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The 5 Best Personal Development Books of 2018

personal development books by dan pink, james clear, ichiro kishimi You can get tremendous value from a book that has great ideas, offers a new perspective, or allows you to gain new knowledge. In that way, all books provide personal development opportunities.

This list is from my reading of new books released in 2018 where I found particularly valuable insights for personal and professional development.

Here we go. In no particular order (and with affiliate links).

1) Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. I’m finishing this one up right now and maybe because it’s so fresh in my mind it rises to the top.  And even though I just said this list is in no particular order, I might recommend this one more than all the others. If you were to get just one book from this list, let it be this one. Why? Because it is insightful but also immensely practical.

A lot of what James presents isn’t all that new, but the way he presents it is very powerful. It’s super clear and actionable. This has got to be the best guide to understanding and changing habits. And our daily habits are what guide our progress and accomplishments. Small changes will yield big results.

The “four laws” he presents are straight-foward but powerful: 1) Make it obvious, 2) Make it attractive, 3) Make it easy, 4) Make it satisfying. Each is explained well, includes examples, and also has a blueprint for putting it into practice.

You are your habits. Make better habits and make yourself a great new year.

2) The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. This book goes deep into the philosophical realm to challenge you with ideas that can be applied to your life and happiness right now. Unlike Atomic Habits, though, this book isn’t a practical step by step guide. It is a guide to contemplating big concepts are the very heart of life.

That said, it’s not a “difficult” read like a text book. It’s written in the format of dialog between a youth and a elder philosopher. The opening lines provide a good sample:

Youth: I want to ask you once again; you do believe that the world is, in all ways, a simple place.

Philosopher: Yes, this world is astonishingly simple and life itself is, too.

Youth: So, is this your idealistic argument or is it a workable theory? What I mean is, are you saying that any issues you or I face in life are simple too?

Philosopher: Yes, of course.

The journey embarks from there and takes you through the tenets of Adlerian psychology. Alfred Adler was a famous psychologist but, unlike his peers, he did not believe past trauma affects one’s ability to be happy in the present. He taught that the importance of liking oneself, contributing to community, appreciating another for just being formed the path to true happiness.

It’s common advice for people to say “just be yourself” but that can be difficult to do in practice, for many reasons. The tenets of Adlerian psychology offer a useful guide, and this book offers a way to study those tenets in an engaging and thought-provoking way. Not everybody will like you. That’s ok. Focus on the ones who do and do not try to win over others. Have the “courage to be disliked.” That’s the advice dispensed over 5 nights of dialogue: 1) Deny trauma, 2) All problems are interpersonal relationship problems, 3) Discard other people’s tasks, 4) Where the center of the world is, 5) To live in earnest in the here and now.

3) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This is real big picture thinking that can put things into perspective. Harari presents the entirety of human history in this book and it is an amazing and enlightening thing to behold. 100,000 years ago there were six human species on Earth. Homo Sapiens is the sole survivor. How we survived and thrived, adapted, and changed the world is something I hadn’t thought a lot about, but the book provided many compelling insights. It also offers a perspective on long-term impact of decision making. Because when you look back over such a long period of time, you might view progress with a bit more nuance. Is all progress good? Are we really better off now than we were before? What are the sources of the major frameworks of ideas and organizational principles that established how our world works today?

The evolution of our world of Homo Sapiens is presented through the lens of four revolutions in our evolution: 1) The cognitive revolution, 2) The agricultural revolution, 3) The unification of humankind, 4) The scientific revolution. These lenses are useful in considering how major changes have brought about very material differences in our daily living and the ways we organize ourselves. They also provide a solid foundation for contemplating what our future might hold.

Personal and professional development is all about learning about people. Ourselves and others. This book is a great guide to learning about people and our evolution, which helps to understand how the world works today.

4) When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Dan Pink. This book delves deep in to social science to uncover how timing impacts our productivity, thinking, and decision-making. The ideas are presented in the author’s usual clear and engaging style with lots of practical examples.

The book will get you to re-think your day, realize its cadence and how to leverage it more effectively. We all have natural rhythms. We know this instinctively. But we often mis-use our timing more often than you might think.

This book will help you to understand exactly what’s going on and to make better use of your time with some surprisingly simple adjustments.

You will also find useful insights and tips for timing in a group or team setting. And as if that weren’t enough, Dan also includes a book within a book. Each chapter is followed by a “Time Hacker’s Handbook” which gives specific exercises and tips to make use of the concepts covered.

The book is organized into three parts: 1) The day, 2) Beginnings, endings, and in-betweens, 3) Synching and thinking.

5) Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuck. 

In this follow up to his earlier book, Crush It, Gary revisits the main themes that are key to success in the modern business world. Gary shows how to develop and leverage a personal brand for success in any kind of business using a variety of platforms.

This book contains lots of success stories from people who have been following his advice for years. They serve as good color commentary to the ideas in the book.

What I liked, though, was how Gary delved into detail on many platforms, from Facebook to Instagram to YouTube, in order to explain the basics of succeeding on each. He also provides overall strategies. But most importantly, he gives you real world advice.

There are no silver bullets, and Gary explains that you can use his advice but that you will only be specific if you have a serious level of commitment.

I listened to the audio book, which was fantastic. Because he did it himself. He’s not a great reader but he often goes off script to provide more up-to-date information, advice, or commentary. That was a lot of fun.

Even if you don’t intend to dominate social media or build a strong personal brand, you can gain a lot by getting a better understanding of what it takes to do that. You will also get a feel for how social media can be leveraged. But not just “social media is great” rhetoric. You will get detailed insights into a variety of platforms. That’s useful stuff to understand in today’s world, even if you’re not going to pursue it yourself.

And if you are thinking of leveraging new media platforms to strengthen your personal brand, then this book is a total “must read.”