Around 7 years ago I got into self-help, or my preferred nomenclature, personal development. It all started with a book, and then a retreat, and then a lifestyle change that I much prefer. I’m always looking to level up and invite more peace and stability into my life.
Over the years, I’ve realized we’re never really ‘done’ with the personal development work, but with each passing year, I become more aware, gentler, more successful in my endeavors, and happier overall.
These books are great for anyone, but since I only have the direct experience of being a woman, I find that these books touch on the things that we struggle with and most yearn to grow through.
Some are written by women and some by men (and some by both), and many are read by the author on the audio version, which I love. I hope you get as much out of this list of self-help books as much as I have:
What Makes You Not a Buddhist
This was the first self-help book I read, and one I’ve recommended often in my past posts about life-changing books. I love how the author explains non-attachment, the power of presence, and more core Buddhist principles in an easy-to-follow way.
I’d recommend reading this one rather than listening to it on audio. Sometimes the reader doesn’t get the tone quite right, and I think the book was meant to be gentler than he reads it.
The Power of Now
This book took a bit of time and self-reflection to fully grasp, but it was worth it. It’s a life-changing book about the power and importance of being in the moment, without worrying about the past nor future. That’s hard to do, but he makes a great case for consciously choosing it.
I love listening to this on audio at least once per year, usually around New Year’s. There’s a bit of Q and A, which I find helpful, plus Eckhart Tolle sounds a bit like Father Time and Gandolph combined.
The Universe Has Your Back
I listen to all of Gabby Bernstein’s books. You might find it a bit woo-woo at first, but you don’t have to take the entire book to heart to get benefits out of her perspective. To summarize, this book is about learning to trust life, which is a recurring theme of hers.
Gabby reads all of her own books, and I find it best to listen to her since her books are so personal, often drawing on her own experience.
Tiny Beautiful Things
Cheryl Strayed, best known as the author of Wild, used to be an anonymous advice columnist under the pen name, Dear Sugar. While not a typical ‘self-help’ book, the advice that Cheryl gives and the beautifully vulnerable way she writes may move you to tears. It sure did for me multiple times, and made me a superfan of hers.
I prefer this one in book form, and love being able to flip back to certain stories and pages to highlight and write in the margins.
Stillness is the Key
Ryan Holiday’s books are all good. They’re often based on Stoicism and Taoist beliefs, the ancient origins of self-help. He writes by providing specific examples and telling stories, as does Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Both do a good job of illustrating their points with well-researched moments in history.
I love to listen to Ryan’s books, which he narrates himself.
Everything is Figureoutable
Marie Forleo’s book will pep you up like no other, especially if this is a pivotal point in your life. She tells her story of jumping from profession to profession in search of her dream in such a relatable way. It’s encouraging and has tangible practices you can try yourself.
I recommend listening to the audiobook version of this one. Marie is hilarious, and it’s a performance that I think is best experienced from the woman herself.
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
Dr. Nathanial Branden is thought of as the father of self-esteem. For Ayn Rand fans, you might enjoy his references to his association with the author.
This book helped me realize how important it is to be honest with ourselves and to live in integrity, with purpose. You might be surprised to find that your self-esteem wasn’t what you thought! I sure did.
I like to read this book to myself. It is a very personal book that you’ll want to pause on and think over often. I tend to take my time with it and have a journal nearby each time I read.
Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for authoring Eat, Pray, Love, is an amazing writer, full stop. She seems to effortlessly switch from self-help, to fiction, to autobiographical, which I find impressive.
Big Magic falls more into the self-help category, and is directed at anyone who needs motivation to live out their best lives. I tend to like reading this one in pieces on short flights when I need a pick-me-up.
There’s just one point I don’t agree with her on, and that’s putting work out there to be helpful to others. She talks that down, but I think it’s the purest motivation there is.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
This is a quick listen at under 3 hours, but packs a punch of important-to-remember information about 4 key things. Don Miguel Ruiz reminds us to be impeccable with our words, to take nothing personally, to assume others are doing their best, and to always do our best.
I like listening to this one while running errands. It used to be a really nice listen on the U-bahn (subway) back when I lived in Berlin.
Dare to Lead
Brené Brown is a popular author and public speaker with many great reads, all based on her studies of vulnerability. While Daring Greatly is her most famous book, I connected with Dare to Lead more. Leadership can be scary and difficult at times, and her practices of compassion and radical self-reflection are both helpful and necessary.
I listened to this book on audio and thought it was perfect. Brené Brown reads it herself, which adds to the personal aspects of her own life that she uses as examples.
Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment
This book was co-written by a psychologist husband-wife duo, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. Drawing from their personal experience as well as studies, they provide a blueprint for identifying and working through unconscious patterns that can destroy relationships.
While it might seem odd to recommend a relationship book, I find it’s essential to learn how to be in healthy relationships. I have had to study and learn to understand that, just like I had to study math and science. To have a healthy life, we have to have healthy relationships.
This one is best read as a book. I listened to it on audio and got a bit lost since there are worksheets and assignments that come along with the book.
Be Here Now Talks
Ram Dass’ talks are great listening, so much so he’s often sampled in songs. His words are reminders of the principles already discussed in this post about being present, a core Buddhist belief. I find I can’t be reminded of its importance enough.
As implied, these are tracks for listening to, and they’re often free or very cheap.
Whether you’re just starting out on your self-help journey or are looking for new recommendations, I hope this varied list helped you to find a style you want to explore.
There are many more books out there that are great reminders, often of what we already know, or that can lead us to breakthroughs. I’m always listening, making new lists, and trying to grow into the best version of me.
What are some of your favorites?
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