10 All-time Best Self-improvement & Motivational Books

 Motivation is one of the most important drivers of creativity and action in one’s life; if you are motivated, any task looks achievable. When motivation is lacking, even molehill looks like a mountain. But how to get motivated when there are no triggers to motivate you to even come out of bed early in the morning?

Books, books and books. Yes, books are the best motivating force humankind has ever invented. In  fact, if you don’t feel motivated to do anything even after reading an awfully inspiring book, there must be something lacking in your life. The remedy- read few more books! Jim Rohn, said it best: “The book you don’t read won’t help.”

For anyone interested in self-improvement and professional competence, his or her bucket list should  consist of those books which should not only spark your creativity and  change the way you think but also urge you to take action by providing practical guidance for achieving personal and professional success. With that in mind, here is my bucket list!

  1. I Am OK, You Are OK by Thomas Harris
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  3. Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
  4. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  5. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
  6. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey
  7. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
  8. The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
  9. Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy
  10.  Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Every Day. by Todd Henry
  11. I Am OK, You Are OK by Thomas Harris

“Through the Adult the little person can begin to tell the difference between life as it was taught and demonstrated to him (Parent), life as he felt it or wished it or fantasied it (Child), and life as he figures it out by himself (Adult).”

I have gone through I Am OK, You Are Ok three times in my life-first time when I started my career as a public servant in 1970s, then as a mid-level officer in 1990s and recently at the end of my service. Every reading of this book has taught me something new about human nature and how to interact with people in general and difficult persons in particular. Yes, I’m OK – You’re OK is a dated book, published in  1967. But remember the  book made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1972 and remained there for almost two years. It is estimated that so far over 15 million copies have been sold  and to have been translated into over a dozen languages. No one can estimate the number of pirated copies sold all over the world!

Harris asserts that only by understating the maturity level of the person whom you are talking to by taking cues from his body language, gestures of his hands and the words he is using, you can find out whether it is an adult who is discussing with you or his ‘child’ or ‘parents’ are dictating him and you can react accordingly. Needless to reiterate, a meaningful discussion with fruitful ends is possible only when your adult is discussing the issue with his ‘adult’!

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  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

“The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking. So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage.”

Carnegie’s book –How to Win Friends and Influence People should be read in one’s teens as I did and have been a great admirer of Carnegie since then. It has played a very significant role in my personal development, teaching me two very important lessons-how to empathize with others and secondly, keeping the business relationships and personal relationship absolutely inseparable. Full of practical pieces of advice for handling people, this motivational book not only  tells you 06 ways to make people like you and twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking but also teaches you how to be a leader and change people without giving breeding resentment. And it has also seven rules for making your home life happier!

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  • Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

“Real life, however, is very different from school sums. There is usually more than one answer. Some answers are much better than others: they cost less, are more reliable or are more easy to implement. There is no reason at all for supposing that the first answer has to be the best one.”

Born in Malta in 1933, Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono is a multidimensional personalty- physician, psychologist, author, inventor and consultant. Inventor of the term “Lateral Thinking” about which he has written more than 50 books, he has done pioneering work in popularizing the “out of box thinking”. His core message in his most famous book, six thinking hats is  very simple but extremely effective-look at a problem from multiple perspectives by putting on an imaginary hat for each perspective such as

  1. White Hat – the facts and figures
  2. Red Hat – the emotional perspective
  3. Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”
  4. Yellow Hat – the positive side
  5. Green Hat – the creative side
  6. Blue Hat – the organizing view

When stuck with a problem, this technique can help us to not only get unstuck from our thinking by stepping out of our comfort zone but also to explore alternative views. His advice-never say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the first instance to any proposal given but always say ‘po’(i.e. possible), has been used by me throughout my service during the meetings

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“The majority of people are ready to throw their aims and purposes overboard and give up at the first sign of opposition or misfortune. A few carry on despite all opposition until they attain their goal. These few are the Fords, Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Edisons.”

Although written  more than eight decades ago in 1937 in the heydays of the Great Depression, its lessons are as relevant today as they were when it was penned by the maestro of financial management,  Napoleon Hill. Now regarded as a classic, the title of this motivational book suggests that this book tells you how to accumulate monetary wealth, but it is so much more than that- it not only convinces you to become wealthy, it also teaches you how to grow rich in every aspect, personally and professionally.

Based on a series of interviews conducted by Napoleon Hill with the most successful and wealthiest individuals of his day, he has deducted highly effective and practical steps to take and the equally important steps to avoid for becoming wealthy.

Believing that  99% of people do not have a goal in their life, the author made a very convincing point; those who do not have a goal in life can never be happy. And if you want to be happy, you must be financially well off through what he calls “sex transmutation”- transfer the energy of your libido into pursuit of acquiring wealth!

The author also makes a point with which I humbly disagree- most people do not achieve full success at least after the age of 40. He supports his assertion by quoting the examples of Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie, who were both over the age of 40 when they acquired their fortunes. However, I believe that there is no age for becoming wealthy-the sooner the better. Start reading his book as well as the next one I am recommending

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  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

“It’s more important to grow your income than cut your expenses. It’s more important to grow your spirit that cut your dreams.”

I wish I had read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki when I started my service and would have been a millionaire by now! Please do read this book which advocates financial independence and building wealth through investing, real estate investing, starting and owning businesses. Written in the style of a set of parables, ostensibly based on his life, Kiyosaki stresses the need for saving and investing in high value assets that produce cash flow, rather than being an employee of someone else. He gives very practical guidance for managing your finances; particularly his advice to take out a fixed amount of money on the first of every month and deposit it in an interest bearing account and cut down on your ‘latte’ expenditure is very convincing. Give this book along with Carnegie’s to your teenage children on their next birthdays.

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  • The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

Warren Buffet’s pick as the greatest investment book of all time, The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham was first published in 1949 and is still rated the best in this genre. Few of his pieces of advice which you can use as a check-list are as follows

·Your main goal should be to not lose money; so go for ‘investing’ and avoid ‘speculating,’. Buy some good stocks and stick with them instead of day trading.
·Buy the stock whose Price/Earnings Ratio (often shortened to the P/E ratio or the PER is the ratio of a company’s stock price to the company’s earnings per share.) should be less than 15.
· Don’t invest in companies that have had negative earnings-per-share in the last three years.
· Similarly its Price/Book Value Ratio (or P/B ratio, is a financial ratio used to compare a company’s current market price to its book value. This ratio also gives some idea of whether an investor is paying too much for what would be left if the company went bankrupt immediately) should be less than or equal to 22.5.
· Don’t buy a share simply because its share is selling cheap; look for its EPS growth (annual rate of growth of earnings from investments). Ideally it should be more than 30% (cumulative) over the course of the prior 10 years. This is a good indicator of a stable and sound business model.
· Look for a current ratio (current assets / current liabilities) greater than 2. It is a signal that the company is financially secure.Always prefer companies with dividends, and with consistent dividend growth.
· Market crashes should be thought of as exciting and delightful fire sales on the best stocks. By contrast, be terrified when the market has gone up far, fast, and resist the urge to start buying more stock when the market is up. (He does not advocate investing or divesting simply because the market goes down or up, one always looks at individual companies.)

A lot of financial jargon? Yes, but this is essential if you want to enter in this field. And you will get used to these terms within few days

  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

“Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It’s not logical; it’s psychological.

Steven Covey is no doubt a master craftsman and his book is an essential reading for anyone interested in self-development or increasing his competency level. Like all good books his is an easy reading with lot of personal anecdotes and useful hints for personal and professional grooming particularly his emphasis on goal setting and lifelong learning. His road map for living not only helps you in developing better habits but also convinces you that acquiring them will make you a better person.This educational and motivational book was first published in 1989, and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide in over 40 languages. The 7 habits touted by the book are:

  • Be Proactive
  • Begin with the End in Mind
  • Put First Things First
  • Think Win-Win
  • Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw

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  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

“When we are happy—when our mindset and mood are positive—we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.”

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor is another very powerful book which puts the conventional wisdom that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful then we will be a happy person, on its head. According to Achor this formula actually works in reverse; happiness fuels success, not the other way round. Using stories and case studies from his work, Achor has crafted seven principles which explain how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work. Rather than stressing how to become happier at work, it is a book about how to reap the benefits of a happier and a more positive mind-set to achieve the extraordinary in our work and in our lives.

 In a world of increasing workloads and stress, The Happiness Advantage is a must read for anyone who desires to excel.


9. The Power of Positive Thinking: 10 Traits for Maximum Results by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

Every individual forms his own estimate of himself and that basic estimate goes far toward determining what he becomes. You can do no more than you believe you can. You can be no more than you believe you are. Belief stimulates power within yourself. Have faith in faith. Don’t be afraid to trust faith.

Who has not heard the name of Dr Vinceny Peale even if you have not read any of his books which have helped millions of people all over the world enriching their live through a message of faith and inspiration? This book is one of his best sellers, written to help people achieve happiness and satisfaction in their lives. Believing that every life is worth living, Dr Vincent not only stresses about the power of faith in one’s life, he also offers practical techniques to motivate people to believe in themselves, and take charge of their lives and decrease the amount of time they spend worrying about trivial things. After reading this book, I assure you that you will feel determined to accomplish those tasks which you had been postponing for one reason or another.

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  1. Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy

“Your success in life and work will be determined by the kinds of habits you develop over time. Once something becomes a habit, it becomes automatic and easy to do.”

Taking a cue from Mark Twain’s famous quote “The first thing to do in the morning is to eat the frog-the most unpleasant job”, Brian Tracy in his above book has advocated a simple but I think a very powerful idea which can change the way you work. As you cannot complete all the tasks you list in your “to do” list, Brian Tracy advises us to start with the most unpleasant task and finish it by hook or crook. Once done, it will not only create confidence in you to complete the less arduous tasks but will also release an immense energy for this purpose. And, believe me, he is 100% right. Just look at the piece of advice he has for you

  • Write down all your goals the night before: The more, the better so that you are motivated if you accomplish more
  • ABCDE Method: Prioritise them in descending order of importance, according to their results.- a b c d e etc.
  • How do you eat an elephant: One bite at a time/breakdown into small segments. Follow the 10/90 rule-spend 10 percent on planning; 90 % on executing
  • 4. Pareto Principle-In every society, 20% are vital few 80% are trivial many. Same with tasks. Out of ten tasks select 2 which are frogs. Eat first in the morning
  • 5. Future orientation: Long term foresight is the key to success. Every day, ask three questions
    • what are my highest value activities?
    • what can I and only I do that, if done well, will make a real difference
    • what is the most valuable use of my time now?
  • Creative Procrastination: Procrastination is not bad; just select less important tasks to procrastinate
  •  Remember three Ds of habit formation:
    • decision-to complete a task
    • discipline-to practise
    • determination-to repeat the task to make it a habit

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  1. The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf DOBELLI

Logical thinking and analysis pertain to see an issue in its proper perspective, finding out its real causes and the plausible connection between the inputs and the outputs of a situation and acting accordingly for desirable results. However, with few exceptions, most of us have faulty thinking framework and make decisions which are not pragmatic. Irony is that right from our childhood, most of us start learning what psychologists say cognitive biases or erroneous thinking and faulty logic which then become our decision making framework,

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli is an excellent treatise on recognising these cognitive biases and a primer on how to avoid them while making critical decisions.  If you wish to change the way you think about yourself and life in general,and do not have the time to read the original books from which the author has copied them namely Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely, Steven Pinker, Nassim Taleb, etc to name a few, then this is the book you were looking for.

Consisting of 99 short chapters, every chapter being 2.5 pages long, it is not for one time reading or one -sitting reading. To me it is bed-side table book which must be consultede every night for reading 2 or three chapters and fully absorbing their lessons. MY TAKE

  • Never overestimate the probability of success(particularly in business), just because someone made tons of money in doing certain business; 90 % fail within first three years of starting business.
  • Confirmation bias, tendency to selectively interpret new information so that it becomes compatible with our existing theories, is a recipe for disaster. Always seek maximum information from multiple sources before committing time and resources
  • Conformity, when everyone is agreeing with a proposal in a group, is extremely dangerous. Appoint someone to act as a Devil’s advocate to see the hidden sides of the issues
  • Loss Aversion – The fear of losing something motivates people more than the prospect of gaining something of equal value.
  • Presence of something is more noticeable and valued than its absence. e.g. presence of disease than its absence. OR getting off a plane and not noticing that it did not crash.
  • It is not what you say, but how you say, that’s important. 98% Fat Free product seems more healthy than a product with 1% Fat.

Nice, solid theories on why we think the way we do and how we can better handle different situations. I wish I could give this book more stars, because the theories within do deserve more.

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  1. Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Every Day by Todd Henry

“We live with the stubborn illusion that we will always have tomorrow to do today’s work.”

“If the Final Hour comes upon one of you while he has in his hand a sapling, then let him plant it.”-Prophet Mohammed

Well my parting shot of this list is appropriately titled as Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Every Day by Todd Henry. The author, a well known motivational writer and speaker, got this inspiration while attending a business meeting. When the director asked the audience: “Where is the richest land in the world?” and startled the audience by saying

“No, it is the cemetery. Yes, it is the richest land in the world, because millions of people have departed from it, “they have died” and they carry many valuable ideas that did not come out of the light and benefited others. It is all in the cemetery where they were buried.”

Inspired by this answer, Todd Henry wrote this wonderful book wherein he passionately but forcefully exhorts  people to pour out their ideas and potential energies in their communities and turn them into something useful before it is too late. “Do not go to your grave and you carry inside you the best that you have, always choose to die empty.”

The basic idea of Die Empty is that most of us live with the stubborn idea that we will always have tomorrow. But sooner or later all of our tomorrows will run out.  On our deathbeds, many of us would give anything to get one more chance to approach life with the full intention and conviction it deserved. He therefore suggests that by the time you reach the end of your life, you should have put it all out there-the unwritten novels, the un-launched products, the un-started businesses that will haunt you on your deathbed.

The expression Die empty is a unique concept in the sense that it lays down some very simple but extremely practical pieces of advice-Do not keep the goodness inside of you, and die full of ideas and be a delicious meal for the earthworms in the grave.As a creator or entrepreneur, you don’t want to die with your best work still inside you. In other words

  • If you have an idea perform it.
  • If you have a knowledge give it out.
  • If you have a goal achieve it.
  • Love, share and distribute, do not keep it inside.

If you’re feeling stuck in a place you don’t want to be or feel a void in your life for lac of meaningfulness, then do read Die Empty . IT WILL CHANGE YOUR PERESPECTIVE ON LIFE.

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