A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; likewise, the limitless knowledge that can be obtained from books starts with a single page. There are vast amounts of great books in the world, old and new, spanning every subject imaginable. Whether your interests lie in starting a business, increasing your wealth, improving your golf swing, or getting a six-pack, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands of books on each of these topics. I believe that in order to increase motivation, maximize the amount of knowledge one can consume, and have an upgraded mindset for success, there are certain books that should be consumed first to accelerate learning. You may consider these to be personal development, motivation, or self-help books. However, I view them as the Foundation to my journey as a reader.
These are by no means the first books I’ve read, but they are the books I would strongly suggest you start off with if you are interested in becoming the best version of yourself and succeeding in whatever it is you have in mind. I am not claiming to be the ultimate authority on literature either, but these books have had a very significant impact on my life and I consider them to be the cornerstones of my reading that everything else is building on top of. Furthermore, I have read or heard from numerous leaders, successful entrepreneurs, and high-performers that also sing the praises of one or more of these books. These are some of the writings that have inspired countless others to write classics of their own.
Not only am I giving my recommendations below, but I am also providing a summary of each book based on my point-of-view. I want to point out that I have read several of these books more than once, and I tend to pick up on things I didn’t notice the first time or simply forgot. I may also interpret things differently as I grow and experience life, finding new ways to apply the lessons taught in these books. To clarify, these are summaries based on one person’s point of view and are certainly not a substitute for reading these amazing books. Do yourself a huge favor and get them immediately (or re-read if you already have) and reap the rewards for life.
Think and Grow Rich
The first book I am recommending is Napoleon Hill's classic Think and Grow Rich, which was published during the Great Depression and has sold nearly 100 million copies worldwide since then. Hill studied and interviewed many of the most successful people from that period of time, noted many similarities between them, and condensed what he learned into his laws of success. I first read this book only a few years ago and wish I had picked it up much earlier in life. It has had a significant impact on how I look at setting and accomplishing goals and getting what I want in life, whether it's related to my health, wealth, or anything else. Many people that I look up to have also expressed similar feelings about this classic. Here's what I believe to be some of the most important takeaways from it:
The starting point to success is having a burning desire - you must truly want something to go after it. You must also have a clear picture of what it is you want, decide what you are willing to sacrifice for it, set a deadline, prepare a definite plan, and reaffirm this desire daily. You must have faith that you can accomplish your desire(s), and you can bring yourself into this positive state of mind through affirmations, mental images, and written statements of the goal with a deadline. Concentrate on the desire(s) so strongly and regularly that your sub-conscious mind accepts it as reality.
Hill also goes into detail on obtaining specialized knowledge (spending time daily to learn the skills required to achieve your goals), using your imagination, organized planning, reaching decisions quickly, and being persistent, among other things. But one concept he introduces that was new to me when I first read about it is forming a Mastermind group with individuals sympathetic to your desires with similar plans who can help you reach your goals faster through sharing resources and ideas. If you've never read Think and Grow Rich, but many of these ideas sound familiar or immediately resonate with you, that's because many authors have based their ideas on these fundamental principles and also because what Hill writes about truly works.
As a Man Thinketh
James Allen's As a Man Thinketh was published in 1903, even earlier than Think and Grow Rich, but its lessons are just as applicable to modern society (perhaps even more so). Like Hill, Allen places a huge emphasis on the power of thoughts and their influence over our destiny, for better or for worse. He teaches that we determine our situation in life and can improve it by the right choice of the application of thought. According to Allen, this even applies to the body and health: "The body is the servant of the mind. It obeys the operations of the mind, whether they be deliberately chosen or automatically expressed."
Also similar to Hill, Allen believes that we must link thought with purpose to achieve goals. Those who have no central purpose in their life will be plagued by self-pity, anxiety, and troubles which will inevitably lead to failure. He encourages you to dream big ("Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become") but be prepared to sacrifice greatly for those dreams ("He who would accomplish little need sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much"). As a Man Thinketh could be summarized by saying thoughts beget attitude which beget behaviors which beget results; therefore, big and positive thoughts will yield big and positive results.
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Another classic "personal development" book that, like Think and Grow Rich, came out of the Great Depression era is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is one that I believe should be required reading in all grade schools; alas, I didn't first read this until college, but have read it multiple times since then. This isn't necessarily a "success" book, but it does teach basic principles in interacting with people that are key to being successful in your relationships, at the workplace, and beyond. Despite how much our society has changed in the 80 years since this was published, the lessons taught still hold very true, and you will definitely find yourself being more well-liked and influential if you follow these core principles:
The first section of the book introduces fundamental techniques in handling people and they're pretty straight-forward, though more difficult to practice unless you're conscious about them. First, don't criticize, condemn, or complain (you'll put the person on the defensive). Second, give honest and sincere appreciation (people have a desire to be important and a craving to be appreciated). Third, arouse in the other person an eager want (frame things in terms of what motivates them, not what you want). Carnegie gives excellent examples for each of these principles that are still relevant in today's culture.
In the second part of his book, he lays out six ways to make people like you. These include: Become genuinely interested in other people. Smile. Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Be a good listener while encouraging others to talk about themselves. Talk in terms of the other person's interests. Make the other person feel important (but do it sincerely).
Part three teaches you how to win people to your way of thinking. Here is a brief review of the most important points: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Show respect for the other person's opinions. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. Begin in a friendly way and get the other people saying "yes, yes" immediately. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking and let them feel that the idea is his or hers. Try honestly to see things from their point of view - be sympathetic with their ideas and desires. Finally, appeal to the nobler motives, dramatize your ideas, and throw down a (friendly) challenge.
The final section of the book - Be a Leader: How to Change People - is my favorite and definitely should be learned and practiced by any leader, manager, or coach. Again, I'll quickly skim through the main points, but the lessons cannot truly be appreciated and absorbed without reading the text in full: Begin with praise and honest appreciation. Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. Let the other person save face. Praise the slightest improvement and give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. Use encouragement and make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.
Born to Win
My next recommendation, Zig Ziglar's Born to Win, is much newer than the previous books I suggested having been published in 2010. However, Zig had been teaching and writing about success for decades before, most notably in his book from the 70s titled See You at the Top. I have read a few of Zig's other books and they are all great reads, but I chose his most recent and final book (he passed away in 2012) because it takes his decades of knowledge and experience and condenses it into this one great book. Many of the tools and strategies shared in his previous work are reintroduced or updated in Born to Win and are put together in a very straight-forward format:
Part one of the book is all about planning to win. Zig explains how to develop your vision, set realistic goals, and implement them. Like Napoleon Hill and James Allen, he puts a big emphasis on having the desire to accomplish these goals. He also lays out his six qualities that are essential to winning: honesty, character, faith, integrity, love, and loyalty. In the second part of the book, we are told about preparing to win through acquiring the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to succeed. You may once again notice the parallels to Think and Grow Rich when Zig says that the development of disciplines needed to win and associating with the right people will help and inspire you. The last part of the book is about expecting to win, and is very similar to As A Man Thinketh: "Worry is a fruitless and destructive emotion that we must defeat. Condition your mind with the correct attitudes and expectations."
One of the things I liked a lot about Born to Win was the emphasis it placed on putting a lot of value on family and friends and the importance of achieving balance in life. Another key takeaway that I learned was that motivation is like food in that it is essential and we must seek it every day to remain motivated. Zig's approach is also one of abundance - success isn't all about you, in fact: "You can have everything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want."
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I read Stephen Covey's well-known The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fairly recently (it was first published in the late 80s) and it has already made a significant impact on my mindset and personal growth. Therefore, I consider it a must-read for those interested in achieving success and being the best version of oneself. Covey teaches that in order to change, you must address your character and not your behavior, which involves aligning personal paradigms with universal principles. His 7 habits are presented in a specific order that take you from dependence to independence (self-mastery) and ultimately to interdependence (working well with others).
The first habit is "Be Proactive" and explains that life doesn't just "happen" - external forces act as stimuli and we respond to them. You can take control of your life and your fate by choosing your response. There is no sense in worrying about or reacting to conditions that you have no control over; rather, focus your time and energy on things you can control (your "Circle of Influence"). The second habit is "Begin with the End in Mind". Basically, if you want to achieve something, it's imperative you create long-term goals and a personal mission statement, much like a successful business would create to ensure its own success. A quote that stands out to me is, "If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster." Like some of the previous books mentioned, Covey urges the reader to make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life; visualize the outcome of every action as clearly as possible to attain your goals. The third habit is to "Put First Things First", meaning you must focus on your highest priorities (created in habit 2) and realize it's ok to say no when necessary.
Moving into Interdependence, Covey introduces the fourth habit, which is "Think Win-Win". This is all about having an abundance mentality - to get your share of the "cake" while building lasting relationships at the same time. This is followed by habit five, "Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood". This is very aligned with much of the advice from How to Win Friends and Influence People. If you want to be able to influence people, you should understand them first without filtering everything you hear through your life experiences or frame of reference. If you are empathic with your listening, they will be compelled to do the same and be more open-minded and positive when working with you. The next habit, number six, is "Synergize". Flowing right out of the previous habit, you must treat people with openness and respect to gain new insight and produce better results. By valuing people's differences, you can combine individuals' strengths through teamwork and creative cooperation to achieve goals that one person could not accomplish alone.
The seventh and final habit revolves around all the others and is all about continuous improvement - "Sharpen the Saw". In other words, if you want to keep "sawing", you must preserve and enhance the greatest asset you have: you. This involves living a life of balance and encompasses everything from your physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual areas of your life. I have found much truth in this - by creating great daily habits for myself and continually renewing each of the areas mentioned before, I can create much more growth and change in my life which allows me to increase my ability to produce results and handle the challenges I face.
As I stated a few times before, many of these books share similar themes and offer very comparable strategies. This is no coincidence - these principles are timeless and proven to work if taken to heart and practiced constantly. Even with the strong similarities, I feel that each author provides something unique in his own book that is highly valuable on its own, and exponentially more valuable when compounded with the other books combined. There are many other great books in the same vein as these, but again these are the ones that have had the greatest impact on my life. It was not easy narrowing it down to just a handful of books out of the many that I've read, but I will soon be sharing more amazing and inspiring works segmented into different categories that all build off of this Foundation. Stay tuned for my recommendations and summaries of books on Thinking Big to Change the World.