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The Best Personal Development Books

The realm of ‘self-help’ books has exploded in the last 10 years.

To help you separate great from the mediocre, I’ve compiled some of my favourites which I direct clients and friends to over and over again.

Here they are:

The Choice by Edith Eger

This is quite simply one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. Eger writes of her experience of being sent to Auschwitz as a sixteen-year old where she is separated from her parents and endures terrible suffering. Far from breaking Eger, the Holocaust leads to Eger’s commitment to live fully and to choose hope. Eger then shares her journey beyond the camp and how she integrates her experience into a new life.

Why I love it: Given the events it covers, it’s a challenging read at times. And it’s worth it. Eger’s courage and resilience is awe-inspiring. Her enthusiasm for life and freedom is contagious. She demonstrates the strength of the human spirit, even in the most awful circumstances.

Best quote: “Work has set me free. I survived so that I could do my work…It was the inner work. Of learning to survive and thrive, of learning to forgive myself, of helping others to do the same. And when I do this work, then I am no longer the hostage or the prisoner of anything, I am free”.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book is an incredibly honest, grounded exploration of creativity and the blocks that stop us from expressing ourselves (namely fear). Gilbert normalises the blocks that most creatives face and gives practical tips on how to create even when you’re scared.

Why I love it: Gilbert is someone who has ‘made it’ creatively, yet her tone is grounded and real. I love her pragmatism on what it takes to succeed, which is gently balanced with the mysticism of inspiration. She busts many myths on creativity, which know will be a relief to many.

Best quote: “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart”.

A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (And Other Dark, Difficult Times) by Maria Sirois

Maria Sirois is an experienced clinical psychologist, an expert in Positive Psychology and a master storyteller. I send this beautiful book to anyone I know who is grieving because Sirois perfectly balances the necessary pain of the grieving process with gentle ways in to start to feel better. Sirois is no stranger to grief, having lost her younger brother to cancer when he was in his fifties.

Why I love it: I’ve had the immense pleasure of attending two training sessions run by Sirois, both of which were life-changing. She is a rare jewel in the world of personal development, who can talk about the things we fear most, such as death and loss, with sensitivity and humour.

Best quote: “There is a way to rise with the suffering of a moment. We need only begin where we can, with the choice we have the most control over: who we will be in the moment we have been given”.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

If you’ve not watched Brené Brown’s viral TED Talk on the power of vulnerability, please do it today. Daring Greatly is a deeper exploration of vulnerability, shame and what it means to live a whole-hearted life, which is supported by Brown’s 12 years of social research in the field. She uses relatable examples to show how our desire to protect ourselves from vulnerability blocks us from authentic and purposeful living.

Why I love it: Brené Brown has a magical ability to connect with her audience with warmth, humour and compassion on topics that are uncomfortable, like shame. You really feel she’s speaking to you and whatever your struggle is, she gets it. She gives language to all the ways we “armour up” from vulnerability in ways that will have you smiling, nodding, and resolving to live more courageously.

Best quote: “Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

If you hate swearing, don’t read this book. If you enjoy pithy one-liners and hard truths then this is for you. I found Manson’s book akin to a fun, loving slap in the face. I say loving because Manson genuinely wants to wake us up from the damaging beliefs that cause unhappiness in Western culture. Examples include our complete aversion to suffering and the need to be extraordinary which is addressed in the chapter “you are not special”.

Why I love it: Manson confronts hard societal truths with humour and great story-telling. Don’t be fooled by the profanity. I came away feeling somehow calmer, more grounded and my eyes wide open to the ways in which we create our own unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Once we’re aware of these unhappiness traps, we’re empowered to choose differently, and Manson shows us how.

Best quote: “To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action”.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed is a must-read for any woman who wants to forge their own path in living an authentic, meaningful life. Doyle grabs you by the shoulders to wake you up from the limits of people pleasing and instead to live what would be a ‘true and beautiful’ life for us. This is a book written for women primarily (although I think many of the principles will resonate with men too – Doyle may disagree with me about that).

Why I love it: Throughout Untamed, Doyle magically articulates thoughts and feelings that I already ‘knew’ deep down but somehow couldn’t express. I particularly love Doyle’s description of “The Knowing”, a practice she has honed to connect with herself so that she can make her best life choices. I found it a perfect blend of memoir storytelling and inspiration for women to break free from societal expectations.

Best quote: “This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been”.

Non-violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenburg

Non-violent Communication (NVC) is the best book on communication I’ve ever come across. Rosenburg offers a practical framework to express our unmet needs or feelings from a place of compassion and connection, rather than judgement and shame. Our unconscious patterns of communication tend to hi-jack us if we’re in a conflict situation or otherwise feeling emotionally vulnerable. NVC guides the reader through a simple 4-step process to discharge unhelpful emotion from your language so that you can express yourself with more clarity and impact.

Why I love it: I love the practicality of NVC. Sometimes we need to be shown positive examples and a form of words to refer back to so we can know what healthy communication sounds and feels like. This book really helped me realise how much of the language we’re raised with is entrenched in blame, shame and guilt in order to manipulate us into doing what the other person wants. Whilst the NVC model requires thought and discipline, it empowers you to deal with difficult conversations much more compassionately and effectively.

Best quote: “At the core of all anger, is a need that is not being fulfilled”.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

This is a must-read for anyone who struggles with distraction and boundaries in their work. Newport  makes a watertight case for prioritising deep work: the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.

Why I love it: this book is a needed wake-up call in a distracted world. Newport is mostly pre-occupied with the economic advantage of deep work (in that it will give you the competitive edge). Yet it’s clear that prioritising deep work is also more energising, fulfilling and will create opportunities to grow your self-esteem. I always refer to the ‘shutdown routine’ in this book to my clients, which is particularly helpful for people who struggle to switch off even once their working day is technically over.

Best quote: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

I hope these reviews have inspired you to treat yourself, find a cosy corner and enjoy the wisdom these authors have shared. Happy reading!

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22 December 2021