Just in time for National Read-a-Book Day, here are sixteen self-improvement books which have made a lasting impact in my life
I read a lot of books. Like, a LOT. Especially self-improvement books.
When I was young I used to hate reading because of my undiagnosed ADD. It would take me so long to finish paragraphs and pages. But then, I discovered books that I enjoyed and realized that I cared more about the enjoyment of what I was reading more than the anger I felt towards my slow reading style. I stopped getting down on myself for being a slow reader and instead embraced finding books that I enjoyed. I started letting the enjoyment rule over my lack of speed.
The books that I enjoy reading have varied over the decades. I used to read mysteries, starting with a love of Nancy Drew, and then only crime and murder mysteries (I read every Patricia Cornwell book I could get my hands on). Over the last 15 years I have read 99.9% nonfiction.
And when I say read, nowadays I mostly listen (though I do love turning those actual pages when I can!). To get in the sheer quantity of books I want to absorb, I do the most efficient thing which is to listen to books while driving kids around, commuting, doing errands, or folding laundry.
Here is my list of self-improvement books that have impacted me the most. Books where I truly gleaned learnings and understandings about myself, about the world around me, and made real change toward a better me.
My “Sweet Sixteen” Favorite Self-Improvement Books
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Why it’s on my list: This book makes the list because of its ability to break down how and why we humans create habits, good and bad. I learned it’s actually the system we create that fosters our ability to create good habits and ditch unhelpful ones. And, that the little things make more impact than big things when talking about habits.
Co-active Leadership: Five Ways to Lead by Karen Kimsey-House and Henry Kimsey-House
Why it’s on my list: I love how this self-improvement book talks about leadership in a multidimensional, unconventional way. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be the one “in charge,” or as they coin it, “leader in front.” But actually, leadership is exemplified and harnessed from various positions as “leader within,” “leader behind,” ”leader beside,” and “ leader in the field.” I learned I am a “leader behind” with my HR and operations work (namely, committed to empowering and calling forth the brilliance within people by coaching them toward their own answers through deep listening, powerful questions, and acknowledgment). I also realized that these leadership skills can also be applied to parenting.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Why it’s on my list: This self-improvement book expanded my mind, giving insight into a community’s experience I could never personally experience. It helped make me a more compassionate and fair person by revealing how deeply ingrained racism is in our society, from microcultures to governmental systems and offers what we can do to annihilate it.
Pussy: A Reclamation by Regena Thomashauer
Why it’s on my list: I was lost and disconnected. I was out of touch with myself, my mind, body and spirit. I read this book about 2.5 years after having Sage and having given all of my body, energy and resources to him, the other kids, Kyle and our new business. This book taught me how to reconnect with my light and fire, to make me feel good inside and out.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
Why it’s on my list: We already know that timing is everything, and in this book I learned the science of time so I can stop making assumptions or guessing about the best times to do things like work, eat, sleep, have coffee, etc. Our emotions run through the same cycle every day and by knowing this cycle we can better navigate our days.
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Why it’s on my list: This book taught me that in order to get extraordinary results, you have to be focussed and obsessed with ONE thing at a time and make it the most important priority in your day. You have to answer, “What’s the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary?” to help figure out your priorities. Learn how to say no, and never sacrifice your personal life for work.
The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life – Before 8AM by Hal Elrod
Why it’s on my list: Reading this book inspired me to train for and run a marathon. (And I of course signed up Kyle at the same time. Sorry, not sorry, babe!) I truly believe that how you start your day is important as a kickstart for how the day is going to go. And, I also believe that you can “start” your day whenever it works best for you. My biggest takeaway from this book is how to build and stick to routines that nurture the mind, body and spirit. By using what the author calls life SAVERS, you start your day with this routine and structure so that no matter what the day brings, it was a successful day if you did these things: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Why I loved it: Life is precious and relationships are paramount above all. This book is a reminder of the simplicities of life and how profound spending quality time and engaging in meaningful conversations are. I gained more appreciation for life and began nurturing relationships that are typically taken for granted. I asked my grandfather lots of questions, and I make sure that those around me know that I care and love them, so in the event I die suddenly, my loved ones know how much I treasure them.
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber
Why it’s on my list: This book does a great job at approaching the concept that I and so many other parents think about, namely, “how do I make sure my children are not spoiled brats?” The approach is thoughtful, engaging, and touches on various topics and concepts like the “fun ratio” relating to the amount of fun a toy brings relative to its cost, as well as saving, earning, participating in the household, and more.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
Why it’s on my list: I love Melinda Gates’ story and journey of using her skills and experience to help women. I resonate with the book’s message of when we lift up women, we lift up everybody.
I Will Teach You to Be Rich: No Guilt. No Excuses. No B.S. Just a 6-Week Program That Works by Ramit Sethi
Why it’s on my list: This self-improvement book made it so simple to understand how to manage money, save for the future and have a better relationship with spending. Its actionable advice is clear, immediate and thoughtful. I implemented a number of the book’s strategies straight away and feel confident knowing that I am being smarter with my finances for myself, my family and our future.
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner, et al.
Why it’s on my list: Dots are not always connected in a straight line. Just because it appears there’s a clear relationship, it doesn’t mean there is. I learned to question everything in this self-improvement book, and not take data, relationships and correlations at face value. This was especially helpful when I read this book for the first time as a young 20-something.
Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race
by Shanna H. Swan, Stacey Colino, et al.
Why it’s on my list: Through this book I learned that every single little thing we do has an effect on our bodies and the environment, both in modern times and especially in the future. So often people make decisions based on what’s convenient or provides success in the moment, without thinking about the long-term harm and repercussions it could have.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish, et al.
Why it’s on my list: This book helped me when I was running my preschool before I ever lived with and started raising children. Not only are the lessons valuable for kids, I find that they help navigate challenging situations with adults as well. My key takeaways were the importance of accepting and acknowledging kids’ feelings, encouraging cooperation over punishment and encouraging autonomy to build self-confidence.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Why it’s on my list: The way Michelle Obama always remembered her roots, stood up for what is most important to her – her family and helping her community – large and small was extremely inspiring!
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Why it’s on my list: This book was so fun to read and has so much heart and soul in every word. Glennon Doyle is a masterful storyteller and this book is so breathtakingly open and raw as she shares her story about her relationship with love, herself and those closest to her. She inspires her readers, including myself, to live authentically, heart forward and with arms wide open.
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Reach out, I’m here for you.
Jenna, Your growth and work is bold and ambitious. I’ve known you for a very long time (your 5th grade) and I am inspired by your unique approach to life. What strikes me is how spiritual and balanced you have become. Even better, I can learn from you. I grew up with three younger sibs, a home in which our parents’ passion for each other and family and nature and spirituality impacted me to be who I am. We were cherished and nurtured by our folks. They have been in heaven a long time, but they are with me every day. Much love and admiration, Maxine