Top 5 Books for Self-Improvement

Like any English major, I’m a book-a-holic. Over the course of many years, I learned to appreciate literature that explores the human psyche. My initial interest was primarily in fantasy and fiction—anything even remotely based in real life seemed boring. I thought nothing could beat action heroes and aliens. Yet, when I laid my hands on my first self-help book, I realized the merit of this particular genre. Stories are fun ways to learn about the world and about ourselves—unexpectedly, the same can be said for self-help books. Though they might seem boring, the lessons within them are enthralling and useful. Here are my top five books for the reader who is just starting to dabble in self-help.


1. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

Though this is one of the drier books on the list, I highly recommend it as a starting point. Many of the advice author Jordan B. Peterson provides is straightforward and simple. Many of his points are ideas you might have thought about already. Despite the apparent simplicity, when I first stumbled onto his lectures, I was captivated by what he had to say because the concepts had never really carried much weight until they were vocalized. Start simple with Peterson’s 12 rules, and notice how much these little things can end up transforming your life.

2. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Charles Duhigg is a brilliant writer and makes his work enthralling through the use of memorable narratives. The book focuses on habits and identifying why we do what we do (as the title alludes). I learned many new things by reading this book, and I was surprised to discover how habit loops worked and how keystone habits can cause avalanches of positive change. If you’re interested in breaking bad habits, find out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and in understanding how habits work, find out how to overcome them.

3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

If I had to summarize this book in four words, I would say, “you are in control.” Like Duhigg, author Stephen R. Covey focuses on habits. Specifically, he highlights seven positive habits that are sure to benefit your life. These habits break down the skills necessary in order to attain your goals (and ultimately, a sense of fulfillment and happiness). If you want to do something, and you want to do it successfully, you need to read this book.

4. Eat that Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

Just by reading this title, you know you need this book. After all, procrastination is a fiend that affects everyone at some point in life. If you’re an undergraduate student, chances are you face periods of procrastination regularly, as around 70-90% of undergraduates do. In this book, Brian Tracy teaches readers how to break down projects and time, and how to prioritize tasks. After all, you don’t need to do everything to be successful—it’s the most important things that you need to get done.

5. Milk the Pigeon: A Field Guide for Anyone Lost in their 20s

Your 20s are a hard time. Everyone is at different stages and moving in different directions, and circumstances are changing so fast that it becomes easy to get lost. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? What should I do? I’m sure these questions hit home for a lot of people, as they hit home for me. From his personal experience, Alexander Heyne lays out a guide that explores the big questions you need to ask yourself in order to find your direction in life and realistically pursue what you want.


Self-help books might not have magic spells or zombie armies, but they do focus on the empowerment of a certain hero—you. In that way, self-help books are even more captivating than high fantasy, since it’s you who faces the possibility and potential to train, grow, and change your life. There’s so much to learn from these kinds of texts, and reading even a couple of pages per day can inspire you to change for the better.