10 Books That Have Had A Big Influence On My Life

I wanted to share some quick thoughts with you on a few books that have influenced me, both old and new. 

In the interest of space, I left a whole bunch of influential books off this list (like The 4-Hour Workweek and The Power of Now -- both of which have had a huge impact on my life). However, if you want a more comprehensive list, check out my previous blog post where I include a broader array of core recommendations.

This post differs in three ways: 

1. It's more specific and lists books I don't talk about as often
2. I share some of my thoughts on each book
3. I include some "non-personal development" books

Regarding that last point -- someone recently asked me what non-personal development books I recommend.

I thought this was an interesting question because the “personal development” category for me is pretty big.

I basically think of anything that helps me understand how humans operate and what our place in the cosmos is as “personal development.” That includes popular science books like Blink and evolutionary biology-based books like Sapiens, both of which you'll read about below.

So, here's my short list of influential books, in no particular order:

1. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

This book is all about becoming more emotionally self-aware and learning how to use your emotions productively, rather than be controlled by them. Lots of practical strategies and tips.

Most influential part:

The chart that lists all the different emotions. Before reading this, I didn’t realize all our emotions stemmed from five basic, core emotions. This chart made it easier for me to identify specific emotions in myself and others, although this is still a challenging area for me sometimes.

2. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

One of my all-time favorite books on the entrepreneur mindset. I guarantee it will change the way you think about owning and running a business. So much simple yet powerful wisdom packed into 84 short pages.

Most influential part:

Derek’s framework for how he makes many of his decisions is awesome. It is basically this: If it’s not a “Hell yes!” then it’s a “No.” I'll let him explain in his own words:

"When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than: ‘Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!’ — then say ‘no.’ When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say ‘HELL YEAH!’"

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is one of those timeless stories whose life lessons will stay with you forever. It resonated with me on such a deep level the first time I read it. To this day, it still gives me goosebumps when I reread this magical fable.

Most influential part:

There are so many insights I’ve picked up throughout this book. One of them that stands out is this quote:

“The soul of the world is nourished by people’s happiness...to realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.”

The way I interpret this message is that when each of us find what excites us and follows it, the end result is that we make the world a better place. Imagine if everyone in the world was actually doing what made them happy, sparked joy, or excited them?

4. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy

Explores a principle that helps all other self-development tools work better: The idea that our experiences, actions, and circumstances are produced by our subconscious minds in response to the information we feed our conscious minds and what we focus on.

Most influential part:

I love the part on “autosuggestion” and have used this principle in my own life for many years. It’s also known as "affirmations" or "self-talk." Although there may be slight variations among these, it’s essentially the idea that you can reprogram your subconscious mind by intentionally and repeatedly feeding your conscious mind specific messages. Since your subconscious mind has a lot to do with your behavior and perception, this practice has the power to create change in your life.

5. Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With The Universe by Yumi Sakugawa

A fun but powerful introduction to basic spiritual concepts—becoming more connected and developing inner peace. It also has pretty cute pictures. Excellent precursor to more complex spiritual teachings like Eckhart Tolle and older esoteric texts.

Most influential part:

One of the standout parts for me is the idea of “inviting your demon for a slice of cake and a cup of tea.” Your “demon” is a personification of pain you’ve accumulated in the past, or the parts of yourself that you struggle with. The idea is that when you try to avoid pain, or pretend it’s not there, it becomes intensified. (What you resist, persists). But when you allow it to be there and “invite it for a slice of cake and a cup of tea,” you take back the control by being able to objectify it rather than become consumed by it.

6. Blink by Malcom Gladwell

Explores the topic of what contributes to good judgement, especially when there are many factors or variables involved. Fun fact: there was a case study in this book that sparked me to quit my corporate job in 2011 and go into sales on a whim.

Most influential part:

The discovery that decisions which involve many complex factors -- like choosing a life partner -- are best made instinctively and intuitively, while decisions that involve just a few straightforward variables -- like deciding what car to buy -- are best made rationally and through deliberation.

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

Don't let the title fool you, it's actually a really insightful read. Main idea of the book is that you need to decide what is truly important to you and stop giving your precious energy and time to everything that isn't.

Most influential part:

One of the best ideas I got from this book is actually a derivation of a Buddhist concept: the idea that suffering is unavoidable. This isn’t depressing, it’s actually empowering if you apply it practically. In the case of this book, it’s that everyone -- regardless how successful they are -- has problems. The solution of one problem is the creation of another. Life isn’t about not having problems or avoiding problems. It’s about choosing problems you enjoy dealing with. (e.g. the problems that come with exercising versus the problems that come with being out of shape).

8. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Stoic wisdom at its finest. The personal diary of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Contains notes to himself about how to deal with difficult people, success, failure and a whole bunch of other real life stuff.

Most influential part:

There’s a part where he talks about dealing with difficult people and it’s a mindset that I’ve found helpful to have. At its core, it is basically the idea that you need to mentally prepare yourself for difficult people so that they are not a surprise. Secondly, it’s the realization that you can choose to not be affected by them because you know who you are and what you value.

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother...therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.” --Marcus Aurelius

9. Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

I'll always have a special place in my heart for this book. It has had a big influence on my way of thinking since I first read it back in 2003, when I was just 18 years old. It was also the original inspiration for this page. The author shadowed, observed and interview the wealthiest and most successful individuals of his era and distilled the wisdom he gained into 16 principles.

Most influential part:

It's hard to pick just one, but I credit this book with teaching me how powerful our minds are. It was the first book I read on the power of the mind and it opened me up to to the idea of the subconscious mind and autosuggestion (self-talk). It also laid the foundation for future concepts like this to build upon in my mind.

10. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

One of the most fascinating and thought provoking books I've ever read. I love learning about the origins of the human species and the remarkable events surrounding our "rise to the top." I also think that when we look at the subject of "personal development" against the backdrop of evolutionary biology, it can give us a better understanding of how to work WITH our hardwired brains, rather than against them.

Most influential part:

One of the main takeaways for me from this book is that humans have a unique ability to essentially make stuff up that is not part of objective reality. The creation of these imagined realities (think: laws, business entities, religions, money, etc) has been a big reason why we’ve been able to dominate this planet, mainly because it has enabled us to operate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers, unlike any other species in the animal kingdom.

What’s most interesting to me from a personal development standpoint is that this same ability that we use on a collective level, we also use on a personal level. We tell ourselves stories about our abilities, our circumstances and the world around us. These “stories” are just another word for our beliefs. And our beliefs and belief systems are the filter through which we experience the world around us.

I explore this concept in great depth in the Mindset Shifts Masterclass. Registration for the last class ended May 21st and we’re about halfway through the course now. If you want to be notified when registration for the next class opens up, sign up here.