- Expand Your Perspective with these Self Discovery Books
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger
- The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe
- How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- Educated by Tara Westover
Books are a great way to help you gain a broader perspective. And as you embark on your own journey of self discovery, it can be helpful to learn from the journeys that others have taken.
There are dozens of excellent memoirs published every year in which authors describe their path to self discovery. And I’ve always found that reading others stories has given me new insight into my own.
Expand Your Perspective with these Self Discovery Books
Novels like Eat, Pray, Love and Wild are prominent examples of self discovery books in which a protagonist sets out on a life-defining journey and comes out on the other side having discovered a truth about herself that would have been impossible to see otherwise.
Here I’ve gathered some of my favorite stories of self discovery, each unique in its own way. If you’re looking for some inspiration to guide you on your journey, look no further than these outstanding self discovery books.
This first choice is arguably more of a book on self improvement than it is on self discovery. James Clear is the author of a very successful blog on building habits, being productivity, and optimizing your approach to getting through life.
In Atomic Habits Clear compiles years of research and experience with effective habit-building into a comprehensive guide. Unlike most of the other books on this list, Atomic Habits is less an account of the author’s journey of self discovery—though there are certainly elements of that sprinkled throughout—than it is an instruction manual on how to make sustained, positive change happen in your life.
Clear has a gift for boiling abstract concepts into simple, easy-to-understand steps. This is the kind of book that is useful from the moment you pick it up. He walks you step-by-step through the process of creating a richer life by building good habits and ending bad ones. It’s the kind of book you’ll come back to regularly, each redading providing more perspective and insight on truly actionable methods for effective habit-building.
Brené Brown is a lecturer and author who rose to prominence after an outstanding TEDxHouston talk about the power of vulnerability. Brown’s research centers around shame, vulnerability, and other emotions that hold us back from living wholeheartedly and achieving our full potential.
In Daring Greatly, she she explains the power that we gain by stepping into our vulnerability and how we can come out stronger and more resilient because of it. Brown’s tested frameworks and down-to-earth style make this a powerful read that you’ll want to return to again and again.
IF YOU’RE INTO AUDIOBOOKS, I RECOMMEND PICKING UP BROWN’S RECORDED LECTURE SERIES, THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY, ON AUDIBLE. BROWN IS A FANTASTIC SPEAKER, AND HER STORYTELLING REALLY COMES TO LIFE IN FRONT OF A LIVE AUDIENCE.
Viktor Frankl was a rising star in the European psychiatric community when he was captured by the Nazis in 1942. Between 1942 and 1945, Frankl was moved between four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The Holocaust exposed him to atrocities that no human being should have to experience. Remarkably, Frankl survived his incarceration, and released Man’s Search for Meaning in 1946.
Part memoir and part research paper, Man’s Search for Meaning presents a raw and unapologetic view of the needless, horrific suffering that took place at the hands of the Nazis. His background in psychiatry adds profound perspective to the account, which he synthesizes into a school of psychotherapy known as logotherapy. The second half of the book covers logotherapy in detail. Its name is based off the latin term logos, or reason, and it posits that the primary motivating force within an individual is her search for meaning in life. A truly profound topic for anyone on a journey of self discovery.
Edith Eger was a talented childhood gymnast with Olympic ambitions when she was captured by the Nazis in 1944. What follows is a heartbreaking retelling of some of the darkest experiences any human being has had to endure. And still, Dr. Eger is able to find the light in the darkness and move forward.
Similar to Viktor Frankl, Eger was one of a very small number of Jews who actually survived the Holocaust and went on to live a life after. Her life story is truly a miraculous one, becoming a mother at a young age, foregoing all of her wealth to relocate to the United States, reinventing herself again and again, and finally channeling her suffering toward the benefit of others as a psychologist.
The Choice is a story about strength, about overcoming the societal limitations of age, racism, xenophobia, poverty, and abuse to find beauty and profundity in life and its struggles. It’s a beautiful novel and an inspiration for anyone looking to discover who they truly are inside.
If you’ve ever been interested in meditation (even if you haven’t), chances are you’ve heard of Headspace. Created by former Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe, Headspace is one of the most popular meditation apps available today. It’s been downloaded over 62 million times and has over 2 million paid subscribers (myself included).
The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness is part-memoir, part-manifesto. It is Puddicombe’s treatise on the value of mindfulness and the practice of meditation as a means of achieving it. Mindfulness is critical to living a balanced, present life.
In this book, Puddicombe shares the fascinating story of his experience foregoing his traditional studies and leaving behind his “normal” life in the UK to pursue meditation full time in a monastery on the other side of the world. In doing so, he not only discovers who he truly is, he discovers a practice that will keep him centered and focused for the rest of his life.
Puddicombe uses anecdotes from his journeys to explain the purpose and rationale behind different types of meditation techniques. Of course, meditation is really better experienced than explained, so the book is sprinkled with exercises that encourage you to set the book down and practice different aspects of meditation individually before putting them all together.
Meditation is an extremely useful tool in cultivating a more mindful and centered life. It’s also an incredibly powerful way to fast track your self-discovery journey.
Michael Pollan is most widely known as the bestselling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an exploration into our food choices as humans and the impact they have on our continued survival as a species. How to Change Your Mind is similarly an exploration into substances that humans consume—except these substances are of a decidedly different variety than the produce and processed foods you’ll find in your local grocery store.
Pollan provides a deep, historical explanation of the history of psychedelic drugs, their use in a therapeutic context, and their demonization as a result of abuse and political posturing. He also chronicles his own personal journey of self discovery through psychedelics, which he only tried for the first time in his 60s—proof that it’s never too late to change the story of your life.
You might think this is an unusual choice for a list of self discovery books, but How to Change Your Mind is the best example there is of a research-backed exploration into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. Pollan relates stories of minds that have been opened, lives that have been changed, and addictions that have been ended by LSD.
While this particular use case might not be at the top of your list for self discovery, the research here is fascinating and opens the mind to the possibilities of the things we might be able to learn that lie just beyond the limits of our consciousness.
Born a Crime is the memoir of Trevor Noah, comedian and host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central. Born into apartheid South Africa, Noah’s mixed race background made his very existence illegal under the laws of the country at the time. A funny, honest, and frankly remarkable story, Born a Crime provides an intimate retelling of how a kid, born into inconceivable, state-induced poverty and persecution, was able to navigate the twists and turns of life and make it to America where he found massive commercial success.
Noah’s prose is extremely well-told. If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend picking up the Audible version. Noah himself is the narrator, and he breathes life and humor into his in a way that only he can achieve.
Tara Westover was the youngest of 7 children raised by Mormon survivalist parents in the mountains of Idaho. Westover and her brothers and sisters were never enrolled in school, never taken to see a doctor or a dentist. Still, Westover managed to emerge from this upbringing, earning a doctorate in intellectual history from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.
The story of how she got there is really outstanding. A story about the pursuit of one’s innermost beliefs, even when those beliefs are not supported by one’s family. It’s a beautifully written account of the complex relationship between parents who believe they’re doing the right thing for their children, and a child who knows her parents will never support her in her pursuit of her dreams—and then pursues them anyway.
Everyone’s journey of self discovery is different. Listed here are some remarkable stories of people with the bravery to embrace life’s challenges and the dedication to put in the work required to overcome them. Reading others’ stories of self discovery is a great way to gain perspective on your own, no matter how different they might be. Each of these people have created their own life outstanding. When will you be writing yours?