15 Science-Backed Self-Help Books You Need To Read
I was at an all-time low in my life when I first got into self-help material.
I was getting ready to graduate with a BA in political communication and preparing to launch straight into law school shortly thereafter.
The only problem, however, was that going to law school and becoming an attorney was the last God damn thing I wanted to do with my life.
I'd been a good boy growing up. I listened to my mom and dad's advice about getting good grades, going to law school and securing a “safe job.” It's about all the good stuff parents want for their kids.
But then, I woke up one day and had quite the realization: At what point did I consciously decide to give 60 percent of my waking, working hours to the field of corporate law?
"Hell no," I thought. "This sh*t's gotta change right now."
I decided to toss law school aside and to try to find something meaningful to do with my life.
But, I knew I'd have to "find myself" before I could find anything else. So, over the next five years, I read more than 450 self-help books to find my way in life.
Most of them sucked, but some of them stuck.
Here are 15 science-backed self-help books that'll (hopefully) help you make some positive strides towards your own personal development.
1. “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Let's kick this party off with a quick little exercise: Imagine for a moment you're working on something — a project, perhaps — you happen to absolutely love doing. It's also something you're damn good at, too.
How do you feel when you're doing this type of work? Does it make you feel good? Does it energize you? Do hours seem to fly by like minutes? If yes, then you're probably in what's known as a “flow” state.
Wondering how you might be able to bring more flow into your life? Pick up this book.
2. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey
Unless you've been living under a rock for couple of decades, you've probably heard of "The 7 Habits." But, have you actually read it? If not, now's the time to start.
The power of this book comes from the timeless principles (or habits) it's based off. Each habit laid out in this book is designed to act as individual prescriptions for effectiveness in every area of life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
3. “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
I learned a very crucial self-help lesson from "Willpower": There are basically two qualities that correlate with success. One of them is intelligence and the other is self-control. So far, scientists haven't figured out what to do about intelligence, but they have rediscovered how to improve self-control.
The book outlines how to improve impulse control, which is probably the most underestimated aspect of self-help.
This book will change the way you live your life.
4. “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Think of the one thing you ultimately want to do with your life, career or business. Once you've got that in your mind, think about how many dominoes you need to line up and then knock down in order to achieve it.
Simple, right? Actually, yes. It is. But, just because it's simple doesn't make it easy.
That is why “The ONE Thing” is such a powerful book. According to the authors, the key to success is figuring out your single most important goal — in your business, career, health, relationships and every other area of life that matters to you — and knocking down one domino at a time until you've achieved it.
5. “Psycho Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz
"Pyscho Cybernetics" was written by a plastic surgeon who decided that one day, he wanted to help his patients see their beauty from the inside out as opposed to the outside in, which is presumably why most of them walked into his office.
This is a surprisingly powerful little self-help book that's packed with practical advice on improving confidence, overcoming fear and more.
6. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg
The interesting thing about habits is that once we develop them, they go about totally unnoticed during our day-to-day activities.
You probably don't think about how many simultaneous actions go into reversing your car out of the garage and into the street safely and smoothly; you just do it. That's a habit, but so is smoking.
"The Power of Habit" teaches you how to build better habits that serve you both in life and in business.
7. “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
"Meditations" is filled with Stoic wisdom that's as true today as it was when it was when it was first written more than 1,800 years ago.
The remarkable thing about this book (and the reason it shows up on this list) is that the advice has been confirmed by science to be effective on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Find out more by picking up a copy of this age-old text, and see if you can bring a little old school Stoic wisdom to the 21st century.
8. “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen
You can have some of the greatest, most innovative ideas in the world and have every single one of them flop due to a lack of ability to execute. If you lack the willingness and capability to get things done effectively and efficiently, it doesn't matter how great your ideas are because when it's all said and done, success depends upon consistent action.
Which is exactly why "Getting Things Done" is such a crucial read.
9. “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
Decades before we had the science and research to prove the power of emotional intelligence, Dale Carnegie had already written the definitive guide on how to leverage it in our lives and our businesses.
"How To Win Friends and Influence People" is one of those self-help books that needs to be in everyone's collection. I've lost count of how many friends I've given copies to.
10. “Waking Up” by Sam Harris
Still teetering on which box to check under the “religious preference” category? Are you wondering whether to check any boxes at all? It's not as big of a deal as it used to be.
In “Waking Up,” neuroscientist Sam Harris breaks down the science behind how the brain relates to consciousness — and, in turn, how that relates to spirituality — showing us that you can, indeed, be spiritual without religion.
11. “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek
“Leaders Eat Last” is a self-help book disguised as a leadership book. Author Simon Sinek outlines actionable insights about why leaders need to replace the old “carrot and stick” models of management with more sustainable approaches. He explains tactics grounded in empathy and designed to boost engagement and a sense of camaraderie are the ones missing in the modern workplace.
Pick this book up if you plan on (or already are) leading a career or business that's comprised of teams that depend on working together in order to succeed.
12. “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success” by Adam Grant
Some people say the only way to get ahead in life is to crush our enemies and claw our ways to the top. Followers of this way of thinking believe it doesn't matter how many fingers you need to step on to get to the top, it just matters that you get to the top.
This is nonsense. And in his book, “Give and Take,” author Adam Grant has the research to prove it. Grant says the true drivers of success are centered not around giving instead of taking.
13. “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi
“Never Eat Alone” — a book about connecting with people — is on this list because everything in life happens through people. In his book, Keith Ferrazzi breaks down the science behind building meaningful relationships.
My biggest takeaway? Stop trying to “network” with people to get what you want, and start trying to add value instead. Just read the book. It's a game changer.
14. “Outliers: The Story Of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell
This is a book about success and how there's a lot more to it than being smart and working hard. Maybe you've heard of Gladwell's famous 10,000 hour rule and how it relates to success; but still, there is so much more to learn about how successful people became so successful in the first place.
"Outliers" is a must-read if you're looking for some self-help literature that's focused on the subtleties and nuances that contributed to the success of icons like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
15. “10% Happier” by Dan Harris
If you're a skeptic by nature, this is the book for you. In his book, "10% Happier," news anchor, Dan Harris, chronicles his run-ins with over-the-top self-help gurus (like the quacks behind "The Secret") and cross-references their claims with science to determine whether they hold up or not.
Along the way, he uncovers the intersection of where science meets spirituality.