I remember the first time I got my hands on a self-improvement book. I was baffled. At that moment I realized my fate was not set in stone. I could become my own drill master and coach. The books I read would set out the training course for me to overcome. All I had to do was listen to that voice that aspired to climb higher and higher. Every time I committed to a new challenge I knew it was going to be outside my comfort zone, but after enough iterations, I also knew it will not just be part of my repertoire, it will be part of me. I just turned 25, and while I acknowledge some inherent dangers in the concept of self-improvement, I still believe in the beauty of self-directing your life. This is why I am sharing with you 25 Best Books on Self-Improvement You Need to Read Before You Die!
These are affiliate links to Amazon.com and Blinkist, using these will support HighExistence, thank you.
1. Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck?: And Other Provocations – Seth Godin
This book is a masterpiece, and unlike most self-improvement books, this one targets an infinite array of areas in which you can, and ultimately must, improve. With its ruthless honesty and genuine inspiration, Godin makes you ponder the difficult questions you wouldn’t ever dare to ask yourself. The result is a completely new perspective of the world- a fresher, more vibrant perspective, packed with new and bold possibilities. If you need a friend that understands, a boss that forces you to venture deep in your non-comfort zone, a wise guru that tells you what needs to be left behind and a sage that proclaims the coming of a new age, then look no further; you will find these shrewd voices all tied together in this magnificent book. Make sure to get this one.
2. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Perhaps it is the fact that randomness played such a significant role in my years as a poker player that I find this book utterly important. We often attribute skill where there is only luck; we confuse correlation with causation and we underestimate the incredible effect small changes can have. This book and my time at the tables gave me a perspective I unfortunately rarely encounter in others: you can do everything right and still lose, or do everything wrong and still win. It is thus not about the outcome; it is about your actions that have lead you there. This important message is central to many of my decisions I make in my life and this book by Taleb helps you develop such a perspective so you will be able to live in a world one cannot fully understand, where the results are not always clear markers of performance and where chance seems to play games with our fates. Stop being fooled by randomness!
Read the key insights of Fooled by Randomness in 15 minutes for free on Blinklist.
3. The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene
I read this book in a time where I thought power was something I should attain. Power for power’s sake. And while I disagree with my former self on this point, the fact remains that power is very real, it forms the invisible scepter of all hierarchical relations around us. I still recommend this book; I believe it is important to know how people use power for their own benefit and what to do to protect yourself from certain abuses of power. Besides the fact that all stories in this book gravitate around power, it contains many life lessons, amazing historical anecdotes and, if read in a certain light, the ability to use power for good. From Caesar to Goethe, Sun-Tzu to Machiavelli, this eye opening book spans a wide range of human development. If you, like me, would rather be interested in something less egotistical, perhaps Greene’s latest book Mastery will suffice (I haven’t read that one myself). Another great book in the same style, but this time around, covering a wider scope, and, perhaps, something that will make the world make a better place.
4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Stephen. R. Covey
The title of this book doesn’t capture it all. Covey shares with us seven habits one should adopt to become truly effective in whatever you would like to achieve. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. He stresses the fact that we need to go through a paradigm shift – a fundamental change in how we perceive the world and ourselves. This book can be read as a guide, with practices and everything, to go through the stages in order to make such a shift happen. Part shock-therapy, part ageless spiritual wisdom, Covey’s book is packed with wisdom that actually makes a difference. And, as I mentioned, don’t let the title of the book fool you; it is about much more than just becoming more effective. It is about becoming a whole integer person who not only seeks the best in oneself but also in the people around her. A must read for anyone who feels there is always something left to learn.
Not enough time? Read the short version of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for free on Blinklist.
5. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys – James Fadiman
While finding a book on psychedelics in a list of books on self-improvement might come as a surprise, I believe any metaphysical distinction between tools such as books, meditation or molecules hold no ground and they should all be solely judged on their merits. And the merits of certain chemical keys, used in a constructive way, are perhaps bigger than any book in this list. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide will teach you how to prepare yourself and your surroundings, what and how much to take, and what do do when something goes wrong, so you can safely enhance your thinking, creativity, introspection and emotional balance. This book contains everything you need to know about using psychedelics as a tool for self-improvement while drawing on extensive scientific literature and personal wisdom. A must have for the beginning and experienced psychonaut alike.
6. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time – Brian Tracy
We all know how that destructive downward spiral feels. We have to do some big task, of which the thought alone triggers resistance, not sure how and where to begin and feeling overwhelmed before we start; we get easily distracted to get rid of that feeling, only to suddenly realize that hours went by- precious hours- and then find ourselves in the same position as before, still not knowing where and how to begin, but now, feeling guilty on top of it which expresses itself in more craving for distraction. Ad infinitum. To break this spell of procrastination before it paralyzes us, Tracy advises us to Eat That Frog, to set our priorities straight, deconstruct larger tasks into smaller ones, learn when to tackle the big frog first or to start out with something else. Tracy is truly a motivational writer, and while I wished he had gone a bit deeper into the psychological reasons why people procrastinate, it is still a must have for anyone who wants to break the spell and get shit done.
Just want the tips? Read the key insights of Eat That Frog for free on Blinklist.
7. Think and Grow Rich: The Original 1937 Unedited Edition – Napoleon Hill
A from 1937, this book by Hill is a masterpiece. Don’t bother with the edited versions since they all omit important and controversial information: some historical, and some pertaining to the goal of the book, which is to think and grow rich. The word rich might imply that this book is all about material gain, and while it certainly covers that area, it is about much more than that. Perhaps the first explicit mention of positive thinking, on how to care not just about the cash in your pocket, but also the thoughts in your head, this book has been able to withstand the destruction of time. It covers all the basics from planning, decision making and persistence, to the more advanced techniques as auto-suggestion, transmutation and what we can learn from fear. This is not a grow rich book, but a timeless guide to find out what actually matters. As it says clearly in the beginning ‘Riches can’t always be measured in money!’
Read the 15-page version of Think and Grow Rich for free on Blinklist.
8. The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind – Alan Wallace
In a world that is dominated by ever stronger technologies designed to grab hold of your attention, a way to empower yourself is to bring that attention back to where you want it to shine. This book offers just that; in The Attention Revolution, Wallace describes the path to attaining Shamatha, a buddhist meditation state of mind that is free from any flickering of distraction. It is a hard and long path, probably not possible for us to reach in this lifetime. However, even getting to stage two or three will make everything in life easier. A wonderful introduction to meditation, The Attention Revolution will inspire you to take on the challenge and see what training your mind can actually achieve. Once you have achieved such a level of focus you can put it to use to open your heart with the practice of The Four Immeasurables or deepen the practice with this wonderful commentary by Dudjom Lingpa, both by Alan B. Wallace.
9. The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health – John Durant
In the last 10,000 years or so it seems we have been propelled into an ever faster paced world forged by our own hands and minds. Only recently have we been able to reconstruct our journey and reflect back upon our humble origins. This amazing book is such a reflection. It goes back to the paleolithic searching for answers to health and longevity. Between science and his personal experiments, Durant weaves a mind blowing story that will convey the importance of an evolutionary perspective on how to live well. It covers everything from nutrition to exercise, from sleep to fasting, from ancient practices to modern biohacking and even has an outline for a vision of the future where depression and obesity have become obsolete. If you only have room for a couple of books on this list, make sure this one is included.
10. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation – Daniel J. Siegel
As my Burmese meditation teacher often proclaimed, ‘Mindfulness alone is not enough!’ Siegel seems to have taken this to heart and made an unique synthesis between meditation, psychoanalysis and neuroscience which he calls ‘Mindsight‘, as he says himself, a potent combination between emotional and social intelligence. All of us deal with some disorder or another, something that seems to disturb the very core of our being at ease, and while it might not always be the best strategy to want to get rid of it, it certainly helps to understand and have compassion for that little aspect that upsets that perfect image of ourselves. Brimming with techniques, insights and epiphanies, this book contains everything you need to know to reprogram your brain and to optimally use its capacity of neuroplasticity. A great book for spiritual seekers and scientists alike.