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Top 10 Personal Development Books for Working on Yourself

Posted by | November 27, 2020 | Skills

And now, alas, we come to the final part of my series on top 10 books to read and the order in which to read them. (Although for this one, the order is less important.) You can find the first two lists here:

This one will focus on personal development. Including the honorable mentions, the three lists come to over 50 books, so I expect all of your nightstands to be overflowing.

1. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Fear is the biggest thing that stops people from going after their dreams. The fear of failure, rejection, humiliation, etc. can be debilitating for just about everyone. And that’s what makes Susan Jeffers’ book so worthwhile.

She flips the concept of fear on its head. Instead of hoping that fear will go away, this book will change your paradigm about fear. Instead, fear becomes something you should cherish and seek after. As she notes, “The fear will never go away as long as [you]continue to grow… The only sure way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.”

Once you begin to embrace fear and living “just outside of your comfort zone,” you can learn to handle and confront fear instead of avoiding it and vainly hoping it goes away on its own.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Jeffers’ book dealt with fear and changing our paradigm about it. On the other hand, Stephen Covey’s classic is all about paradigms themselves and intentionally trying to change the way we look at things. As Covey writes, “Paradigms are powerful because they create the lens through which we see the world.”
Thus, if we alter the way we view something, we can alter our beliefs about it, which can create long-lasting change in a whole host of areas in our lives. “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

3. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

Hal Elrod’s hit book is also about changing the way you view the world. As he puts it, “Remember, the moment you accept total responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you claim the power to change anything in your life.”

That being said, his method is very specific. It involves getting up early each day and doing a morning routine that sets the whole day off in the right direction: “How you wake up each day and your morning routine (or lack thereof) dramatically affects your levels of success in every single area of your life. Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days—which inevitably create a successful life.”

Getting things right in the morning allows you to get it right all day. Getting it right in the evening, on the other hand, only allows you to get it right just before bed. So the morning is better. However, The Miracle Morning is not perfect. It does have one noteworthy flaw the next book will scare you right out of.

4. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Waking up early is all well and good, but only if you get enough sleep the night before. In his book, Elrod makes light of getting the full seven to nine hours of sleep us Homo sapiens need. This is a mistake, as Matthew Walker makes painfully clear.

“Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on the path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive hard failure.”

And that’s just the beginning of it!

Walker gives all sorts of scientific evidence to prove the importance of sleep and the dangers and costs of sleep deprivation (which is at epidemic levels throughout the West). He also gives some good advice on how to get better sleep, which includes reducing or eliminating caffeine intake and alcohol consumption.

In addition, you should quit smoking if you smoke (see below), take a hot bath or shower before bed, keep your bedroom a bit on the cool side, make sure your bedroom is completely dark, don’t look at screens (TV, phone, computer, etc.) before going to bed, and if you do, at least use a blue light filter, don’t work out within two or three hours of going to sleep, and turn your lights around the house down or off a few hours before going to bed as well.

The book is definitely worth checking out, if for no other reason than it will frighten you into making sleep a priority.

5. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Much of what we do is simply habitual. We do it almost without thinking, which is basically what habits are. But, as we all know, there are good habits and there are bad habits. A big key to having a good life is making sure most of your habits are good. And this is the best book I know of on how habits are developed and how you can seek to alter yours.

As Duhigg points out, “Experiments have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories: Location, Time, Emotional State, Other People, [and the]Immediately Preceding Action.”

When you understand how your habits are formed, it becomes much easier to change them for the better.

6. Getting Things Done by David Allen

Speaking of habits, there’s no better habit to pick up than Getting Things Done; the system that David Allen developed and outlines in his handy book. Getting Things Done notes that our brains just aren’t developed for the modern world and cannot store the massive volume of information coming at us. We need a “trusted system” to do so. Otherwise, we lose our minds.

As Allen notes, “A basic truism I have discovered over twenty years of coaching and training is that most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.”

Instead, we can put all of our commitments into the customizable system Allen designed that allows us to react appropriately to whatever given task is before us.

“Imagine throwing a pebble in a pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.”

I don’t have space in this article to outline the details of it (although you can check out my review here), but it’s definitely worth looking into.

7. Set for Life by Scott Trench

BiggerPockets’ own Scott Trench’s book on personal finance is the best I’ve found on the subject. Trench outlines a step-by-step method to get out of debt, build a nest egg, and then strive for financial freedom. The main thing is to have a plan and stick to it.

Here are the first steps: “(1) to build up an emergency fund of $1,000 to $2,000; (2) to pay off all ‘bad debts’… and build strong credit; and then (3) to build up one year of financial runway in the form of cash or equivalents.”

Trench also provides all sorts of good tips along the way. For example, he notes that because savings are not taxed whereas income and revenue are, a dollar saved is not “a dollar earned.” It’s more. So given the choice between increasing your income X% and decreasing your personal expenses X%, decreasing personal expenses will actually go further toward building your savings and investment capital.

8. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Mark Manson’s little book is a great, albeit quite profane, way to reduce anxiety and stress by thinking about your life in a better more realistic way. Indeed, it’s full of all sorts of good quotes. For example,

“If you live your life solely in search of pleasure, you’ll actually end up living a life full of mistakes. Conversely, if you experience the occasional instance of suffering, you’ll be equipped to lead a better, happier life.”

“All the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear about all the time is actually fixating on what you lack.”

“I say don’t find yourself. I say never know who you are. Because that’s what keeps you striving and discovering.”

“Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it.”

In many ways, the book is the ultimate cure for FOMO (fear of missing out). Don’t worry about trying to make your life perfect or always being happy or traveling to awesome places and filling up your Instagram with pictures of it all of the time. I mean sure, that stuff can have its place. I love traveling and all. But it’s not what will make you truly happy and satisfied. And “fixating on what you lack” (i.e. FOMO) is a sure-fire way to become miserable.

9. How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes

Talking to strangers, networking, and being charismatic come naturally to some people, but are extremely difficult for others. I feel like I’m sort of in-between and insofar as I struggle at this, Leil Lowndes’s book was a great help.
Lowland offers a bunch of tips (92 to be exact) on how to be more engaging in conversations—be they personal or business. One example regarding business is to never give a “naked” job title. She then gives a few examples:

“Don’t say ‘real estate agent.’ Say ‘I help people moving into our area find the right home.’

“Don’t say ‘financial planner.’ Say ‘I help plan their financial future.’

“Don’t say ‘martial arts instructor.’ Say ‘I help people defend themselves by teaching martial arts.’”

This is a much better conversation starter. And if your service may be of use to the person you’re talking to, you may have just found yourself a new client.

10. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow is one of the best books on human psychology around. It’s also a very good book on negotiating.
It would be impossible to sum up all the concepts Kahneman discusses in the almost 500-page tome. So I’ll settle for just one: anchoring.
Here’s how he describes it: “[Anchoring] occurs when people consider a particular value for an unknown quantity before estimating that quantity. What happens is one of the most reliable and robust results of experimental psychology: the estimates stay close to the number that people consideredhence the image of an anchor.”
In one sterling example of people asked to donate to an environmental charity, “When the anchoring amount was only $5, contributions averaged $20. When the anchor was a rather extravagant $400, the willingness to pay rose to an average of $143.”
Yeah, these concepts can come in handy.

Honorable Mentions

Because why settle for just 10? So here are the next few books to check out on personal development:

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Willpower is something we all want more of. Roy Baumeister and John Tierney’s book is thus an important read.

They point out that the research has found that willpower acts like a tank that needs to be refueled from time to time. It’s not something you can just go forever with. So using willpower for things like quitting smoking (discussed below) and dieting are not very effective. Willpower is more useful for things like finishing a project or running a race, i.e. things with a clear end time.

That being said, some of the ideas in the book have come under fire lately, most notably the concept of ego depletion, which is just one of many casualties in psychology’s ongoing replication crisis. I still believe the book is still a good read, though. (And I still think that the concept of ego depletion is at least partially true.)

Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson

Shawn Stevenson’s book on sleeping is a good book to read along with Why We Sleep. In this book, Stevenson just gives a lot of quality advice on how to get more and better sleep instead of diving into the science on what a lack of sleep does to you. (In other words, it’s more practical and less terrifying.)

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The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin

The Organized Mind is a great compliment to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. In short, this book is the scientific evidence for why Allen’s approach works. It also offers some good advice of its own on how to get and stay organized.

Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking by Allen Carr

If you are a smoker as I once was, you definitely need to read this book. Like stop what you are doing right now and buy it. Carr has what is, in my judgment, the best approach to quitting smoking by far.

What he does is flip the script on how to stop smoking. Instead of explaining how bad smoking is for you, Allen Carr goes over all the perceived benefits and destroys them. You smoke because you’re bored? Well, what could possibly be more boring than a cigarette?

After Carr demolishes every excuse for smoking there is, it becomes rather easy to quit smoking. So check the book out. (You can also read my review of it here.)

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by Brian Tracy

Again, much of life is about how we think about it and approach it. That’s what Brian Tracy takes on in this book.

Furthermore, it contains what is perhaps the best piece of advice I have ever gotten: “There is a rule that I have learned from experience: Never do or refrain from doing something because you are concerned about what people might think about you. The fact is that nobody is even thinking about you at all.”

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi’s name may be all but impossible to spell, but his book is fantastic. Nothing is better at describing that state of “flow” we all reach sometimes where we become hyper-productive almost effortlessly. And nothing is better at describing how to get and stay there more often.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

Scott Adams’ (of Dilbert fame) book has a lot of good ideas, but none better than the “systems over goals” approach. Goals put you in a permanent state of “pre-success failure.” Whereas systems set you on a happy and content course toward success.

So, for example, instead of having the goal of losing 10 pounds, make the systems of not eating out on your own and going to the gym every day. If you can’t work out, fine. But you have to at least show up at the gym. (You will end up working out most of the time after arriving.)

The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness by Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey’s follow-up to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is also very much worth reading. The eighth habit is to, “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.” That’s pretty self-explanatory, but also not easy to achieve. Covey’s book will help you get there.

Has any book particularly shaped the way you think or behave? 

Tell us which one and how in the comments.

This content was originally published here.

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