Reading For Self-Improvement: The Ultimate Guide


From the day that I could read without assistance, I’ve had my nose in one book or another. Being a bookworm is part of my nature.

I’ve always wanted to understand the world.

It used to be that I wanted to understand the world because I wanted to feel more in control. Now I know that I will only ever have control over my life and, even then, not in its entirety.

I want to understand the world so that I can make an effort to improve what I can in my life and the lives of others.

I've Always Loved Reading For Self-Improvement
I’ve Always Loved Reading For Self-Improvement

Science and psychology quickly drew me in.

I was fascinated by the way that complex ideas, behaviours and events could be broken down. Something about seeing the world in its component parts is amazing to me. It’s only when I see the world’s gears, processes and quirks that I can view it all as one – as fundamentally connected.

However, there was always one other thing that had my attention: self-improvement.

The idea that, with concentrated effort, one could improve every aspect of their life and compound their happiness and success.


How I Got Into Reading For Self-Improvement

One of the first self-help books that I read was “How To Win Friends and Influence People”.

It is the classic self-help book and a personal recommendation from me to you.

Go Buy This Book!

Since the day I finished my first self-help book, I have hardly ever let a day go past without some kind of work towards self-improvement. I have read vast amounts of information from hundreds of self-help books over the course of the last five years.

From the “Law of Attraction” to positive thinking to health and fitness to biohacking. There have been very few topics which I have not explored with some depth in the self-improvement genre. However, for every piece of valuable information I have learned, it was balanced by 99 pieces of garbage advice.

Reading For Self-Improvement

What You Will Learn From This Guide

In this Ultimate Guide, I will explore:

  1. Why Reading Self-Help Is An Amazing Investment In Your Future
  2. How To Avoid Absolute Trash
  3. How To Effectively Preview A Self-Help Book
  4. Why Your Goals Should Affect Your Reading
  5. How To Compile A Reading List Based On Your Goals
  6. How To Use Audible To 4x Your Book Completion
  7. The Case for Kindle over Paperback
  8. How To Develop A Daily Reading Habit
  9. When To Stop Reading and Start Doing
  10. How I Read 100 Books A Year
  11. My Top 10 Best Self-Improvement Books

By the end of this blog post, you will be equipped with the tools to separate the wheat from the chaff, fact from fiction and crap from quality.

You’ll be able to create your own reading list, informed by your goals, to take you to the next level. By following the tips and techniques that follow for reading for self-improvement, you can learn how to easily finish 100 books a year, develop a regular reading habit and have fun in the process.


Fair Warning: this will be a very long post. So, if there is something that you are desperate to know right now, use the Table of Contents to skip to what is of highest value to you. You can always come back and finish the post another time. However, each section will inform the others. To get maximum value from this post, I recommend you read it through.


Why Reading Self-Help Is An Amazing Investment In Your Future

Learning Is An Investment

Learning is the greatest investment that you can make in your life. I can hardly count the benefits I have learned from trying to learn just a little bit more every day.

There is any number of sources you can learn from:

  • Coaches
  • Courses
  • Seminars
  • Documentaries
  • Therapy
  • Group Work
  • Mastermind Groups

However, the most accessible type of learning available to almost anyone is reading. After all, most books cost very little. You can even buy them second-hand cheaply or borrow them from a public library.

There are very few excuses for not using books as the amazing resources that they are.

I’m a big fan of having a huge personal library. I probably own over three hundred books and I’ll probably buy another fifty to a hundred in 2019.

Don’t worry though. Just because you have a big library doesn’t mean that you have to have read every book.

In Nicholas Taleb’s “The Black Swan”, he talks about having an anti-library – a collection of knowledge on things you don’t know yet.

Don’t worry about finishing them all. All you need to focus on is extracting maximum value when you need it most.


How To Avoid Absolute Trash

As I stated earlier, 99% of what you read will be trash – some of which will be useless, but some of which can also be toxic.

It’s important to know which books are trash from the get-go. However, this isn’t as easy it sounds.

Far Too Much Of The Self-Help Industry Is Toxic Waste!

There are a few rules of thumb that I personally use when purchasing new books.

In the next section, I’ll walk you through some ways of previewing your potential reads. If you generally follow the rules of thumb and the previewing suggestions, you’ll save yourself from a lot of wasted time.


The Rules of Thumb For Choosing Great Books

1) No “Quick Results” Books

These are almost always scams.

There’s an old story about a guy who buys a self-help book for $500 on how to make millions of dollars. When he opens the book, it is just an instruction manual on how to sell copies of the book.

There are no “Get Rich Quick Schemes”. If there were, the secret would not be shared. It would oversaturate the market and there would be nothing for anyone.


2) No “Magic”

Unfortunately, there is no proof that magic exists. That goes for the Law of Attraction, vibrational energy, chakras and so on.

Focus your energy on learning practical tips and techniques.


3) No Promises of “2X, 10X, 100X, etc.”

These are typically hollow claims which usually have no objective proof behind them. It’s very well and good that they worked for the author. However, there is no proof that it works for anyone else.

(I’ll make a happy exception for the section of this blog on 4xing your book completion – after all, I back it up.)


4) No “Personal Transformation Stories”

No near-death experiences. Definitely no spiritual voice speaking from the sky. No communication with extra-terrestrial beings.

Whilst we could not prove beyond doubt that these things do or do not exist, why waste your time when there are practicalities you can engage in instead?

These are my general rules of thumb. They are by no means comprehensive, but they are a good place to start to avoid wasting your valuable time.


How To Effectively Preview A Self-Help Book

Before you even buy your new book, you should try and make sure that it’s the right one for you.

If you’ve followed the Rules of Thumb from the last section, you’ll have successfully avoided about 60% of the trash.

Now, you have to get rid of much additional crap as possible.

The tool that I use for doing this is Previewing.

Previewing involves doing a little bit of prior research which can really save you in the long term. If you can focus on only absorbing the best knowledge out there, then you are one step closer to maximizing your learning potential when reading for self-improvement.

Here are 3 tips that you can use for previewing your new book, 1 great app and 2 additional online tactics:

General Tips

1) Read The Table of Contents

It won’t give you a complete picture of the book, but you’ll get a gist for its contents. If a particular chapter stands out as shady, then look into it a little. Open the book to that page and try and get a feel for the chapter.


2) Read The Blurb

This should be able to give you a general overview of the book’s content. In fact, try and read as many of the similar sections e.g. front matter, short reviews, etc. You’ll find a wealth of information about the structure of the book.


3) Read The Introduction

Having a quick browse through the introduction might be able to provide even more information. They will likely provide a breakdown of what the book will be conveying.


The Best Previewing App

4) Use the Blinkist App

Blinkist is an app with thousands of book summaries on it. Though it does come at a monthly cost, it is an invaluable previewing tool as well as a great learning resource. You can get the gist of an entire book in as little as five minutes. If it’s a book with useful content, then go out and buy the real thing.


Online Tips

5) Read Online Reviews

Most online reviews are not from book critics. They are from ordinary people like you and me. As such, they won’t be pegged down by the conventions of book critics. These reviews will give you a good idea of how good the book actually is.

In my opinion, the best reviews to read – if you can filter them – are the three- and four-star reviews.

The reason is that these are generally better thought out. They will talk about what they liked about the book, but also what they disagreed with or didn’t like.

Five-star reviews are usually raving accounts and one- and two-star reviews are often profanity-filled paragraphs of no real value.


6) Read The Kindle Preview

If you are on Amazon, you may just have the option to get the first chapter of the book free on Amazon Kindle as a preview. This can be a massive help with the initial preview.

Get A Free Sample – Great For Previewing

So, that’s how you can cut out the majority of the rubbish. However, we’ve not even addressed whether or not you know what books are right for you.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to choose books according to your goals.


How Your Goals Should Affect Your Reading

Pick A Target and Shoot For It

So, now you know how to avoid most of the trash in self-help. But, this is useless if you don’t know what you are actually in the game for.

Goal-setting is the foundation of the self-improvement industry. It should be the first thing that you learn to do.

You might be thinking that you should go out and buy a book on goal-setting. Don’t waste your energy or money. There is not a single thing that you need to know about setting goals that can’t be solved with a Google search. There is no secret to goal-setting.

Just put “SMART Goals” in your Google search bar and click on any of the first articles that show up. That’s all you need to know about goal-setting. Be specific, make sure the goal is measurable, achievable, realistic and given a time constraint.

If you’ve not got goals, take some time out to set some for yourself.

Want some inspiration for goal-setting? Read My 2019 Goals here.

If you’ve already got your goals set, then that will give you a good idea of what you need to learn.

For example, one of my goals this year is to launch my first digital product. To do that, I need to learn as much as I can about sales, marketing and business in a relatively short time.

With that goal in mind, I was able to develop a reading list which could help me to get there.

To find out how to create your own reading list, move on to the next section.


How To Compile A Reading List Based On Your Goals

Alright, now you’ve got some goals to work with. It’s time to get your reading list in order.

In the last section, I talked about my goal of selling my first digital product. To do that, I need to learn as much as possible about sales, marketing and business. To continue with this example, let’s focus on the marketing side of this.

When I researched for my 2019 reading list for marketing, this is the list I eventually ended up with:

  1. This Is Marketing – Seth Godin
  2. All Marketers Are Liars – Seth Godin
  3. Originals – Adam Grant
  4. Perennial Seller – Ryan Holiday
  5. Jab Jab Jab Jab Right Hook – Gary Vaynerchuk
  6. Drive – Daniel H. Pink
  7. Purple Cow – Seth Godin
  8. The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  9. Crushing It – Gary Vaynerchuk
  10. Growth Hacker Marketing – Ryan Holiday

If you look through that list, you’ll probably notice that a lot of author names repeat. This is because Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and Ryan Holiday are some of the best modern marketers alive right now. You want as much expert advice as possible.

But, how did I actually choose these books?


The 3-Step Method To Choosing Great Books

Step 1) Type “Top Books in (Insert Subject e.g. marketing)” into Google

This will generate a dozen blog posts with more than enough expert information. You’ll also get a carousel of book choices generated by Google. Search through the carousel as well as the articles on the first page of Google.


Step 2) Tally The Books You Find

This step takes some time, but it will all be worth it. Make a note of each book in a Word document or a notebook. Count how many times the book occurs in the articles you look at. This will give you a good idea of what is popular advice and evergreen content.


Step 3) Choose the Top Five, Ten or More Books

Depending on how in-depth you want to go with your reading list, you can choose the top 5, 10 or more books in your tally.


Bonus Step: Take some time to find out who are the top influencers in the subject matter. This can shortcut your time as you can simply choose to learn from the knowledge of a few select greats. You can also be a lot more sure of getting high quality, expert advice – though this can never be guaranteed.


Do this for however many goals you need to learn new information for.

I repeated this process for Sales, Business, Money, Investment, Coaching and much more. Currently, I have a list of 127 books that I want to read this year.

Part of My Reading List

Now, at this point, I should say that I will definitely not read all of those books that I have chosen.

Since I like to spend a month diving into a subject, I won’t always have the time to read them all. However, I know that even if I only end up reading half of the books on my reading list, I will have learned more valuable information than I know what to do with.

It will likely be the same for you. You probably won’t read everything on your reading list, but you should at least make an effort to read as much as you can. The wealth of knowledge is certainly worth it.


How To Use Audible To 4x Your Book Completion

Audiobooks have been a game changer for me ever since I discovered Audible in 2016. I have spent many hundreds of hours listening to some of the most life-changing books.

However, about a year into using Audible, I learned an amazing trick.

The 2x button.

Our brains are amazingly adaptable. You may think that listening to an audiobook at 2x speed might be difficult, but adjusting to it is simply a matter of time.


How Does It 4x Your Reading Speed?

Using audiobooks can at least double the number of books you can finish in a year. You can listen to your book whilst doing the dishes, going for a run or commuting to work. A narrated book cuts out the majority of reading constraints that we usually have (e.g. time and place).

However, you can double that again by listening to the books at 2x speed. You’ll be able to finish 4x as many books in a year as you would by reading.


Quick Tip: Don’t immediately ramp up to 2x speed. Start by increasing it to 1.25x. Once you get used to that, you can move it up to 1.5x, 1.75x, 2x and even beyond. However, once you get up to 3x speed, things become increasingly more difficult to process, so stick with around 2x speed.


I also would not recommend 2x speed if you’re learning something complicated like philosophy or heavy science. Your brain needs time to process, so you should either listen to it at normal speed or read the physical book.

I also wouldn’t recommend it for fiction. Fiction is to be enjoyed whereas non-fiction is mainly for education – though that can be fun too.

A word of warning: once you start listening at 2x speed, you may get to the point of no return where listening to an audiobook in its original speed is so incredibly dull.


The Case for Kindle over Paperback

If you’re a regular traveller, then you may not be able to take your entire library with you as you trek across the globe. So, what’s the alternative?

Amazon Kindle (or something similar).

I’ve been using Kindle eBooks for about six years now and I’ve never looked back.

I have gained so much value from being able to take my Kindle library wherever I go. I’ve got the app on my phone as well as the Kindle Fire so there is never any excuse for me to not read.

In fact, I’ve probably got as many books on my Amazon Kindle as I do at home. The best part about Kindle and eBooks is the speed of information you can receive. A lot of authors on Kindle will write shorter eBooks which you can consume in less than an hour. They cut out the filler text and just focus on delivering information.

However, you should be careful with some of the Kindle eBooks, especially in self-help.

One easy way to make money is to throw together a few blog posts, re-edit them and sell that previously free information for £2.99 on Amazon Kindle.

Whilst it’s not everyone, it is a considerable number. Make sure to follow the Rules of Thumb to avoid as much of this as possible.


How To Develop A Daily Reading Habit

So, now you’ve got a reading list and various methods of consuming that content. Now you have to establish a reading habit.

For me, I make sure that I read a little every day.

I Take Time To Read Every Day

Personally, I like to get into work an hour early before anyone arrives. I use this quiet time to read at my desk until it’s time to start work. In that time, I can typically read a few chapters of a book and can usually finish that book by the end of the week.

I also listen to audiobooks on my commute to and from work.

Finally, I spend some time reading before bed. It’s usually the very last thing I do because it relaxes me so much that I can simply drift off to sleep.

I recommend starting a daily reading habit. As little as thirty minutes a day could probably get you finishing about thirty books a year if you’re reading at 1 page per minute – which is reasonable.


Easy Ways To Develop A Daily Reading Habit

  • Listen to audiobooks on your commute. 30 minutes to work and back is potentially 2 hours (if you’re using 2x speed) of reading. That’s 10 hours (roughly 1 book) per working week and 52 books by the end of the year.
  • Listen to audiobooks at the gym or when out for a run.
  • Listen to audiobooks when doing chores e.g. washing dishes, gardening, mowing the lawn.
  • Read when flying. If you’re off for a holiday or a business trip, you could probably finish an entire book during the flight.
  • Read in the morning before work and in the evening before bed.
  • Read your Kindle during break times.
  • Take a reading holiday. Pack a suitcase full of books, check into a quiet cottage and just throw your face into the books.

As I’ve already said, reading is an amazing investment. Developing a daily reading habit can do a lot to push you ahead of the game.

However, you shouldn’t spend your entire life reading. At some point, you have to stop.

But just when is that time?


When To Stop Reading and Start Doing

The question of when to stop reading and start taking action is a difficult one. I’d love to say that it’s up to the individual, but that’s just an easy cop-out, isn’t it?

Instead, I’ll say that you should take action wherever the book tells you to.

If, when you’re reading, it asks you to stop and reflect, fill out a journal entry and take an action, you should make every effort to do so – unless it is entirely unreasonable e.g. sell all your belongings and live a minimalist life.

Once a book is completed, you can only be sure that you have understood it by action. Go out and try and use what you have learned.

If the book is on confidence with the opposite sex, go out and start talking to attractive strangers in bars or other socially accepted places. Try and make the information work for you. Anything that doesn’t work for you, discard it.

It really doesn’t matter when you take action though. As long as you eventually do take some kind of action.

“To know and not do is not to know.” – Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

Go out there and do since only then can you truly know.

The only way out is through, so you might as well start taking action today.


How I Read 100 Books A Year

OK. We’ve reached the end of the techniques part of the post. I hope you’ve found it useful so far.

If you’ve gotten this far then you should have your goals set, know which books you are going to be reading and have an idea of how you can take action to achieve your goals.

If you’ve read my goals, then you’ll know that one of my goals is to read 100 books this year. This involves reading between 8 and 10 books every month.

Here’s how I consistently read that many books every month:

  1. Listening to audiobooks when I am getting ready in the morning
  2. Listening to audiobooks when I am commuting to and from work
  3. Reading for about an hour before work
  4. Reading during my work break
  5. Listening to audiobooks whenever I am completing my household duties
  6. Reading before bed

This allows me to read at least 1 physical book per week and listen to at least one or two audiobooks. Over the course of the year, I could conceivably read more than 100 books (between 104 and 156) but I don’t think I would be fully taking in the information. At that stage, I would just be finishing books for the sake of finishing them.

However, by developing a daily reading habit, you can complete your reading list in no time at all.

Remember though, even if you don’t finish every last book, you’ll still have succeeded in learning a lot more than you could have done without them.


My Top 10 Best Self-Improvement Books

So you’ve almost gotten to the end of the post. Maybe you’re still not quite sure where to begin. Take a look at my Top 10 Self-Help books which changed my life:


10) The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins

My Summary: Don’t put things off, it just makes them harder. Do them now or you’ll just regret it later.


9) The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

My Summary: Creating a millionaire lifestyle should be the goal, not the money. It’s easier than you think.


8) Mastery by Robert Greene

My Summary: Mastery lies at the far end of hard work, dedication and stoicism. Learn from the greats of history and modern times and master your life.


7) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

My Summary: A beautiful introduction to stoic thought from one of the original masters of the life philosophy.


6) The Power of Vulnerability

My Summary: Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s authenticity and authenticity is the purest display of strength, boldness and courage that one can show.


5) Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

My Summary: Written by an Auschwitz survivor, Frankl shows how no one can ever take away the last of the human freedoms: the ability to choose one’s attitude and thoughts regardless of the circumstances.


4) The Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

My Summary: Your ego will try to sabotage you. You must master it otherwise it will master you.


3) The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k by Mark Manson

My Summary: One of the best books I’ve ever read. A modern introduction to Stoic thought and how to live an authentic life of happiness.


2) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

My Summary: An amazing tale of a boy becoming a man as he searches for riches, falls in love and learns the greatest of life’s lessons. A timeless classic that touched and changed my life forever.


1) The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

My Summary: The only way to success is through perseverance, hard work and even suffering. Simply put, the obstacle in the path is the path.


Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve found this list a useful place to start. Each of these books is a personal recommendation from me. They changed my life in ways far too profound for me to talk about in this blog post. Give them half a chance and they’ll change yours too.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to self-help books and how to read more than ever before.

You’ll also have:

  • Your list of goals
  • A list of researched books
  • A daily reading plan
  • An action plan for when you are ready to truly know

If you would like to look at my reading list for 2019, you can find that here.

I hope you’ll use this guide to find answers and guides for your self-improvement journey. I’d love to hear what books you’ll be reading in 2019, so leave a comment below.

Check out my last post on practical self-care and developing self-love routines.

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