Guys, let’s face it: sifting through the muck to find the best self-help books for young 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
(Unlike me, who wasted his liberally)
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.
Oh! Let’s actually make it two quick (ass-covering!) notes: because Irreverent Gent‘s focus is on self-improvement that builds self-confidence, many (though not necessarily all) of these books will have a self-confidence boosting slant.
But I figured “The Best Self-Help Books for Young Men that Will Also, Whether Directly or Indirectly, Help You Build Self-Confidence” was too much of a mouthful for the title of the post.
OK, ass-covering over. Onto the books!
The Best Self-Help Books for Young Men
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem
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.”
Eat, Move, Sleep
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.
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
This sentiment would be admirable coming from any man, but it’s nearly astonishing when you learn that it came from a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp upon reflecting on his time there.
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.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
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.
The Charisma Myth
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.
How to Talk to Anyone
By Leil Lowndes
As with The Charisma Myth above, I recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their social skills and 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.
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.
The Will Power Instinct
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.
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 f@¢&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.
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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