What Is Personal Growth?
20 Answers in 20 Books

what is personal growth

Personal growth, depending who you are, can mean many different things. After all, it’s personal. Although there’s no universal definition, personal growth, along with its namesakes—self-help, personal development, self improvement and self-healing—can be looked at as a transformational process in order to realize more of your potential as a human being.

That potential improvement could be in areas such as:

  • procrastination
  • better health
  • emotional well-being
  • anger management
  • spiritual awakening
  • social skills
  • financial abundance
  • improved relationships
  • communication competence
  • developing good habits
  • reducing anxiety

And of course, that list could be made much, much longer. Since the self-help/personal development field covers such a wide spectrum, answering the question, “what is personal growth”, is going to take a more comprehensive approach.

From my experience, there are a few timeless teachings that, once mastered, will—as a matter of course—render the above listed areas of personal growth as mostly afterthoughts.

In other words, by having a firm grasp of a few foundational, personal growth principles will, by default, solve most of the major and minor problems that do crop up in life.

In light of that, I figure that the best way to answer the question, “what is personal growth” is to revisit 20 of the best self improvement authors—along with their books—of all time.

Rest assured that I have read each and everyone of the following volumes… most of them multiple times.

I understand that I likely left out your favorite writer. Keep in mind that I’ve read hundreds of self-help books. I had to leave many of my favorites off this list of 20 too—like Think and Grow Rich.

#1 – Shut Up Your Psychotic Roommate

the untethered soul

You’re intimately familiar with your inner voice. How could you not be—it never shuts the fuck up! It’s constantly yammering on about something or other. And unfortunately, 97% of what it’s saying is utter hogwash.

In the The Untethered Soul Michael A. Singer perceptively points out that the most important thing to personal growth is to realize that you are not your inner voice—you are the one who is listening to it.

The ongoing narration inside of your head is a rationalization machine designed to make you feel more comfortable with the world around you. But it is rarely speaking the truth.

And what is the truth?

The truth is that the problems in your life are based wholly on how that inner voice is perceiving things. A problem doesn’t really exist anywhere ‘out there’. Problems are by-products of that inner voice either over-analyzing or overreacting to what it thinks it sees.

Basically, your gabby roommate paints a picture of a monster with its thoughts, then implores you to run out the room, screaming your head off.

Learning how to either shut up or ignore the annoying voice of your roommate will set you on the path to peace.

#2 – How To Be The Most Interesting Person In the World

how to win friends and influence people

Most everyone wants to be viewed as an interesting person. One way they go about being interesting is to incessantly talk about themselves, often by boasting, bragging and telling uninteresting stories about their lives.

The sad truth is that almost no one is listening to them. While pretending to be attentively tuned into what that person is saying, they’re actually busy formulating what they are going to say next—if the other person ever stops talking—so that they can began chatting, and appear interesting themselves.

In How To Win Friends an Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggests that the majority of would-be-interesting people have it ass-backwards.

Carnegie always maintained that if you want to be interesting, be interested instead.

Try this conversational technique out sometime. Instead of talking about yourself, ask questions about the other person. Other than asking an occasional stimulating and thought-provoking question, you will have trouble getting a word in edge-wise because your conversational counter-part will be too busy answering your questions.

Interestingly enough, at the end of the conversation, they will know next to nothing about you BUT… they will walk away thinking that you’re one of the most interesting people they have ever met.

Although there is a metric ton of personal growth advice in Carnegie’s book, conversational skills happens to be one of my favorite areas. I first read this book years ago while taking the Dale Carnegie Course in Effective Speaking and Human Relations.

He wrote an equally marvelous book titled How To Stop Worrying and Start Living which popularized the concept of living in day-tight compartments.

The following book by Eckhart Tolle expands on that idea significantly.

#3 – The Truth About Time Management

the power of now

It’s difficult to talk about personal growth without mentioning time management. Issues with managing your time typically seem to revolve around procrastination, wasting time, using time more effectively, etc.

When Eckhart Tolle wrote his epic, The Power of Now, he approached the concept of time from a completely different perspective. Notice that I used the word concept in describing time. Most everyone you ask thinks of time as something real. But it’s not.

We as humans have found it necessary to adopt a neurological construct of time (psychological time) in order to function in this world. But at its core, time is an illusion. The past doesn’t exist any longer. The future isn’t anything real yet. If you’re having second thoughts about the past or agonizing about the future… it’s only in your mind.

Tolle contends that in the absence of psychological time, your sense of self is derived from BEING, not from your personal past. Therefore, the psychological need to become anything other than who you are already is no longer there.

Becoming free from psychological time, you no longer pursue your goals with grim determination, driven by fear, anger, discontent, or the need to become somebody.

Reminds me of a not-so-famous quote:

“I have seen everything done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity striving after wind.”

Once you are able to wrap your head around the principle of, the only time there really is is right now, all of your so-called problems magically drift off with the wind. If that’s not personal growth, I don’t know what is.

#4 – Are You Willing To Embrace Legitimate Suffering?

the road less traveled

In the first part of The Road Less Traveled M. Scott Peck talks about neurosis and character disorders. He differentiates between the two in drop-dead simple terms:

  • Neurotics automatically assume that they are at fault
  • Those with character disorders automatically assume that the world is at fault

In other words:

  • Neurotics make themselves miserable
  • Those with character disorders make everyone else miserable

Peck goes on to tie neurosis to something he calls legitimate suffering:

“The attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness.”

If you don’t wanna become neurotic, embrace legitimate suffering—don’t run away from it like people often do.

So what exactly is legitimate suffering? A good example would be following through with something you would deem uncomfortable that you promised someone you would do.

Have you ever been to a job interview where the interviewer ended the meeting with: “I’ll let you know one way or another?”

Let’s say that the interviewer has decided to not offer you the job. She first calls the successful candidate with the good news. That’s easy. Now she must let you know about the not-so-good news. That’s not so easy. It’s usually an uncomfortable call to make.

That’s what embracing legitimate suffering is all about. By honoring her word to you and making that painful call. After the one minute conversation is over, psychologically, she feels just fine.

But what if she decides not to embrace a little bit of legitimate suffering? She just blows you off. That happens a lot in life. And every time she does that, she travels a little bit further down the rabbit hole of neurosis.

By not embracing a bit of legitimate suffering as outlined in Peck’s book; that would be the opposite of personal growth.

#5 – Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

the seven spiritual laws of success

I absolutely love the short little book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. His seven spiritual laws are:

  1. The Law of Pure Potentiality
  2. The Law of Giving
  3. The Law of “Karma” or Cause and Effect
  4. The Law of Least Effort
  5. The Law of Intention and Desire
  6. The Law of Detachment
  7. The Law of “Dharma” or Purpose in Live

There’s not enough room here to go into detail about these seven spiritual laws, but if you’re serious about personal growth, you will want to read this book!

#6 – NLP for the Masses

awaken the giant within

Neuro-linguistic programming is an approach to personal development created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder back in the 1970’s. NLP was pushed into the mainstream by Tony Robbins with his two seminal books, Unlimited Power (1987) and Awaken the Giant Within (1991).

Both volumes served as my go-to personal growth books for years. They’re both great but with Awaken the Giant Within, Robbins is a bit more polished and articulate with his thought process.

NLP is mostly known for it’s 5 personal development techniques:

  • Anchoring
  • Abandoning limiting beliefs
  • Mirroring (establishing rapport)
  • Reframing
  • Visualization

All of the personal growth books on this list of 20 are awesome, or they wouldn’t be here. That being said, if anyone was gonna start from scratch with self-help, you couldn’t go wrong with Awaken the Giant Within as an eminently worthy choice.

#7 – From Trapped to Free

how I found freedome in an unfree world

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World (1973) was one of the very first personal growth books that I ever read; and remains to this day one of my favorites.

Although the author, Harry Browne, is more famous for his first book—How You Can Profit From the Coming Devaluation—and for being the first presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, this book, in my mind, is his most epic achievement.

Browne identifies thirteen ‘traps’ that modern women and men often find themselves in. These so-called traps range within the whole emotional, social and intellectual spectrum.

He then talks about eleven specific areas where you can become free.

If you’ve ever felt as though you were stuck in a situation with no apparent way out, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World will show you that there is always a way out. There may be a price to pay, but there’s always a way.

This self-discovery book will help you to feel that you have much more control over your life than you ever thought possible.

#8 – Abundance on Steroids

a happy pocket full of money

Don’t let the title, A Happy Pocket Full of Money, fool you into thinking that this book is anything other than beyond epic. The author, David Cameron Gikandi, was a creative consultant for the move The Secret. His book’s subtitle says it all:

Infinite Wealth and Abundance in the Here and Now.

This book covers all aspects of developing an abundant mindset and how the law of attraction actually works, while leaving absolutely no stone unturned.

There are simply too many stellar insights inside this book to do it justice here. After reading so damn many books in the personal growth genre, to say that I’m not easily impressed would be an understatement. A Happy Pocket Full of Money blew me away!

So much so that it easily made this list of 20 self improvement books.

#9 – From Amateur to Professional

the war of art

Steven Pressfield is a writer who can write with the best of them. And he did just that when he created The War of Art. Pressfield defines art as anything that you’re inspired to create.

It could be a book, a painting, a song, a screen play, an online course, a blog, a dance, a household or any kind of business venture you can possibly imagine.

The War of Art is organized into three distinct Books:

  • Book One – Resistance: Defining the Enemy
  • Book Two – Combating Resistance: Turning Pro
  • Book Three – Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm

The section on turning pro captured my interest completely. I think it was the same for the author as he was compelled to write a follow-up book of the same name.

If you’re a serious student of personal growth, The War of Art will serve as a louder-than-loud wake-up call.

It did for me anyway.

#10 – Creating a Brand New You

breaking the habit of being yourself

Dr. Joe Dispenza (also known for his appearance in the movie, The Secret) has written a few books on the subject of personal growth, taking an inside-out approach. Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself is one of his best, in my opinion.

Dispenza makes the argument that the superficial persona that you identify with is simply a construct of environmental and societal conditioning. You can actually be whoever you want to be by breaking the habit of being yourself.

Granted, it’s no easy task reprogramming yourself into someone more to your liking, but it’s entirely doable. That’s the essence of self improvement isn’t it… becoming more or different than what you now are?

Joe Dispenza is an expert in self-transformation and his books on the subject are beyond thorough.

If you’re not afraid of getting your hands a bit dirty and looking under the hood, then Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself will be right in your self-help wheelhouse.

#11 – The Story of a Mysterious Messiah


Richard Bach came to fame when he wrote his universally-loved Jonathan Livingston Seagull way back in 1970. But his follow-up book—that came seven years later—remains an unmitigated masterpiece. Yes, I’m referring to Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.

Page-for-page (192 of them), Illusions has more insights into personal growth than any other self-help book out there. Keep in mind that the pages are small and the font is large. This is a fictional account of a messiah/pilot named Donald Shimoda who is a legitimate master, but has a penchant for keeping a low profile.

Illusions was written in a clever style which will not allow you to put it down until finished. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll want to pick it right back up and read it again… and again.

#12 – You Don’t Have to Be Like Your Parents

the biology of belief

I never did read The Biology of Belief—I listened to it in audio book format, which was a unique experience for me. Bruce Lipton, the author, is a cellular biologist whose research led him down a controversial path that serendipitously morphed into a passion for personal growth.

Lipton’s intense investigation into the inner-workings of the cell convinced him that our DNA—our genetic makeup—is not set in stone as previously thought. On the contrary, the chromosomes that makeup the structure of DNA are, in fact, somewhat malleable after birth.

By changing our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, we can literally restructure our genetics.

We no longer need to be complete slaves to our heredity. This is fascinating stuff and you can find out more over at Lipton’s website.

#13 – Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

loving what is

Forty-three year old Byron Kathleen Reid woke up one morning in 1986 from her bed—which consisted of the floor of a southern California half-way house—a changed woman. Somehow overnight, she had morphed from a woman filled with rage, paranoia and despair into one filled with compassion, peace and joy.

When she returned home, her family and friends barely recognized her.

She now goes by Byron Katie and wrote about her radical new perspective on life in her book Loving What Is. In it she talks about how asking four simple questions can bring clarity and peace to your life. Katie refers to this process simply as The Work.

The concepts presented inside Loving What Is will change your life.

#14 – Discover Who You Really Are

three magic words

When he wrote Three Magic Words in 1954, U.S. Anderson unobtrusively became one of the original thought leaders behind what was then called, the New Thought movement. Three Magic Words, was one of the very first self improvement books I read back in 1974 and it shockingly changed how I viewed the world.

Although the movie, The Secret, popularized the concept now known as The Law of Attraction, Anderson’s book and teachings were responsible for laying much of the original LOA groundwork.

What are the Three Magic Words? You’ll just have to read this timeless personal growth book to find out.

#15 – Are You a Fringe Dweller?

infinite self

A few years ago I was going through an emotionally tough time following a break-up. Interestingly enough, my ex-girlfriend—who had recently broken up with me—stopped by and gave me a book that her new boyfriend had highly recommended. Turns out, it had helped him get through his divorce.

That book was Infinite Self by Stuart Wilde. After devouring it from cover-to-cover, and then a second time, something miraculous transpired. I was fine. I was absolutely just fine!

The 33 Steps To Reclaiming Your Inner Power (which is the sub-title of the book) was just the medicine I needed to begin feeling a LOT better. I never looked back from there. Wilde has a witty writing style that is more than contagious. He’s especially fond of Taoism.

This is one of those books that I gave a copy to everyone in my life that I cared about. Sadly, no one seemed to be ready for the self-help concepts that this author had to share. But perhaps you’re different. Maybe you’re what Wilde referred to as a fringe dweller?

#16 – Nothing Real Can Be Threatened

a course in miracles

Perhaps like you, I had heard about A Course in Miracles and was intensely interested. The problem was that I was also immensely intimidated. After all, why would anyone need to join a study group in order to understand the concepts. That seemed way too complicated for me.

A few years later however, I did finally pick up a copy of ACIM—but only after reading Marianne Williamson’s more-than-excellent primer, A Return to Love.

Guess what? The main text of ACIM can be intimidating. But there’s some true hidden gems of wisdom to be found within those pages.

What I also found was that the Workbook For Students section provided a step-by-step, day-to-day process that made it much easier to navigate through the controversial precepts that were presented.

I did eventually wind up attending ACIM study group and found that (for me anyway) it was totally unnecessary.

In fact, the Preface of ACIM (on page x), succinctly states what the whole idea is all about:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herin lies the peace of God.

If you want to experience the ultimate in personal growth, then A Course in Miracles is for you.

#17 – Why Play a Game You Cannot Win?

busting loose from the money game

I know, I know, Busting Loose From The Money Game will be on absolutely no one else’s top 20 personal growth books except for mine. And I’m fine with that. That may be because of its some-would-say cheesy title.

It could also be because it was written by a less-than-famous author, Robert Scheinfeld. Or it just might be because people are not quite ready for the controversial message it conveys. I know I wasn’t.


Busting Loose will turn everything you thought you were sure about in the world, upside down. If you’re ready for that, then go ahead and read this borderline-believable book.

#18 – Way Before The Secret

the nature of personal reality

The Secret (both the book and the movie) were great. Embracing its message is like receiving a high school diploma in the Law of Attraction. But wouldn’t you rather have an MA?

That’s what you’ll get with The Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts. In 1972, Roberts began channeling the voice of Seth (Seth Speaks) and quickly followed that book up with the second coming of Seth in The Nature of Personal Reality.

With all due respect to ‘channeled’ entities, Abraham (Ask and It Is Given) is very, very good… but Seth was probably (or is) one of Abraham’s teachers.

The truth is that most all of the New Age/Law of Attraction household authors that quickly come to mind were profoundly influenced by Roberts and her Seth books.

Because of its editorial style, this is probably not the easiest of personal growth books to read, but it’s more than worth your time.

#19 – A Different Way To Look At The World

mindfulness in plain english

What could be more helpful with personal development and self improvement than purification of the mind? That’s the one-and-only mission of vipassana meditation.

Mindfulness In Plain English, brilliantly written by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (more affectionately called Bhante G) is a guidebook to meditation; a manual on how to purify the mind.

Don’t let the author’s name of origin fool you. The message within Mindfulness In Plain English is clearly communicated and and articulately conveyed, as good or better than any native-speaking English author I’ve ever read.

Seriously, Mindfulness In Plain English is the book you wanna read if you’re serious about establishing a meditation practice. It is way-beyond-thorough with definitive meditative tips and techniques.

Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that a daily meditation practice is the gateway to true personal growth.

#20 – What Was Jesus Really Saying?

the way of mastery

In no way is the numeral order of the books on this list a reflection their importance. If that was the case, The Way of Mastery – Part One: The Way of the Heart would be closer to #1.

Kind of like ACIM, this book is written in the voice of Jesus—or in the case of The Way of Mastery, Jeshua ben Joseph. To be blunt, many people are turned off when they hear the word Jesus as it conjures up thoughts and images of organized religion and theology.

I’m certainly no theologian and tend to look upon organized religion with disdain. But if you look at the actual words that are attributed to Jesus himself, they correlate closely to what other ancient spiritual masters, metaphysicists and modern-day quantum physicists have to say about the inner-workings of the world.

Jesus was not into theology or religion-as-we-know-it either, and he lamented the idea that anyone needed a church to practice spirituality or personal growth. The Way of Mastery conveys his true teachings in a clear and concise manner.

Like ACIM, Abraham and Seth, many people become skeptical when they hear that Jesus’s voice has been channeled or otherwise downloaded via a medium of some sort. I would contend that it doesn’t really matter. Any insights into personal growth, if they truly resonate with you, always have value, no matter where you think they may have come from.

I have not yet read parts two or three of The Way of Mastery (they are separate books in the Kindle Edition), but I plan to soon.

In any case, like the other three so-called channeled books mentioned in this article, I find it extremely difficult to believe that the voice is originating from a source that is an everyday part of this physical world. The enlightened insights that are conveyed just don’t seem like they could possibly have come from anyone conditioned by our current culture.

Are You Serious About Personal Growth?

If you’re sincerely interested in personal growth, then any of these 20 books would be an awesome place to begin your journey. There are also many, many other note-worthy works that would be equally appropriate for you. I have likely read many of them. When it comes to self-help, personal improvement or any area of self improvement, anyplace is a great place to start.

But be warned: once you venture down the personal growth rabbit hole, it will be difficult to turn around and come back out as the same person you were when you went in.

If any of these books have inspired you to pursue personal development further, then you might enjoy reading more personal growth articles. You can find them over here.

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