1. Whatcha Gonna Do with That Duck?: And Other Provocations - Seth Godin
This book is a masterpiece, and unlike most self-improvement books, this one targets an infinite array of areas in which you can, and ultimately must, improve. With its ruthless honesty and genuine inspiration, Godin makes you ponder the difficult questions you wouldn’t ever dare to ask yourself. The result is a completely new perspective of the world- a fresher, more vibrant perspective, packed with new and bold possibilities. If you need a friend that understands, a boss that forces you to venture deep in your non-comfort zone, a wise guru that tells you what needs to be left behind and a sage that proclaims the coming of a new age, then look no further; you will find these shrewd voices all tied together in this magnificent book. Make sure to get this one.
2. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – Nassim Nicholas TalebPerhaps it is the fact that randomness played such a significant role in my years as a poker player that I find this book utterly important. We often attribute skill where there is only luck; we confuse correlation with causation and we underestimate the incredible effect small changes can have. This book and my time at the tables gave me a perspective I unfortunately rarely encounter in others: you can do everything right and still lose, or do everything wrong and still win. It is thus not about the outcome; it is about your actions that have lead you there. This important message is central to many of my decisions I make in my life and this book by Taleb helps you develop such a perspective so you will be able to live in a world one cannot fully understand, where the results are not always clear markers of performance and where chance seems to play games with our fates. Stop being fooled by randomness!
3. The 48 Laws of Power – Robert GreeneI read this book in a time where I thought power was something I should attain. Power for power’s sake. And while I disagree with my former self on this point, the fact remains that power is very real, it forms the invisible scepter of all hierarchical relations around us. I still recommend this book; I believe it is important to know how people use power for their own benefit and what to do to protect yourself from certain abuses of power. Besides the fact that all stories in this book gravitate around power, it contains many life lessons, amazing historical anecdotes and, if read in a certain light, the ability to use power for good. From Caesar to Goethe, Sun-Tzu to Machiavelli, this eye opening book spans a wide range of human development. If you, like me, would rather be interested in something less egotistical, perhaps Greene’s latest book Mastery will suffice (I haven’t read that one myself). Another great book in the same style, but this time around, covering a wider scope, and, perhaps, something that will make the world make a better place.
4. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Stephen. R. CoveyThe title of this book doesn’t capture it all. Covey shares with us seven habits one should adapt to become truly effective in whatever you would like to achieve. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. He stresses the fact that we need to go through a paradigm shift – a fundamental change in how we perceive the world and ourselves. This book can be read as a guide, with practices and everything, to go through the stages in order to make such a shift happen. Part shock-therapy, part ageless spiritual wisdom, Covey’s book is packed with wisdom that actually makes a difference. And, as I mentioned, don’t let the title of the book fool you; it is about much more than just becoming more effective. It is about becoming a whole integer person who not only seeks the best in oneself, but also in the people around her. A must read for anyone who feels there is always something left to learn.
5. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys – James FadimanWhile finding a book on psychedelics in a list of books on self-improvement might come as a surprise, I believe any metaphysical distinction between tools such as books, meditation or molecules hold no ground and they should all be solely judged on their merits. And the merits of certain chemical keys, used in a constructive way, are perhaps bigger than any book in this list. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide will teach you how to prepare yourself and your surroundings, what and how much to take, and what do do when something goes wrong, so you can safely enhance your thinking, creativity, introspection and emotional balance. This book contains everything you need to know about using psychedelics as a tool for self-improvement while drawing on extensive scientific literature and personal wisdom. A must have for the beginning and experienced psychonaut alike.
6. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time – Brian TracyWe all know how that destructive downward spiral feels. We have to do some big task, of which the thought alone triggers resistance, not sure how and where to begin and feeling overwhelmed before we start; we get easily distracted to get rid of that feeling, only to suddenly realize that hours went by- precious hours- and then find ourselves in the same position as before, still not knowing where and how to begin, but now, feeling guilty on top of it which expresses itself in more craving for distraction. Ad infinitum. To break this spell of procrastination before it paralyzes us, Tracy advises us to Eat That Frog, to set our priorities straight, deconstruct larger tasks into smaller ones, learn when to tackle the big frog first or to start out with something else. Tracy is truly a motivational writer, and while I wished he had gone a bit deeper into the psychological reasons why people procrastinate, it is still a must have for anyone who wants to break the spell and get shit done.
7. Think and Grow Rich: The Original 1937 Unedited Edition – Napoleon HillA from 1937, this book by Hill is a masterpiece. Don’t bother with the edited versions since they all omit important and controversial information: some historical, and some pertaining to the goal of the book, which is to think and grow rich. The word rich might imply that this book is all about material gain, and while it certainly covers that area, it is about much more than that. Perhaps the first explicit mention of positive thinking, on how to care not just about the cash in your pocket, but also the thoughts in your head, this book has been able to withstand the destruction of time. It covers all the basics from planning, decision making and persistence, to the more advanced techniques as auto-suggestion, transmutation and what we can learn from fear. This is not a grow rich book, but a timeless guide to find out what actually matters. As it says clearly in the beginning ‘Riches can’t always be measured in money!’
8. The Attention Revolution: Unlocking the Power of the Focused Mind - Alan WallaceIn a world that is dominated by ever stronger technologies designed to grab hold of your attention, a way to empower yourself is to bring that attention back to where you want it to shine. This book offers just that; in The Attention Revolution, Wallace describes the path to attaining Shamatha, a buddhist meditation state of mind that is free from any flickering of distraction. It is a hard and long path, probably not possible for us to reach in this lifetime. However, even getting to stage two or three will make everything in life easier. A wonderful introduction to meditation, The Attention Revolution will inspire you to take on the challenge and see what training your mind can actually achieve. Once you have achieved such a level of focus you can put it to use to open your heart with the practice of The Four Immeasurables or deepen the practice with this wonderful commentary by Dudjom Lingpa, both by Alan B. Wallace.
9. The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health – John DurantIn the last 10,000 years or so it seems we have been propelled into an ever faster paced world forged by our own hands and minds. Only recently have we been able to reconstruct our journey and reflect back upon our humble origins. This amazing book is such a reflection. It goes back to the paleolithic searching for answers to health and longevity. Between science and his personal experiments, Durant weaves a mind blowing story that will convey the importance of an evolutionary perspective on how to live well. It covers everything from nutrition to exercise, from sleep to fasting, from ancient practices to modern biohacking and even has an outline for a vision of the future where depression and obesity have become obsolete. If you only have room for a couple of books on this list, make sure this one is included.
10. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation – Daniel J. SiegelAs my Burmese meditation teacher often proclaimed, ‘Mindfulness alone is not enough!’ Siegel seems to have taken this to heart and made an unique synthesis between meditation, psychoanalysis and neuroscience which he calls ‘Mindsight‘, as he says himself, a potent combination between emotional and social intelligence. All of us deal with some disorder or another, something that seems to disturb the very core of our being at ease, and while it might not always be the best strategy to want to get rid of it, it certainly helps to understand and have compassion for that little aspect that upsets that perfect image of ourselves. Brimming with techniques, insights and epiphanies, this book contains everything you need to know to reprogram your brain and to optimally use its capacity of neuroplasticity. A great book for spiritual seekers and scientists alike.
11. How to Win Friends & Influence People - Dale CarnegieThis is the first self-improvement book I have ever read and it is also probably one of the oldest in this category. Written in 1937, mainly for the door to door salesman of that era, this book by Carnegie can truly be called a classic. It shows what we all intuitively know: it doesn’t matter what your line of work is or what you want to achieve- if you are doing business of any kind, you need to make it about the other person. Being nice helps, a lot. And while I might not fully defend the premise of this book, because it doesn’t distinguish between genuine interest and faking it to get what you want, it still contains a treasure chest full of timeless wisdom. Everybody wants to feel appreciated, and rightfully so. Learning to take a small effort to make someone’s day will make the world run smoother, no matter what your goal is. I still spontaneously remember some of his guidance, and perhaps this quality is the reason why this book still draws millions of readers to this day.
12. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy - David D. BurnsCognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most effective therapy used by psychologists today; it consists of identifying thought patterns that have a detrimental effect on your self-image and mood, and deconstructing these in order to break out of these destructive cycles. If you want to know how this works, which moods are central in your life, what thought patterns are causing your depression, how to overcome self-judgment and guilt, how to defeat approval and love addiction and how your self-perfectionism is hindering you, then don’t look further; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped millions of people and it can help you, and this is the best book for the job. Packed with scientific research, exercises and examples, this is the best improvement your self is going to get.
13. Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life – Maxwell Maltz
What can a plastic surgeon tell us about happiness? By dealing with his patients, Dr. Maxwell Maltz experienced firsthand that having your expectations come true doesn’t automatically result into a more positive life experience. Their outward appearances did indeed change but their inner insecurity remained. This caused him to find other means to help his patients, resulting in visualization techniques. He found a person’s outer success can never rise above the one visualized internally. This book carries a very honest and humbling story, loaded with fundamental truths about our psychology and how our own philosophy affects us, all told by a very compassionate writer. Of some books it can be said that it will be valuable for years to come, and I am absolutely positive that this is one of them.