Updated: Dec 6, 2020
The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
Personally, I enjoy reading to learn, and tend to pick up books on subjects I'm either curious about, or areas I would like to improve in, which is why this list is entirely composed of non-fiction books. Although individually these books have inspired me, shifted my paradigms, taught me new skills, strengthened my mindset, or just shown me how to be a better human being, it can often be an accumulation of knowledge from different sources that has the greatest benefit. Choosing to read about a diverse range of subjects helps us make better sense of the world, see things better from other points-of-view, and fosters creativity.
I hope that this list inspires you to read some of the books listed, or choose some of your own that will help you change your life for the better too.
For the purposes of this blog, I’m excluding text books from classes or courses I’ve taken - although the learnings from many of them have certainly helped to shape my life - and sticking with books (including audio books) that I have chosen myself. Enjoy!
Joe Weider's Bodybuilding System - Joe Weider
I was a lanky teenager (about 14 years old) when I first lifted this out of the bookshelf at my parents house. It came free with a weights bench my dad had bought several years earlier, and after reading it I was inspired to dust it off and start studying how to put some muscle on my skeleton.
About three pages into the book (which came with giant posters of anatomical illustrations labelled with the names of the muscles) was a photo of Hollywood stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk before the days of CGI) being presented with winners medals by the author at a bodybuilding competition. The rest of the book was filled with stories of body transformations, details of the health benefits of weight training, and example workouts to build muscles like the 'superstar bodybuilders' pictured throughout.
Not only did it inspire and teach me the fundamentals of how to get in shape, it gave me a much broader interest in human health, a subject that I still take both a personal and professional interest in today. It's also what really turned me into a fan of Schwarzenegger, whose autobiography would inspire and influence me many years later.
Although this book got me lifting weights in my early teens, it wasn't until my early 20s when I really started to transform my physique. It was then that people started noticing my appearance and asking me for fitness advice or to train with me. This was a big confidence boost I'll admit, but it was also the first time I realised that I could inspire others with my own actions and when we are inspired and take action, it has a ripple effect onto others.
Web Sites for Dummies (Do-it-yourself) - Janine Warner
The most practical book on this list, and one that is more significant for me personally than any kind of recommendation. Not only was it the first time post-University that I set out to learn a new skill on my own, what I learnt in this book opened new doors for me, changed the trajectory of my career, and gave me my first taste of running my own business by working as a freelancer.
Before the real advent of WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) or drag and drop cloud-based website software such as WIX (on which this website was created) even very basic websites were quite complicated for the average person to design and put live on the internet.
As a graphic designer, my college and university education was focused entirely on design for print, but on entering the industry in 2008 – around the time of the financial crash – small businesses realised that they needed to be online to survive, and everyone wanted a website. When the marketing agency where I was working began to struggle, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I walked into Waterstones book shop one Saturday afternoon and spent almost £200 on half a dozen books about web site design, coding and software – starting with this one.
A lot of the skills I learnt in this book are now becoming obsolete because there are so many tools enabling businesses to easily build quality websites themselves, but this in itself has taught me a valuable lesson about the need to stay ahead of the curve, always be learning and able to re-invent yourself. In a world where disruptive technology is both our ally and our competitor, agility is a game-changer!
Rich Dad Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki
When I discovered audio books, it drastically increased the amount of books I can consume, since I can listen while walking or doing other tasks that require low concentration, and I began actively seek out book recommendations. I came across Rich Dad Poor Dad in lists of business and personal development books on blogs and YouTube videos enough times for me to sit up and take note, so decided to make it one of my first Audible downloads. I'm very glad I did! Every chapter was like the unveiling of a magician's secrets – one with a magic money tree, that is. As I listened on my daily commute, I found myself literally stopping in the street to take notes.
Kiyosaki tells his story of growing up observing two dads (his own father and his best friend’s) and their different mindsets when it came to money. The story rang true to my own experience of people I know, and put a fresh perspective on them for me.
Rich Dad Poor Dad was introduction to the concepts of passive income and financial freedom, and gave me new insight into savings, debt, leverage, inflation, and the real difference between assets and liabilities: Stuff that you just don't get taught as school.
It changed how I think about money, how I spend it, how I invest it, and how I can use it to create value and opportunity for others as well as myself. But most of all, it was one of the catalysts that led to starting up in the property business.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R Covey
If everybody in the world practiced the habits in this book, it would be a far better place. The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People is probably the book I have recommended to others more times than anything else. These really are ‘Powerful lessons in personal growth’, addressing how we conduct and take care of ourselves, and understand and behave towards others. It’s one of the few books I've read multiple times and it has become a set of guidelines that I refer to continually and try to live by (with varying degrees of success).
All seven habits contain important lessons and advice, but there are two in particular that I would highlight as having the most impact on me: The first, 'seek first to understand and then to be understood'. In a time when so many people seem divided, Covey’s book opened my mind to understanding others points of view, and to looking inward to my own thinking and actions before blaming others or trying to get them to change. He reminded me that we all see the world through different lenses, but it is through listening and understanding, not judging and prescribing, that we are able to grow.
The other is 'think win-win'. Success doesn’t need to come at the cost of others. In any form of interaction or transaction, most people aim to get the upper hand. But I learned through this book that thinking 'win-win' means looking for outcomes that work for everyone, which is achieved through understanding and creative thinking. It something that I have taken into my personal and professional life and is one of the principal values at betterplace.
Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker
For someone like myself, who pays close attention to my diet and exercise and considers themselves "healthy", its perhaps surprising that I neglected such a crucial piece of the puzzle until recently.
Until reading this, I was not fully aware of how sleep has such an affect on the brain, blood pressure and the immune system, and that sleep deprivation is linked to various types of cancer, dementia, Alzheimer's, obesity and various other serious health conditions.
There are a lot of mixed messages out there when it comes to sleep. Whether true or not, I've heard some of the world's most successful individuals sleep only a few hours a night, and like many aspirational people, I would try to emulate this by squeezing every possible waking hour out of the day to 'make time' for things I needed to do.
"Sleep faster!" says Arnold Schwarzenegger in his famous inspirational speech to University of California graduates about the 6 rules for success, while many self-help books frequently advocate rising earlier and earlier (Miracle Morning, The 5am Club). In fact, it took for this book to be recommended by Bill Gates for me to decide to read it.
What it taught me was, rather than inhibiting our ability to get more done, getting enough quality sleep actually enhances our ability to do things better – enhancing your creativity, emotional intelligence, concentration and memory. Getting a proper night's sleep is therefore tantamount to working smarter, rather than just working harder. While to date I can only say that this has made me change my routine, I expect the full benefit to be life changing in the long term too. So on that note, I‘ll close by wishing you a good night and sweet dreams!
What books have you read that changed your life? Let us know in the comments below.