Welcome to today’s blog post – where I’ll be sharing the Best Self Help & Self Improvement books to Read in 2020.
We all know reading is a great way to learn, and that the self help genre has some fabulous books in it. But there’s SO MANY BOOKS.
And typically, there’s 2 problems you’ll run into when searching for the right book for you to read:
- A lot of them just repeat popular quotes from instagram, Tumblr etc and have little real world value or practical evidence behind them.
- Anyone can write a book, but very few people can write a GOOD book. The bar for entry is low. But the bar for quality is extremely high. So not all of the books out there are created equally. In fact, having read hundreds of them, I’ve found 90% of the value is probably found in 10% of all the books out there.
For this list (and you can find links to buy the books below) I looked at two things:
- Did I find them useful (since this is my personal list) and do other people also consistently find the same? Are my results, like a science experiment? Repeatable by others to get similar or the same results?
- Secondly – most people tend to read the same set of books, and lists like this always feature the same authors again and again. 7 Habits, Think & Grow Rich, Tony Robbins etc etc. Those are definitely great books but it leads to a dangerous groupthink where, instead of thinking different to everyone like you set out to do, you just end up regurgitating the same mantras as everyone else. I want to help you think more expansively and get the most amount of value you can, for each word you read. Otherwise you’re just going to waste your time, learning a bunch of quotes put into a book, with little real world value.
So with that said. Let’s get started!
(I’ve used affiliate links in this article. At no cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you choose to use these links. This is an easy way to support my work!)
Best Self Help Book – #1
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
The first book on this list is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F” by Mark Manson. This is a book that encourages you to stop allocating so many F’s to so many non essential things in your life & embrace the magic of being: you. Not extraordinary you. Or wildly successful you. Just, plain, normal, sitting in your Pyjamas you.
Reading this book will help you to think about what really is essential & matters to you in your life – and letting go of the 99% of what you deem as inessential. In a world that is constantly telling us we need to be more to be happy – we need perfect low fat bodies, eating organic healthy food every day, waking up to productive 5am routines, whilst building more status, followers & success – Manson argues for how hollow & unfulfilling the compound effect of all this craving is: the more we pursue feeling better, the less satisfied we become.
As he writes in the book:
"You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of f's to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving an F about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to be the one to lose out."
Suffering, ordinariness, loss, pain: These are inevitable parts of life, and it’s up to us to accept this, let go of our needs to minimise or avoid it, and choose which problems to focus our energy on. In life, we are going to face uncertainty, unfairness, and problems – we don’t get to choose that. We only get to choose which flavour of sht sandwich we want to solve.
Best Self Help Book – #2
Bhagavad Gita: Talks Between the Soul & God by Ranchor Prime
The mark of a powerful self improvement book is it has a transformational effect on you & many many others. I also believe that the best books of all transcend the time they were written in to become timeless, universal wisdom accessible to anyone anywhere. No matter how many decades or even centuries pass, can people continue to find value in its exploration & guidance?
The next book fulfills all those criteria, and yet is still left out of lists like this – because it was written so long ago. It’s the book that the likes of Will Smith, Eckhart Tolle & Mohandas Gandhi use for guidance and one I come back to time & time again too. So what is this mystery book? It’s called the Bhagavad Gita: Talks Between the Soul & God, and though there are many versions, I prefer this one here by Ranchor Prime.
The book is written in the form of a dialogue exploring morality before a great war takes place. It helps us to explore, through this powerful exchange, the impact of our action & inaction in life. One of the central ideas I love from the Bhagavad Gita is the concept that there is an underlying connection between all living beings on this planet. By causing harm to you or any other living being, I am actually only hurting myself because we are all connected. It’s helped me to learn that I am responsible for my efforts, and that is what I should focus on.
This is an approachable book free from any religious dogma that other versions suffer from, and what Ranchor has done so well is translate over the expansive poetic philosophy it wrestles with. It’s written so you can grab it, have a quick read & then think for yourself (which is so key here) about what that paragraph means & how you can implement it.
"One who withdraws the senses from the world, as a tortoise draws in its limbs, is secure in wisdom... The senses make good servants, but bad masters".
Best Self Help Book – #3
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The next book is one you absolutely must must read because it’s so good! Making an appearance again after last year’s video & this time, with even more widespread acclaim – is James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. As you can see in the video, I’ve highlighted the thing endlessly because there’s so many practical gems in here. This book explores the proven ways we can build good habits & break bad ones.
If we want remarkable results in life, then it’s not always about willpower & motivation. In fact, it’s more about the environments & systems we create for ourselves – which in this case, are our daily repeated behaviour patterns: AKA our habits.
We don’t rise to the level of our motivation, we fail to the level of our systems. And by focusing on these systems for meaning & productivity, we can take the pressure off us as individuals, and follow the process. Everybody wants a better life, but when the moment of decision arrives, most of us usually choose instant gratification.
Therefore, we should all try and design our lives in a way where the easiest option is a good choice, and the hardest option is a bad habit.
"This is a continuous process. There is no finish line. No permanent solution. Small habits don't add up, they compound. That's the power of atomic habits - tiny changes, remarkable results."
Best Self Help Book – #4
Supercoach by Michael Neill
The next book, is written by Michael Neill, and it’s called Supercoach. In this book, he digs beneath the surface level change many self help gurus offer and introduces the concept of an “insight transformation”. This is basically when you change something within yourself – having that ‘aha’ moment – that nothing is ever the same again.
The book is laid out as 10 coaching sessions, each one built around a single transformational concept, which IF understood, could lead to a tsunami of change within you. They aren’t supposed to be laws or anything like that, but ‘understandings or guidelines’, which once understood, actually remove the need for traditional SMART goals or anything like that.
One really huge idea I took away from this book, is this concept of ‘effortless success’ coming from something way more powerful – like a divine creative force that moves through you, as long as you get out of your own way. Most of our problems in life, don’t come from events or situations themselves but from our thinking.
We react to our thinking – all the time, and that is what gives us even greater difficulty. The mind works like a projector, where we are the main character in our mental movies, and we experience what we are thinking about, not some kind of objective reality. Even just knowing that what we experience is one piece of the puzzle, it helps to alleviate the burden for me, to realise there are so many things I simply do not know, or I distort, delete & generalise to fit my narrative arc.
As he says in the book:
"We’re like diamonds who have spent so much time applying layer upon layer of nail polish to appear beautiful to the world that we begin to believe we must be covered in horse crap. We’ve been innocently taught from the time we were born that the ‘right’ answers to our most important questions are out in the world around us, waiting to be found. After nearly 30 years of coaching individuals & groups from nearly every walk of life, I can say with confidence that the people who do really well over time are often not the smartest, or best-read. They can be introvert or extrovert, seemingly self-assured or apparently neurotic and insecure. What they all have in common is that they have an unusually high degree of trust in their own sense of knowing, and a willingness to follow that sense."
Best Self Help Book – #5
Book number 5 is one that has something for all of us to think about, especially in the wake of recent events.
If we’re going to talk about self improvement, we also have to think about, as James Clear mentions – the environments we operate in & how they affect us. Unfortunately, time and time again, in the online world of self improvement we hear the same (predominantly white, middle class and male) voices over and over again.
This is important to acknowledge because when you only hear from one set of voices, cultures & perspectives you only learn in a very limited way.
This book, is Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.
A book that has a staggering 40 thousand reviews on Goodreads and across these countless reviews – it maintains an average rating of 4.42 out of 5.
Ok Keshav, but what does motivation, mindset & self improvement have to do with a book about race?
What if you’re not interested in politics and you just came here for motivation? Why can’t you just not be political?
Well to quote her words in the book directly, here is why –
“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon – earned or not – because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system. The mess we are living in is a deliberate one. If it was created by people, it can be dismantled by people, and it can be rebuilt in a way that serves all, rather than a selfish, hoarding few. Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can’t afford to stay silent.”
I include this book because it gave me the profound realisation that there’s no such thing as “not being political” – politics is something that affects our lives in so many ways. It is not something that happens only in the halls of power, but is something we are all a part of. To think any different, is actually political because someone somewhere has convinced you that politics doesn’t affect you, and it is possible to be “neutral” or free from politics, social hierarchies and biases.
But don’t listen to me. I want you to read this book and think for yourself. Believe nothing I tell you, or even the author of this book tells you. But make up your own mind. How does this relate to your own self improvement? Your own mindset?
For me, Part of having what is known as a growth mindset, is about learning & drawing from all sources. Taking what bits are useful, discarding what isn’t and adding your own unique perspective on things.
There are two structures that affect you and your life – the internal world & the external world. Understanding both is key, to helping you navigate towards the best possible you, and the best possible world that you want to create.