Out of all the mysteries in the world, the most puzzling one is this: our own self. Who am I? Why do I do what I do? What do I want? How come I feel this way? Where do these thoughts come from? What can I do to change this? Questions like these put us on the path to greater self-knowledge, and this list of the best self-awareness books will be helpful guides on your quest.
Books are magic: They enable you to see the world through someone else’s life. And even more importantly, they enable you to see yourself from a different point of view. The best fiction accomplishes this masterfully, and I’ve learned so much about myself by reading the great literature, but there are also non-fiction self-awareness books that will share methods and techniques to improve your awareness.
So here are my recommendations for your reading list:
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
If I had to give you one book to make the next step on your journey to greater self-awareness, it would be this. It’s a highly practical, insightful book that will lead to a better understanding of yourself, how you relate to others, and what brings out the best (and worst) in you.
The Enneagram comes out of Christian tradition, but you don’t have to be Christian or believe in a God to benefit tremendously from this book (I myself am not a Christian).
What we don’t know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others. As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we’re prisoners of our history. We’ll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us. Eventually we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep. We need to wake up.
Best book summary: mine 😉
No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz
Written by the founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), Richard Schwartz has been on a long journey of working with people since the 1980s.
At the core of his book is the idea that we‘re multifaceted people, that we‘re made up of several parts, rather than a mono-mind. When you get to know these different parts of yourself, and better understand the roles they play and their motivations, you‘ll ultimately become a more self-aware person.
This is one of my favorite self-awareness books these days, but I want to warn you: Reading this book won‘t be enough. There‘s a series of exercises in this book, and the magic of the book only unfolds if you actually do the exercises. It’s one of the most powerful books for developing more self-compassion and self-acceptance I’ve come across, but out of all these books, it will also require you to do the most inner work and self-reflection. The more effort you put into this book, the more well-being you’ll get out of it.
Client after client, the same mindfully curious, calm, confident, and often even compassionate part would pop up out of the blue and that part seemed to know how to relate internally in a healing way.
And when they were in that state, I’d ask clients, “Now, what part of you is that?” and they’d say, “That’s not a part like these others, that’s more myself” or “That’s more my core” or “That’s who I really am.”
That’s the part that I call the Self.
And after thousands of hours doing this work, I can say with certainty that the Self is in everybody. Furthermore, the Self cannot be damaged, the Self doesn’t have to develop, and the Self possesses its own wisdom about how to heal internal as well as external relationships.
Best book summary: Eleanor Carey from Post Traumatic Growth Weekly
Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
I absolutely loved the title and core idea of the book. It’s a good read, but didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Holiday defines ego as the petulant child inside every person, and overcoming it is what’s required to master a craft, gain creative insight, and work well with others. The aim of this book is to replace ego with (rock-hard) humility and confidence, and ultimately gain greater self-control. “Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.” (It’s phrases like these where I love Ryan’s writing the most, they just pack a punch of truth in a few hard-hitting words.)
There are plenty of interesting anecdotes from people who have lived interesting lives in this book. But overall, he belabors certain points too much. If you are interested in raising your self-awareness primarily because you want to achieve more, become more effective and successful, then this is a great book, but be aware that it falls a bit short on actionable advice, and practical ways for keeping your ego in check. If you’re looking for deeper inner work or self-discovery in the context of mental health, this book is not quite it.
It’s always nice to be made to feel special or empowered or inspired. But that’s not the aim of this book. Instead, I have tried to arrange these pages so that you might end in the same place I did when I finished writing it: that is, you will think less of yourself. I hope you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and as a result, you will be liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.
Take fighting as an example again, where self-awareness is particularly crucial because opponents are constantly looking to match strength against weakness. If a fighter is not capable of learning and practicing every day, if he is not relentlessly looking for areas of improvement, examining his own shortcomings, and finding new techniques to borrow from peers and opponents, he will be broken down and destroyed. It is not all that different for the rest of us. Are we not fighting for or against something? Do you think you are the only one who hopes to achieve your goal? You can’t possibly believe you’re the only one reaching for that brass ring.
Best book summary: Dan Silvestre
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
One of the all time bestselling self-help books that’s focused on mindfulness and spirituality. Probably the most new-agey book on self-awareness in this list, so if that’s not your jam, don’t read this book (or maybe that’s exactly the book you should be reading).
Tolle had a totally screwed up life, until at age 29 he had a transformative spiritual experience, which can probably best be described as enlightening. The main message of the book is to reconnect with your physical senses rather than always being lost in thought—and physical sensations only happen in the present moment (thus the title).
If you’re the kind of person that’s a semi-neurotic overthinker, The Power of Now could be a great read for you, because Tolle describes his own transformation from being caught in a prison of thoughts to discovering the freedom of being fully present.
Learn to use time in the practical aspects of your life – we may call this ‘clock time’ – but immediately return to present-moment awareness when those practical matters have been dealt with. In this way, there will be no build-up of ‘psychological time,’ which is identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future.
“Instead of ‘watching the thinker,’ you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way, you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation.“
Best book summary: Kyle Kowalski
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
This is a long-time classic and bestselling book that really popularized the idea of emotional intelligence. First published in 1995, it did a great service to counterbalancing the overemphasis on IQ in our society, and made a case for building more social awareness. At the core of this book are what he calls the five key elements of emotional intelligence: Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
The book stays true to its title: It makes a case why being emotionally intelligent is important. What it doesn‘t really do much though is tell you how to become more emotionally intelligent. Considering how big of a read this is, I wouldn‘t necessarily recommend this book if you‘re intent is to become more self-aware. That being said, no list of self-awareness books would be complete without mentioning this book.
Best book summary: what you will learn
Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World by Tasha Eurich
One of the bestsellers in this list that‘s specifically focused on self-awareness, and, according to the New York Times one of the best books on the subject on self-awareness in the workplace. Eurich is a organizational psychologist who also gave one of the most popular TedTalks on the subject. That being said, I‘m not a great fan of this book. It is, in my opinion, mostly a well-crafted pieces of marketing collateral for Eurich‘s speaking and consulting business. You won‘t find much actionable advice in this book on how to increase your self-awareness.
Best book summary: MAA1
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Another book, first published in 1989, that makes it into the list of self-improvement bestsellers, which also goes into the concept of self-awareness.
The ideas in this book have stood the test of time, and even today a person that actually puts these 7 habits into practice will become more effective. Then central idea of this book is: Focus on what you can control, rather than reacting to outside forces. Covey encourages the reader to ask hard questions of yourself (and answer them honestly), and says that we become more self-aware by taking responsibility, which to him means: consciously choosing how we respond to the people and events in our life. Many successful people practice the ideas laid out in this book, either because they learned them from Covey, or because they were naturally wired this way. Ultimately, putting this consistently into practice in your everyday life will lead to greater competence and stronger self-confidence.
The more aware we are of our basic paradigms, maps, or assumptions, and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those paradigms, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view.
Best book summary: Tyler DeVries
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
Psychedelics helped me get to know my true self better. This book, written by well-respected author and journalist (who also wrote the fantastic book The Botany of Desire). If you don’t have experience with psychedelics, or think that they’re just a recreational drug that’s of no use when it comes to mastering self-awareness, this is a great entry point to learn more on the subject.
Pollan not only tells the current state of psychedelic research and use, but actually took psychedelics himself when researching this book (which is, for someone his age who has never dabbled in psychedelics quite remarkable). He tells a fascinating tale of what made him decide to try psychedelics, his concerns and worries before actually doing so, describes his experience while tripping, how he worked the insights gained into his life, and more.
When Huxley speaks of the mind’s reducing valve—the faculty that eliminates as much of the world from our conscious awareness as it lets in—he is talking about the ego. That stingy, vigilant security guard admits only the narrowest bandwidth of reality, a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive. It’s really good at performing all those activities that natural selection values: getting ahead, getting liked and loved, getting fed, getting laid. Keeping us on task, it is a ferocious editor of anything that might distract us from the work at hand, whether that means regulating our access to memories and strong emotions from within or news of the world without.
Alchemy 365: A Self-Awareness Workbook by Brenda Lightfeather Marroy
This is a book on enhancing self-awareness for women, and as a man, I don’t think I have much to say on this. This is a workbook with a story for every day of the year (thus “365”),
The most unique part about this workbook with plenty of self-awareness focused journaling prompts is its 365 stories that you should read throughout the entire year. Brenda Marroy explains how much it matters to free ourselves from society’s influences and search for our inner selves. It’s got a pretty hippie, new age vibe, while also coming across as very authentic. The structure of the book is nice, and what I love the most about it is that it’s really designed to have you take a little step, do a little self-awareness exercise every single day of the year. Everyone can fit this into their day, and simply by being conscious of this theme for a few moments every day of the year will probably have a bigger impact than a lot of books that make a big splash, but where the reader ultimately takes away little and changes little a few weeks after reading.
To move forward into new territory requires having enough light to see the pitfalls, and the willingness to move away from that which does not serve us into that which is life-affirming.
Best book summary: Didn’t find one, but check the authors Facebook page
Buy the book: Amazon
The Art of Talking to Yourself: Self-Awareness Meets the Inner Conversation by Vironika Tugaleva
This book is written to help the readers get to know themselves better. It’s not supposed to be a fix, a cure, but an exploration. It’s not a self-help book, but a self-discovery book. I like the premise of the book, which is: stop over-relying on gurus or coaches or mentors, and find the guru within you, listen to your own inner voice. That said, I don’t think the book has much to offer in terms of practical advice on how to actually do this.
I’ve met a shocking number of people who blindly trust self-help experts and their advice. They don’t think they know any better. I’m hoping this book can be different. Instead of playing guru and giving advice, I want to encourage people to be self-aware and trust themselves.
Best book summary: n/a
Buy the book: Amazon
The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World by Amit Goswami
The core idea of this book is that consciousness is the staff the universe is made out of, rather than physical matter. The author is a retired professor and theoretical quantum physicist. The book was published in 1993, when ideas like these weren’t yet as popular. Honestly, I haven’t read the book—I skimmed through it, and it has a more philosophical approach than practical advice on how to develop more self-awareness.
Self-awareness quote: n/a
Best book summary: n/a
Buy the book: Amazon
Self-Awareness: The Hidden Driver of Success and Satisfaction by Travis Bradberry
Skip this book. This is another marketing collateral camouflaged as a book. The author has his own personality test, which is essentially a variation of the DISC personality test. You can do a DISC test yourself online for free (here for example) and probably learn more about yourself.
Best book summary: n/a
Don’t buy the book, but if you absolutely want to: Amazon
Reading Self-Awareness Books Is Not Enough. You Must Act.
We all know this already, but—being the fallible human beings with are—sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know.
Reading books on self-awareness is great. It’s what fills your mind with knowledge and ideas. But the most important part is the application of that knowledge. When there’s an exercise in a book, really do it. When there’s a question, really ask yourself this question and answer it honestly for yourself. Take time to reflect. Personal growth only happens when you change, and change doesn’t happen as the result of a passive reading experience.
A Better Life Can Be Yours
The better you understand your own emotions and thoughts, the better you become at self-management, the healthier your self-esteem, the more fulfilled your life will be. Living a life that’s a true expression of who you are at your core is probably the most worthwhile thing you can do on this earth.
Remember that it’s a journey that never ends. I like to say that increasing self-awareness is like peeling layers off an onion, with every major insight you gain about yourself, you eventually discover there’s something else undernearth. The difference is that with an onion, there’s a finite number of layers. When it comes to us—we’re made up of infinite layers. No matter where your starting point is, there will always be more puzzling mysteries for you to explore. Sometimes this can feel frustrating: I thought I’m this way, but now it seems like I’m actually THAT way?! That’s why you always want to keep a beginners mind.