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Inspirational Books To Motivate You

Updated on March 16, 2012

Inspirational Books to Motivate Personal Change

I have always been a reader. Books have been my friends, my teachers, my companions. Prior to the Internet, I turned to my books for entertainment, consolation, advice, and inspiration. Here is my list of inspirational and motivational books that have become near and dear to me over the past twenty-five years. Some are biographical, some are spiritual, but each and every one of them has either lifted me when I am in despair, motivated me when I feel too tired to continue on the path I have set for myself, or helped me to come to a decision or to re-affirm one I am questioning. The individuals who are the subjects or the writers of these works are as varied as the times and places of their lives, but they are all people of great inner strength, and their stories and ideas give me hope and peace.


The Bible

I was introduced to the Bible in my early twenties. One day I was flipping between television channels and happened across 100 Huntley Street, a long-running Canadian Christian daily show. The host mentioned a good introductory Bible known as the New International Version, written in today's language. I decided to head out to my nearest bookstore and bought one.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey

Both The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families have had a significant impact on the way I conduct my work life and my family life. I first read these books in the early nineties when I was a young single mother juggling two small children and a full time university courseload, and trying to decide on a career. The first book really helped me prioritize my responsibilities, commitments, priorities, and desires as a student, then an employee, and as a mother. The second book helped me focus my goals and activities for our small family, and provided structure and decision-making steps as I raised my boys.

The Power of Positive Thinking - Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale was a name I had not heard of until I was in university. As a mature student, I often studied in the OTAS lounge (I'm not kidding, it stands for Older Than Average Student!!!) where I found a dog-eared copy of The Power of Positive Thinking. Though I was baptized Catholic, I had not been raised with any form of organized religion, and was not particularly well-versed in the Bible. This book appeared on the beat-up coffee table in the lounge on a day when I was at my wit's end dealing with a five-year-old with the chicken pox, a delay in my student loan advance, and studying for a calculus mid-term and a statistics mid-term. I read it from start to finish in one day, and found myself refreshed, and surprisingly rejuvenated. Until this point I had not thought to look for strength or faith in anything other than myself, as I was of the belief that to do so was to admit weakness, and I couldn't admit weakness no matter what. I followed the exercises at the end of each chapter, bought a Bible (and my own copy of The Power of Positive Thinking )when my student loan finally came through, and found solace and hope each time I opened the pages. I had never seen the words "faith as a grain of mustard seed" nor "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me", and these phrases resonated and soothed me for years to come.

Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela's autobiography published in 1995. Detailing his life from birth to his election as President of South Africa, I was introduced to this inspiring book over the Christmas holidays in 1998.  In between sipping egg nog, baking Christmas cookies with the kids,stockings, Christmas dinners and visits to (and from) Santa Claus, I would read a few pages or chapters whenever I could.  Years later when we went to see the movie Invictas I was reminded of that winter, when Mandela's description of how he chose to respond to his twenty-seven years of imprisonment on Robben Island captured my attention.  In addition to enjoying the narrative of a very interesting and challenging life, this was the first time that I had read (or heard) of the idea that we are each masters of our emotions, and that the freedom to choose our response is within each of us. 

The Path to Freedom: Freedom in Exile and Ancient Wisdom, Modern World, His Holiness The Dalai Lama

My second son chose this book as our "read aloud" book when he was eight years old. He had seen a program on the process of how the Dalai Lama is chosen as leader of Tibet, and was fascinated by the concept, so different to how leaders come to power in western society. We read about the Dalai Lama's daily life as a young boy, and the struggles he faced as a young leader of a people banished from their homeland. We were both inspired by the Buddhist commitment to peaceful living and respecting the natural world, the discipline and daily routine including meditation and physical activity. The Path To Freedom includes the autobiographical Freedom in Exile, and Ancient Wisdom, Modern World, where His Holiness The Dalai Lama discusses the application of Buddhist theory to modern day ills. (The books are also available separately). My son and I found his writings humorous and fascinating and enjoyed reading about the similarities and the differences between eastern and western society, and between Christianity and Buddhism.  We were both inspired by his singular vision, personal principles, and commitment to the Tibetan people.

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle became an overnight sensation when Oprah Winfrey became a fan of his book The Power of Now. It came highly recommended by three individuals I know who each have a particularly calm and peaceful presence, so I bought a copy and settled down to read it, hoping to find the key to becoming calm and peaceful myself. I read it once. I read it again. I read it a third time, and finally Tolle's ideas of stepping back to view your reactions to situations and ideas began to make sense. The third time I began to read it, I woke up half an hour early every weekday morning, and sat at my kitchen table with a cup of tea and a pencil to underline and make notes in the margin. Since then, I re-read The Power of Now each year, and am both amused and perplexed by some of my previous years notes! I consider this book spiritual, without promoting one specific religion, and it soothes me and centers me when my mind becomes cluttered and busy.

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

Subtitled "A Magical Fable About Following Your Dream", The Alchemist can be considered both an adventure story and a spiritual tale of life's journey and quest for our heart's desire, and for our reason for being.   Santiago is a young shepherd who dreams of great fortune, and sets out on a dangerous quest to find it.  This is a good book to read with young adults or teens, and there are discussion questions and study guides galore available on the Internet to start a lively conversation on philosophical, religious, and spiritual issues.  I enjoyed reading it and was intrigued by the central idea of the book, which is that " When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom - John O'Donohue

John O'Donohue was an Irish Catholic priest, philosopher, and poet who passed away in 2008.  Years ago I saw him on a PBS special with Deepak Chopra, and found him engaging and compelling with a gentle humour that led me to find Anam Cara at my local bookstore. Anam Cara is Gaelic for soul friend or friend of the soul, and the book is a series of essays or discussions on the spiritual journey as defined by Celtic wisdom, words, and ancient sayings. The Celtic view of oneself included a spiritual element that manifests itself from within - they were great believers in the idea that we construct tangible external worlds based on the intangible spirit that we each have inside of us.  I was intrigued by the idea of crafting as a spiritual outlet - Anam Cara lit the fuse of my interest in the spiritual aspects of handcrafts such as weaving, knitting, quilting, and pottery.  O'Donohue has a very lyrical way of writing and Anam Cara is often found on my bedside table.

One Man's Wilderness: Richard Proenneke

In 1969 Dick Proenneke left his life as a diesel mechanic and heavy equipment operator to pursue his dream.  With only a few basic tools and supplies, he handbuilt a cabin overlooking Twin Lake, an extremely remote area of Alaska accessible only by seaplane.  Dick kept a daily journal where he chronicled the building of his cabin and homestead, as well as carefully filming his building, gardening, hunting, and fishing endeavours.  A testament to simplicity, self-sufficiency, and ingenuity, One Man's Wilderness is a fascinating book (and now a DVD)that can be read and re-read....and it is perfect to take camping!

Dick Proenneke
Dick Proenneke | Source

Roughing It In The Bush - Susannah Moodie

Susannah Moodie was an upper-middle class Englishwoman who moved with her husband to the "wilds" of Belleville, Ontario in 1840. With no previous experience at farming, homesteading, or even manual labour, Susannah and her family carved a life from the bush. Their hardships were documented each evening in journals, letters, and articles that Susannah wrote by candlelight. The pioneering spirit is evident in her words, and whenever I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to do in home and office and despair of ever having enough time to write, I turn to Roughing It In The Bush to remind myself that the pioneer women certainly had their hands full with work but that Susannah Moodie was still able to find the time to put pen to paper after a long day of drudgery!

The Backwoods of Canada - Catherine Parr Trail

Catherine Parr Trail was Susannah Moodie's sister, and she also emigrated to Canada in the 1800's. Like Susannah, she was a writer, but her style of writing and her attitude towards her new life was very different. A woman of great faith, optimism, and strength, she was able to carry on raising her children and making a life for her family in the Backwoods of Canada despite her husband's debilitating depression and financial ineptitude. Reading the works of both sisters is a good illustration of how one's perception and state of mind can make the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and of how sheer determination can overcome the most challenging of environments.


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    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 

      4 years ago from West Virginia

      I've read some of the same books, and have found them inspiring as well. I found some new ones that I might consider. Thank you.

    • profile image 

      5 years ago


    • LindaJM profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      8 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Wonderful book recommendations - some of which I've read and others... I'm hoping to read soon. Thanks!

    • Avamum profile imageAUTHOR

      Sarita Harbour 

      8 years ago from Yellowknife, Canada

      Rosie and Minnetonka Twin - thank you for the comments. It does seem to me that the books I have stumbled across reveal themselves at times in my life when I most need them. Happy reading!

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Ava-What an incredible list of books that can inspire us. I am excited to bookmark this and have this as my new year goal of reading books I havn't read. You did a wonderful job writing about the plot of each book. I thought it was neat how you stumbled on the book "The Power of Positive Thinking." The OTAS lounge-Just love it. Thanks so much for sharing the gift of great books.

    • Rosie2010 profile image

      Rosie Rose 

      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      ooppps, sorry I clicked submit button twice.

    • Rosie2010 profile image

      Rosie Rose 

      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Hiya Avamum, all these books you suggested are great source of inspiration. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale had helped me a lot when I was younger. Thanks for sharing your wonderful source of inspiration.

      Have a nice day,


    • Avamum profile imageAUTHOR

      Sarita Harbour 

      8 years ago from Yellowknife, Canada

      I am always looking for new inspiring and motivational books - please let me know of your favourites!


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