A new year is an opportunity for a fresh start, whether you want to make big changes or little ones. Here, we’re looking at the best books and podcasts to find your purpose, clear your mind, or boost your productivity. Simply put, these books will help you improve your life.
Not your traditional self-improvement book, but The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is an allegory for the meaning of life and finding purpose in the journey. It’s a fun read and offers insightful direction without being preachy. The narrative follows a young shepherd as he embarks on a mystical journey in search of treasure. His journey teaches him about life, passion, and following dreams — even when they lead to unexpectedly familiar places.
Brené Brown has become one of the most well-known names in the self-development field, but not because she wants you to focus on self-improvement. Instead, she emphasizes self-acceptance and understanding that imperfections aren’t a bad thing. This book focuses on viewing your perceived weaknesses as strengths. Brown also addresses how to stop comparing your success to others’ — which is especially relevant during these social media saturated days. A good first read for life improvement, this book tempers all the other advice with a reminder that you are enough just living authentically as yourself.
It’s a long title, but the list of 13 things is an eye-popping read that doesn’t pull any punches. Inspired by an article Morin wrote in the wake of her own struggles, this is an easy read that reminds us to live more courageously and honestly. Breaking the cycle of comparing yourself to others or being jealous is the first step to using those sparks for inspiration and turning those bad mental habits around. Morin helps you spot undesirable habits and offers tips for making positive shifts in your daily life. It’s a motivating read that leaves you mentally refreshed, instead of anxiously over-analyzing a never-ending to-do list of improvement.
We’re living in an unprecedented time. Many of us feel overwhelmed with work, family, and the demands of everyday life. Free to Focus offers a no-nonsense approach to taking back your time by shifting your perspective on what being busy looks like. This book will help you redefine your goals — regardless of what your day job looks like — and learn to better manage your time and energy so you have more freedom to pursue things that really matter, from finally writing that novel to having time to read to your kids before bed.
If you’re the kind of person who needs a kick in the butt rather than a gentle nudge in the right direction, pick up Can't Hurt Me by former Navy SEAL David Goggins. This motivational book isn’t going to tell you to rethink your to-do list or clean your house a certain way. Instead, Goggins shares a memoir of his life, from a traumatic childhood to eventual triumph as the only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller. He also became one of the world’s toughest endurance athletes. Here, he shares a story of transformation and what can happen when you refuse to fail.
Researcher and psychologist Angela Duckworth’s Grit has become one of the most-cited books around self-improvement in the last decade. She digs into how persistence and effort trump smarts and talent, and how it’s possible to succeed even if you’re not naturally the best in your field. Duckworth argues that focused persistence, or what she refers to as grit, is the secret to success. Grit is packed with research, but also features compelling stories from Duckworth’s life as well as dozens of case studies. This book will not only make you feel like you can tackle the hard things, it will make you want to.
Ask almost any self-improvement-loving person what book changed their life, and they’ll likely list this one. Easily the most spiritual book on this list, it’s still accessible to everyone — and it’s agnostic in terms of actual faith or religion. Tolle’s premise is simple: We spend so much time fixating on the past and the future that we completely miss the present. But if we can tune into being present-focused, bringing more intention to the things that we can actually control, and embracing the power of the now, we can make great strides towards happiness and fulfillment.
If spirituality isn’t for you and you need something a bit more in your face (but still research-backed), try this book. Actually, it’s pretty similar to The Power of Now, but with more curse words. Rather than trying to be positive, Manson argues it’s more important to be honest and lean into where our lives are at this moment to make change. This book isn’t about not caring; instead, it encourages you to be incredibly picky about the things you do care about, and go all in.
When it comes to self-improvement and development, the daily podcast from TED Talks distills different topics, views, perspectives, and nuggets of wisdom into short talks from experts in their field. It’s not traditional self-help, but it will broaden your horizons and make you think about the world in new ways.
A monk turned motivational speaker and expert on finding purpose, Jay Shetty has written extensively about how to find your true purpose in life. Now, he hosts a twice-weekly podcast where he explores the idea of passion and purpose with some of the world’s top experts and achievers. It’s a great dose of inspiration with plenty of practical advice.
Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos was studying the science of happiness when she decided to teach a course on it. That course ended up being the most popular class in Yale’s 300-year history. After that, Santos took the idea of teaching happiness and ran with it, writing and speaking about the concept. Now, she shares the latest research and insights in happiness with practical takeaways to improve your mood.
Want to know why your brain works the way it does? Podcast host Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling in a fascinating way to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior. He interviews experts from all walks of life and examines how we think about life, love, business, and productivity. It’s science-y, yes, but there are plenty of practical applications that he gets into in every episode.
Need a bit of philosophy on a daily basis? The Daily Stoic from New York Times bestselling author Ryan Holiday brings you a bite-sized lesson every day from the greatest thinkers of the past: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca the Younger, and other stoic philosophers. But it’s not dry history: It’s all through the lens of living your best life in the modern world. He also features interviews with current top performers, digging into their personal philosophies, which are shockingly similar to the ancient Stoics.
LeVar Burton (of Reading Rainbow fame) is now reading to an adult audience and featuring authors like Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ray Bradbury. This podcast helps you broaden your literary horizons and might even help you see the world in a different way.