10 Motivational Good Reads

We all could use a little “self-help.” And that is probably the reason that the “self-help” sections of book stores are so large – everyone has a program or plan to sell us – one that will change our lives forever! The problem with many of these books are that they are:

  • Boring and long
  • Impractical for a large segment of the population
  • Focus on theory and principles rather than “nuts and bolts” suggestions

So, as I look at “motivational” literature, my picks are those books that have the following traits:

  • They are short and, if not, they have enough anecdotes and examples to keep the reader interested
  • They offer practical advice – methods by which the reader can change his/her attitudes, thinking or behaviors right now
  • Suggestions for improvement are actually realistic – things that all of us can incorporate into our daily lives right away

The other issue with motivational books is that there are just so many of them “out there.” And often, people who want and need to makes changes in their have a tendency to buy one after another, thinking that each new find will have the “magic bullet” to change their lives. The reality is this: if you continue to buy motivational books, even if you actually read them all, you become completely scattered. The way to make changes is to find that one book that “speaks” to you best, forget about all of the others, and focus on the advice that it gives. Read it, read it, and keep reading it (or at least passages of it) on a daily basis. Nothing will “stick” unless you do this.

With all of this in mind, here are my picks for motivational books that have some diversity but that may spark something in you. If one of them does, settle into it exclusively.

You Can Win: by Shiv Khera (1998)

The most famous quote from this book is, “Winners don’t do different things; they do things differently.” While the theme is quite typical, success is built through personal growth, Khera is nonetheless pretty practical about it all. He outlines 7 steps to building self-confidence that are pretty practical; he provides exercises and tools for turning weaknesses into strengths, and emphasizes the concept of “doing the right things for the right reasons.” The book is filled wilI great stories that will hold the readers interest and that model the advice he gives.


The Power of Positive Thinking: by Norman Vincent Peale

This book is not for the faint of heart, because it is rather long and the style is of the 1950’s. It may also not be for those who have a purely secular approach to life. But if you can get over those possible drawbacks, there are principles and very practical suggestions for turning thought and attitude around. For example, if you are feeling depressed, like a failure, or that you have been a victim, make a list of all the blessings in your life. Compare those blessings to the starving child in Ethiopia or the homeless drug addict on the street. This one practical suggestion is the reason why I have a large sign on my refrigerator door still today with just one word – “Gratitude.” I see it several times a day, and it is a constant reminder to follow Peale’s advice.


Who Ate My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson

Change is inevitable, and I this century it is coming faster than we would ever have envisioned. Our inability to accept and adjust to change is what according to the author, creates unhappiness, stress, and lack of success. The principles of dealing with change, such as learning how to anticipate it and thus prepare for it, are taught through a parable of mice and little people, and the cheese (one’s environment, goals, relationships, etc.) continue to be “moved.” How we respond will determine our happiness and success. This is a short, snappy read, with some great lessons.


Fish: by Steven Lundin

What a great book! It is the fictional tale of a young woman who is suddenly widowed and is the manager of a department that has worst reputation of the entire company – it is unproductive, workers are unhappy, and no one is invested in their task responsibilities. The woman happens to visit Pike Place Fish Market, and things quickly change. If you are unfamiliar with this fish market, it is internationally famous for the fun and laughter (and throwing fish) in the workplace. The department manager ultimate learns the lessons that make the fish market so successful and implements them in her own department with amazing results. There are four basic principles at play here, and they have actually been adopted by well-known companies, such as Southwest Airlines. A great read!


The Butterfly Effect: by Andy Andrews

In the 1960’s, a meteorologist proposed the “butterfly effect” to a room of his colleagues, and was laughed off of the stage. His idea was this: in flapping its wings, a butterfly moves molecules of air which in turn move more molecules of air, and so on until weather patterns are created. Andrews has taken this principle and translated to our lives, to show us that our lives do matter. If you ask yourself the question, “What if I had never been born?” how many other lives would be different today? The major point is that everything you do matters to someone and you may never know how much. This is a short, compelling read. (By the way, contemporary physicists now accept the “butterfly effect”).


Happiness of Pursuit: by Chris Gillebean

This is a book about “questing.” While most of us will never pursue the quests of this author, there are great truths to be learned and very practical steps to be taken to become a “quester” in one’s own environment or to develop the courage to launch a new quest in our lives. The book features short narratives of “questers” from all societal sectors, as it speaks to the basic definition of a “quest” and how we can all find ours.


7 Habits of Highly Successful People: by Steven Covey

We all fall into one of three categories – dependent, independent and interdependent. According to Covey, success comes from interdependence – the ability to collaborate with others to achieve something that we would not be able to achieve alone. From here, he defines and explains the 7 habits that are formed when we are interdependent – habits that make us highly successful in both our work and personal lives. This may not be as fun a read as some other books on this list, but there are practical, realistic methods by which we can change ourselves from within and develop those 7 habits.


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: by Dr. Richard Carlson

Carlson addresses the overwhelming tendency we have to let the small things consume our lives, so that we neglect the big, important stuff. This is a very thoughtful piece with realistic tools to calm down when life is harried and stressful. A lot of the suggestions focus on small changes that we can make in our daily routines and in our responses to others, not the least of which is to get outside our egocentric existence and see the larger picture.


The Greatest Salesman in the World: by Og Mandino

Another parable. Hafid, a young man in ancient Jerusalem is facing the death of his mentor, a successful businessman. ON his deathbed, the mentor gives Hafid a set of scrolls, to be opened one a month. In these scrolls are the secrets to success. Hafid is to focus on only one scroll each month, and this is how the habits of personal empowerment are achieved. The firsts scroll begins with, “Today I begin a new life,” and provides practical advice on the giving up of old negative thoughts and habits. This is a short, quick read, and you will not be bored!


The Richest Man in Babylon: by George S. Clason

Though this book was published in 1926, the financial principles are universal and timeless. For anyone looking to make some important and basic changes in their personal finances, this parable about money management is a must read. Simple, to the point, practical, and short – better advice than even a financial advisor could give.

John Unger is a professional blogger, who likes literature, traveling and meeting new people!

*List was created in association with Assignment Mountain.



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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