My Top 10 Self-Development Books

First, I have a confession to make. I am a self-development junkie. Since before I was in high school, I have been reading books and articles about how we can use the power of the mind to develop ourselves.

Since then, I have read and listened to literally thousands of books written to help the reader develop different areas of their lives and I can honestly say that I have learned at least a thing or two from each of them.

A Little Background About Self-development

When I began studying self-development, over 50 years ago, there weren’t that many people who seemed to be interested in reading about it. In fact, there was more than a little bit of judgement about people, like me, who read books on how to improve the way they thought about life.

But as the years have passed and as people have become more comfortable talking about their emotions, shortcomings, and aspirations, people from wide variety of backgrounds have taken up the journey toward self-improvement.

Today, it’s not unusual for someone to be trying to better themselves by working with a therapist or personal coach. In the airport, you can find people from all walks of life reading books like “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz or “Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life” by Jim Kwik. Self-development is not only acceptable, but it has also become mainstream.

So today I’d like to share with you my top 10 favorite self-development books and a few thoughts on why you should pick them up for your library. But first, let’s take a look on how to make the most of your study.   

How to Get the Most from Self-Development Books

Books by themselves will not change your life. The only person who can change your life is YOU. So, to get the most from your self-development quest, you need to be an active reader who implements what you learn.

Here’s how:

1.    Use a highlighter and take notes

Your goal is not simply to read the book and get it off your “to-do” list. Instead, use a highlighter (sparingly) to help you pick out what the most important points are – for you. Review the bullet points of each chapter. Write notes either in the margins or your learning journal of what you’ve learned and what you want to implement. This will activate your brain to make use of the material you’re taking in.

2.    Plan what you’re going to do with the information

As you highlight the information and take notes, think about how you can realistically use what you’re learning to help make the changes you want to make in your life. Ask yourself, “How can I use this information to help me make my life better in (this area) today?”

3.    Use the information to take action

The problem many people have with self-development is they never get past the planning stage. This is because they want to make the “perfect” plan before starting.

We need to remember that there is no perfect plan. Just put a simple plan down on paper and take action. Choose what information you’re going to use to improve your life and take a step in that direction. Your actions will let you know how well you’re doing.

4.    Use the feedback you receive to make adjustments

As you take action you will receive feedback. Some of the feedback will be positive and show that you’re going down the right path. Other feedback will show you that you’ll need to examine what you’re doing and make adjustments. The key here is you’re learning from what you’re doing which is what self-development is all about.

The Books

1.    The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

Dr. Peale’s classic book was one of the first self-development I ever read. While this book does not contain the type of actionable information that you’ll find in many of today’s self-development books, its guiding principles are still very applicable in today’s world. I recommend this book because it is a foundation piece of the self-improvement movement as a whole.




2.    How to Win friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This was also a book I read early in my self-development quest. First published in 1937, it has been rewritten a number of times to bring it’s examples up to date. In this this book, Carnegie explains how you can influence other people’s behavior by modifying your own.

The book lays out the personal habits needed to become more likeable and that can help to improve your relationships. It includes twelve approaches to influence another person’s beliefs, six methods to make them like you, and the nine practices to help people see things differently without making them resent you.

Since success in life is in a significant part of one’s social and communications skills, this book is second on my list.

3.    Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

This book has changed the lives of millions of people and was another of the initial self-development books I studied. In this book, Napoleon Hill argues that a person can propel themselves to success through a combination of desire, faith, and persistence. He also suggests methods to help change negative thinking and, instead, focus on long-term goals.

Napoleon Hill wrote this book after being approached by Andrew Carnegie who offered to introduce him to the most successful people (men at this time) in the world while only paying his expenses. He accepted the offer and over the next 20 years he interviewed not only Andrew Carnegie, but Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Alexander Graham Bell, just to name a few. He asked them about how to become successful, not just financially, but as a person as well. Another classic, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to develop themselves.  

4.    The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The book, written by award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg, looks at how habits affect us at a neurological level and that creates what Duhigg describes as a Habit Loop. This habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward.

Duhigg explains how we can use the habit loop to change bad habits into good ones and create the type of habits that are able to transform our business, our life, and our communities. Filled with scientific references, this book was an eye-opener for me and should be on your must-read list.

5.    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is a novel that follows the journey of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago. In the story, the boy has a dream and asks a Gypsy fortune teller in the nearby town about its meaning. The woman tells Santiago that the dream is a prophecy that he will discover a treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. After many struggles, Santiago does discover a treasure, which is the point of the book.

I recommend this self-development book because of the lessons the reader learns through Santiago’s journey.

6.    The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

Originally written and distributed as financial pamphlets in the first part of the 20th century, this book, through ten parables, tells the story of how the richest man in Babylon didn’t make his fortune by spending more than he could afford on the things he wanted. He became wealthy by saving and investing his money.

When it comes to money management and finance, this is probably one of the best self-development books of all time. Using an entertaining story, Clason helps you understand how money works and how to make it work for you. If you are looking for a self-development book to help you understand your finances, this book is exactly what you’re looking for.  

7.    Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

This book was written by Viktor Frankl who was locked in and survived four Nazi concentration camps during WWII. In his book, we read about Frankl’s personal experiences and his observations of the reactions of his fellow prisoners to being locked up in a place that was designed to slowly kill them all.

Frankl found that when confronted with the fact that they might not make it out of the camps alive, some used this revelation to find meaning for their lives while others used it as an excuse to fall into a cynical cycle of pain and despair.

In this memoir, Frankl takes a deep look at the psychology of humans undergoing similar situations and how different mindsets can lead to widely different results. As a self-development book, this acts as a guide to why it is so important for each of us to find meaning in our lives and what can happen if we don’t.

While Frankl finds that suffering is inevitable, the response we have to our suffering always lies within us. He also gives us some thoughtful insights on how we can use his findings  to make our own lives better. This is why I believe this book should be on anyone’s must-read self-development book list.

8.    The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

First, the reason I read this book in the first place is because I wanted to know more about mindfulness. After doing some research, I discovered this book by Thich Nhat Hanh, who was one of the foremost authorities on the subject. Born in war-torn Vietnam, he became a Buddhist monk, a peace activist, an author, and teacher. He founded the Plum Village Tradition and has been called the “father of mindfulness.” As a result, he became a major influence on the practice of Buddhism in the Western World.

In this book, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how we can practice mindfulness simply by paying more attention to the things we already do like walking and washing the dishes. He teaches us how to develop the mindset of paying attention to the here and now and how this practice can make us calmer and more productive.

I choose this book as one of my top 10 self-development books because mindfulness has made such a difference in my life. I believe it can make a huge difference in yours too.

9.    Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

While this is a fairly recent book (2018), I added it as a must read because of the way James Clear describes the power of habits. He explains that much of our behaviors are the result of automatic actions, or habits. We create these habits through repeated actions over time. Some of these habits serve us and others work against us.

Since habits are such a core part of our behavior, understanding how habits are formed and how to change them is an essential part of any self-development program. James Clear gives us a straightforward explanation about all aspects of forming or breaking a habit so we can create a lifetime of success.

This easy to read, practical habit formation guide will walk you through how to make the type of small changes that will make a big difference in your life. This is why I put it on my Top 10 list.

10.                  7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

While there are so many other books that could be part of this list, I couldn’t in good conscious leave out a book that has inspired the training programs in so many of today’s organizations. In his book, Covey introduces habits such as “Begin with the end in mind” and “Sharpen the saw’” which have become major talking points of many of today’s contemporary training programs.

Covey explains that these habits are synergistic, and every one of these supplements the others in distinct ways. Learning how to incorporate these habits in one’s personal and professional life can make a huge impact on your overall success. This is why I ended my self-development recommendations with this book.

Make Self-Development a Regular Part of Your Life

As I mentioned before, just learning about self-development will not change your life. But if you are willing to put in the time to research and implement these ideas, they can give you they type of mindset that can help you cope with the challenges we all face in life. I can write this because I know what a difference the study of self-development has made in my life as I hope it will in yours.

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