7 New Self-Development Books That Might Just Change Your Life

by | BiggerPockets.com

Thirty-six was my number last year.

My goal was to read 36 books in 2016, and I actually hit 39! Let’s not talk about me buying around 100 last year, giving me a long list of books to get to eventually.

I don’t state my goal of reading 36 books this year to brag. In fact, not too long ago, I had fallen off the book-reading wagon, reading maybe 1-4 books per year. My personal development and my business suffered. Starting in 2015, I set ambitious goals to read much, much more—and I have reaped the rewards from that groundwork.

And I want you to do the same!

I’m going to go through my favorite 6 books from 2016—what I loved about them, the takeaways, and a few of the standout quotes. Wait, isn’t this titled “7 Best Self Development Books of 2016”? Why yes—yes, it is. I’m going to bring in a guest—my wife, Stacy—to go through the last one since I didn’t read it.

Let’s get into it!

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1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

This one was recommended to me by none other than the infamous Brandon Turner, and I’m glad I didn’t ignore this suggestion. This book in a nutshell? The time you currently spend working could be better used to focus more and be more productive.

Newport’s “deep work” is defined as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction free concentration.” With lots of studies and practical ways to dive deep into your work, Cal Newport breaks down how he is able to be a busy professional and still have time to publish multiple papers per year without working 80 hours a week. He goes through many real-world examples of those who have used this to their enormous benefit, from JK Rowling to Bill Gates.

Related: 9 Must-Read New Books to Help With Your Personal Finances

I LOVE this concept, getting more done in a few hours than you could in a whole day. We have all been in the flow of deep work, insulated from distractions and laser-focused.Trying to get work done the day before leaving on vacation, I bet you got more done in one day than the previous two weeks!

Now, what if every day we could slip into hyper-productive deep work at will? Talk about real world superpowers!

The big takeaway for me: My favorite new thing is to schedule some distraction breaks. It helps me keep in the zone when I know there is a fun distraction coming up (i.e. walking the dog or taking a 20-minute video game break if I meet my productivity goals).

Quote: “To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.”

2. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

What the heck is grit? Well, as Duckworth states, it’s the stubborn “stick-to-it-withness” that we can all work to improve in our lives. In other words, perseverance through all things. What makes one person quit one mile into a run, while another can run for 100 miles in an ultra-marathon?

As a scientist, Duckworth believes that science can tell us why. She studies who is successful and why. It boils down to what she calls grit, which is defined as “the sustained application of effort towards a long-term goal.” We become enamored with people who exhibit natural talent and credit their success to that alone, but Duckworth says, “Where talent counts once, effort counts twice.”

But grit isn’t just for long-term goals. I experienced this firsthand, about seven miles into a 13-mile Tough Mudder race. This was at an altitude of 10,000 feet in October in the mountains of Colorado, no less. At mile seven, I wanted to quit. My wife and I had just swam in a mountain lake, gotten sprayed by frozen water, and were chest deep in mud on and off for 2.5 hours already. I dug deep, accessed the grittiest part of my reptile brain, and committed to finish right in the worst of my whining. Finish we did, two hours later. The gratification of perseverance is understated. I felt extremely proud of sticking to it and finishing even though I would have paid $10,000 to quit right then and there. Sucking it up and getting it done—that is grit!

Quote: “…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.”

3. Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holliday

Taking many examples from history and his own life, Holliday goes through multiple scenarios where ego was the source of pain and downfall for those involved. He defines ego not in the Freudian sense, but as “unhealthy belief in our own importance.”

But aren’t we all important? Of course, but this takes our desire to achieve long-term goals and makes us talk about doing it more than putting in the work. It’s like those people who post on social media, “Hey, I’m writing a book, aren’t I cool?” and then never write it. Focusing on public perception of what others think of us is disastrous. Concern turns to obsession, and confidence turns into arrogance.

From Howard Hughes to the former owner of American Apparel to the author himself, the stories here are directly relatable to our own lives today. A cool concept and directly applicable takeaway I picked up from this book comes from Frank Shamrock of UFC fame.  I was introduced to the “+/-/=” rule, where we each need someone better than us we can learn from (+), someone lesser we can teach (-), and someone equal we can challenge ourselves against (=).

Quote: “Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”

And one more: “Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.”

4. #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness by Gary Vaynerchuk

Next to Tim Ferriss, Gary Vee is my favorite social media presence out there today. A daily video show/podcast, where Gary answers viewer’s questions about pretty much everything, turned into this impressive book. This book is social media and marketing-based, a treasure trove of answers to anyone looking to do better in this part of their business.

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It’s not all business, though. He talks a lot about big goals as well: “It’s not what a goal is, it’s what a goal does.” Focusing on the big picture can drive you to get up every day like a goal Godzilla, crushing skulls and not letting the petty issues get in your way. The two main themes are “hustle” and “self-awareness.” For hustle, ask yourself, “Am I working as hard as I could?” For self-awareness, try his test of emailing some people you trust to tell you what you are good at and what you are bad at. Talk about a kick in the gut. From connecting with your audience to providing value to those you work with to whether Vary likes Star Trek or Star Wars better, this book is for you.

Quote: “Provide 51 percent of the value in a relationship, whether it’s with an employee, a client or a stranger.”

And: “Stop focusing on dumb sh*t. Don’t be afraid to break things. Don’t be romantic. Don’t take the time to breathe. Don’t aim for perfect. And whatever you do, keep moving. Reread this a few times…”

5. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

This giant book will be on my nightstand for years, I guarantee it. I’m already a fan of Tim’s podcast. This takes 200+ episodes of information plus more to it to turn it into a 674-page Swiss Army knife of awesome. A really cool tidbit is that a fellow BiggerPockets blog writer, Jordan Thibodeau, was involved in the research of this book, making an awesome connection back to our community here!

Why reinvent the wheel when you can copy the blueprints from people more successful than you? Tim profiles 200 world class performers in 3 categories—healthy, wealthy, and wise. No matter where you flip in this book, it’s oozing with gold nuggets: “tactics, routines, and habits” from billionaires, amazing athletes, and some of the most interesting people on this planet.

My quick tip: Devour maybe 2-3 profiles a day, each from one of the three sections. Reading it cover to cover would be a bit brutal, and the goal is to retain the information and put it into action, right?

My favorite profiles in the book: Tony Robbins and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Quote: “The superheroes you have in your mind (idols, icons, titans, billionaires, etc.) are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths. Humans are imperfect creatures. You don’t ‘succeed’ because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them.”

6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

I am, apparently, collecting books with the F-word in the title now. I bought three this year—I guess I can’t refuse a well-placed f*ck.” Despite what you might think right now, this book isn’t the paperback version of some edgy 12-year-old throwing around this word for a reaction. You could replace “f*ck” with “what you care about and focus on,” but that wouldn’t sell as many copies. It’s a subtle nod to a Buddhist philosophy of focusing on what really matters, then cutting out those things in life that you shouldn’t really give a f*ck about.

Quit trying to be positive all the time, and embrace the diversity that life throws at you. Like the book Grit reviewed above, the power comes from not running away from our problems, but facing them head on. and pain is part of that process. In a business sense, this should help you focus on what really matters. Cut out what doesn’t, and give all your f*cks to the right things.

Quote: “Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.

Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many f*cks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a f*ck about the pain, you become unstoppable.”

7. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Stacy: You would have to live under a rock to not know about the HGTV show Fixer Upper. Chip and Joanna are relatable, down to earth, everyday people with genuine chemistry together. You can tell that they absolutely love working close to each other and that they love what they do. The design and trends that they come up with are having a nationwide impact in real estate, and I love their style. So, of course I picked up the book because I am a fan! What I didn’t realize was how much the book would show me along the way.

  1. Putting in Sweat Equity: I didn’t know that the Gaines started off by living in their own flips, which is something Anson and I did when we first started in Phoenix. Our first home was a live-in flip, and it was a great way to put in sweat equity and gain experience in real estate. It was neat to see how we got a similar start and how beneficial this strategy was for both of us.
  2. Working as Married Business Partners: Being married and in business together is tough, and I definitely got some insight on how we can improve as a couple and as business owners. They have supported each other every step of the way, and more than that—they complement each other, which is very important. I’ve been working part-time in Anson’s business on an off around raising our son. I work part-time for a CPA firm that I’ve been with for, let’s just say, a LONG time. Which leads me to the last point…
  3. Geting Out of Your Comfort Zone: Chip constantly pushes Joanna out of her comfort zone, and reading about this made me realize how much Anson does this for me as well. When Joanna talked about maybe opening her own shop one day, Chip told her to start looking for spaces. He then found the money to fund the start and pushed Joanna towards her dreams. When I get out of my comfort zone, I grow from this process; I learn and I see what I can actually do. When I finished the book (took me two days to read while on vacation), I put it down, and said to Anson, “I’m quitting and working for you.” His expression was priceless. It’s time I go all in on our dream. I love working with houses and creating designs, and I want to love what I do full-time. It’s time to kick the comfort zone to the curb.

Quote: “If I had planned my life, it never would have ended up like this. So maybe it’s kind of fun not to plan. Maybe it’s more fun just to see where life takes you.”

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out out newer readers.]

Which of these books have you read—and what did you think? What other books have impacted you lately?

Leave your best suggestions below!

About Author

Anson Young

Anson Young is the owner of Anson Property Group based in Denver, Colorado, which specializes in distressed property purchases, and author of Finding and Funding Great Deals. As a full-time real estate investor and agent for the past 10 years, he has completed over 100 wholesale deals and 75 flips. Anson Property Group is committed to changing communities, helping homeowners, and building long-term wealth. When not working, Anson can be found exploring the wilds of Colorado by hiking the Rocky Mountains with his family, reading favorite books to his son, and attending loud rock concerts.


  1. Michael Woodward

    I always appreciate book recommendations so thanks for the article…. but….. I would not have included #6. I haven’t read it (and won’t) because of the title. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to notice that this person has some deep life problems. Who needs to use that kind of language unless you’re really angry or unable to cope with life in some way. Not the model adviser!

    • Anson Young

      I personally wouldnt let a word hold me back from self development, but to each their own! Its a great way to grab attention, to address the important things covered in the book. I dont know if “deep life problems” and “not the model adviser” is fair based on one word you dont agree with…

      • Michael Woodward

        Anson, I’m not letting “a word hold me back from self development”. Self development does NOT hinge on this book. I’ve read many SD books and I’ve never even heard of Mark. What I’m doing is making a choice not to listen to (or buy from) a person that uses shock-jock tactics to sell his book (e.g. Howard Stern, etc…). Apparently there’s an audience for that but there’s also a LOT of people that don’t want to hear it and don’t want their kids exposed to it. For Mark to write it and now for you to recommend it, throws it out in the middle of the room for everyone (me and my family) to see. Not appreciated!

        To your last point, I guess I should add a third possibility to the “deep life problems” and “not the model adviser” list. That would be a moderate to severe disregard for public decency. When you go to the store, do you tell the cashier that you want to buy this [email protected]#$ing stuff? You probably respect them enough not to do that because most people don’t respond well to that kind of language. This is no different.

        • Mark F.

          I have to agree. The use of vulgar language like that is more of a turn off to me. I wouldn’t want my kids seeing that book on my nightstand.

      • Alia Lysiuk

        I completely agree with you, Anson. I appreciate people who can think outside the box when it comes to SD books. I, for one, have added this to my Amazon list. Personally, I’ve never understood why people get so uptight over specific words. It’s 2018. There are more important things to worry about than “bad” words.

    • Tim Puffer

      Michael – Mark’s book is actually really insightful and well thought out. I appreciate it having the title what it is – it’s nice to have something that isn’t politically correct and flowery sounding on the subject the author wrote about. He is being real. We could use more of that in todays society.

  2. Nicole Pettis

    Awesome list! While I love reading, I have a hard time reading these kind of books…I fall asleep or half way in I don’t finish because I get distracted. Now give me a good romance novel and that’s a different story;)

    Don’t get me wrong I read and read articles that I learn much from, however I am trying to figure out a way to fit these kind of books in my life. I know its important and I know they will help with ideas and moving forward, but its the “when” that I am trying to figure out.

    Thanks again Anson!

  3. Elizabeth wilson

    Anson- Great list! I’m wondering did you read them or listen to them? I’m a huge fan of audio books! (I listen to one a week! Maybe I should do a blog on that! 🙂

    I have one to add that is “The Art of the Sale”. I read it years ago when I transitioned into an entrepreneur. Still my favorite and still under represented on book lists!

    (ps. if you are buying books off of amazon, make sure you designate a smile charity! 🙂

    • Anson Young

      Great tips! I thought about writing up all of my book hacks I use for sure!

      I do 50/50 with audio and regular reading, and am exploring speed reading (Spreeder or Spritz).

      I havnt read “art of the sale”, I need to add it to my list! I was only doing books released in 2016, so it was a little limiting but there were some amazing books that came out last year!

  4. Angelika Hanley

    Excellent list! I’ve already read four of the seven and am looking at the remainder now. I would also add “Declutter Your Mind” by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport. Another newer release that talks about trying to eliminate negative thoughts and prioritizing your life! Thanks!

  5. I would recommend a book about the businessman John D. Rockefeller. The title of the book is The Titan. It is motivating how a man created a company that had a monopoly on oil. He did not come from a rich family. He was basically raised by a single mom. He was the richest man in his time.

  6. Cortney Jones

    Thank you Anson, that’s a great list. We challenge (ok, bribe) our 13 year old to read books that will help her entrepreneurial spirit and personal growth and there are a couple on this list, I’ll be adding to her pile too.

    I’m an avid reader too and I think my favorite one this past year was an oldie but a goody, “Failing Forward” by John Maxwell. We did a family read on it which was a great opportunity to incorporate parenting life lessons and remind ourselves of some of the courage needed to take imperfect action and learn lessons and make adjustments along the way.

    Thanks for sharing your list and the thoughtful insight and WAY TO GO Stacy! Stepping outside your comfort zone and taking control. You go girl!

  7. Joel Johnson

    This is great Anson, I just downloaded Deep Work and Grit on audible. I had two credits and was waiting for the “right” books. I hesitate getting Tools of Titans. There are only so many routines one can add to their life, and I feel it has the potential to give me shiny object syndrome. But I will pick it up now since you guys speak so highly of it, after Deep Work and Grit.

  8. Jerry W.

    Thanks for the list. I have read most of them, but am finishing up #1 and have not seen #4 before so I will look for that. I really enjoyed #6. I had some hard things going on in some professional matters and found it hugely helpful. The one I really disliked was tools of titans. I had been a Tim Ferris fan up till then, but when I got to the part about advocating taking LSD to expand your mind I tossed it. Regardless how smart you are, when you suggest that to folks you become worthless in my book. The man is brilliant about making money, but is apparently getting so eccentric that he is now dangerous in my book. Too much money and too much time on his hands and too much ego. My wife will not read any books about real estate not even Rich Dad Poor Dad, but I got her to read #7. She is a huge fan of Chip and Joanna.

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