leonard (Amazon link)
In Mastery, Leonard lays out how one can become an expert in one’s field of study. Spoiler alert – it isn’t a simple path, and there isn’t a pill you can take to make it happen. Leonard’s findings reveal that we need to dedicate ourselves to the craft we choose to pursue. The road to mastery comes through dedication, learning, and relentless pursuit of wanting to be the very best at what one chooses to do in life. Most importantly, mastery is not a destination one achieves. It is a journey on which we are always learning. It sounds obvious, but it’s antithetical to our modern, media-driven culture that likes to glamorize the hero story, the person who appears to achieve expert status without trying. A story which is seldom if ever true.
Bonus book: Man’s Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl (Amazon link)
As you read through the above list of books, you may see references to the Viktor Frankl classic, Man’s Search for Meaning. The book is not for the feint of heart. Frankl recounts the time he spent in Nazi concentration camps during World War 2. The descriptions are brutal and graphic, but Frankl shows how these experiences allowed him to learn a lot about himself, and human nature in general. There are so many important lessons to be taken from the book, with the most important being the decisions and choices a person must make to find meaning in their existence, even under the most severe and extreme circumstances. When you’re ready to up your personal development game, be certain to read this classic.
Daily reading: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (Amazon link)
One of the habits that came out of my personal development journey is doing a daily reading. It’s a great way to start your day, and one that I hope you would adopt as well. Finding a reading on your own can be challenging, so it helps to have a book that has a reading for each day. The Daily Stoic fills that void by supplying a thought for each day of the year from a noted Stoic from ancient times. In addition, a short passage is provided with each thought that explains it in more detail and how to apply it. I enjoyed the book so much that I read each day in 2018, AND 2019.
One of my guiding life principles is that we are always learning, or as Ryan Holiday would say – “always stay a student.” So, if there are any books you’ve come across that have had a significant impact on your approach to life, feel free to leave them in the comments. I’m always looking for new books to add to my reading list.