The 25 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 you've lost 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 some seriously successful people to crucial reminders that it’s OK to take a breath and reset from time to time.

22 Motivational Podcasts to Add to Your Queue When You Need a Little Oomph in Your Day

best motivational books dufu

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.

motivational books bennett

3. F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All Life's Impossible Problems by Michael Bennett MD and Sarah Bennett 

Written by a father-daughter team (Michael is a psychiatrist and Sarah is a comedy writer), this practical guide is actually more of an anti-self-help book. In funny prose, they argue that modern methods for dealing with life’s problems place unrealistic emphasis on resolving feelings. Instead, they suggest putting doing good over feeling good, and not letting negative emotions distract you from living a good life. Their approach is frank and no holds barred—so refreshing.

best motivational books ruiz

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.

best motivational books doyle

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.

motivational books bernstein

5. Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back from Living a Better Life by Gabrielle Bernstein

This best-selling New Thought leader and speaker has come up with a six-step practice that involves replacing negative assessments of others (and yourself) with a sort of Buddhist Lite acceptance. Meditation, a therapy called Emotional Freedom Technique (in which you tap points on your body to re-train yourself toward positive thinking) and prayer add up to a strictly non-denominational, tricky at first but ultimately rewarding method of self-soothing—no credit cards or Chardonnay needed.

best motivational books knight

6. 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.

best motivational books peale

7. 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.

motivational books kaiser

8. The Self-Love Experiment: Fifteen Principles for Becoming More Kind, Compassionate and Accepting of Yourself by Shannon Kaiser

OK, you’re trying to do the things you’re supposed to be doing to be a happier, healthier person (Yoga! Meditation! Eating healthy!) and then the guilt of spending so much time on yourself creeps in. Kaiser is here to show us 15 principles to clear away the clutter and simplify your path to happiness and fulfillment without the self-reproach. (Now go take a bubble bath and enjoy it, dammit.)

best motivational books strayed

9. 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.)

motivational books rhimes

10. 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.

best motivational books hill

11. 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.

best motivational books duckworth

12. 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.

best motivational books bowen

13. 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.

14. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

Here’s all you need to know: “Manson makes the argument, backed by both academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach the lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited. Manson, a self-help author, advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them,” the Amazon synopsis explains. And the nearly 10,000 people who have given this book a five-star review think he’s on to something.

motivational books vanzant

15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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.

best motivational books lenchewski

19. 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.

motivational books ajayi jones

20. 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.”

best motivational books carnegie

21. 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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22. 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).

best motivational books tolle

23. 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).

motivational books sincero

24. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

In chapters like “Your Brain Is Your Bitch,” “Fear Is for Suckers” and “My Subconscious Made Me Do It,” Sincero writes in a conversational, witty tone that actually makes self-improvement sound fun. Seriously, we blew through this guy in an afternoon.

motivational books kabat zinn

25. Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

This enlightening book is basically an intro to mindfulness. (Which, if you’ll remember, is hugely beneficial.) Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts who has studied Zen Buddhism under Thich Nhat Hanh, has a way of simplifying complex topics into digestible lessons that are easy to actually incorporate into your life. (No hour-long meditation required.) One thing that really stuck with us was the idea of non-doing, or letting things unfold the way they will.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...