I love reading. From the time I was a little kid, my favorite hobby has always been reading. I entered a reading competition as my “activity of choice” one summer; I used to build pretend forts in my living room and read the day away. Reading, to me, is relaxation, growth, escape, presence (and yes, I realize those words are an interesting – but true to me – contradiction).
Usually, these days, I’ll alternate between personal development, business / entrepreneurship, and health / nutrition, so I get an equal balance of the three categories. I also read novels at night to help me unwind from the day and fall asleep. But, 2020 was … different … for most of us, and so I heavily skewed towards personal development. Some of the books on this list got me through tough times feeling grateful, grounded, inspired, and present. If there’s a category to focus on below, it’s this one. But, I’ve also included some health books, business books, and novels, in case you’d like to dive into those categories! Enjoy!
Best Personal Development Books for 2021
- Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. My most recommended book of 2020, and one that changed how I start every day (because I added an affirmation from the author to my own affirmations). Kamal Ravikant is a former CEO who went through burnout, hit rock bottom, and pulled himself back up by loving himself. Yep, it’s as cheesy as it sounds, because it WORKS. He makes it feel a lot less cheesy, and wraps in even skeptics to the whole “self-love” thing. If you struggle with your own self-talk, READ. THIS. BOOK.
- Good Morning, I Love You. A verrry close second on my recommendation list. It’s basically the same as #1, but written in a more feminine and soft tone complimented with plenty of scientific research to back it up. Shauna Shapiro, the author, teaches us how to rewire our brains for positivity, clarity, and joy through simple practices that actually work.
- Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being. Shawn Achor is one of my favorite authors and a fellow Harvard grad. In this book, he teaches how we’re striving all wrong, and it’s causing us to be stressed and disconnected. He offers the SEEDS of Big Potential – mainly aimed around how we connect to others – and encourages us to increase the ceilings we put on our own potential.
- Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. If you ever wondered what it would be like to have me as your coach, in Paris, with access to the Louevre, Jean Paul Gaultiere, and ferris wheels (I mean, obviously you’ve wondered that!), this book lays it out exactly. It’s a novel, but the lessons the Claude (the coach) teaches Camille (the student) are applicable to every single human life. If you want a light-hearted way to self-reflect, pick this one up!
- It Takes What It Takes. With the foreward written by former NFL star Russell Willson, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, but Trevor Moawad, author of the book and mental conditioning coach to many sports heroes, blew me away. If “positive thinking” is a bit fluffy for you, you’ll want to hear Moawad’s take on “neutral thinking” as a way to reframe the negativity that floods into most of our brains regularly.
Honorable Mentions: Best Personal Development Books for 2021
- Super Attractor. I have been and always will be a Gabrielle Bernstein fan, so I loved this book on how to create a better future for yourself, but if talks of “angel signs” and “manifesting” are too woo-woo for you, skip this one. For me, Bernstein’s (written) voice is soothing, inspiring, and motivational.
- Untamed. If you ever feel like “wow, my life is a chaotic disaster and I want to love it … and myself … anyway,” this book is for you! Told in short stories of a few pages each, it’s an easy read, and Glennon Doyle (who is amazing on Instagram!) is a captivating and fun story teller.
- Brave, Not Perfect. Perfectionists, listen up! Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code and author of this book, not only tells her story in an artful and compelling way, but also helps readers realize how their perfectionism is a disservice to their success. I needed to hear this, and if you do, too, pick it up!
- The Feel Good Effect. This book is visually stunning, and the bright colors on the cover are felt through every word on the page. Author Robyn Conley Downs breaks wellness habits down into incredibly simple bits that we can all adopt. My favorite line, “gentle is the new perfect” is one I won’t forget.
- Own Your Everyday: Overcome the Pressure to Prove and Show Up for What You Were Made is very similar to The Feel Good Effect above. Author Jordan Lee Dooley is vulnerable about her own journey, and relatable in helping you realize that whatever your struggle, you are not alone. If you’re new to personal development, I highly recommend this one!
Honorable Honorable Mention: Best Personal Development Books of 2021 (because I told myself I’d choose just 5 … then just 10 … but I can’t leave these two out!)
- Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day. I just adore Jay Shetty, a former monk and host of the #1 podcast in the world, and his lessons always hit home. Because I listen to nearly every podcast episode, I didn’t learn anything new in the book, but if you aren’t going to be an avid podcast fan, check this one out for tips on how to train your mind to make life a bit smoother and more pleasant.
- On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. Author Jennifer Pastiloff was nearly deaf, experiencing agonizing grief of her father, struggling deeply with body image and self-worth … and emerged as a peaceful, self-loving yoga teacher. Her book tells this story in a way that will make you laugh, cry, and
Best Health Books to Read in 2021
- High Performance Habits. Like Jay Shetty, I listen to nearly every one of Brendon Burchard’s podcast episodes, so I didn’t learn much new information here. But if you don’t listen to his podcast, this book breaks down the most critical habits in each of his 6 pillars (seek clarity, generate energy, raise necessity, increase productivity, develop influence, and demonstrate courage), and leaves you feeling inspired. There’s a reason Oprah calls on him as a co-creator, and it’s because he’s great at painting a picture of the message he wants to convey.
- In the FLO: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage. If you’ve always thought of your menstrual period as “a pain in the neck that comes once a month” and that’s it, your mind is about to be blown. Author Alisa Vitti uncovers SO much information about how women’s bodies change monthly, and how everything (including productivity, weight, sex drive, energy, mood, food intake needs, exercise needs, and so much more) fluctuates throughout the month.
- Superlife: The 5 Simple Fixes That Will Make You Healthy, Fit, and Eternally Awesome. If you’re a nutrition professional, you might not need this book, but if you’re not, Superlife does a great job at illuminating the important stuff and leaving the rest out. I’m not aligned with his strong bent towards full-on vegetarianism / veganism (see this post for a bit on why), but the rest of what he teaches – from increasing vegetables to minimizing processed foods to increasing superfoods to alkalinizing your body – is great information.
Best Business Books to Read in 2021
OK, I’ll be honest, the 7 business books I read this year were just not my favorite of all times. Maybe (definitely!) I was more on auto-pilot mode and struggling to keep everything afloat in 2020 (spoiler: it turned out great!), so my heart wasn’t in these books, but I just didn’t find them that inspiring. I’ll give my top 2, then the 5 others I read below.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers. Author Ben Horowitz does a great job of giving insight into some truly tough decisions he had to make in his various business roles, and teaching us that we can do hard things. It’s a bit heavier on his story and lighter on how to apply it to our own lives, though.
- What it Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence. As Blackstone’s co-founder, former Chairman and CEO, author Stephen A. Schwarzman has a lot of lessons to share. Like the above, it’s inspiring to hear his story, but unless you’re in the investment world, it’s slightly lighter on take-home applications.
- Other books I read:
- The Infinite Game: I love Simon Sinek; this one just wasn’t my favorite.
- Trillion Dollar Coach: some interesting coaching lessons, but nothing earth-shattering.
- Life’s Great Question: Discover How You Contribute to The World: a quiz-style book like StrengthsFinder 2.0, which is valuable, but again, nothing earth-shattering for me.
- Million Dollar Women: most of author Julia Pimsleur’s business-growth strategies seemed pretty elementary to me, but she’s doing great, so it was likely me that wasn’t in the right space to learn from this book.
- Necessary Endings: pretty uninspiring for me personally, but you can’t beat Dr. Henry Cloud’s psychology and leadership background.
Best Novels to Read in 2021
I’ll preface this by saying I love reading easy-read novels. Not complete beach reads, but also not brilliant works of literature … I’m using these to unwind from the day and fall asleep, after all. I like to feel transported into another world, get wrapped up in the story, smile, feel a variety of emotions, but not be gripped by suspense or fear. A few of my favorite authors for night-time reads are Kristin Hannah, Jodi Picoult, and Catherine Ryan Hyde. If these are your type of books, I highly recommend all of the below (in order of how I read them chronologically):
- Cutting for Stone
- Fly Away
- Normal People
- The Dressmaker’s Gift
- Night Road
- A Song Below Water
- Small Great Things
- Brave Girl, Quite Girl
- The Silent Daughter
- The Lost Girls of Devon
- One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow
Now it’s your turn … What was your favorite book of 2020? Which of these (or which other books) are you excited to read in 2021?