Insightful Personal Development Books


Personal Development Books

“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” — Thomas Edison

I’ve put together a comprehensive list of personal development books that I’ve found to be insightful or useful in some way.  I see personal Development as making the most of what you’ve got.  There are many sayings about how you’re growing or dying, climbing or sliding, and that there is no in-between.  Personal development is a path.  It’s a journey of growth.

Get Better with Time

Time can be on your side.  I’ve seen a lot of people age like a fine wine … they get better with age.  It’s because they focus on their personal growth and development.  They learn new skills.  They improve their mind, body, and emotions.  They improve their ability to take on whatever challenges life throws their way.  They improve their self-awareness, and learn how to play to their strengths, and limit their liabilities.  They manage their emotions with skill, they ask better questions, and they focus on the positive.  They stay forward looking despite set backs, and they learn how to read a situation and adapt with skill.

Self-Acceptance vs. Personal Development

It’s worth pointing out that choosing a path of personal development doesn’t mean putting yourself on hold, or accepting yourself at a later point when you’ve reached a goal.  That’s the “If-Then-Trap.” … “If only I had xyz, I’d be happy” … “If I change this about myself, then I ‘ll like myself” … etc.  You have to bake happiness and self-acceptance into the journey.  It’s about balancing growth, and enjoying the journey, while accepting who you are, along the way.  Every might oak was once a sapling, and “mighty” is in the eye of the beholder.  Behold your mighty self, every step or stage of the way, and impress yourself with what you’re capable of.  It all comes back to the question, “Who do you want to be, and what experiences do you want to create?”, and driving from that, while you  accept yourself, flaws and all, and with gratitude for what you’ve got.

The Way of Personal Development

There are many ways to grow.  At a high-level, I think a helpful frame is to think in terms of motivation, skills, and feedback.  Motivation is your drive, skills are your ability, and feedback tells you whether it’s working.  At Microsoft, I’ve use peers, mentors, and managers for specific and actionable feedback.  I also have a personal sounding board that I trust that gives me deep, effective feedback.  The keys to effective feedback are relevant, useful, and actionable.

I focus on personal development through people, projects, and practices.  On the people side, I use a lot of mentors and experts.  On the projects side, I take on things that grow my skills or I find a way to learn something useful.  By making it a part of my work, I get to grow more each day.  In terms of practices, I test techniques I learn from people and books.

In my experience, people and books are powerful sources of insight and new ideas, while work and projects are a perfect playground and arena for practicing and performing … a channel for turning insight into action and testing results.

Call to Action

  1. Explore my list of insightful personal development books.
  2. Tell me what books I need to know about.
  3. Tell me *why* I need to know about them.

It’s a living library of personal development books.  I’m regularly expanding my library and I regularly recommend books to people, not just at Microsoft, but I regularly interact with fellow lifelong learners beyond Microsoft too.


  1. Edward de Bono did a success book called Tactics, old and out of print but still superb.

    The best book on personal change I think is Perls, Hefferline and Goodman’s Gestalt Therapy. It charts the process of the individual creatively adjusting to their context. It is not an easy read but repays effort many-fold. The outline of a psychology and exercises to experiment with it all in about 450 pages. It is a remarkable achievement.

  2. P.S. Edward de Bono and John Lyons also did a study of Australian entrepreneurs called Marketing Without Money. There are about 20 profiles and they also analyse the experience for lessons about being an entrepreneur. It’s great.

  3. Hi JD,

    Thanks for the list. There are 2 books that I keep reading over and over again. I never get tired of them and they are:

    1. The science of getting rich by Wallace D. Wattles
    2. The power of the subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy

    The first book tells you exactly what you need to do to become rich. The second book tells you exactly how to achieve your goals using the power of your subconscious mind. The first book is also related to the subconscious mind as well.

    Thanks for sharing

  4. J.D., I thought you had all my favorites listed (& then some!), including my current fave: Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life, by J.D. Meier.

    A mentor recommended the following–part of my this year’s Christmas reading:
    Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving, Roger Fisher

    Excellent challenge, excellent list.

  5. @ Evan — Tactics is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. I think de Bono did a great job of finding patterns among the stories and turning them into strategies and tactics.

    I haven’t heard of the Gestalt Therapy book, but that sounds like a great read. I heard Tony Robbins say Gestalt Therapy was the fastest method he found to lasting change. It sounds similar to the book Feeling Good, by Dr. Burns, in that it’s not an easy read, but once it’s under your belt it’s powerful.

    @ Dia — I haven’t heard of either of those books, and they both sound interesting. Thank you.

    @ Jimmy — That is a good book. Ironicaly, one of mentors shared that book with me earlier this year.

  6. Hi JD,

    THANK YOU for the comprehensive list! I’ve bookmarked the page and will look at it more closely on December 26! I always block time for reading personal growth books… and you’ve now given me several suggestions from which to choose (I have already read many… but choosing which ones to start will be difficult).

    Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings… enjoy!

    Here’s to a vibrant 2011.


  7. Hi J.D. — I can definitely relate to what you say about getting better with age, or in any event just enjoying life more thoroughly than I used to — when I think about how anxious and hesitant I used to be about life, I am very grateful for having been exposed to the spiritual practices I have taken up that have just helped me to feel more at home in the world.

  8. @ Laura — The funny thing about books is that whatever one you start with, is just right for now. And when it’s not, there’s always another to try. That said, I think Fat, Forty, Fired is a fun, insightful read.

    Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2011!

    @ Chris — It’s great you found your path. Some people never do. I think skills make a big difference … a little know-how can go a long way, even if it’s just knowing the right questions to find your purpose and get on path.

    I think once we realize life is not a race, and that the real game is why and how we spend our time, we change the game that instant.

  9. Hi J.D.

    I look at the book: Brilliant NLP: What the Most Successful People Know, Do and Say at

    I did not see any review, or the book content, kind of strange for such a book high on your list.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really want to read/buy the book, can you please write a review, better with book content?

    Thank you for all the sharing.

  10. Hi JD .. great list – and as you say we can pick and choose .. where we want to start. If we’re struggling with reading .. I must admit I now ask a lot of questions .. or as I converse with a friend about a nitty gritty challenge .. I sort of pose questions and answer them & absorb their thoughts, which I then take on board. I’m struggling with the reading side of life – looking after my mother .. there isn’t much space for personal reading in between. Life is life! I’m learning and that’s important ..

    Hope you’ll have a good weekend .. cheers – Hilary

  11. @ Kevin — It’s one of those books that most people just don’t know how good it is, but when they find it, it’s a gem. I’ve learned that reviews are input and indicators, but definitely don’t tell the whole story.

    You’re in luck, I do happen to have my review of Brilliant NLP.

    @ Hilary — Thank you. Asking questions is a great way to stay on the learning path. Your situation is making me think that maybe I should add my post on how to read faster to this blog. It’s a deep dive on how to truly read faster, and in shorter-bursts, if you only have thin time slices.

  12. Hi JD .. thanks for the thought & I’m sure a lot of us would find the post on faster reading useful. It’s that ‘time to take in’ what we’re reading .. that I find tricky – so tend not to want to start some books – because I know I’ll need a time frame and my powers of concentration to be able to take on board the information.

    Then someone (blogger) said just read, mark, highlight etc .. it doesn’t matter .. and that’s probably right too .. and I’m sure I could do that if I only had my mother and the blog and associated things .. but unfortunately there’s other aspects .. and the energy levels drain. Life is moving on slowly …

    Thanks the read-faster in short bursts sounds interesting. Have a good week .. Hilary

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