If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in self-improvement. That’s a great thing because self-improvement is absolutely life-changing.
Self-improvement is the effort of constantly trying to improve yourself, in every way you can think of. Improving your mindset, mental fortitude, energy, confidence, habits, social skills, career, business, and overall life, are all a part of that effort.
Self-improvement has become an incredibly popular subject in recent years, which creates some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there’s a lot of information out there on the subject in the form of books, blogs, and videos. The bad news is that because we have so much information, it’s hard to determine which information is valuable and which is total garbage.
That’s where this article comes in. The purpose is to show you the 10 best books for getting started with self-improvement.
This list is by no means comprehensive as the subject of self-improvement is so huge. But reading the books on this list is an excellent start and will lay the foundation for the rest of your journey.
#1 How to Win Friends and Influence People
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is the most fundamental book on people skills ever written.
Published back in 1936, it has been bought over 30 million times and is by far the most well-recognized self-help book out there.
The book breaks down people skills into easy-to-follow rules, 30 of them to be exact. They cover topics ranging from how to make people like you, winning people to your way of thinking, how to form genuine relationships, and overall the fundamentals of interacting with people in an effective way.
The rules themselves are very simple and easy to follow. Things like:
- Do Not Criticize, Condemn or Complain
- Be Generous With Praise
- Remember Their Name
- Be Genuinely Interested In Other People
If you’ve ever wondered how to be the highly sociable person everyone loves, then this book is for you.
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn — and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
“Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.”
“You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”
#2 Think and Grow Rich
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is a curation of the 13 most common habits of wealthy and successful people, according to a study of 500 such individuals over the course of 20 years.
The beauty of this book is that it focuses on the fundamental and foundational things, rather than very specific cases. Things like mindset and overall strategy, rather than recommending specific career paths that won’t apply to everyone.
In fact, we can break down the 13 chapters of the book into those 2 main lessons of mindset and strategy.
- Mindset, being that you must believe you can do it, to totally convince yourself that it’s possible and to keep going in the face of adversity
- Strategy, being that one should aim to acquire specialized knowledge, make swift decisions, and spend time with people who are also successful or at least aiming to be
Read it if you want to understand the mindset, strategy, and overall framework you need to become successful.
“You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.”
“More than five hundred of the most successful men this country has ever known told the author their greatest success came just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken them.”
“The way of success is the way of continuous pursuit of knowledge.”
“The only limitation is that which one sets up in one's own mind.”
“That is one of the tricks of opportunity. It has a sly habit of slipping in by the back door, and often it comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat. Perhaps this is why so many fail to recognize opportunity.”
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is the only book of its kind ever published.
Marcus (121 AD to 180 AD) was the emperor of Rome during the height of the empire. This book is his personal journal that he wrote in every morning before starting his day and every evening before bed. He put down all of his private thoughts about his own self-improvement, including:
- Motivational reminders for himself
- Philosophical thoughts he was meditating on
- Reflections on his thoughts and feelings
All of the writing is relatable and very practical because it was written by Marcus for himself personally, rather than being a formal publication. It's very raw, like reading a collection of small quotes and life advice to yourself. It’s also the perfect introduction to stoic philosophy since it is the most approachable and practical.
The Meditations is particularly good for demonstrating what practical self-improvement looks like. It’s not faking it till you make it or pretending to be all rough and tough. It’s about putting in consistent effort to act in the best way you can, with wisdom and virtue.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”
#4 On the Shortness of Life
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca will be the most eye-opening and transformative book you every read — period.
Seneca was a stoic philosopher– that's the same philosophy that Marcus Aurelius followed. Much of Seneca’s writing about stoicism is in the form of letters and essays. We find the most powerful one in this book where Seneca offers critical advice about how to live a happy, successful, and full life.
Seneca puts things into clear perspective: most people waste their time on stress, worry, and other meaningless things. He emphasizes that time is the most valuable thing we have. We should not let other people or our own feelings take us away from really living life. Focusing on spending our time on things that give us fulfillment and happiness is the only way to lead a rich life.
Put simply, On the Shortness of Life is a practical guide for getting the most out of your time and life.
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
“They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.”
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
“Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.”
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”
#5 The Power of Now
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is a cure for anxiety.
If you've ever suffered from anxiety, you'll know that it feels like being stuck in your own head. You're always thinking about the future and what could happen. Tolle argues that this thinking is the biggest thing that causes anxiety and presents actionable strategies to live more in reality.
Here is one of his best pieces of advice: turn your brain off. Let go of your thoughts and totally stop thinking. Just take action immediately. Once you start moving and acting, you’ll find that your anxiety goes away. You'll be so absorbed in the present moment that you forget about the fear of the future. It’s a much happier way to live – you enjoy things more when you’re acting in the moment and not thinking about it.
I recommend this one to anyone that feels that they’re not living in the present or have feelings of anxiety. This book helps with bringing you back to reality and living a fuller life.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
“Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it’s no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing.”
“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.”
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”
“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. Primary reality is within; secondary reality without.”
#6 The Power of Habit
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is the definitive guide to building habits.
Your habits lay the foundation of your life. With good habits like getting enough sleep, exercising, and staying focused at work, you build a good life. Bad habits build the opposite.
Duhigg presents the best science-backed methods for building better habits. He demonstrates that habits always work in 3-step loops:
- Cue – something triggers the routine section of the habit loop, like seeing can of soda in the fridge
- Routine – the action that takes place, like drinking the soda instead of going for a run
- Reward – that pleasurable feeling you get from acting out the routine, like tasting that delicious sugary drink
He then shows how you can tweak each step in the loop to build good habits and break bad ones. Once you understand how to do that, you can build an amazing life.
Learn how to lay the foundation for a successful life by building habits. Once you do, you’re perfectly set up to conquer the rest of your goals now that you have a solid base of positive habits.
“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”
“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”
“As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one part of their lives — in the gym, or a money management program — that strength spilled over into what they ate or how hard they worked. Once willpower became stronger, it touched everything.”
“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”
“This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.”
#7 Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini teaches a critical life skill: human psychology.
Learning about psychology is useful because it helps you to understand people on a really deep level. Psychology deals with the underlying mechanisms that control how our minds think and make decisions. This book explains how you can use those mechanisms to your advantage to influence people – and avoid being influenced yourself.
- What wording should you use to negotiate a higher salary?
- How do marketers and salespeople use psychological tricks to get you to spend more money?
- How can you talk, dress, and act in a way that makes people see you as an authority figure?
Influence gives answers to all of these questions, backed by cognitive psychology research. Plus lots of practical examples to make things extra clear.
This book is critical for learning how to effectively navigate the world, influence others, and sell yourself. You’ll need it any time you try to negotiate, sell a product, market something, or to defend against someone trying to influence you.
“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”
“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”
“There is a natural human tendency to dislike a person who brings us unpleasant information, even when that person did not cause the bad news. The simple association with it is enough to stimulate our dislike.”
“Persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.”
“The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.”
#8 The 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is the most definitive guide to strategy and power dynamics.
Hard work alone won’t get you where you want to be. A CEO or top business owner works hard, maybe up to double the amount of the average person. Yet they earn annual incomes that are many many times that of the average person. They are able to do this because they understand strategy. They know the moves they must make in order to gain advantages in life.
At the same time, one must also be able to defend themselves against malicious people. Perhaps you’re perfectly happy with your current situation, but that doesn’t mean other people won’t hurt you. There could be colleagues at work playing office politics or some acquaintance attempting to damage your reputation.
Understanding strategy and power dynamics will help you with all of those things. The 48 Laws of Power teaches it all.
“Always Say Less Than Necessary” — Law 4
“When Asking for Help, Appeal to the Self-interests of Others, Never to Their Mercy or Gratitude” — Law 13
“Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker — Appear Dumber Than Your Mark” — Law 21
“Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless” — Law 30
“Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One” — Law 34
Mastery by Robert Greene is about learning how to become a master in life.
The word Mastery in this context is defined as the achievement of absolute skill and knowledge of a particular thing. It can be anything from a sport you play, art you create, business you build, or the field of work you’re in. It is the highest achievement because, at that level, you’ve become one with your work. You produce unique and incredible works that are truly fulfilling and rewarding for you.
Greene uses the stories of both historical and modern masters to explain how one can achieve mastery for themselves. You'll hear about the journies of such masters as:
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Charles Darwin
- Albert Einstein
- Paul Graham
How did these masters get their start? Where, what, and how did they learn? What did they do over the course of their life that brought them to the level of mastery? Greene shows how it is a combination of pesistence, hard work, passion, creativity, and boldness.
Mastery will teach you those underlying principles of how to persue and master a life’s work. Doing so will give you a deep feeling of fulfilment and the experience of true success.
“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”
“The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.”
“Everything that happens to you is a form of instruction if you pay attention.”
“Masters and those who display a high level of creative energy are simply people who manage to retain a sizable portion of their childhood spirit despite the pressures and demands of adulthood.”
“If we experience any failures or setbacks, we do not forget them because they offend our self-esteem. Instead we reflect on them deeply, trying to figure out what went wrong and discern whether there are any patterns to our mistakes.”
#10 Man’s Search for Meaning
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl is a book about how to find your purpose in life.
Many people struggle with this as they find it difficult to choose one thing to commit their energy and life’s work to. But in order to feel really fulfilled, truly happy through to your core, you must find your purpose. Frankl was able to, even though he became a victim to the Nazi’s.
Frankl suffered years of unspeakable horror in the Nazi death camps. During that time, he witnessed something extraordinary: some of the prisoners survived and even thrived during their captivity. This thriving was a result of finding their purpose in life, even in such difficult circumstances.
Through his story, Frankl is able to show that purpose is not something life gives to us, it is something you must define for yourself. You choose your purpose and then live it every single day. That’s what those prisoners did: they defined their purpose. For some, it was to show strength for their families. For Frankl, it was to survive long enough to get out, to write about what he saw during his captivity.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
“No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.”
“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
Self-improvement is a wonderful journey, the most valuable one you will ever have in your life. Take the time to start out right by reading books that both inspire and teach. The list here is an amazing start.