The 7 Best Motivational Books of 2021, According to Mental Health Experts

Find your motivation with these inspiring reads

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Our Top Picks
Best for Changing Habits:
Atomic Habits at Amazon
The book's message is simple: start with small changes in order to build towards lasting change over time.
Despite being written over 30 years ago, this book continues to be an important read in the self-help space.
Best for Goal Setting:
The One Thing at Amazon
It focuses on one subject—goal setting—but it does so in a way that helps you prioritize your ambitions.
Best for Setting a Routine:
The Power of Habit at Amazon
The book breaks down the latest scientific research on how habits work and what we can do to change them.
Best for Overcoming Fear:
You Are a Badass at Amazon
An easy-to-read book, this will remind you to show yourself more self-love and care.
Best for People with Anxiety:
Own Your Anxiety at Amazon
Using personal experiences and medical research, the author provides readers with actionable tools to help cope with anxiety.
Best for Different Work Styles:
Work Simply at Amazon
People have different productivity styles, and this book can help you figure out yours.

It is not uncommon for someone to feel a lack of motivation from time to time. Most of us will feel this way at some point in our lives. “A lack of motivation is often an indication that you need to rest, recharge, and re-evaluate how you’re expanding your energy,” says Aisha R. Shabazz, therapist and licensed clinical social worker who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders. “Our global society is very goal-oriented, so I think many people struggle with motivation because they’re exhausted from constantly striving toward doing everything, all the time, at 110%.” 

If you feel a lack of motivation, the good news is that there are a number of tricks you can try to get yourself back on track. One of them is to read a motivational self-help book. “Motivational self-help books can be useful to some people because they can serve as a jump start to someone who needs inspiration to keep going,” says Shabazz. The key is finding the right book.

To help you sort through all the options, here are the best motivational books recommended by mental health experts.

Best for Changing Habits: Atomic Habits

Pros
  • Written by an expert

  • Outlines actionable, small steps towards lasting change

  • Easy to read

  • Non-judgmental

Cons
  • Theory-heavy

  • A longer read

Written by one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, this book distills the latest research on the psychology and science behind forming healthy, sustainable habits. Then, the author gives actionable advice for making small changes in your life, so you can achieve your goals.

His message is simple: start with small, manageable changes in order to build towards lasting change.

What Experts Say

“I would recommend a motivational self-help book to someone who is trying to start a new hobbya book like 'Atomic Habits' by James Clear. It offers a nice boost to keep their motivation going because he breaks down his process of forming good habits and speaks to why habits are formed (or not formed) and how to create new habits and resist old ones.” Aisha R. Shabazz, Therapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders

Best Anecdotal: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Pros
  • Great for readers who feel stuck in old habits

  • 40 million copies sold

Cons
  • Some find the writing preachy and dogmatic

  • Advice is not applicable to all readers

Despite being written over 30 years ago, this book has held up over time and is now known as a classic in the self-help space. It is written to be inspirational and motivating, and it uses real-world examples and anecdotes to distill seven basic tips that you can use in your life to achieve success.

It’s easy to read and, more importantly, easy to learn from.

Best for Goal Setting: The One Thing

Pros
  • Dedicated to goal setting

  • Teaches readers how to focus

  • Uses clear analogies

Cons
  • Specific topic

  • Somewhat repetitive

  • A longer read

If you struggle to find motivation because you’re never sure where to start, this is the book for you. It focuses on one subject—goal setting—but it does so in a way that helps you prioritize your ambitions.

After reading it, you’ll know how to set priorities, get started on tasks, and keep your motivation going until you achieve the outcome you desire. 

Best for Setting a Routine: The Power of Habit

Pros
  • Explains the science of how habits work

  • Gives actionable advice for changing routines

  • Written by an award-winning business reporter

Cons
  • Author is not a psychologist

If you’ve ever tried to create a new routine for yourself, you’re well aware of how difficult that can actually be. New routines are hard to stick to, and before long, we’re slipping back into our old habits.

This book breaks down the latest scientific research on how habits work and what we can do to change them. That way, we can create new routines for our lives and our business.

Best for Overcoming Fear: You Are a Badass

Pros
  • Easy to read

  • Engaging exercises

  • Accessible voice

Cons
  • Could be more empathetic

Don’t let fear get the best of you with this book by Jen Sincero. The book is easy to read and will remind you to show yourself more self-love and care, so you can find the motivation to go after your goals.

Best of all, this book contains some engaging, motivating end-of-chapter exercises that you’ll come back to time and time again.

Best for People with Anxiety: Own Your Anxiety

Pros
  • Based on medical research and personal experience

  • Easy to read

Cons
  • Some advice feels general

The author uses his personal experiences and medical research to provide readers with actionable tools to help cope with their anxiety. His goal is to help readers harness their anxiety and use it to motivate themselves to live a healthier, happier life.

The chapters are short and easy to read. The tone is compassionate.

What Experts Say

“Reading motivational books when you have anxiety can be helpful because you can learn about someone who has been through a similar situation to yours. Maybe they went through something really difficult in life, like a divorce, and they had to find the light in the middle of the darkness. Reading a book about someone who is going through something very challenging can offer help and inspiration and even make you feel grateful for the good things in your life. Motivational books are helpful when you feel hopeless.” Katie Ziskind, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Best for Different Work Styles: Work Simply

Pros
  • Targeted tips aimed at different productivity styles

  • Easy to read

  • Encouraging voice

Cons
  • Promotes signing up for a class

  • A longer read

When it comes to getting motivated, no two people are exactly alike. That’s because, as this author explains, people have different productivity styles—they’re either arrangers, visualizers, planners, or prioritizers. So if you want to get productive and develop better time management, the first step is to figure out what style you are—and this book can help you do that.

What Experts Say

“Motivation and lack thereof looks considerably different for different people—like for those who are neurotypical, neurodivergent, experiencing depression, challenged by focus, attention, and hyperactivity, or experiencing grief and loss. We have to look at the cultural implications of how we are defining motivation and who is defined as motivated and unmotivated.” Aisha R. Shabazz, Therapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders

Final Verdict

Ultimately, the best motivational book is one that speaks to you, your personality, and the issues that are causing you to feel unmotivated. That’s why “Work Simply” by Carson Tate (view at Amazon) is a great book for most readers: it starts by acknowledging that people have different productivity styles, before offering targeted tips for getting productive.

Meanwhile, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear (view at Amazon) will help you better understand the science behind good habits so you can take small—but meaningful—steps towards positive change.

What to Look for in a Motivational Book

Voice

Do you like the way the author writes? Skim a few pages and try to gauge whether their writing style feels relatable and engaging to you. See if they sound empathetic to the struggles you’re experiencing. If you don’t like the writing style, you won’t want to read the book and might give up on it halfway through. 

Author Credentials

Ideally, the author should have some expertise on the topic they’re writing about. This expertise can be academic or personal, but you’ll generally want a book written by someone who has the credentials to write about the psychology of motivation.

“Look for an author that makes you feel empowered,” says Schroeder. “Do a little research. There are self-help books on almost any topic, and finding an author that resonates with you is key.”

Some authors will offer free content on their website or will have done web or podcast interviews. "Look for those interviews, because it can give you a feel for who they are," says Shabazz.

Actionable Advice

Some books will include exercises to help you learn how to implement their motivational tips. This can help guide you to change your habits and outlook. 

“You want to make sure you are being encouraged to take small attainable steps,” says Schroeder. “If your goal is to run a marathon and you currently don’t run, you won’t read this book and suddenly be able to run a marathon. Aim for a book that gives you a goal-setting process.” 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I get motivated?

    To a certain extent, motivation varies from person to person because, as Shabazz explains, "different things cause people to feel motivated or unmotivated.” So the first step is often to look at your individual circumstances and figure out what is holding you back from feeling motivated.

    For example, “in the case of those who experience anxiety in an intense way, I encourage people to consider what is at stake if they don’t take action,” Shabazz says. “It’s a modern version of a pros and cons list but the purpose is to get to the bottom of what’s holding someone back from moving forward.”

    For others getting motivated involves letting go of societal expectations and focusing on doing one thing, every day, that makes them happy. “Do what makes you truly happy, and that is where you will see the motivation increase,” says Schroeder. If you do something that makes you happy first, she continues, you can “fill your cup, and the motivation for other tasks will follow.” 

    The activity that makes you happy doesn’t have to be complicated either: it can be as simple as going for a walk, meeting up with a friend, or taking an hour for self-care. 

    Some people also find motivation in either starting the day with a simple task that they can do quickly—like making the bed or checking an easy item off your to-do list—so that you feel a sense of accomplishment early in your day. 

    Others feel motivated by having a clear plan or routine for the day that allows them to track their progress, like starting out with a regular morning routine that increases productivity, for example.

  • What are the best ways to stay motivated?

    Even if you get motivated to do something, it’s not always easy to stay motivated over time. Here are some tips you can try to sustain your motivation: 

    Be clear on why you’re doing something: “For most tasks that we set out to accomplish, it’s important to determine what the value attached is with getting this project complete,” says Shabazz. Focus on why you’re doing something and what you’ll get out of it when the task is complete. 

    Don’t bite off more than you can chew: This is especially important if you start a new hobby or project. “Break your project into small attainable steps,” says Schroeder. “If you are starting to feel overwhelmed by a step in the process, break that down into more manageable chunks. Be realistic with yourself and the time you give yourself to complete these goals.”

    Surround yourself with supportive or motivated people: People cheering you on to accomplish your goals will keep you motivated. 

    It can also be helpful to be around other ambitious people that are motivated to go after their goals because you might get inspired by their passion. 

    Just make sure those people aren’t too competitive or negative. If they are too competitive and unsupportive of your goals, it could lead you to compare yourself or feel less accomplished, which could begin to affect your self-esteem and your follow-through. 

    Keep learning: This is where self-help books can play a role. Learning about new things and new ways to pursue your goals can be extremely motivating. 

    Give yourself breaks: “Motivation often ebbs and flows, so it is important to give yourself grace in times you don’t have as much,” says Schroeder. “That way you are able to capitalize on the motivation when it is at a high.”

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