You walk into a bookstore (or, if you’re like me, open up Amazon) and head on over to the self-help section. A quick scan of the many titles and suddenly the perfect book jumps out and grabs your attention. You pick it up, walk to the checkout, pay, and leave, excited by the prospect of reading it that evening.
Only, that’s not what happens. Instead, you spend hours pouring over the endless options, reading the back covers, flicking through the pages, and checking out the reviews. In the end, you get so overwhelmed that you become paralyzed and unable to make a decision. You leave empty handed.
You’re in luck. I’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Below are the 9 self-help books that are on my personal wishlist for 2021. They are, from what I can tell, some of the best out there. So, rather than waste your time figuring out what to buy, why not piggyback on my research and narrow down your selection to the following options? Or just buy them all like I intend to do!
So, sit back and check out my picks of the best self-help books for 2021.
I also wrote a post last year about 9 life-changing books that I’ve already read. Click here if you’d like to see that list.
1. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
From what I’ve read of the reviews and synopsis, this book sounds like one that could really have an impact on my life. It revolves around the little decisions we make each and every day, and how these add up over time to create big shifts in our lives.
I really like this argument because I can totally see how true it is. No decision is small when placed as part of the greater whole, and I’m intrigued to delve deeper into this idea and explore it some more.
I think the main reason I want to read this book is because I hope it will reveal some of the small, mindless choices I am making that might be detrimental to me in the long run. I’m no doubt making such choices, and if this book can help me identify and eradicate them, it’ll be money well spent.
2. The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts
I’ve listened to many Alan Watts lectures/talks and I am definitely a fan of his. I love the way he captures Eastern wisdom and philosophy, and translates it in ways that are easy for his Western audience to understand. I’ve been meaning to read some of his books for a while now, and 2021 will be the year that I do.
He wrote several books in his lifetime, and choosing just one for this list was difficult, but I feel that I will gain the most from reading the helpfully titled “The Book.” I say this after recently finishing I Am That by Maharaj Sri Nisargadatta which was a fascinating, if challenging book. In it, I was introduced to the concept of self-identification through negation – that is, finding yourself by realizing everything you are not.
I am very much hoping that this Alan Watts book will help me to truly comprehend this point, as it deals with the problem of identity and what it means to be. At the very least, I know I’ll be entertained by Watts’ skill and flair for communicating his ideas.
3. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
Do you get fed up with the little voice in your head? I know I sometimes do. Understanding the root of self-talk and learning to quieten the mind is just one part of what this book claims to offer.
The author also asks the question “who am I?” much like the previous book in this list, and there are discussions on the flow of energy, opening up to the world around us, and finding unconditional happiness. All in all, it sounds like a very thought-provoking read.
4. The Four Agreements: Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills
This book has an intriguing principle: that by making just four agreements with yourself, you can find personal freedom. Sounds great.
The main author, Don Miguel Ruiz, is a shamanic leader and this book is supposedly the manual for personal conduct handed down by his Toltec ancestors. Whether this is true or not, I generally enjoy reading books with seemingly simple ideas because they often contain profound lessons when one sits and contemplates them. I’m hoping this will be such a book.
If the Toltec positioning of this book is accurate, it will provide some insight into the lives and beliefs of this ancient civilization. The wisdom and teachings of cultures such as these are something I believe we can all learn from, which is why this book has made it onto my wishlist.
5. Ego is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent by Ryan Holiday
I actually find the title of this book quite troublesome because I don’t agree with labelling our ego as the “enemy,” but I am conscious of the role my ego plays in my life. It’s something I’d like to examine and explore in more depth.
Ryan Holiday isn’t an author I’ve come across before, but if the reviews of this book are anything to go by, he knows how to write in a captivating and easy-to-follow style. I’m hoping he can provide some a-ha! moments that will help me to disarm my ego when necessary.
The chapters are meant to be short which is a big plus point, and it uses the storytelling approach with historical characters to help explain each concept. It sounds like it will be an enjoyable read; let’s hope it delivers on the substance.
6. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
I really do enjoy being in a flow state, especially when I’m working, but this happens less frequently than I’d like. I am terrible at getting distracted by things, whether social media, news, emails, texts, or even reading self-help articles. I definitely need some concrete advice on how to enter and remain in a flow state more often.
I’ve actually tried reading a book on procrastination before and, ironically, I never finished it. I’m really hoping that this book can provide the insights and tools that I need to resist the temptation of endless distractions and make 2021 the year where I get more done.
It gets fantastic reviews from hundreds of people, many of whom claim it has shifted the way they think and work, and opened that allusive door to what the author terms “deep work” – essentially being in the flow.
7. Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher
Yes, a second book on focus and attention, but unlike the previous one that gives practical “how-to” advice on improving yours, this one sounds a bit different. If I understand it correctly, this book explores the idea that what you focus on can and will have a huge impact on your inner world and enjoyment of life.
Choosing where to focus, then, is a means to altering your state of mind. This intuitively feels right to me, but it’s certainly something I’d like to dive a little further into. If reading this book helps me to make better choices as to where I focus my attention, it’ll be well worth the time and money I spend on it.
8. The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self by Alex Lickerman
Resilience is a quality you never know when you might need. While I’m not facing any major challenges in my life right now, I could definitely be more calm and collected when facing the smaller obstacles I come up against.
By all accounts, this book combines case studies, science, and Nichiren Buddhist philosophy to provide a framework for constructing a robust, “indestructible” self; one able to cope with whatever life throws at it, whether big or small.
The author is a doctor and I believe he uses his first-hand experience of treating his patients as a source of inspiration. I have read books that discuss patient case studies before and I found these a very easy way to digest the information being presented.
The reviews paint a picture of a book that proves very helpful when life has dealt you a bad hand – poor health, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or some other form of trauma.
9. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine Aron
I don’t describe myself as a highly sensitive person, but I do share some of their traits. I intend to buy this book primarily as a way to better understand what the world is like for these highly sensitive individuals and how I might better interact with them.
I expect an eye-opening account of the types of issues faced by such people, along with some practical advice for coping in a world so full of stimulation. While I have given advice for HSPs before, I hope this book will allow me to become an even better writer on this topic.
So there you have it; my wishlist for self-help books in 2021. I’m not the fastest reader of books, but I intend to work my way through each of these 9 books and I will update the article above as I read each one. Hopefully you have also taken some inspiration from this list and will add some of the books to your own reading list for the year.
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