The 20 Best Motivational Books (That Aren't Cheesy as Hell)

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Maybe you’re in between jobs and feeling a little stuck. Maybe the pandemic has totally zapped your sense of purpose and drive. Either way, you’re in need of some inspiration. Now’s the perfect time, then, to dive into one of the best motivational books, from decades-old bestsellers beloved by the world’s most successful people to crucial reminders that it’s OK to take a breath and reset from time to time.

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1. Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by Tiffany Dufu

Do you ever feel so overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks that you’re tempted to just say “screw it” and take a sick day? Tiffany Dufu has been there—and she maintains women truly can have it all (a loving family, a high-power job, a gorgeous wardrobe and relaxing downtime included) by “dropping the ball” on things they don’t find enjoyable or don’t contribute to their larger purpose. So go ahead, let that laundry pile up on the bedroom floor. You have some very important yoga to do.

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2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

In this 1989 international bestseller, Covey presents an approach to being effective in reaching your goals by aligning yourself to what he calls "true north" principles, which are based on a character ethic that he presents as universal and timeless. Since its initial publication it’s sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, so there’s gotta be something you’ll take away from it.

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3. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Based on ancient Toltec wisdom (a pre-Colombian Mesoamerican culture), The Four Agreements purports to offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, happiness and love. According to Ruiz, everything we do is based on agreements we have made with ourselves, with others, with God and with life itself. In these agreements, Ruiz argues, people tell themselves who they are, how to behave, what is possible and what is impossible.

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4. Untamed by Glennon Doyle

The latest book from bestselling author, mom and speaker Doyle is equal parts intimate memoir and wake-up call. It’s the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. Doyle writes about navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and learning to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries and unleash our truest, wildest selves.

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5. The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

Riffing on the title of Marie Kondo’s smash-hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Knight’s book is all about the art of caring less and getting more. She hilariously lays out rules for ridding yourself of unwanted obligations without feeling guilty, steps for decluttering your mind and tips for channeling your energy toward things that actually matter. The New York Times Book Review called it “the self-help equivalent of a Weird Al parody song,” and we couldn’t agree more.

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6. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

With more than five million copies in print, The Power of Positive Thinking has, since 1952, sought to help readers achieve fulfillment in their lives. The book outlines practical techniques designed to energize your life and give yourself the initiative needed to carry out your ambitions and hopes. Lessons include how to believe in yourself and in everything you do, how to improve your personal and professional relationships and how to break the worry habit and achieve a relaxed life.

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7. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Strayed’s popular advice column (and subsequent podcast) Dear Sugar is officially retired, but her sweet words live on in Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection her best, most heartfelt wisdom. Strayed’s patient, sympathetic guidance is like a hug from your best friend. (Well, if your BFF were extremely smart and absolutely incredible with words.)

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8. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun And Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is an absolute badass. In addition to creating, writing and producing Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and producing How to Get Away with Murder, Rhimes is the best-selling author of an incredible memoir jam-packed with life advice. While poignantly and humorously chronicling her childhood and rise to success, Rhimes dishes out tips for achieving your goals (especially if you, like her, are an introvert). Let’s face it: It’s Shondaland, and we’re just living in it—happily.

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9. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Originally published in 1937, Hill draws on stories of Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and other millionaires of his generation to illustrate the principles he sees as keys to acquiring wealth. In this updated version, author and lecturer Arthur R. Pell interweaves anecdotes of how contemporary millionaires and billionaires (like Bill Gates and Mary Kay Ash) achieved their wealth.

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10. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

When Angela Duckworth was a child, her scientist father frequently noted her lack of "genius." Now a celebrated researcher and professor, she draws on her stints in teaching, business consulting and neuroscience to hypothesize about what really drives success: not genius, but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance. In Grit, she explains fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. She also shares what she's learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers, including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.

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11. A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen

We, like most people, complain. A lot. Usually about unimportant or petty things. In this incredibly useful book, Will Bowen explains why we do it and why it's destructive. (Hint: When we complain, we focus on the negative instead of actually proposing change.) Not gonna say we never get annoyed anymore, but we’re much more aware of our motives and expectations when lamenting the fact that the waiter forgot to put our dressing on the side.

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12. Get Over It!: Thought Therapy for Healing the Hard Stuff by Iyanla Vanzant

This Oprah-endorsed spiritual life coach helps both fearful people who’ve been worn down by life and angry people stuck in their righteous outrage. “What. If. The. Problem. Is…You?” she asks, meaning that it’s our attitudes, not circumstances, that determine whether or not we live a happy and fulfilled life. Vanzant deploys “thought therapy” exercises, a combination of spiritual tools and the science of neuroplasticity, to eliminate dominant negative thought patterns and emotional energies.

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13. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget that the things weighing on us—deadlines at work, arguments with our spouse about recycling duty—really aren’t that important in the long run. That’s where Richard Carlson’s big-picture message comes in. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is an excellent reminder to put things into perspective and live in the moment, without making you feel like you’re being petty (even if you are).

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14. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

You know and love Eat, Pray, Love, which is why you should absolutely read Gilbert’s most recent book—it manages to be inspirational and empowering without being too sugary sweet. In it, she does a deep dive into her own creative process to share the things she’s learned as a writer, as well as general advice on how to live your most creative life. Gilbert’s passion jumps off the page, and Big Magic is a positive and sunny read.

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15. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by William H. McRaven

You’re busy, so a revamp of your entire life probably isn’t in the cards right now. That’s why we appreciate the simplistic approach of this guide. Each chapter outlines a theme like “Life’s Not Fair, Drive On!” and “Never, Ever Quit!” (Can you tell it was written by a Navy SEAL?) We’re extremely here for the lack of sugarcoating in these pages.

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16. The Food Therapist by Shira Lenchewski

Trust issues, people-pleasing, fear of the mundane, control issues: These are not just topics that affect your psyche; they’re affecting your diet (and, by extension, your energy level, appearance and long-term health). The Los Angeles dietitian and author has learned, after working with clients, that only by untangling core issues people have with food can they begin a healthy (and non-anxiety-ridden) eating pattern.

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17. Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones

There’s a strong chance you know Ajayi Jones from her witty Instagram, her previous New York Times bestseller or her incredible TED talk. Add to the list: Her new book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual. Ajayi Jones says, “It is the book that I believe I needed 10 years ago when I was afraid to call myself a writer. It's the book that I need now. I usually like to write the books that I want to read…and I know that if it's useful for me, somebody else will find value in it.”

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18. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This book has been a hit since it was first published in 1936, and people are still reading it. If you’re looking to get smart about your interactions with your coworkers, friends and even neighbors, Carnegie’s here to help. He draws on the interpersonal strategies of successful people throughout history to give you tips that’ll help you succeed at work (and also in life).

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19. How to Be Fine by Jolenta Greenberg And Kristen Meinzer

Well, this is meta. In their podcast By the Book, Greenberg and Meinzer do a deep dive of one popular self-help book every week and apply the advice to their lives—here, they talk about what advice worked (learning to declutter) and what didn’t (becoming a morning person, ha).

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20. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Existential types, this one’s for you. We’ll try not to blow your minds here, but for the uninitiated, Tolle’s book is an exploration of consciousness—he proposes that the only thing that’s real is this present moment. When you focus on the past and the future, that’s just your brain trying to play tricks on you. We’ll let you sit with that for a second (and if it sounds intriguing, give it a read).