28 best self-improvement books of all time for life-changing reading

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best self improvement books of all time

You can listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, or book a coaching session, but one of the best ways to transform your life is timeless: reading books.

The impact that self-improvement books have had on my life is massive. I’ve turned to them for inspiration, courage, and actionable tactics to help me get to where I dream of being, whether that’s moving abroad, starting businesses, or overcoming lifelong shyness.

In this post, I’ve curated the best self-improvement books of all time, including the best productivity books, self-help books, and inspiring non-fiction to change your life.

Browse the categories below to find the best recommendations, take your pick, and feel inspired by these motivating books in the year ahead.

(For the latest bestsellers, you can also enjoy my list of the best personal growth books to read in 2024.)

Prioritize what matters

The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Read The ONE Thing for… a fantastic reminder of the power of focus and single-tasking in your life and work.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unfocused, The ONE Thing is one of the best personal development books to read next. It’ll show you how to identify and prioritize the one task that will make everything else easier.

As millions of readers have discovered, this can change everything. I read this productivity book early in my twenties and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Four Thousand Weeks

Read Four Thousand Weeks for… an inspiring read that will encourage you to look at the bigger picture and think about what’s most important during your time on earth.

This life-changing book is about productivity, but a different type of productivity than the definition we’re used to.

Oliver Burkeman defines productivity as prioritising what matters to us in the grand scheme of things: the four thousand weeks we have to live our lives. It’s such a fantastic book – I think everyone should read it.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Read Essentialism for… a powerful reminder of the value of doing less (and doing the right things).

I read Essentialism just after The ONE Thing, and the two books share the message that simplicity and a narrow focus are the best tools for productivity. I really needed to hear this twice. If you do too, I’d wholeheartedly recommend reading both books – they’re equally fantastic.

Build habits

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Read Atomic Habits for… one of the best self-improvement books of all time about changing your habits and your life.

How could I not mention Atomic Habits in a list of the best personal development books? This five-star bestseller is your guide to the habits, thoughts, and systems that will get you where you want to be.

Whether you want to feel fitter, write every day, change careers, or anything else, the book and its huge readership show that daily habits really can transform your life. If you already love it, here’s my pick of the best books like Atomic Habits.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity by David Allen

Read Getting Things Done for… a reminder that productivity correlates with how relaxed and clear-headed you feel.

Getting Things Done is one of the best self-improvement books of all time to help you organize your mind, create systems for success, and get more done.

The main takeaways from the book? 1) Get things out of your head and onto lists or systems. 2) If you can do something in less than two minutes, do it now.


Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari

Read Stolen Focus for… a crucial guide to winning back your focus and paying attention in a world that wants to distract you.

Have you lost your ability to pay attention? As one of the most popular personal development books to read in 2023, Stolen Focus is Johann Hari’s groundbreaking examination of why so many of us can’t focus – and how to regain the art of thinking deeply.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Read Deep Work for… an in-depth look at one of the best tools to stand out and reach your goals in today’s age of distraction: your focus.

Cal Newport is one of the very best writers of productivity books. I read his advice throughout high school, university, and my business journey – it’s influenced so many of my habits and routines, especially his writing in Deep Work.

This is an essential guide for anyone seeking focused success and joyfully slow, imaginative ways of thinking in our fast-paced and distracted world.

Get motivated

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Read Tools of Titans for… the tactics, routines, and high-leverage tools of world-famous athletes, creative minds, and other icons, delivered in a book that’s perfect to read in bite-sized chunks for daily inspiration.

Like millions of others, I’ve long been a fan of Tim Ferriss’s podcast. His books are also instant purchases for me. I think Tools of Titans is his best book for life advice, productivity tips, and tactics from world-class performers to apply to your own life.

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

You Are a Badass

Read You Are a Badass for… a kick in the pants and a reminder that you are capable of so much when you stop playing small.

I needed to read this book at the start of my twenties. Sure, it’s got a really cheesy title, but You Are a Badass gave me the push I needed to shake up my life (in my case, leaving a job that made me feel like rubbish and starting my own business).

With tough love and honesty, Jen Sincero writes some of the best self-improvement books to help you overcome your self-doubt and get out of a rut.

Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins

Read Awaken the Giant Within for… Tony Robbins’s bestselling personal development book that will either change your life… or make you feel like you’re watching an infomercial.

The main takeaways? You can transform your life by changing your beliefs to ones that empower you, identifying your values, and focusing on what’s in your control. There’s a huge amount of actionable advice in this book to put into practice.

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins

Can't Hurt Me

Read Can’t Hurt Me for… one of the best motivational books you can read when you feel stuck and want to change your life.

David Goggins’s bestselling debut is one of the best books to transform your life fast, especially if there are problems that you have the power to change. It won’t be gentle and there will be cursing, but it’ll get you moving pronto.

Stop Living on Autopilot: Take Responsibility for Your Life and Rediscover a Bolder, Happier You by Antonio Neves

Read Stop Living on Autopilot for… your wake-up call to stop coasting and make courageous changes in your life.

If you love reading self-help books that make you want to take action, read this bestseller from success coach Antonio Neves.

Stop Living on Autopilot is an inspiring book to help you recommit to your life, find your drive, and take action in the next 30 days. Rather than focusing on quick fixes and short bursts of inspiration, it’s all about setting the groundwork for lasting happiness.

Think Big: Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want by Dr Grace Lordan

Think Big

Read Think Big for… the inspiration to think bigger and take bolder leaps in the year ahead, starting with small steps that compound to create big changes.

How would your life change if you started thinking bigger? If you dreamed bigger dreams, set bigger goals, and made bigger changes?

This is one of the most inspiring personal development books you can read. I love Dr Grace Lordan’s advice on taking ambitious and actionable steps to build the future you want.

Leave your comfort zone

The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self by Michael Easter

Read The Comfort Crisis for… one of the best non-fiction books of recent years, revealing the evolutionary mind and body benefits of living at the edges of your comfort zone and reconnecting with the wild.

The Comfort Crisis is one of the most inspiring and engaging non-fiction books I’ve read in the last couple of years. It’s also fascinating. Pick up a copy and learn how embracing discomfort is actually a path to reclaiming your happiest and healthiest self.

Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness by Steve Magness

Read Do Hard Things for… a tough-love guide to achieving your biggest goals in the face of challenges, adversity, and discomfort.

What does resilience really mean? According to Steve Magness, performance expert and author, we usually get it wrong.

Do Hard Things is his exploration of the science of real toughness and how you can work with your body to transcend discomfort and find strength you never knew you had.

The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer by Steven Kotler

Read The Art of Impossible for… lessons from the elite performers – athletes, artists, scientists, CEOs, and more – who have changed the definition of what’s possible.

What are you truly capable of? A lot, explains Steven Kotler in this inspiring guide to peak performance. The Art of Impossible will show you how to stretch your potential, exceed your expectations, and achieve your most impossible dreams.

Memento mori

The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Read Meditations for… what’s thought to be the first self-help book of all time, written as private journal entries two thousand years ago. I love The Emperor’s Handbook translation by Scot and David Hicks.

Thanks to bestselling writers like Ryan Holiday, the Stoics have surged in popularity over the last decade. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is one of the most accessible starting points, and it’s full of wisdom that’s just as relevant today.

Including advice on overcoming anxiety, navigating low self-esteem, and even getting out of bed, turn to this bible of Stoic wisdom whenever you’re feeling lethargic, lost, or under the weather.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

Read When Breath Becomes Air for… one of the most moving memoirs about the beauty and fragility of life by Paul Kalanithi.

This isn’t a standard self-improvement book, but reading it will absolutely transform your life – and remind you of the importance of making the most of the time you have.

As Paul Kalanithi shares in this remarkable book, one day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient coming to terms with the little time he had left. When Breath Becomes Air became an instant classic – and still deserves a place on every bookshelf.

Nurture creativity and play

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic

Read Big Magic for… one of the best books about creativity to inspire you to step forward with your ideas and dreams.

Big Magic is my go-to book for nurturing creativity. When I need inspiration, courage, or a kick in the pants, I pick up my well-annotated paperback copy (or listen to the fantastic audiobook read by Liz Gilbert.)

The main message of the book is that you are creative just by being a human. And you can create, be, and do so much during your lifetime. If someone else is doing the things you dream of, why can’t you?

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Read The Artist’s Way for… Julia Cameron’s classic guide to nurturing creativity and a clear mind.

Even if you haven’t heard of Julia Cameron, you might have heard of “morning pages”, her strategy for putting pen to paper first thing in the morning as a sort of “spiritual windshield wipers”.

Described by Tim Ferriss as “the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found”, you can read all about this in The Artist’s Way book and accompanying journal.

Be a good person

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke

Read Rules for a Knight for… award-winning actor Ethan Hawke’s timeless guide to life’s most important questions, channeling the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy.

Written as an unforgettable fable, this wonderful book is told from the perspective of a knight who, fearing he may not return from battle, wants to leave a record of all he knows.

What follows is a compass for his children to live good, meaningful lives in his absence – and a life-changing book for readers young and grown. The timeless words are brimming with wisdom, and the lovely hardcover makes for a perfect gift.

Look after your body and mind

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

The Body Keeps the Score

Read The Body Keeps the Score for… one of the most popular books about trauma and the mind-body connection, reaching bestseller lists and helping millions.

One of the most recommended books by therapists, The Body Keeps the Score is a fascinating guide to the little-known connections between body and mind.

As you read the book, you’ll be more conscious of how you feel in your body – how you’re holding your breath, feeling tense in your shoulders, or tightening muscles. The On Being podcast episode with Bessel Van Der Kolk is fabulous too.

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Read Radical Acceptance for… Tara Brach’s timeless guide to inner freedom and a more compassionate world.

Tara Brach is one of the very best writers on mindfulness and loving-kindness, especially here in Radical Acceptance.

This infinitely wise book is your invitation to embrace every moment of your life and aspect of yourself. As thousands of five-star reviews endorse, it’s a life-changing book.

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

Read The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down for… a beautifully illustrated and gently wise book about slowing down and noticing the beauty in the world.

If you want to breathe more deeply, open your heart, and calm your anxiety, this delightful guide by Haemin Sunim is one of my top recommendations.

It’s one of the best self-help books for soothing and beautiful writing that’s brimming with wisdom, reassurance, and comfort when you need it most. I love to open the book to a random page for peace and reflection on busy days.

Nurture your relationships

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

Read The Course of Love for… one of the most impactful books you can read about navigating the ups and downs of romantic relationships.

Although The Course of Love is structured as a novel, it’s interjected with The School of Life philosopher Alain de Botton’s trademark comments on the psychology, sociology, and philosophy of love.

It’s a guidebook to love, really, and offers fascinating answers to the questions that definitely aren’t covered in school: why is love never smooth sailing? Why do our partners infuriate us? And why is our partner so uniquely infuriating? 

Come as You Are by Dr Emily Nagoski

Read Come as You Are for… the most accessible and confidence-boosting exploration of female pleasure you can read.

Any woman – and just as importantly, anyone in a relationship with a woman – should read Come as You Are.

With groundbreaking science and research into previously uncharted territory, Emily Nagoski has created a book that’s so full of a-ha moments, it might just change your romantic relationships.

Create a balanced life

How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis

Read How to Keep House While Drowning for… a gentle approach to cleaning and organizing your home that realizes just how difficult it can be.

From illness to postpartum exhaustion and ADHD, there are a million different reasons why it’s so hard to stay on top of housework.

Written by KC Davis, a therapist and busy mother of two, the book will introduce you to six principles that will revolutionize the way you approach home care – without a single to-do list – and return your home to the sanctuary you deserve.

At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy, and Priorities Working in Your Favor by Carey Nieuwhof

Read At Your Best for… an actionable self-help book about time management (but also energy management) that will get you in the best position for success.

What does it look and feel like when you’re at your best in your work, relationships, and health?

With a holistic view of the pillars behind peak performance, At Your Best is one of the best self-improvement books of all time for getting your time, energy, and priorities working in your favor.