Books have the strange and extraordinary ability to change the way we think and act, simply by looking at little black shapes on a page. Reading certain books has increased my happiness, self discipline, productivity, the quality of my relationships, the amount of money I make, and more. This is a list of the best self improvement books that changed my life for the better.
1. The Luck Factor by Brian Tracy
The Luck Factor is an audiobook program by success author and speaker Brian Tracy. Brian Tracy is somewhat prolific in this space and has a large number of books, audiobooks and programs. Of those I’ve sampled, The Luck Factor is the best.
This book is based on the idea that what we normally think of as “luck” is, in reality, largely under our control. Desirable outcomes most often attributed to luck can be determined through your thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
The Luck Factor runs through the essentials of success with detail and enthusiasm. It covers how to set goals and achieve them, the practices and behaviours of successful people, how to replace harmful thoughts with beneficial ones, how to manage time, what to prioritize in order to advance in your career and life and more.
There is a ton of good information here, all fantastic stuff for the nuts and bolts of life – what I called the second level (ordered sequentially as experienced by me personally, not hierarchically) in the five levels of consciousness.
I listened to this program multiple times over and in terms of measurable positive impact on my life it is probably the best self improvement book I have ever read (listened to).
A word of warning: The Luck Factor is slightly dated as it was released in 1997, and some of the business and career-specific advice may not be as applicable today as it was then. However by my estimate this makes up less than 10% of the total material, so nothing to worry about. When I was listening to The Luck Factor around 2013 it was still highly relevant and beneficial.
You can get The Luck Factor on Audible and I would highly recommend that you do.
2. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy
Have you ever met a hypochondriac? Chances are they were sick all the time, right?
What about someone who’s negative all the time? Do bad things keep “happening to them”? How about a positive person? Do they seem to get all the “lucky breaks”?
This is not a coincidence. Our minds are incredibly powerful and thoughts shape reality in a big way. From the book:
An excellent way to get acquainted with the two functions of your mind is to look upon your own mind as a garden. You are a gardener, and you are planting seeds (thoughts) in your subconscious mind all day long, based on your habitual thinking. As you sow in your subconscious mind, so shall you reap in your body and environment.
You can choose and implement your beliefs and orientations towards the world. The seeds of your thoughts grow into a lush, abundant garden or they create feeble plants that wither and die. It all depends on what is going on inside your head.
This is the best book I’ve read that deals exclusively with the subconscious, and easily among the best self improvement books I have ever read. It describes in various ways how the subconscious works and provides practical techniques to implement the information in your life. I read this book before I really got into spirituality, but looking back at it now I see that it is also quite spiritual.
If some of the claims in The Power of Your Subconscious Mind seem unbelievable, unrealistic, or rub you the wrong way, just ignore them. This book was written in the early 1960s, and whether you believe everything the author says literally is not the point.
I would recommend not trying to pick it apart with your rationality, especially if you are a hyper-rationalist type. That is missing the point. The point is to understand the principles and the principles are fundamentally true.
You can access a free PDF of The Power of Your Subconscious Mind here.
The audiobook version is also available on YouTube. Enjoy!
3. Self Discipline in 10 Days by Theodore Bryant
I used to have terrible problems with procrastination. At university I would write entire papers the night before they were due, staying up all night drinking coffee after coffee and often literally running to class the next morning to hand the paper in on time.
I created a huge amount of stress and anxiety for myself with this kind of behaviour, and procrastinating on schoolwork is just one example. I also procrastinated on more mundane tasks like cleaning my room, making phone calls, responding to emails, doing laundry and dishes, and most other responsibilities a university student has.
Today I have essentially no problems with procrastination and am able to get things done efficiently and effectively in almost every case. Self Discipline in 10 Days played a huge role in solving my procrastination problem for good. It had such a large impact on me that I already wrote an entire post about it.
The reason Self Discipline in 10 Days is so effective is because it is not generic or commonplace “self help” advice. The exercises in this book have you dive into your deepest fears, regrets, and emotional hangups about success and failure. When done according to the instructions in the book, this is highly effective. I have also used the affirmation techniques in this book to get better grades and make more money. It works.
This is by far and away the best self improvement book related to procrastination and self discipline I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
4. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson
This volume is huge and by no means did I read the entire thing. Several essays in particular stood out and had a large impact on me. Rather than describe them I will give you a few choice quotes from each.
There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion… Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
Heroism is an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual’s character. Now to no other man can its wisdom appear as it does to him, for every man must be supposed to see a little farther on his own proper path than any one else.
The feeble souls are drawn to the south or negative pole. They look at the profit or hurt of the action. They never behold a principle until it is lodged in a person. They do not wish to be lovely, but to be loved. The class of character like to hear of their faults: the other class do not like to hear of faults; they worship events; secure to them a fact, a connexion, a certain chain of circumstances, and they will ask no more.
The hero sees that the event is ancillary: it must follow him. A given order of events has no power to secure to him the satisfaction which the imagination attaches to it; the soul of goodness escapes from any set of circumstances, whilst prosperity belongs to a certain mind, and will introduce that power and victory which is its natural fruit, into any order of events. No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.
“Oh Iole, how did you know that Hercules was a god?” “Because,” answered Iole, “I was content the moment my eyes fell on him. When I beheld Theseus, I desired that I might see him offer battle, or at least guide his horses in the chariot-race; but Hercules did not wait for a contest; he conquered whether he stood, or walked, or sat, or whatever thing he did.”
But because of the dual constitution of things, in labor as in life there can be no cheating. The thief steals from himself. The swindler swindles himself. For the real price of labor is knowledge and virtue, whereof wealth and credit are signs. These signs, like paper money, may be counterfeited or stolen, but that which they represent, namely, knowledge and virtue, cannot be counterfeited or stolen.
These ends of labor cannot be answered but by real exertions of the mind, and in obedience to pure motives. The cheat, the defaulter, the gambler, cannot extort the knowledge of material and moral nature which his honest care and pains yield to the operative. The law of nature is, Do the thing, and you shall have the power: but they who do not the thing have not the power.
Our strength grows out of our weakness. The indignation which arms itself with secret forces does not awaken until we are pricked and stung and sorely assailed. A great man is always willing to be little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill. The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point.
I read these mostly back in 2012/2013 and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson heavily influenced my perspective on virtue-based character development. These essays are full of timeless wisdom. Classics are often the best self improvement books, and this is a prime example.
5. Mastery by Robert Greene
Mastery is a 2012 book from Robert Green, author of the famous 48 Laws of Power. It is an ambitious attempt to lay out a detailed, universal path to mastery in any field or domain. In Greene’s typical style, Mastery describes a series of principles and illustrates them with rigorously researched real-life examples.
This book is deep and comprehensive. It is long and covers a lot of ground. Subsections include: discovering your life’s calling, the “ideal apprenticeship”, social intelligence, creative strategies and breakthroughs, and fusing the intuitive with the rational. Emphasis is placed on the value of meticulous practice, consistency, trial and error, and learning to love “the grind”.
Featured historical figures include Mozart, Ben Franklin, Goethe, Darwin, and Leonardo Da Vinci. More recent profiles include John Coltrane, Paul Graham, Freddie Roach, and V.S. Ramachandran.
A main takeaway from Mastery was just that it takes a very, very long time to get good at something. This may seem obvious but I think there is actually benefit in having it drilled into your head, especially in our current culture that is characterized by instant gratification and a constant increase in the pace of progress.
Not only was this book informationally useful, I found it motivating and encouraging as I listened over a several week period. Highly recommended if you’re up for a deep dive.
Those are the five best self improvement books that changed my life for the better. I hope this list proves helpful for you and that you have the opportunity to use these books to improve your own life. Good luck on your journey.