Fellas, let’s face it: sifting through the muck to find the best self-help books for men sucks.
On Amazon alone there are more than half a million titles, and almost all of them make bold and sometimes preposterous claims about how much they’ll improve your life.
And thanks to the marketing efforts of their publishers, it can often be hard to tell which books are exceptionally well researched and science-backed, and which ones are based in fluffy (and worse, unhelpful) feel-goodery.
Spend Your Self-Help Cash Smartly
I’ve dropped a lot of cash on self-improvement material over the years, and not all of it wisely. So in an effort to spare you a little dough and a lot of time, I’ve rounded up a handful of the best self help books for young men that I’ve come across.
Before We Begin…
One quick (ass-covering!) note before you dig in: this list is by no means exhaustive. Self-improvement and building self-confidence are life-long endeavors, and I’m constantly coming across new and exciting books that legitimately provide value.
I’ll update this post periodically as I do, and I hope you’ll share some of the books that work best for you in the comments below.
OK, ass-covering over. Onto the books!
The Best Self Help Books for Men
Rounding up the Best Books for Men’s Development
(shameless plug alert!)
Man in Command
How to Go From the Most Self-Doubting Guy in the Room to The Most Confident Man
With my first book, which became an Amazon #1 best-seller (in Canada, but still!), I set out to write the definitive guide for going from insecure self-doubter to self-assured achiever. Man in Command is a roadmap for overcoming obstacles and building a better you.
By Nathaniel Branden
This is one of the first books I added to my resources page, and with damn good reason.
You can read my full synopsis of the book over there, where I break down what it’s about and why I recommend it, but the Coles Notes version is this:
Author Nathaniel Branden was a psychologist, considered one of the world’s leading authorities on self-esteem. This book is essentially his magnum opus, considered one of the definitive works on what self-esteem is.
As I wrote over there, “If you’re interested in better understanding yourself and your fellow human beings, I would highly recommend starting here.”
By Tom Rath
Subtitled, “How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes,” this book is practically an instruction manual for making positive changes in your life. The structure of the book is ingenious: Rath notes up front that the brain actually remembers things better when they’re grouped together.
Rather than break the book into three separate sections on eating, moving and sleeping, he divides thematically with chapters about decision-making, quitting bad habits and increasing your energy. Then, he offers one tip related to each of his three areas of focus that will allow you to optimize your eating, moving and sleeping for self-improvement.
The result is a hand guide for becoming healthier and happier, which makes the book an absolute must.
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Man’s Search for Meaning
By Viktor Frankl
“Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
– Viktor Frankl
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist turned holocaust survivor after he was rounded up by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz, details his horrid experiences in the camp and outlines his theory of logotherapy, the notion that the most powerful force in a person’s life is their drive to find their meaning or purpose.
Once found, Frankl says, the deep satisfaction derived from its pursuit can propel you through any circumstance, and Frankl outlines the way his own pursuit of meaning helped him survive the psychological and physical horrors of the death camp.
Frankl’s theory is not without its criticisms, but he remained a respected and well credentialed psychiatrist until his death in 1997. The book itself is an incredible read that will immediately help you put your own challenges into perspective.
No matter what you’re facing, I promise you this: it’s not even remotely as bad as a Nazi death camp. If Frankl’s theory of meaning can help him and others survive that hell on earth, then surely a conscience change of mindset can help you overcome your own trials and tribulations. Reading this book helped me do just that.
By Stephen Covey
According to author Stephen Covey, the root of effectiveness is a deep understanding of who we are as people and ensuring that our work and actions are in alignment with our core selves.
Central to the seven habits is the notion that you think efficiency with things, but you think effectiveness with people. That lesson resonated deeply with me, particularly in my professional life, where I was previously guilty of pushing efficiency at the expense of empathy and genuine human connection.
The “funeral exercise” he recommends was very moving for me and his central message (that we should work hard to identify what we truly value and then arrange our lives around these values) is, great advice that can provide the foundation for a life well lived.
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By Olivia Fox Cabane
In trying to become more social, improve my relationships with other people and bolster my own self-confidence, I tried everything I could think of.
I read (misogynistic and mostly poorly written) books by pick-up artists, downloaded various hypnotherapy audio programs and watched nearly every video on YouTube that came up in a search for “how to be more outgoing.”
None of it worked.
But when I stumbled upon this book by Olivia Fox Cabane, I got that rush of excitement that only seems to come when you’ve finally found the answer to a question you’ve been agonizing over. (I also tend to experience this when I remember some obscure actor’s name without looking on IMDB – I knew Ben Mendelsohn was in Killing Them Softly!)
Cabane takes the scientific approach to dispel the myth that some people are just naturally charismatic, and only those lucky few will ever experience charisma. She examines what traits, characteristics and behaviors people associate with charisma and – crucially – offers science-backed ways you can develop them. She further explores charismatic figures like Marilyn Monroe, Steve Jobs and others, analyzing their specific types of charisma and again offering tips on how you can develop it.
It is without a doubt some of the best, most actionable advice ever assembled on how to conduct yourself in a way that others will find charismatic. While the opinion of others is certainly no substitute for your own internal sense of strength and confidence, we also can’t deny that we’re social creatures, and having others view you positively goes a long way toward reinforcing a positive self-image.
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By Leil Lowndes
As with The Charisma Myth above, I recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their social skills—this is one of the best self help books for men who want to learn how to better connect with their fellow human beings.
The book is subtitled “92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships,” and while I don’t know if I can say it improved my relationships, it’s definitely improved my ability to make small talk in common social settings like work and parties.
As with any list-style book or blog post, there are a few tips that missed the mark for me personally, though I suspect they’d connect with someone from another generation.
But overall, I found the vast majority of Lowndes’ 92 tips to be both easy and effective, making this book a perfect little tool in any guy’s social tool kit.
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By Brian Tracy
Subtitled “The Power of Self-Discipline,” this book will help you stop making excuses for yourself and motivate you to get your ass in gear – at least, that’s the effect it had on me.
As you’d probably expect from the name, author Brian Tracy takes an extremely no-nonsense, no-B.S. approach to achieving the things you most want to achieve.
He advocates simple but extremely effective things like writing down your goals, reviewing them often and taking small steps toward achieving them each day.
Read 10 pages of this book every day and you’ll find yourself absolutely itching (in a good way) to tackle your biggest goals.
By Kelly McGonigal
McGonigal’s book gave me two great insights into how will power works, and a ton of exercises about how to strengthen it.
The first insight seems obvious in hindsight, but isn’t something I had considered before. McGonigal points to research that suggests will power works a lot like a muscle; through focused exercise, it can be strengthened. But, much like your physical muscles, your “will power muscle” can become tired and less effective after a period of strenuous use.
This fact alone was a revelation for me. It helped me put my own lapses in self control into perspective and see them not as failures of character, but merely instances of my will power muscle being tired. I wouldn’t chastise my biceps for failing to work after two hours in the gym, so I shouldn’t chastise myself for failing to have will power at the end of a day spent making good choices.
Second, McGonigal points out that will power can be divided into two separate types of self-control, which she calls “I will” power and “I won’t” power. The former is the will power necessary to start a new healthy habit, like starting a workout plan or eating right, and the second is the sort of will power necessary for resisting bad habits, like smoking or eating junk food.
Thinking of will power in these terms gave me the increased self-awareness that my “I will” power is much stronger than my “I won’t” power, which helped me direct my efforts to bolster my will power.
By John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut
In Compelling People, John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut, two communications experts who guest lecture at places like Harvard and advise CEOs and politicians, summarize their years of research and experience.
Their thesis is simple: “when we decide how we feel about someone, we are making not one judgment, but two. The criteria that count are what we call ‘strength’ and ‘warmth.’”
Strength, they explain, is “a person’s capacity to make things happen with abilities and force of will” while warmth is “the sense that a person shares our feelings, interests and views of the world.”
But understanding what strength and warmth are is the easy part – the trick is implementing this understanding in our daily lives, and learning how to harness the power of this insight to our advantage.
The book provides something of a roadmap showing you how to do just that. Neffinger and Kohut start by acknowledging the factors you can’t control (i.e. gender, ethnicity, age, etc.) and how to best play the hand you’re dealt.
They then turn to a lengthy exploration of what you can do to project strength and warmth, and how all of these factors come together in our social lives, our culture and our politics.
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The 5 Second Rule
By Mel Robbins
In The 5 Second Rule, author and public speaker Mel Robbins lays out a psychological hack you can use to motivate, encourage and (in a way) trick yourself into doing the things you know you should do, but don’t necessarily want to do.
The rule itself is extremely easy to understand: you simply count backwards, 5-4-3-2-1, then take action. There really isn’t anything more to it than that, which begs at least two questions:
“That’s a [email protected]¢&ing book? Couldn’t she have just tweeted it?”
Somewhat surprisingly, the answers are “yes” and “well, sorta.” The rule may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. Robbins spends the first part of the book laying out the psychological research behind the rule and explaining in great detail why something that sounds so simple can be so effective.
She then devotes her attention to demonstrating how you can use the rule to achieve specific goals, including becoming more productive, conquering your fears, increasing your happiness and improving and enriching your relationships with other people.
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By Susan Cain
In Quiet, author Susan Cain combines a wealth of scientific research with firsthand interviews and accounts to explore the psychological and sociological differences between introverts and extroverts.
She argues that introverts have a great many strengths that go unrecognized not just by a society biased toward extroversion, but often to introverts themselves.
Cain comes from an academic background – she has a law degree from some place called Harvard, which I’m told is not bad – and she’s clearly a thorough researcher; the book not only features dozens of references to scientific studies whose results she has carefully read and reported, but also multiple interviews with psychologists and other experts in the field. The result is a work that feels thorough and trustworthy.
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Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual
By Jocko Willink
Written by ex-NAVY Seal and current all around bad-ass Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom is essentially Jocko’s treaty on how to be your best self. In the first half of the book he lays out his philosophy and explains how you can cultivate a mindset that will make you more disciplined.
In the second half he gets into the nuts and bolts of how to keep your health well honed and your body in shape so that you can match your mental toughness with physical strength.
Overall, it’s one of the most inspiring and motivating texts I’ve ever read, and will help you achieve damn near any goal.
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More Solid Self Help Books for Men
While I’ve personally read and benefitted from each of the personal development books above, there are far more inspirational books for men than anyone can read in a lifetime, and I don’t want this list to be limited to the books that I’ve managed to squeeze in so far.
So below are some of the top-rated self improvement books I’ve found on Amazon, all of which are excellently reviewed and offer a wide range of perspectives, insight and advice.
Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life
By Gary John Bishop
Are you tired of feeling f*cked up? If you are, Gary John Bishop has the answer. In this straightforward handbook, he gives you the tools and advice you need to demolish the slag weighing you down and become the truly unf*cked version of yourself.
“Wake up to the miracle you are,” he directs. “Here’s what you’ve forgotten: You’re a f*cking miracle of being.” It isn’t other people that are standing in your way; it isn’t even your circumstances that are blocking your ability to thrive. It’s yourself and the negative self-talk you keep telling yourself.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
By James Clear
Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success, and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits–whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.
Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior
By Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg
Practical, proven self help steps show how to transform 40 common self-defeating behaviors, including procrastination, envy, obsession, anger, self-pity, compulsion, neediness, guilt, rebellion, inaction, and more.
Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds
By David Goggins
For David Goggins, childhood was a nightmare – poverty, prejudice, and physical abuse colored his days and haunted his nights. But through self-discipline, mental toughness, and hard work, Goggins transformed himself from a depressed, overweight young man with no future into a U.S. Armed Forces icon and one of the world’s top endurance athletes. The only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, he went on to set records in numerous endurance events, inspiring Outside magazine to name him The Fittest (Real) Man in America.
59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute
By Richard Wiseman
Bestselling author and psychologist Richard Wiseman had become increasingly frustrated with the self-help industry and its snake-oil treatments. Here, bringing together a remarkably diverse range of scientific data, he has crafted a no-nonsense response to their ineffectual programs. Filled with tips and tricks that come straight from the latest scientific journals and his own original research, Wiseman outlines the new science of “rapid change” and describes with clarity and infectious enthusiasm how these quirky, sometimes counterintuitive techniques can be effortlessly incorporated into your everyday life.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
By Mark Manson
In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.
For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.
Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World
By Admiral William H. McRaven
Based on a Navy SEAL’s inspiring graduation speech, this #1 New York Times bestseller of powerful life lessons “should be read by every leader in America” (Wall Street Journal).
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
On May 17, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day. Taking inspiration from the university’s slogan, “What starts here changes the world,” he shared the ten principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also throughout his life; and he explained how anyone can use these basic lessons to change themselves-and the world-for the better.
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
By Brian Tracy
It’s time to stop procrastinating and get more of the important things done! After all, successful people don’t try to do everything. They focus on their most important tasks and get those done. They eat their frogs.
There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re done with the worst thing you’ll have to do all day. For Tracy, eating a frog is a metaphor for tackling your most challenging task—but also the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life.
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
By Oliver Burkeman
The Antidote is a series of journeys among people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. What they have in common is a hunch about human psychology: that it’s our constant effort to eliminate the negative that causes us to feel so anxious, insecure, and unhappy. And that there is an alternative “negative path” to happiness and success that involves embracing the things we spend our lives trying to avoid. It is a subversive, galvanizing message, which turns out to have a long and distinguished philosophical lineage ranging from ancient Roman Stoic philosophers to Buddhists.
Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny
By Tony Robbins
Wake up and take control of your life! From the bestselling author of Inner Strength, Unlimited Power, and MONEY Master the Game, Anthony Robbins, the nation’s leader in the science of peak performance, shows you his most effective strategies and techniques for mastering your emotions, your body, your relationships, your finances, and your life.
The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less
By Richard Koch
Be more effective with less effort by learning how to identify and leverage the 80/20 principle: that 80 percent of all our results in business and in life stem from a mere 20 percent of our efforts.
The 80/20 principle is one of the great secrets of highly effective people and organizations.
Did you know, for example, that 20 percent of customers account for 80 percent of revenues? That 20 percent of our time accounts for 80 percent of the work we accomplish? The 80/20 Principle shows how we can achieve much more with much less effort, time, and resources, simply by identifying and focusing our efforts on the 20 percent that really counts.
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