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Today, I will be sharing my all-time list of the best self-improvement books ever written.
There’s something awe-inspiring about life changing self improvement books, and the fact that most people don’t spend time absorbing the knowledge provided in them is truly mind boggling to me.
If you can spend $4 each day on a Starbucks coffee, you can certainly afford to spend $10-$15 to learn from someone who has spent a lifetime becoming an expert in their field.
We all want to live better lives, build good habits, become more wealthy, etc.
It just so happens that there are hundreds, if not thousands of books that can teach you proven strategies for improving any area of your life — habits, goal setting, mindset, productivity, etc.
The information is out there if you are willing to go find it.
With that being said, a search query on Amazon for the best self improvement books can leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. That’s why I’ve decided to expedite the process and put together an extensive list that will leave you with a wide array of options.
Whether you want to build better habits, be more productive, or just simply learn about the way your mind works, there’s a life changing book on this list for you.
Why You Should Read Self Improvement Books
When it comes to getting more out of your life, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start.
That’s where self-improvement books come into play. You get direct access to the mind of someone who has spent years, even decades becoming a master of their field.
They’ve done all of the research for you, which means your only job is to take action.
Now often, this is the hardest part of the equation.
However, you’re more likely to take action on improving your habits if you actually have clarity about the best way to build good habits and break bad ones.
You’re more likely to sharpen up your productivity routine when you’re aware of current gaps in your workflow.
You’re more likely to work on your mindset when you’ve actually been taught the proven strategies for practicing mindfulness and reducing mental chatter.
Knowledge breeds action.
When you have a proven plan of action for change, you’re much likely to start. The rest is just persistence.
#1 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
I’m starting off with this book because it’s one of the best self improvement books ever written, plain and simple.
If you were only allowed to read one book on habits for the rest of your life, this book would teach you everything you need to know.
The writing style of this book is congruent with the reputation that James Clear has built as a content creator over the last ten years – action-based advice that is backed by proven science.
Many people believe that they want their results to change, when what they really want to change is who they are. They want to change their identity, and your identity is solidified by what you do every day.
Goal setting is geared toward changing your results, whereas habits focus on changing your identity. Clear’s overarching philosophy throughout the book is that goals are great for giving our life a sense of direction, but true behavior change is achieved by committing to small daily shifts in our behavior.
In the beginning of the book, you’ll learn about why we form habits and the role that they play in our lives. Then, Clear dives into his four laws of behavior change that apply to forming good habits and breaking bad ones.
Clear also shares experiences from his own readers who have implemented his laws to make more sales calls, lose weight, wake up earlier, and much more.
After reading this book, you’ll finally have a proven framework for sticking to good habits and breaking bad habits.
#2 – The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
Along with Atomic Habits, this is the only book on this list that was personally recommended to me, which should tell you something right off the bat.
Olson’s best-selling classic is essentially a how-to manual for achieving success in any aspect of your life.
Olson doesn’t tackle a specific aspect of self-improvement, but he doesn’t really need to. The framework he outlines is applicable to any aspect of your life — business, personal finance, relationships, health, etc.
The theme that reverberates throughout the book is what Olson coins “The Slight Edge” philosophy.
He explains that every single one of us is either on the success curve or the failure curve, and where we are on that curve is determined by the tiny, seemingly insignificant decisions we make every day.
True change starts with incredibly tiny shifts in your daily behavior. Ultimately, it’s these changes compound over time to produce the radical, life-changing shifts that you’re looking for.
#3 – Getting Things Done by David Allen
David Allen’s masterpiece is arguably the best book on productivity ever written.
Allen goes deeper than describing basic theory and prescribes you an actionable system for managing your time, structuring your to-do list, and decluttering your mind.
This book will open your eyes to all of the current flaws in your productivity system.
Although it was published in 2002, it’s recently been updated to reflect the recent advancements in technology, illustrating how to make technology your friend as opposed to your productivity nemesis.
When you put the book down, you’ll have a clear strategy for how to get more done and free up time to do the things you want to do with your life.
#4 – Mini Habits by Stephen Guise
I just finished reading this book a few days ago, and right after I put it down, I knew that it deserved a spot on my list of the best self improvement books ever written.
Mini Habits is a concise, straight-forward guide (only 128 pages) that teaches you how to form positive habits by reducing them to their tiniest version.
If you’re looking for a shorter version of Atomic Habits, then this book is right up your alley.
How many times have you told yourself that you were going to start exercising for an hour per day, only to find yourself falling into old habits a few weeks later?
Guise will tell you why you continually retreat back to behaviors that don’t serve you, and then give you a foolproof plan for sticking to ones that do.
He breaks down how he built a habit of going to the gym 3x per week by simply starting with a daily habit of one push-up per day. He also talks about how he built a habit of writing 2,000 words per day by first aiming for 50 words per day.
Big changes start with small commitment, and the Mini Habits system will give you everything you need to get off the hamster wheel of starting and stopping new habits.
#5 – Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister
Baumeister is a legend in the field of social psychology, and the man responsible for perhaps the most impactful study on willpower ever conducted. If anyone is qualified to write a 316 page about willpower, it’s him.
In this book, Baumeister dives deep into the research on self-control and willpower. He explains that every decision we make depletes our willpower, which in turn compromises our ability to persevere towards our goals.
He also illustrates that willpower is not a fixed human trait, but rather a muscle that can be trained, just like any of the other muscles in your body.
This book is all about teaching you how to exert self-control and resist the constant temptation to take the path of least resistance.
When you can master that simple dilemma, everything in life becomes easier.
#6 – The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris
Every second of every day, we are thinking about something. Whether it’s what to have for dinner, what we need to get done for the day, our past failures, etc.
In this book, Harris reassures us that this is completely normal. However, problems begin to arise when we get “hooked” by these thoughts and begin to internalize them as beliefs.
This book is about the fundamentals of A.C.T. (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which encourages people to embrace their thoughts and feelings as opposed to fighting them.
Harris essentially argues that the primary reason we feel anxiety is due to an inability to detach from our negative thoughts. It’s not about the thoughts themselves, it’s about how we respond to them.
Using this as a premise for the book, Harris walks through various strategies for reducing mental chatter so that you can ward off thoughts that don’t serve you, which leaves room for thoughts that empower you.
#7 – 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson
Over the past few years, Jordan Peterson has gone from being a well-respected psychology professor to one of the most influential figures in the world of self-improvement.
One of the primary reasons why Peterson’s wisdom has impacted the lives of so many people is due to his emphasis on personal responsibility.
12 Rules for Life isn’t your typical “feel good” self-help book about finding your passion. Peterson paints a picture of life that is both wildly cruel and incredibly hopeful at the same time.
His overarching philosophy is this — Life is full of suffering and tainted by evil, and you need a meaning to offset this. The meaning is found in picking up your burdens and taking on difficult challenges.
Peterson describes how to find this sense of meaning by following a set of rules that should govern your behavior.
Some of Peterson’s rules in the book are simple in nature, like making your bed every morning, and standing up straight with your shoulders back. Others are more general rules for how to orient yourself in the world, such as, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.”
Although it was only released a few years ago, this book is already considered one of the best self improvement books ever written.
#8 – Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
When you wake up in the morning, do you feel like you’re in control of your day? Or are you just going through the motions?
If you resonated with the latter statement, then this book is a must-read for you.
Hal Elrod is a big believer in the power of winning the first hour of the day, and the morning routine he prescribes in this book will give you the formula for doing exactly that.
Short and concise, Elrod dispenses with fluff and goes straight to the heart of the problem — most people are setting themselves up for failure because of what they do in the 30 minutes after they roll out of bed.
Developing a morning routine that boosts your self-esteem and fosters positivity increases the probability that the rest of your day follows suit.
As Elrod says in the book, “Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful, days – which inevitably create a successful life.
#9 – Indistractable by Nir Eyal
Organizing your time around activities that align with your values is fundamental to creating a happy, fulfilled life.
These days, our attention is being pulled in a million different directions. It’s difficult to navigate these distractions and make time for activities that add meaning to our lives.
Luckily, Eyal provides a simple framework that will help you do just that.
Eyal’s main theory is that every activity we engage in can be separated into two categories — traction and distraction.
Traction pulls us closer towards the things we want out of life, while distraction pushes us further away from meaning and fulfillment.
This book is all about prioritizing traction and removing distraction. Eyal outlines a simple way to separate your life into three separate domains and create a schedule using your values as a north star.
If you have a suspicion that the way you’re spending your time is making you feel empty inside, then this book will help you be more intentional.
#10 – Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Why does it seem so difficult to attain happiness no matter what we do?
In his classic book on how to find happiness, Gilbert explains how our imagination is a double edged sword.
Our ability to think about the future allows us to imagine possibilities and strive for greater heights, but it also makes us susceptible to manipulation. We cannot objectively rely on our imagination to predict how we will feel in the future.
To know whether we will be happy in a specific space and time, Gilbert believes that all we need to do is look at the subjective experience of other people who have experienced the future state we desire.
Being a Harvard psychologist, the language in this book is fairly descriptive and complex, but it’s still profound nonetheless.
Pick up Gilbert’s book is you’re desperately trying to figure out what you want in life that’s going to lead to happiness.
#11 – The 5 Second Rule By Mel Robbins
At the age of 41, Mel Robbins was broken.
Her and her husband were on the verge of bankruptcy after they had to close down the restaurants they had poured their life savings into. The financial stress in her life had also created a vortex of negativity in her marriage.
Reality was nothing but pain, and the easiest outlet to numb that pain became hitting the whiskey bottle before bed every night.
Long story short, Mel found a way to stop feeling lost in life by using something called the 5 Second Rule — a simple, but effective way to get your mind out of the way and start taking swift action on the things that matter.
Robbins highlights the fact that we all have inner wisdom that nudges us towards the things that we know we should do.
However, our brain often gets in the way by creating narratives and excuses for inaction. She argues that this window of opportunity for us to act is typically 3-5 seconds long.
If we wait longer than that, our brain will kick into full gear and convince us to take the path of least resistance.
The 5 Second Rule involves counting backwards in your head from 5 down to 1, and then doing that difficult thing your brain is pushing against — whether it’s approaching that cute girl at the bar or speaking up in a meeting.
In the book, Robbins describes how she used this simple rule to go from broke and depressed, to one of the highest-paid motivational speakers in the world today.
That should tell you all you need to know about how effective this rule can be if you decide to take action.
#12 – Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
You really didn’t think I was going to forget to include this book in a list of the best self improvement books of all-time did you?
Written in 1937, this book is an all-time classic, as it has been able to withstand the test of time to provide meaningful insight to millions of people across the globe.
Many people think that this is just a book about wealth, and while that’s certainly an area of focus, it’s about so much more than that.
It’s perhaps the first explicit mention of not just how to take care of the cash in your bank account, but also the thoughts in your head. Topics like planning, decision making, persistence, and even deeper subjects like what we can learn from fear are extensively covered by Hill.
This is probably isn’t the first time you’re hearing about this book, so do yourself a favor and start going through it.
#13 – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The main reason this book is considered to be one of the best self improvement books ever written is because of the monumental impact it had on our collective consciousness when it was released.
Released in 1997 during the period in which people were starting to recognize the impact of mindfulness, Eckhart Tolle’s classic seemed to accelerate the conversation to new heights.
When Tolle went on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the book, Oprah confessed to Tolle that she kept a highlighted version of the book wherever she went, consistently flipping back through the pages at random times throughout the day.
Millions of people have applied the wisdom in this book to live more meaningful and fulfilling lives through the practice of mindfulness.
The Power of Now is a how-to-guide for how to fully embrace the present moment and detach from certain states of mind that cause you to miss the opportunities right in front of you.
Powerful and thought-provoking, you’re going to have a lot of “aha” moments as you go through this book.
If you’re particularly interested in mindfulness, then check out this article I wrote outlining the best books on mindfulness.
#14 – Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl
In 1944, Frankl was a highly respected psychiatrist in his native country of Austria when his world got turned upside down.
As Adolf Hitler began to consolidate his influence and power in Germany, Frankl was deported to Auschwitz, which carried the highest death toll out of any other concentration camp across Germany.
Both chilling and uplifting at the same time, Frankl talks about his experience suffering through one of the worst atrocities in the history of the world.
He describes how his fellow prisoners dealt with the non-stop torment from the Nazi guards — some strengthening their resolve and finding meaning, while others succumbed to nihilism.
Although it was written as more of a memoir, it unintentionally solidifies itself as one of the best self improvement books ever written.
Frankl explains that finding meaning is the antidote to the suffering that is ever-present in our lives.
Our lives are not defined by the obstacles we face and the suffering that is inflicted upon us, but rather by how we respond to it.
#15 – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
We don’t control the size of our feet or the way our ears are shaped, these are fixed traits that stay the same once we’ve fully developed as a human being.
However, according to the latest research, the same can’t be said for our talents and abilities.
Carol Dweck’s fascinating book discerns between two mindsets — a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
People with a fixed mindset believe that if they’re not born with the ability to do something, they’re doomed to fail at it. They believe that talent alone determines competence in any specific area of life.
People with a growth mindset believe that lack of competence is simply an obstacle, and that they can achieve anything they want as long as they put in the time and effort.
Dweck analyzes the destructive impact of going through life with a fixed mindset, and touches on the endless possibilities that can open up as you start to believe that you can develop a “talent” for any skill through determined, focused action.
Oftentimes, the only thing stopping you from getting the life you want is you. Dweck’s book is a great place to start for anyone looking to improve their mindset.
#16 – The Willpower Instinct by Kelly Mcgonigal
Most people think of willpower as the ability to resist temptations and break bad habits, but that’s only one part of the equation.
Kelly Mcgonial, a healthy psychologist at Stanford University, puts willpower into three separate categories:
- “I want” power
- “I won’t” power
- “I will” power
Willpower is a lot more than just refusing the cookie in front of you when you’re trying to lose weight.
It also helps you to remember your long-term goals and take action on the things that are important to you.
Mcgonial also helps you navigate the inner conflicts that arise when you’re faced with tough decisions by using something called the pause and plan response.
Instead of heightening your senses and releasing adrenaline, this response allows you to pause and self-reflect by shifting your attention to your internal chatter. As your mind slows down, you’ll be well-equipped to make the right decisions.
#17 – Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg
This is another of those books that is a must-have if you’re looking to build better habits.
BJ Fogg, a Stanford professor, is one of the most well-known behavioral psychologists in the world.
And in this book, he outlines a simple step-by-step formula for changing your life through the power of tiny habits.
Behavior change is hard, but we often insist on making it even more difficult by aiming too high.
Fogg explains there is a certain threshold for action that we need to meet in order for a behavior to take place, predicated on how easy/hard the behavior is and how motivated/unmotivated we feel.
By making behaviors incredibly easy to do, we’re able to meet this action threshold and form habits easily and effectively.
If you’re looking for a step by step, easy to follow plan for behavior change, then Tiny Habits is exactly what you’re looking for.
#18 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This is a fascinating book by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman that goes into tremendous detail about how the brain works.
It’s one of the best self improvement books money can buy for people who are looking to deepen their understanding of their own mind and the mental processes that shape our decisions.
Kahneman explains that our thinking is divided into two systems — fast and slow.
The fast one consists of the instantaneous responses and the knee-jerk instincts that we’ve developed over thousands of years. It’s an unconscious, irrational machine that is mainly responsible for our emotional state.
The slow one is more deliberate and logical, and it’s what we use when we make long-term plans and think through complex problems. However, the downside of this system is that it requires a lot of conscious effort to use and is easily distracted.
Both systems have flaws, but both are necessary for us to excel in our life.
Kahneman shows you to leverage the strengths and weaknesses of both to make sound judgements and improve your overall decision making.
#19 – The One Thing By Gary Keller
Before Gary Keller built what would become the largest real estate company in the world, he faced a dilemma.
Although they were growing at a rapid rate, his company was still mostly unrecognized by the top people in their industry. This prompted Keller to call a meeting and challenge his team to brainstorm ways to turn this problem around.
They spent all day coming up with a list of close to 100 ideas. The next morning, they narrowed the list to 10. Eventually, they narrowed the list down to one idea — to write a book on how to become an elite performer in the industry.
This one thing transformed the image of his company forever.
Keller then decided to write another book called The One Thing, which is widely considered to be one of the best self improvement books ever written.
Gary Keller recommends that everyone ask themselves this question:
“What’s the ONE thing you can do such that everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
The whole entire book is based around that one question.
Keller explains that the key to success is figuring your one most important thing in your business/career/life over the long-run. You need to intensely focus on the goals that, if achieved, would have the greatest impact on your life situation.
This book is a perfect roadmap for those of you who struggle with where to focus your time and productivity in general.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this list of the best self improvement books, then you probably have a bunch of thoughts running through your head about which one of these books to pick up.
My best advice is to pick a book that sounds like it addresses some of the issues that you’re facing in your current life.
If you find yourself struggling with your habits, then Atomic Habits is my top pick for you.
If the way you are spending your time is leaving you empty and overwhelmed, then a book like Indistractable will help you formulate a schedule that helps you live a self-empowered life.
Whatever book you decide to read, just make sure you take action.