The genre of personal development books (sometimes called self-help books) is massive and not every book is high quality. Though I haven’t read everything, I feel confident giving you some of my personal favorites in the personal development space and a few of my thoughts on each.
I’ll talk about this in a different post, but it’s worth a mention here: don’t read any of these unless you’re going to do the work to apply them. Sounds harsh, but knowledge isn’t power, it’s knowledge. It’s the stuff you use to help you act. So don’t just consume all of these to check them off a list. Take your time to study and apply what is valuable to you in each book.
Now that we’re clear there, let’s dive in!
Note, January 2023: At the time of writing this post, I have plans to write in-depth reviews of each of the books below. If you’re here early, check back for those reviews in the coming months!
7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey
This is the classic personal development book and is a foundation for many other books in this space. It’s well written, hugely applicable, and there are so many free resources on the website and additional books that make this an excellent place to start if you are just entering the personal development space.
Another reason I like it is that it’s written from a very purposeful perspective. The author, Stephen Covey, is very clear that you are more than your productivity. It’s not a productivity book – it’s about stewarding the life God’s given you so that you’re personally fulfilled and powerfully effective.
The author has also written versions of the book for different types of people or situations, such as kids, teens, and marriage.
I’ll group these books together because they are similar in emphasis and use a lot of the same research material. They are all very good reads and valuable in their own right, so I’ll do my best to differentiate each and give you a recommendation. Note that they are not the only books on mindset, just the ones that I read and enjoyed and categorized together.
Mindset, by Carol Dweck
This book is a deep dive on what mindset is and the two main types of mindsets that people can have. One is a growth mindset, the other is a fixed mindset. The book contains practical advice and journaling prompts on how to cultivate a growth mindset, and has specific chapters of application focused around sports, business, relationships, and parenting. I recommend this book as a great foundation for mindset as a concept, and especially if you know or suspect you need to work on your mindset.
Drive, by Daniel Pink
This book focuses on motivation: what it is and how to harness it in the work you need to do. It’s easily digestible and the most valuable part of the book is the entire third section, which is chapter after chapter of application steps for various situations. This book gives you no excuse not to apply it to your life.
Grit, by Angela Duckworth
This last book of the “mindset trio” focuses on passion and perseverance. It’s an incredibly encouraging read, while also being applicable. The author is an admirable woman in her own right, and takes time to discuss grit with respect to parenting as well.
The Miracle Morning
So I’m going to be super honest: I resisted reading this book for a long time because I didn’t think the hype about it would pay out. However, when I finally caved, I found something incredibly thoughtful, well-written, and applicable.
My main caveat is with the title, and it’s likely a personal gripe, but here goes: Nothing is a “miracle” fix. That’s not the context Hal uses most of the time in the book, but it’s an easy connotation for the reader to make. Nothing about personal development is quick or easy, something that Hal discusses in one of the chapters. So as long as you read and apply this book with the intention of putting in the hard work rather than expecting to snap your fingers and miraculously wake up easily and perfectly with a flawless routine, you’re good to go.
After all that, this book is the best book on morning routines that I’ve found. I was a fan of and relatively active practitioner of a morning routine before I picked up this book, but reading and applying it was the breath of fresh air I personally needed after a season of change in my life.
A note about affirmations
A few warnings and additional caveats: two of his recommendations for aspects of a morning routine are affirmations and visualizations. These are buzzwords usually associated with “woo-woo” nonsense. However, Hal does a good job explaining what they are and how to use them correctly.
As a believer, I’d recommend taking it a step further and turning affirmations into specific truths about yourself grounded in Scripture. For example, I began my list of general affirmations with the phrase “God designed me for…” and then took each area of my life and, with a Biblical basis, outlined the truth of my life as God designed me. You may be comfortable with affirmations the way Hal or others describe them, but this was how I chose to apply that aspect of the morning routine in good conscience with my faith.
Though I’ve written about a few caveats, I cannot more highly recommend this book if you want to learn about and actually create and apply a morning routine. It’s not a miracle, but it is absolutely life changing when you do the work.
Finally, there are versions of this book for various circumstances, such as writers, entrepreneurs, families, etc. I recommend starting with the main book before reading the “specified” version or versions that apply to you. For example, I first read the Miracle Morning, then the version for writers, and will be reading the version for parents and families in the future.
This is an excellent read for anyone in a “knowledge worker” position, a term the author uses to describe those whose main asset is their knowledge rather than manual labor. For example, writers and software engineers are types of knowledge workers.
The book describes the biggest blocks to our productivity and then outlines the methods to be highly productive and less stressed. It’s well-researched, applicable, and liberating once you apply the principles to protect your work time and focus. It’s also applicable across work and personal situations.
Cloud and Townsend
This is a different type of personal development book, as most are focused on productivity where Boundaries focuses on how you interact with your world and the people around you. The authors define boundaries as the definition between where you end and something else begins, and expands on boundaries between you and a number of different things: technology, work, family, and more. You’ll learn when and how to say “no” and also how to kindly communicate your boundaries to others.
I highly recommend their blog and additional books for various circumstances, such as marriage, leaders, parents, and even more. I believe that setting and communicating boundaries is one of my most important and most overlooked aspects of personal development, so please consider studying this book or any of its companions as a foundation of your growth.
The Power of Habit
This is an excellent resource for the science behind habits, and some applicable steps to both break old habits and create new ones. Though incredibly scientific, it’s a fun and easy read, and the author also keeps a lot of resources on his website.
She Works His Way
Michelle Myers and Somer Phoebus
Written by two women doing excellent work God’s way, this is a great resource and encouragement for any woman doing any kind of work, not just entrepreneurial work. These women are honest, funny, and inspiring. The book is full of action steps and journal questions. Their podcast is another great resource as well.
I would go as far as to call this book the essential personal development book for any woman, but especially for women in the corporate world. Without sounding caustic or complaining, Tara outlines common struggles we face as women and gives practical, gracious tools to do awesome things with the gifts we already have. Again, great blog resources and journal prompts/activities in the book.
Dare to Lead
There are a ton of good books by Brene, but this was one of my favorites and the one I personally found the most actionable. I’d encourage you to look at her other work and see if something else might be more appropriate to your situation, but the bottom line is that Brene writes with honesty and conviction that challenges you to dare greatly and then helps you actually do it.
Though I wouldn’t label these as “personal development” books, these are sources that have helped me grow the most as a believer. When we pursue personal development, we can’t ignore our spiritual development because that’s what matters the most.
Hang with me. God intended Scripture as MUCH more than a personal development book. The purpose of Scripture is to help us know God. However, the Bible contains SO much insight into the why, what, and how of living the human life. It was written by the One who made us, so I’d say He has the inside scoop.
Here are some of my thoughts about Scripture’s impact on our personal development:
- Really listen when you read Scripture, and ask, “How does this apply to my life right now?”
- Pay attention to the “put on/put off lists”, such as Ephesians 4:20-32 and Colossians 3:1-17
- Take the book of Proverbs bit by bit. It’s probably the most “instruction” heavy so don’t get bogged down, but there are so many pieces of advice there!
- Walk as Jesus walked. Jesus is our ultimate example. Study His life and do as He did, and you’ll grow in so many ways.
- Dive deeply into the fruit of the Spirit, both from the Galatians 5:22-23 and from any other place in Scripture that mentions these characteristics.
- Abide. Detailed most clearly in John 15, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to abide in God and in His word.
Again, please don’t see Scripture as only a personal development book. Instead, realize just how much God has given us through His Word – the opportunity to know Him and to grow in how we live our lives.
The Discipline of Grace, by Jerry Bridges
This book contains the most encouraging and clear outline of the way discipline and grace work together in the believers life. It’s so important not to get into a works-based salvation mindset while we pursue discipline in all aspects of our lives. I make time to re-read this book every year and each time I walk away with something that truly blesses me, I can’t recommend it highly enough to you.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Written by one of my favorite authors of all time, this book is a beautiful discussion of Christianity, answering common questions and providing meaty, thought provoking concepts for hours of pondering and discussion. I recommend reading this slowly, one chapter at a time, and more than once during your life.
So now what?
I hope these personal development books encourage you as much as they have me! Remember:
- Scripture above everything
- Read AND apply
- Take it slow and steady (one book at a time)
- Check back for in-depth reviews of each book in the future
Finally, please reach out with any book recommendations, I’m always looking for more books I’d love to connect. You can leave a comment on this post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or join the Rising to Courage network and send me a message.