20 Self Development Books That Can Change Your Life

self development booksIt’s been quite a while since I wrote a post regarding self development books and it’s something I get asked about on a regular basis.

I plan on having a page on the Coach the Life Coach site dedicated to books that can help people become better coaches.

Not all will be on Life Coaching per se, in fact most won’t be as I seldom read coaching books these days, but all will be in the vain of understanding what makes us tick, and as such help us understand out own behavior.

I’m not going to go into massive detail as that would make the post stupidly long, but I wanted to share with you what I think are 20 of the most relevant books on self development you can buy.

Bear in mind I said relevant. ‘Think And Grow Rich’ was a ground breaking paradigm shifting work when it was first published. It’s still worth reading and I’m glad I took the trouble to do so.

However, since its publication almost a century ago other books have appeared on the scene with a similar message, but one that is more accessible to modern Society and more likely to resonate with a more discerning public.

The books are in one order and one order only, and that’s the order they popped into my head.

I realize some people will be horrified I missed of some classics like Flow, The Power of Now and 7 Habits, but that’s what makes posts like this so interesting, they’re complete subjectivity

All links are affiliate links to Amazon. Therefore, if you hate the thought of me making 50 cents or maybe even a tad more from your purchase, search the title in Amazon and sleep soundly in your bed at night knowing I’m not searching the Internet for a yacht to buy.

1. Your Brain At Work – David Rock

Simply put, my favorite book of all time in explaining how the brain works without using techno jargon or buzz words.

Rock writes the book almost as it were a novel, which in some cases it is. As he takes you through the story of a couple of busy married executives you come to realize why there brain lets them down as times and what it’s practical limitations are.

There isn’t a book I have recommended more often and not one person has bought it and disagreed that its dripping in awesomeness.

Buy now…

2. Buddhas Brain – Rick Hansen

Spirituality meets science and has a great time.

  • If you think science has all the answers, you’re probably wrong.
  • If you think spirituality and faith has all the answers, you’re probably wrong.
  • If you think your Life Coach has all the answers, you’re probably wrong.

However, if you think the first two combined can lead to extraordinary breakthroughs, you’re probably right.

If you want to know what it’s NEVER events that cause you suffering, but your interpretation of them, and why meditation is better than a case of beer, you should check out this excellent book.

Buy now…

3. Aligning With Your Core Values – Tim Brownson


The guy is now listing his own book in his most recommended, what arrogance, let’s form a lynch mob and storm either his castle (or 3 bedroomed house) now!

Lynch mob notwithstanding you may have a point, but for anybody prepared to do some work to find out what makes them tick, how to make better decisions, why they may be stuck ,and what job they should be in, I can honestly say this is a great starting point

Sure I’m biased, but I wrote this book because there’s nothing else out there like it, and there should be.

The self development industry as a whole devotes too much time to the symptoms (goal setting, time management, productivity etc) and not enough on what is driving those behaviors.

Buy now, personal edition…

Buy now, Life Coaches Edition…

4. The Brain That Changes Itself – Norman Doidge

The book that popularized the expression, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together’.

In and of itself that was good enough for me because all of a sudden I understood at a neurological level why anchoring works, rather than just using anecdotal evidence when explaining it to my clients.

Most people think that the older we get the less able we are to change and the cognitive function is bound to diminish.

They’re wrong, and presuming you don’t acquire a conditions such as dementia, and that you continue to exercise your brain, then you can be as sharp as a pin for your entire life.

Neuroplasticity is a fascinating and emerging subject. This book offers an insight for the layperson.

Buy now…

5. How We Decide – Jonah Lehrer

I wrote 70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain in large part because cognitive biases fascinate me (by the way you get that book for free if you sign up for my nesletter).

We ALL have blind spots in our thinking and because they’re blind spots we almost never see them.

Lehrer’s book is one of a handful I have on audio and the physical version and I have revisited many times. Lehrer is a journalist in the Malcolm Gladwell mold and as such this gem of a book is even more easy to read than, ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’.

You make dumb decisions, I make dumb decisions and professors who study people making dumb decisions, make dumb decisions and this book explains why.

Buy now…

6. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell

In my top 3 books of all time and one I have listened to in full at least 5 times.

If you think intuition and gut responses are merely nebulous feelings and always need analyzing before acting on, read this book.

Chock full of some great stories of people who avoided tragedy, losing a lot of money and even death by listening to their gut instinct.

As I always say, your gut instinct won’t always be right, but for the most parts it’s way cleverer than you are, so ignore it at your peril.

Buy now…

7. Stumbling On Happiness – Daniel Gilbert

There has been recent research showing that people having kids are actually less happier. Now that’s what I call a taboo subject, especially when the research goes on to say that parents happiness levels rise again when their kids leave home.

It’s some while since I read this book, but I seem to remember that Gilbert alluded to this in Stumbling On Happiness.

Whether he did or whether he didn’t I still think this is the best book I have ever read on happiness.

Gilbert a Psychology Professor at Harvard, is also very, very funny and I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

Buy now…

8. Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunbar

What the hell is a book on bizarre economics doing in a list like this? Well actually I’m including two such books because Superfreakonomics is equally as good.

I’ll tell you why it’s here, because it gives you a fascinating insight into what makes people tick, why we get things wrong, why drug dealers earn less than minimum wage and why a plan that could prevent hurricanes occurring relatively inexpensively cannot even get off the ground.

This isn’t a book on economics, it’s a book on why weird shit happens and why as humans we sometimes seriously mess up.

Buy now…

9. Structure of Magic Vol 1 – Bandler & Grinder

Fancy an hysterical yarn that will have you flicking the pages in eager anticipation as you learn more and more about self development whilst laughing your ass off?

Then read the book below, because The Structure of Magic won’t deliver on that score.

The first ever book written on NLP and quite honestly a hard if thankfully fairly short read. It’s really aimed at therapists (and maybe coaches to a lesser extent) as it takes a very close look at the structure of language and how it impacts peoples behavior and emotional well-being.

From the book came the term, ‘The Meta Model’. The Meta model calls for the total specificity of language and dictates if we take what we hear from clients at face value we are highly likely to make false assumptions

I could explain more about meta model violations such as deletion, distortion and generalization but I want you to stay awake, at least until the end of the post.

Buy now…

10. How To Get A Grip – Matthew Kimberley

I have mentioned this book several times and I’m sure I’ll mention it several more. When Matthew sent it me I didn’t even want to read it, I had enough books on my plate from aspiring amateurs.

This was different though because it is without doubt THE funniest book I have ever read on self development and it’s a crime against humanity that it’s not a worldwide best seller.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn a lot and you’ll wonder if Kimberley ever did bury his TV in his backyard so the Badgers could piss on it. Well I did anyway.

Buy now…

11. The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz

A client gave me this book and I read it out of duty more than because I wanted to. Well thank the Lord for feeling a sense of duty because it’s an amazing book.

Miguel Ruiz takes difficult problems and distills them into very easy to understand solutions. It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s the stories you tell yourself around those events.

If you have ever dragged yourself through the court of your own mind for the same ‘crime’ again and again, you can do one of two things.

Either call Amnesty International and have them form a cordon around your brain, or buy this book. The latter option is probably easier.

Buy now…

12. How To Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

I said at the beginning that I feel books like ‘Think and Grow Rich’ whilst being groundbreaking at the time, have since been bypassed.

‘How To Win Friends and Influence People” hasn’t and it’s as relevant today as it was three quarter of a century ago.

The advice is not given with a view to manipulate or create shallow relationships, but to demonstrate that we can all (if we desire and are prepared to work) become masters of rapport, be more popular and have more to offer.

When I read this book as far as I was concerned, I hadn’t started on my self development journey. I was wrong, very wrong because Carnegie’s book shifted my thinking for the better.

Buy now…

13. When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chödrön

Suffering is an inescapable part of life and to fight that fact is akin to fighting several hungry Lions armed with a melon and two live haddock.

You’re probably going to lose.

Chödrön encourages us in the Buddhist tradition to accept life for what it is rather than continually fighting for a reality that doesn’t exist.

I often tell clients that security and stability are illusions.

And because they are, nothing is permanent and Chödrön explains that fact of nature in a much more eloquent way, and one that has touched hundreds of thousands of lives for the better.

Buy now…

14. Mans Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl spent four years in four different German run concentration camps during World War 2. His observations during that time led to his ground breaking development of the psychology field of logotherapy.

Logotherapy is almost anti-Freudian in its belief that human beings aren’t wired up to seek pleasure, but to seek meaning.

Those that survived the horrors of places like Auschwitz for any length of time, more often than not had a strong purpose for existence. It is that, which Frankl believed drove them on and gave them hope, ultimately helping them to survive.

At times the book is both harrowing and depressing, but if you can look past the atrocities and the degradation of mankind, you’ll find an uplifting book that offers hope.

Buy now…

15, Learned Optimism – Martin Seligman

It’s important to understand the difference between optimistic thinking and positive thinking because they are not the same thing and many people in self development get them confused.

The jury is out scientifically speaking, as to whether affirmations and positive thinking are always helpful. In fact, many people think they can actually be unhelpful in certain circumstances.

If you’re being chased by a very hungry bear and you have 2lbs of live salmon wriggling around down your underwear, thinking affirmations and telling yourself not to worry because everything will be ok, probably wont help.

Being optimistic that you have the power to change things however, would encourage you to look for solutions and in no time at all you’ll have tossed the fish to the grateful bear.

The remarkable conclusions about the benefits of thinking optimistically are readily accepted wisdom now and include, better health, better prospects for success at work and a longer life span.

Buy now…

16. As A Man Thinketh – James Allen

Over a century before the advent of neuroplasticity and brain imagining an English dude born to parents who could neither read, nor write took it on himself to write a book on self development that nailed it.

I’m serious when I say that this pamphlet sized book tells you all you need to know about self development.  Your thoughts dictate your life PERIOD.

Buy now…

17 Getting Things Done – David Allen

This is the only book in the list I actually didn’t like. However, in the spirit of, “There is no how it is, but only how it is for you” I feel the need to include it.

Way too many clients, friends and acquaintances have declared it a modern day masterpiece for me to ignore that.

Not only that, but even though I didn’t enjoy it and found it way to left-brained for how I operate I could still see the value in what Allen was saying.

Almost certainly the greatest book on productivity and time management ever written, which probably explains why I’m shit at productivity and time management and you should never be tempted to hire me to help you with yours.

Buy now…

18. Awaken The Giant Within – Anthony Robbins

I frequently get asked by people something along the lines of, “Which book is the best starting point for reading up on NLP?”

It’s an almost impossible question to answer because there are so many different sides to NLP and whereas I find the language aspect the most useful from a Life Coaching perspective there is a chance that may bore you to tears.

I hesitate to recommend this book for anybody wanting to learn NLP because for legal reasons surrounding ownership of NLP (thankfully it was later decided that nobody owned it) Robbins was forced to change all the terminology.

Having said all that, this is very much a book about NLP and as such is probably the most accessible, comprehensive and well written.

Buy now…

19. Six Thinking Hats – Edward de Bono

It’s amazing how often I mention this book to clients, yet it’s relatively unknown outside the world of business.

However, a little like Seth Godin’s ‘The Dip’ it translates perfectly to self development.

It’s a book designed to help you think about decision making in an entirely new manner. We all have our default method and when we look at a problem this is how we view it.

If you take a cavalier approach then that’s what you will default to and you won’t even see potential pitfalls. Similarly, if you are a worrier and usually only see problems that is what will focus in on.

Even though it was written primarily with business meetings in mind, it can also be a one person brain storming session.

Suppose you start off with your white hat on, then you are only allowed to gather data and not judge it.

When you have done that you adopt the red hat and listen to your gut instinct.

The black hat is where you become logical and cautious, the yellow looks for benefits and to see how everything can be tied together and I can’t remember what the green hat is for so either buy the book or Google it!

Buy now…

20. Embracing Fear – Thom Rutledge

A book few people have heard of which is a huge shame because it’s excellent and far better imho than the much more celebrated Fear The Fear And Do It Anyway bu Susan Jeffers

Rarely these days do books give me more than the occasional A-ha! moment but this book gave me several.

Rutledge is also very self-deprecating, bang on the money with his observations about fear and funny. Not a bad combination in my opinion.

Buy now…

They’re mine, now it’s your choice!