Build Your Own Personal Development Library

This weekend I’m organizing my ever-growing collection of personal development books and audio programs. A good portion of my home office is taken up by bookshelves, and I’ll be adding another set of shelves today. Even though I donate many books I’ve read, check some out from the library, and keep ebooks in electronic form, I still have a large physical collection to manage.

I first learned about the practice of building a personal development library from Brian Tracy, who recommended it on one of his audio programs. When I was 21 years old, I decided to take his advice and begin building my collection, and I’m glad I did. While reading is a great habit, we forget most of what we read anyway, and life often goes in cycles. I bought a number of books to help give me grow my games business when I started it in 1994. Those same books are now useful to me in building my personal development business. If I didn’t have the books as part of my reference library, I wouldn’t have remembered to apply those ideas.

Brian Tracy recommends marking up each book as you read it. Highlight anything that strikes you as significant. Then you can pick the book up again years later and review all the key points in a matter of minutes. I didn’t do this when I first started, but I wish I had. It’s much faster to review a book when I’ve marked it up with my own notes and highlights.

Building your own personal development library is easy. You can get a cheap 4-shelf bookshelf from an office supply store like Office Depot for about $50, and it will store approximately 150 books. When you buy an empty bookshelf, it will create a void that you’ll want to fill, and slowly but surely you’ll fill it up.

I don’t recommend retaining every book you read. A lot of books aren’t worth keeping. If you’re certain you’ll never refer back to a book again, get rid of it. Give it to someone else, resell it, or donate it. Only keep the books you feel are worthy of your collection.

Why bother to build your own collection? The best personal development books contain solutions to universal human challenges, such as how to overcome procrastination, how to get organized, and how to motivate yourself. Often when I face a new challenge, I recognize that it’s a specific instance of a general pattern whose solution is already known. If I can properly diagnose the general problem, I need only look up the solution. The field of personal development isn’t as exacting as mathematics or computer programming, but there are some solutions that do work well. Most importantly, you want to build a collection of solutions that work for you personally.

Good computer programmers do something very similar — they build up an awareness of algorithms to solve known problems. A large part of programming is figuring out how to define a new problem in such a way that it can be solved with a pre-existing algorithm. For you non-programmers, an algorithm is just a fancy word for a problem-solving method. Think of it like a recipe.

An important lesson novice computer programmers learn is, “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” If a good solution to your problem already exists, just copy the existing solution, and don’t design your own solution from scratch. This assumes your goal is to solve the problem efficiently, not to use it as a learning exercise.

Personal development is the same. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Many people struggle with common problems like procrastination, fear of public speaking, or various addictions. Yet in many cases there are known solutions to these problems that are sitting in books in a local bookstore or library. The challenge of course is finding the right book. It’s not a matter of me telling you what to read because different solutions work for different people. Plus it would be very time consuming because in order to recommend the right book, I’d have to diagnose your problem accurately and that can take some time. People often mis-diagnose themselves when it comes to personal development problems — often what you identify as the problem is merely a symptom of a larger problem. So the ultimate solution is for you to dive in and start reading and experimenting. It’s time consuming, but in the long run it will eventually work.

Save the books whose solutions and ideas actually work for you, and add them to your collection. If they work for you now, they’ll probably still work for you 10 years from now, and you’ll be glad to have those solutions handy when you encounter a similar problem down the road.

Currently I have hundreds of items in my personal development library. I have a small bookshelf within arm’s reach for the books I reference most often. Then I have hundreds of other books, tapes, CDs, and videos on shelves a few steps away. And finally, I have boxes of items archived in my garage. If you think about it, this is very similar to a computer’s memory architecture. My small bookshelf is like my cache memory, the rest of my office shelves are my RAM, and the garage is my hard drive. This weekend I’m going to try to move most of the items from the garage into my office, so I can have faster access to a larger number of items.

For the reasons I already mentioned, I don’t usually recommend specific books unless they’re really good. However, there are some authors I can recommend whose books and audio programs I found valuable. These include:

  • Anthony Robbins
  • Brian Tracy
  • Stephen Covey
  • Deepak Chopra
  • Wayne Dyer
  • Earl Nightingale
  • Denis Waitley
  • Harvey Mackay
  • Jay Abraham
  • Napoleon Hill
  • Dale Carnegie
  • Og Mandino
  • James Redfield
  • Eckhart Tolle

Often when I find an author I like, I’ll read several books by that author in a row, sometimes every book they’ve written. This immerses me in the author’s mindset, and I absorb their philosophy much more deeply. When you read an author’s collected works, you pick up subtleties and nuances that you’d otherwise miss.

Set aside some space in your bedroom, living room, or office, and begin building your own personal development library. If you’re a human being, you’re going to face recurring human problems. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Build your own reference library of solutions that work for you. You’ll be glad you did.