Self-development books have been enormously popular for decades, but with so many on the market, how do you find the ones that really resonate with you?
Some books are great at helping you turn the page and start again, while others can give our motivation a much-needed boost. Whether you want to learn to live in the moment and not be consumed by worry, or you’re hoping to become more confident, there are books and authors out there who have tackled these topics.
The great thing about self-development books is that the right one can give you clarity, direction, and a sense of empowerment. It can also help you work out what’s most important to you, and where you want to focus your time and energy. To get a taste for what’s out there, here are 15 of our favourite self-development books that’ll help you be your happiest, healthiest self.
1. The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now is one of the most famous self-help books in the world, and for good reason. Arguably the book that’s had the most impact on our collective consciousness, The Power of Now is a guide to spiritual practice and how it can transform your life.
When the book came out in the 90s, many of us had never heard of mindfulness, the practice that encourages us to live in the present moment. Today, the benefits of mindfulness, like alleviating depression and stress, and improving emotional intelligence, are widely accepted by science.
If you’re sometimes consumed by worries and anxiety, and would like to be able to fully embrace the present moment, reading Eckhart Tolle’s classic book can give you the insight needed to change your life.
2. The Chimp Paradox, by Professor Stephen Peters
Do you ever feel like you sabotage your own happiness? Are you ruled by your emotions? Or do you sometimes struggle to understand yourself? If so, you’re certainly not alone – and The Chimp Paradox might be the book you need to help you recognise how your mind works and better understand and manage your thoughts and feelings.
Though the book is based on scientific facts and principles, Dr Stephen Peters uses layman’s terms to describe his theories and provides lots of self-improvement exercises for you to work on. His mind management model can give you the skills needed to lessen anxiety, boost confidence, and manage your emotions, as well as identify what’s holding you back.
The Chimp Paradox is a truly powerful book that enables you to improve your daily life and develop the skills and habits that allow you to be the person you really want to be.
3. The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch
What would you say, if you only had a few weeks left to live? What kind of messages would you want to convey? What knowledge would you impart to the world? For computer science professor Randy Pausch, these weren’t hypothetical questions.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer and with only a short time to live, Pausch decided to leave his legacy in his book, The Last Lecture – and what a beautifully optimistic and inspiring legacy it is.
Packed with uplifting stories and written with humour and intelligence, this book highlights the importance of overcoming obstacles, helping other people, and seizing every moment. It isn’t about the cards you’re dealt, Pausch writes, it’s about how you play your hand. Being a good person, chasing your dreams, and living a life of value are some of the best things we can do with our time on this planet.
4. Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill
Another old-school classic on this list, Think and Grow Rich has been making waves since 1937, and is thought to be the first book to explicitly link the power of positive thinking with not only making money, but being truly happy.
Napoleon Hill’s 13-step programme promises to set you on the path to true success – whatever that looks like for you – and reveals the secrets of many of the world’s most affluent people.
So much more than a ‘get rich quick book’, Think and Grow Rich is also a profound guide to what really matters in life and emphasises the fact that it’s a strong and focused desire that gives us the power to achieve what we want – not money itself. As Hill stresses at the very beginning of his book, “Riches can’t always be measured in money”.
5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
Another well-known classic, this book is just as relevant as it was when it was first published 30 years ago. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has changed the lives of millions of people of all ages and occupations.
Stephen R. Covey’s emphasis on self-renewal, leadership and creativity might be just what you need to access the power of your own physical, mental, and spiritual resources.
While the book lays out seven habits we need to adapt to become truly effective, he also conveys an incredibly powerful message: that living with fairness and integrity is the path to true success and happiness.
Part guide, part spiritual wisdom, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People presents a practical approach for solving both personal and professional problems, and gives you the knowledge and confidence to adapt to change and take advantage of opportunities.
6. Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy
Almost all of us wish we could be more productive. Often, it seems there just isn’t enough time in the day to cross everything off our to-do list – because usually there isn’t. But what if you were able to stop procrastinating and learn to focus on the tasks that are truly important to you?
Most of us have experienced that feeling of reluctance to start a big task, and when we finally get around to doing it, we’re easily distracted.
Eat That Frog! will teach you how to get your priorities straight, break large tasks into more doable bitesize ones, and better organise your day. You’ll not only get more done in a much faster time, but you’ll also get the right things done – and enjoy the process as you go.
7. Man’s Search For Meaning, by Victor. E. Frankl
Before the Second World War, Viktor Frankl was a prominent Viennese psychiatrist. But during the war, he was forced to labour in four different Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
In Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl writes about his experiences as a psychiatrist and as a prisoner in the concentration camps, focusing on his observations that the people who showed empathy and helped others were the ones most likely to survive.
Part memoir, part psychological investigation, and part self-help book, one of the key takeaways from this chilling yet uplifting book is that finding meaning lies at the very heart of being human – and finding ways to transcend suffering and help others is often the secret to moving forward with purpose.
8. Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown
Many of us have faced times in our lives when we struggle to find purpose and meaning. We might feel scared, stressed, isolated, or alone – or that we don’t really know who we are or what we want. What we’re experiencing through these feelings, according to social scientist Brené Brown, is a spiritual crisis of disconnection.
In Braving the Wilderness, Brown explains that true belonging requires us to believe in ourselves to the point where we’re comfortable being a part of something, but also happy standing alone when necessary. In a world where we often aim for perfectionism and pleasing, staying quiet and trying to fit can often feel like the easier option.
Packed with stories of courage, vulnerability, love, and empathy, this book will inspire you to be comfortable in who you are – and by being yourself, find true belonging.
9. The More of Less, by Joshua Becker
Most of us know we probably have too much ‘stuff’ – which might be why minimalist living has become increasingly popular recently. But the beauty of minimalism isn’t in what it takes away – it’s in what it gives, and in The More of Less, Joshua Becker helps you recognise the huge benefits of owning less.
Excess consumption doesn’t bring happiness; it only brings about a tiring demand for more, and our possessions result in more chores, more cleaning, more managing, and organising. Becker’s message is that to make room in your life for what you really want, you have to declutter.
This book is packed with advice on finding your own minimalist style, prioritising the life you really want, and not being distracted by ‘stuff’. Life is better lived with less, he writes, and in order to maximise happiness, we need to minimise possession.
10. The Up Side of Down, by Megan McArdle
Failure is part of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy pill to swallow. Most new products fail and so do most businesses. Most of us have experienced serious setbacks in our lives – and many of us might currently be struggling to bounce back.
In The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, business blogger Megan McArdle shows why embracing failure, not dreading it, ultimately helps you come out on top.
Using stories from successful people from all walks of lives, this book will teach you how to reinvent yourself in the face of failure, learn important lessons from your mistakes, and allow you to keep going when you hit bumps in your career or life.
11. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, by Kamal Ravikant
Self-improvement books have always been intrinsically linked to the idea of self-love. Self-love isn’t about congratulating yourself all the time and thinking you’re the best – it’s merely about being appreciative of who you are and trying to think positively about yourself. We often critique ourselves and put ourselves down without even realising it, and this fills us with negativity and self-doubt.
In Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It author Kamal Ravinkant writes frankly about the depression that threatened to overwhelm him, and how he began a positive journey of self-growth by meditating and practising self-love.
Honest, dynamic, and compelling, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to feel more balanced and positive about themselves, and improve both their physical and emotional health.
12. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
Many of us worry about our finances, and if you’d like to change your views about money and uncover new opportunities to earn, you might want to pick up a copy of Rich Dad Poor Dad. Known as the best personal finance book of all time, Kiyosaki’s book dispels the idea that you need to have a high salary job to make a decent living.
Growing up with two ‘dads’ – his real father and his friend’s father (the ‘rich dad’), Kiyosaki experienced two very different mindsets about money. He learned the difference between working for money and having your money work for you, and in this book he examines how the principles taught by his rich dad stood the test of time.
The book is packed with information and interesting theories, challenging the belief that houses are assets, defining an asset and a liability, and explaining why you can’t rely on school to teach children what they need to know about money.
13. Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg
In spite of our world becoming more connected, many of us are struggling more than ever with knowing what we want to do with our lives and actually getting things done. In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Charles Duhigg explains why that is and how we can achieve more.
In Smarter, Faster, Better, Duhigg describes the eight simple principles that control productivity, explains how the most successful people deploy them, and then shows you how you can do the same. If you want to become more productive, yet less busy, this is the book that will show you how.
14. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
First published in 1937, this classic book is known as one of the greatest self-development books of all time. Millions of people around the world have improved their lives by following the teachings of Dale Carnegie, who was nicknamed ‘the arch-priest of the art of making friends’.
In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie shows you how to make friends, improve your popularity, persuade people to agree with your opinions, and become a better speaker. These are all qualities that can help enhance our personal lives, but because the book also underlines how to win new clients and customers, and boost enthusiasm among your coworkers, it’s also known as a book that can seriously enhance your professional life too.
If you want to become a better communicator or more of a ‘people person’, this book will show you some techniques to help.
15. The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
Falling in love can be easy… but staying in love and maintaining a happy relationship is much harder. Keeping our relationships fresh and healthy amidst the general demands and conflicts of everyday life can be challenging, but reading The 5 Love Languages can help your relationships to flourish and thrive.
Chapman’s book will teach you the best ways to communicate with your partner, show how you feel, and get both of your needs met. With homework included to help you practise each skill, you’ll soon be able to experience deeper levels of intimacy and happiness with your partner.
Reading the right book can both inspire and excite us – it can also help us to feel calmer, more confident, and at peace, and to make sense of the world around us.
Guided self- reflection can also help us understand the things that are important to us and figure out what it is we want to do with our lives – it can even give us the conviction and positivity to make change happen.
The road to self-development can be long, but with the right principles guiding and inspiring us, it’s infinitely easier, and far more enjoyable.