- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones – James Clear
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos & Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson
- Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy – David D. Burns
- Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker
- Money: Know More, Make More, Give More – Rob Moore
- Rich Dad, Poor Dad: 20th Anniversary Edition – Robert T. Kiyosaki
- The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferris
I’ve read a fair few books in my time – both fiction & nonfiction – and there’s a lot to be learned from both. Fictional stories allow you to see the world, or a world, from the author’s person’s perspective, put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and learn the moral that comes with every good story. However, factual books are where self-help shines.
Self-help books were popular decades ago, and they’ve been rebranded into self-improvement books now. They usually either resonate with the reader, or really disappoint. That’s because there are good and bad self-improvement books. Whether it’s about life philosophy in general, or focused on a specific area like addiction or entrepreneurship, a good self-improvement book has the power to change your life.
What makes a nonfiction book great? When the author is speaking from experience, is qualified and knowledgeable about the subject, and writes in an action-oriented way. A way that’s easy to take away and remember the key lessons, and put them into practice.
It’s worth noting that there’s no point in simply reading a self-help book with no intention of actioning it. You’d be better off watching a film – it’d be more entertaining. For a book to change your life, you need to pick at least one point from it and decide “I’m going to do X differently going forward.”
Best Self-Improvement Books
If you feel you have a similar worldview, values, or goals as me, here are my favourite self-improvement books. I take a generous approach to self-improvement, because some of these self-improvement books may really fall under personal finance or health. However, they all helped me improve in shaping and pursuing my goals of health, happiness, and success.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones – James Clear
Atomic Habits was by far the most memorable one for me, because it’s so simple. A simple 4-step habit cycle – cue, craving, response, reward. It applies to both good and bad habits, and by altering one or more of those steps, you can establish new positive lifestyle habits or eliminate bad addictions. I talk about this all the time at any given opportunity because it’s brilliant.
Synopsis: No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving—every day. James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results. – Goodreads
I’ve written several posts based on Atomic Habits – especially How To Break Bad Habits & Start Good Habits
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos & Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson
I had to include Jordan Peterson in this as the king of self-improvement, especially for men. Peterson is many things to many people – therapist, psychologist, and professor. For me, he’s the greatest philosopher of our time, up there with the greats. I don’t agree with everything Peterson says and think he gets some of the biggest issues in life wrong, but still have respect for him on account of nailing the controversial topics so articulately, backed by facts and figures. In these self-improvement books, he pinpoints lots of small things to action – especially taking responsibility – which add up to big changes in one’s life.
12 Rules Synopsis: How should we live properly in a world of chaos and uncertainty? Jordan Peterson has helped millions of people, young and old, men and women, aim at a life of responsibility and meaning. Now he can help you. Drawing on his own work as a clinical psychologist and on lessons from humanity’s oldest myths and stories, Peterson offers 12 profound and realistic principles to live by. After all, as he reminds us, we each have a vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. Deep, rewarding and enlightening, 12 Rules for Life is a lifeboat built solidly for stormy seas: ancient wisdom applied to our contemporary problems. – Goodreads
12 More Rules Synopsis: In this long-awaited sequel, Peterson goes further, showing that part of life’s meaning comes from reaching out into the domain beyond what we know and adapting to an ever-transforming world. While an excess of chaos threatens us with uncertainty, an excess of order leads to a lack of curiosity and creative vitality. Beyond Order therefore calls on us to balance the two fundamental principles of reality – order and chaos - and reveals the profound meaning that can be found on the path that divides them.
In times of instability and suffering, Peterson reminds us that there are sources of strength on which we can all draw: insights borrowed from psychology, philosophy and humanity’s greatest myths and stories. Drawing on the hard-won truths of ancient wisdom, as well as deeply personal lessons from his own life and clinical practice, Peterson offers 12 new principles to guide listeners towards a more courageous, truthful and meaningful life. – Goodreads
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy – David D. Burns
This is the preeminent, awesome book on CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in the field. It gives great advice on how to improve your mood, how to keep things in perspective, and provides a strong case for therapy without drugs.
Synopsis: The good news is that anxiety, guilt, pessimism, procrastination, low self-esteem, and other ‘black holes’ of depression can be cured without drugs. In Feeling Good, eminent psychiatrist David D. Burns, M.D. outlines the remarkable, scientifically proven techniques that will immediately lift your spirits and help you develop a positive outlook on life. – Goodreads
Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker
We spend 1/3 of our lives asleep. It’s worth reading at least one book about that huge chunk of our life. My main takeaway from Why We Sleep is that sufficient good sleep has a positive impact on your life and is very, very important. It may sound obvious, but it’s nice to have the evidence to really drive the point home.
Synopsis: Professor Matthew Walker explores 20 years of cutting-edge research to solve the mystery of why sleep matters. Looking at creatures from across the animal kingdom as well as major human studies, Why We Sleep delves into everything from what really happens during REM sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect sleep and why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime, transforming our appreciation of the extraordinary phenomenon that safeguards our existence. – Goodreads
Money: Know More, Make More, Give More – Rob Moore
Money is a personal finance book that I found interesting for 2 main reasons. 1) It tells a fascinating account of the history of money, and 2) It says that once you’re making money, it’s about putting it to good use for the benefit of everyone and leaving a legacy.
Synopsis: Money is a game you can win. First, understand the rules. True financial independence provides the opportunity to use money the way you’d like, look after your family and plan for your future. This book explains how money works, how to understand it better and how to protect it once your bank balance starts growing.
Providing a fascinating overview of the complex ways in which money impacts the world along with simple, implementable systems for earning more, investing wisely and saving better, this remarkable audiobook, by self-made millionaire and best-selling author Rob Moore, will show you how to make money and make your money work for you. If you’re not where you want to be in your life, then it’s time to close the gap between the money you earn and the lifestyle you want – and get on track to creating the success you deserve. – GoodReads
Rich Dad, Poor Dad: 20th Anniversary Edition – Robert T. Kiyosaki
Another personal finance book, everyone’s heard of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It provides some good lessons in making your money start working for you. It may be slightly less relevant in a severe recession like this one, but still worth a read.
Synopsis: Rich Dad Poor Dad is Robert’s story of growing up with two dads – his real father and the father of his best friend, his rich dad – and the ways in which both men shaped his thoughts about money and investing. The book explodes the myth that you need to earn a high income to be rich and explains the difference between working for money and having your money work for you. – Goodreads
The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferris
This one’s a bit polarising, because Tim Ferris says that everyone’s dream job is the one that takes the least time. That’s true. But not everyone can work remotely, and not everyone can only work 4 hours per week. But I’m including it here because I am constantly striving to model my life more and more like the 4-Hour Work Week. So far, I’m about halfway there. It’s improved my life a lot.
Synopsis: Forget the old concept of retirement and the rest of the deferred-life plan – there is no need to wait and every reason not to, especially in unpredictable economic times. Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing high-end world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, or just living more and working less, this book is the blueprint. – Goodreads
Bad Self-Improvement Books
Bear in mind that most- and least-favourite self-improvement books are highly subjective. For me, Good Vibes, Good Life and Healing Is the New High were really disappointing. Despite a couple of good points, nothing could quiet the overwhelming feeling while reading that this is all simply just new-age mumbo jumbo. Absolute nonsense.
Another was The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***. So many people had posted it on Instagram, I thought it must have something of value. But like most Instagram posts, that stylish cover was only surface-level and lacked any real, helpful substance.
Additionally, The Chimp Paradox felt silly and forced, a book for the sake of writing a book.
That’s all the best self-improvement books recommendations. More posts on self-improvement here.