The journey for self-development is very personal and unique to each individual. Books that may have been hugely impactful for me may not resonate with you. Or they may not resonate with you today but will five years from now. Following is a list of the top 3 self-help books that changed my life (and lots of other people’s).
The books in this post are the books that shifted my thinking. They took me down a road of possibility and empowerment. I’ll explain my key takeaway from each of the listed books and why they were so impactful at the time.
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I like to think we are presented with the material that is most useful to us at just the right time for it to mean something. That’s kind of my disclaimer for this post. Although I’ve read hundreds of books over the years, these are three that I keep going back to. Just know they may not hit you the same way. Quite honestly, these are all pretty old books so you might prefer something a bit less dated. The concepts are solid though – just like the classics still taught in school.
I am an Amazon Affiliate and have curated a complete list of My Favorite Personal & Professional Development books here.
Top 3 Self-Help Books
The first of the top 3 self-help books that changed my life was written in the 1950s. I read this book in my early 20s, after the death of both of my parents in unrelated events just 10 months apart. At the time, I believed I was destined for a life of poverty (because that’s all I knew), uncertainty, struggles, obstacles, and unhappiness. That was the hand I was dealt and I assumed it was the life I was destined to live.
The doctors were stumped regarding why I had chronic fatigue and was passing out. After numerous tests by numerous specialists, some genius finally asked me about my life. Turns out, my symptoms were related to stress. Stress can manifest in so many crazy ways.
Since I couldn’t afford therapy, I took a stress management class. I chose this book as part of an assignment and it changed my life.
Asking for a New Hand in the Card Game of Life
For the first time in my young life, I realized I did not have to keep the hand (card game metaphor)I was dealt. This was huge! It gave me hope and permission to empower myself to change my life.
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I realized I could, quite literally, ask for a new hand, better yet, demand a new hand. My mind was literally blown. I never knew I had so much power, right inside my little head.
This book was the impetus that started my path toward a better and different life. I began to visualize something better, a life worth living. I began to believe I could learn all the skills necessary to have whatever life I wanted.
While we were always poor (I mean living in the car or a trailer park poor), my mom used to tell me learning would be my ticket out of poverty. During our “good times,” she instilled a love of learning and I have memories of spending rainy Saturdays reading encyclopedias. But I never understood how to make the connection between reading the encyclopedia and having a different life.
This book made that connection and empowered me to make the decisions necessary to accomplish anything.
Mindset vs Positive Thinking
I’ve recently seen a lot of content around the topic of mindset. Carol Dweck has a book about this that is often referred to as a primer. The Power of Positive Thinking did for me what the data provided in Carol Dweck’s book is doing for people today. At the time I read this book, it was very anecdotal. But I figured, what the hell, why not try to believe this and see what happens? Today, there is data to support the power of having a growth mindset.
Note: I believe Norman Vincent Peale was a pastor and this book references faith a great deal. The concepts are just as powerful whether you are evangelical, Buddhist, or atheist – just look past the references if they bother you.
I was almost 30 when this book arrived in my life, some 7 or 8 years after The Power of Positive Thinking. I had read lots of other books in between, had married, finally obtained my bachelor’s degree (largely due to the aforementioned book), had two children, and my career was starting to take off. By this time I had acquired a passion for what the mind could do and this book took me to another level.
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I think this was one of Tony Robbins’ first books but I read that thing over and over and over again. And I tested out every concept and theory presented. Never in my life had I felt more invincible, accomplished, empowered, and unstoppable! I’m telling you, I wore that book out! And it paid off! In two years, I got my Master’s Degree, was promoted 3 times, more than doubled my salary, my husband and I built the home of our dreams (and I mean, we built it – every square inch), and had the energy to be a wife, mother, and supervisor. It was amazing to me what the mind could do!
Fast forward 25 years, and as life often does, I found myself in a rut (divorced, job loss, feelings of failure) that I struggled to get out of. It might have been a mid-life crisis but after 3 years of soul-searching, I finally found myself reading this book again. While the book includes many references to current events and pop culture of the ’90s, the concepts had the same effect on me. This has been a very powerful book for me . . . twice!
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I was in my mid-thirties when introduced to Viktor Frankl by an employee. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. I was never much for history so I wasn’t sure I’d like this book but it was an amazing ride! Again, it’s all about the power of our mind and he witnessed firsthand what happened when people mentally decided whether to live or die while being forced to live in horrific conditions. I have to say, I even started to love history.
While this book didn’t have the same motivational impact as Awaken the Giant, it had a very empowering effect. It reiterated the power of the mind even in life-and-death situations. It reinforced how we can, quite literally, choose whether to live or die merely by the way we choose to interpret our current situation. The amount of gratitude I felt for the life I have been given is difficult to explain. Regardless of the struggles you may be experiencing today, this book will give you a new perspective.
The Power of Continuous Learning
It’s important to note that although these are my top 3 self-help books, they weren’t the only books I read. There are hundreds of other books available that reinforce, expand upon, or present these concepts in a different way. As long as you are filling your mind with empowering thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, you will continue to move forward in growth and development. When you stop, it becomes a dangerous downhill trajectory (believe me, I’ve done it).
I hope this helps in your self-development journey and would love to hear some of the books that have impacted you!