Building better habits is one of the most important skills to master if you want to improve your life.
The tricky part about building good habits is that it’s not as straightforward as people think it is. You can’t just tell yourself you’re going to start reading every day, or exercising every day, and then actually go make it happen.
If that was the case, we’d all live incredibly fulfilling lives. The key separator between those who consistently create positive change and those don’t are the tactics and strategies they implement to make habits stick.
In today’s article, we’re going to talk about the best books on habits that will give you the knowledge necessary to build better habits and improve your life.
Knowledge comes before action. It’s a lot easier to change your life if you’re following a blueprint guided by the right principles, and that’s exactly what these books will help you with.
The Power of Good Habits
Before we get into the best books on habits, I want to talk about the impact that habits have had on my life.
Before I learned about the psychology of habit formation and the various strategies that make forming good habits a piece of cake, I was stuck on what I like to call the “self-improvement hamster wheel.”
Here’s how it would go – I would realize there were things about my life that needed to change, set huge goals, and then vow to take action every day on those goals. Yet despite my best intentions, I’d routinely find myself stuck in the exact same position four months later, no closer to my goals and more lost than before.
But luckily, time heals all wounds. So I’d dust myself off, get back up and repeat the same process, which ultimately produced the same results – that’s what it’s like to be stuck on the self-improvement hamster wheel.
The constant string of failure is what motivated me to dive into topics like neuroscience, habit formation, and behavioral psychology. I simply couldn’t understand that despite being motivated, and setting the right goals, my efforts to change failed repeatedly.
After reading everything I could get my hands on regarding building better habits, I came to the realization that it wasn’t me that was the problem – it was my system.
I’m a firm believer that the reason why most people don’t change their lives is not because they aren’t talented enough, or because they don’t have the willpower or self-discipline.
It’s because they lack a fundamental understanding of how to consistently stick to new habits using a proven system.
If you feel like that resonates with you, I actually have a free ebook that I put together talking about the three steps you need to consistently stick to new habits. Feel free to check it out if you’re interested by clicking here.
To make a long story short, my research helped me develop a personal system for building new habits that’s been quite successful and has completely turned my life around. And to be truly honest with you guys, it doesn’t feel that hard to build new habits.
When your efforts to change are guided by the right principles, it shouldn’t feel like a constant uphill battle where you’re exerting ridiculous self-discipline and willpower. If that’s the case, then you’re doing it wrong.
The books we’re about to talk about are all ones that I’ve read in order to better understand what it takes for people to change their lives.
Let’s dive into the best books on habits so that you can acquire the knowledge necessary to finally make the changes that you’ve been waiting months, years, or even decades to make.
Top 10 Best Books on Habits
On this list, you’ll find a variety of books – some are more based more in theory while others get straight to the point and focus on specific action steps that tell you exactly what to do.
Which kind of book you prefer is going to depend greatly upon your goals. If you truly want to understand a subject matter, you need to grasp the theory behind it.
The point of my research was two-fold – come to a deep understanding about habits, and solve my own struggles with behavior change. I wanted to understand what to do, but I also wanted to understand the why behind those actions. To meet both of those goals, I read books that were theory based and action-based.
Your goals might be simpler – such as finally getting of the belly fat that you’ve been lugging around for years. If that’s the case, I’ll be sure to mention which books are more theory based, and which are more centered around action.
That way, regardless of your goals, the recommendations will be tailored to your needs.
#1 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
“Atomic Habits” is the book that started it all for me. This book isn’t just my favorite book about habits, it’s my favorite personal development book of all time.
Being introduced to the material provided in this book completely shifted my mindset around change. I hate using the word “epiphany,” but my experience reading Atomic Habits was pretty damn close to that feeling.
My main takeaway from the books was this – If you want to change your life, you have to focus on small, incremental changes that seem like they have no impact on your results.
One quote that really strikes me from this book is that “Every decision you make is a vote for the type of person that you want to become.”
If you want to build up evidence of a new identity, you need to start by making different decisions. And those decisions, no matter how small they seem, give your brain evidence that you are a different person.
Along with profound insights into the philosophies of change, Clear also guides you through proven tactics for forming new habits and breaking bad ones. His writing is concise and easy to understand, as he breaks down complex psychological principles into digestible language that you can follow along with to improve your life.
No disrespect to all of the other books on this list, but if you could only read one book on habits for the rest of your life, this is the one that you get.
#2 – Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg
BJ Fogg is one of the most well-known behavioral psychologists in the world today, and also happens to be responsible for writing one of the best books on habits ever written.
Fogg’s message is quite similar to Clear’s – if you want to change your life, you need to tone down your ambition and commit to small, tiny shifts in your daily behaviors.
Behavior change is hard, but oftentimes we insist on making it even more difficult by aiming too high and relying on motivation. Using the Fogg Behavior Model, he explains that the likelihood of a behavior occurring depends upon how hard the behavior is and our current motivation levels.
If we tell ourselves that we’re going to run for 30 minutes every day, we’re never going to make this a habit because our motivation needs to be at peak levels in order for the behavior to occur. However, a tiny habit like getting on our running shoes is something we can do regardless of how we feel.
In this book, Fogg outlines a simple 7 step process for changing any aspect of your life. He quite literally takes your hand and guides through the exact same process that he’s used with hundreds of thousands of people to help them build better habits. He also includes an extensive list of 300 tiny habits that you can choose from, covering all major areas of your life.
Fogg has decades of experience with helping people change their behavior, and he doesn’t hold anything back in this book.
#3 – Mini Habits by Stephen Guise
Mini Habits is a concise (only 128 pages) but incredibly valuable book that teaches you how to consistently stick to new habits by reducing them to their tiniest version.
How many times have you told yourself that you’re going to start going to the gym every day, only to find yourself back on the couch a few weeks later?
How many times have you told yourself that you’re going to be productive, but instead you end up binge watching Netflix for a few hours?
Guise explains the psychology behind why you continually retreat to old, self-destructive patterns and give you the framework to stop self-sabotage.
Using anecdotes from his own life, he describes how he built a habit of going to the gym every day by starting with just doing one push up per day. He explains how he’s now able to consistently write over 2,000 words per day even though he started off with a small habit of writing just 50 words per day.
The transformative power of small habits is a focus of many of the books on this list, and Mini Habits certainly lives up to its title by covering everything you need to know about shrinking your biggest goals into mini habits you can stick to daily.
#4 – Elastic Habits by Stephen Guise
Elastic Habits is Guise’s follow up to his first book Mini Habits. While Mini Habits will teach you everything you need to know about the tactics necessary to form new habits, Elastic Habits takes things a step further and helps you systematize your efforts.
Guise humbly admits that “Mini Habits” helped people break the cycle of starting and stopping new behaviors, but didn’t really provide a framework of what to do after certain small habits are established.
As you constantly repeat a behavior every day, your willpower and motivation increase naturally. This means that in order to see accelerated progress, you need to challenge yourself. Guise explains that this is where small habits can fall short – they don’t give you a bigger target to reach at, which hinders your gains.
He corrects this by walking through a flexible system of progression that you can implement in order to track your progress and see measurable improvement. By creating mini, plus, and elite versions of a particular behavior, you can take advantage of the days when your motivation levels are at their peak and push yourself towards greatness.
“Mini Habits” is certainly enough to get you started, but if you’re looking for Guise’s most innovative work then this is the book that you should pick up.
#5 – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
When it comes to habits, this is really the book that started it all. Whether they admit it or not, every author who published a book after “The Power of Habit” was influenced by Duhigg’s work.
The Power of Habit is one of the all time classics when it comes to the best books on habits largely because it was the first book that helped the general public understand how their habits are formed.
Duhigg introduced people to the idea of the “habit loop,” which is a neurological process that explains how all of our current habits form. More importantly though, he talks about how to manipulate the habit loop in order to make forming new habits easier.
If there’s one critique I have about this book, it’s that it’s very much grounded in theory, as Duhigg doesn’t really tell you what to do about your own habits until about two-thirds of the way through the book.
#6 – Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Steve Scott
In this book, Scott goes into detail about “habit stacking,” a technique that allows you to build multiple habits at once without really breaking a sweat.
Without getting too far into the weeds, the basic principle of habit stacking is that many of our habits are actually routines. For example, your nighttime routine typically involves brushing your teeth, turning the lights off, and changing into your pajamas, all in the same order. It’s a series of actions you repeat in the same order regardless of how you’re feeling.
Scott shows you exactly how to apply this same principle to the habits that you want to develop.
He explains the science behind why this strategy works, and teaches you how to create your own “habit stack” that aligns with the goals you have for your life.
What’s particularly helpful about this book is that it comes with a free list of 127 small habits, as well as a guide on how to make each of those habits stick.
#7 – Small Habits Revolution by Damon Zahariades
Damon Zahariades is the owner of The Art of Productivity, a personal development blog that helps people all over the world develop better productivity habits.
But “Small Habits Revolution” is about much more than mastering your productivity, it’s a step-by-step process for getting what you want in life and achieving your goals.
At this point, it’s pretty well-documented that small shifts in your daily routine are the only way to create consistent change in your life.
However, the reason that this book deserves a place on a list of the best books on habits is simple – the 10 step habit formation process outlined in this book is the most clear-cut action plan included in the books on this list.
Sometimes, when experts in their field give you a list of steps to follow, it can feel a little tedious and overwhelming – this isn’t the case here. Zahariades provides you with an impossible-to-screw-up framework to help you master the art of building better habits.
#8 – High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard
Brendon Burchard has been one of the leading performance coaches in the industry for over a decade. Through his work and research, he’s found that successful, happy individuals focus on very specific traits and habits.
He argues that that to become a high-performer, you need to:
- Find clarity
- Create energy
- Create necessity
- Increase Productivity
- Become influential
- Be courageous
Each of the six habits that Burchard outlines are backed by the latest research on success & happiness. He also gives you daily practices so you can start ingraining each one of these six habits into your life.
I found the personal stories that Burchard shares about his clients to be really powerful. While some people seemed to think they were a bit verbose, it’s really valuable to hear stories of people taking action to bridge the gap between their current state and their desired state.
Burchard’s main lesson throughout the book is that if you want to be successful, your actions need to be deliberate and achieve a specific goal. By aligning your daily habits with these six traits, you’ll be able to attain success and create a fulfilled, happy life.
#9 – Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean
Making Habits, Breaking Habits is a psychologist’s examination of the mental processes that cause us to form habits that sabotage our success.
The writing style of this book is witty and intriguing. It’s one of those books where you have several “aha” moments as you realize all of the ways in which your brain has been sabotaging your goals.
Dean references hundreds of psychological studies to show that while we may believe we are in control of our own behavior, unconscious habits are the puppeteers running the show. Then, he dives into an overarching framework that you can use to overcome your brain’s flaws and take control of the behavior change process.
The framework isn’t necessarily step-by-step, it’s more of a general guideline filled with actionable advice – many readers have found that the tips outlined can be put to use right away.
I will say that if you’re looking for a better understanding of how the brain works when it comes to habits, this book will be a super fun read for you. But if you’re looking for a book that skips all the psychological fluff and just tells you what to do, this book won’t be ideal for you.
#10 – The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
Alright, we’ve made it to the last book on our list of the best books on habits. In this case, last certainly does not mean least, as it’s actually one of my favorite books of all-time.
Olson’s best selling classic isn’t necessarily focused on habits – it’s more of a how-to-manual for achieving success in any aspect of your life.
He doesn’t tackle a specific aspect of self-improvement, but he doesn’t really need to because the framework he outlines is universally applicable.
The main theme that reverberates throughout this book is that at this moment, every single one of us is either on the success curve or the failure curve. And at the beginning, those two curves don’t look much different from each other.
After enough time however, our actions compound and we reap the rewards or consequences of small, daily decisions that we’ve repeated over time. Olson explains that the main difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the importance they place on their moment to moment decisions.
If you eat a huge piece of cake today you won’t get fat, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, it puts you on the failure curve for that day, and if you make that same decision over and over, you can quickly find yourself on a trajectory that you can’t come back from.
If you’re looking for a giant wake up call that will challenge your beliefs about behavior change and success, this book might just do the trick.
I hope you enjoyed this article breaking down some of the best books on habits that I’ve ever read!
In my opinion, building better habits is the most important skill to master in life. If you can consistently and predictably ingrain new habits into your life, you have the power to change anything you want about your current situation.
If you’re feeling stuck and have consistently tried and failed to change your behavior in the past, you need a new strategy.
If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting.
Do yourself a favor and check out some of the best books on habits mentioned above. I guarantee that if you let them guide you and take focused action, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of building better habits.