The 12 Most Influential People In The History of Self Development

My list of the 12 Most Influential People In The History Of Self Development in no particular order.

Don’t take it too seriously I know I’ve missed plenty and that’s why I have a comment section – so you can put me right!

1. Louise Hay

The grand old lady of self development and all things woo-woo is now nudging 200 years of age and apparently still going strong.

Author of probably the worst self development book ever written, ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ amongst many other books and founder of the Hay House dynasty that has delivered such luminaries as Dyer, Williamson, Chopra et al to the masses.

It may be harder getting off Hay House’s mailing list than it is to get Donald Trump to make a sentence without employing the words, ‘amazing’, ‘sad’ or ‘disaster’, but there is no denying they put out some great material on a woo-woo tip.

Does she deserve to be on the list?

Of course she does, it would be ridiculous not to include her even though my distaste for ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ is verging on unhealthy.

She is an amazing lady who was shaped an entire arm of self development and influenced millions of people.

2. Wayne Dyer

Not long before succumbing to the icy grip of the Grim Reaper, Wayne gave all his possessions away and left Florida to lead a simple life.

He had to manage by living in a ramshackle palace on a beach in scummy Hawaii where he wrote his books and looked at himself a lot in mirrors.

For a man that talked about the power of the Law of Attraction so much it’s surprising that he manifested himself a heart attack at the relatively young age of 75.

Heaven forbid he’s another LoA guru who couldn’t quite get it to work!

He started to lose credibility with me when in one of his books (I can’t remember which one, but don’t worry because they’re all the same) he mentioned an experiment involving knee operations on groups of people.

Without going into too much detail he claimed that the people who had placebo operation saw the same results as those who received the real operation.

Wayne was trying to demonstrate the power of beliefs and I’m sure his intentions were positive.

Unfortunately though, in his eagerness to make a point he forget to mention that the people who had the sham procedures all returned to normal i.e. hobbling around in pain, within a few days.

I was further unimpressed when in his translation of the ‘Tao Te Ching’ he called himself Dr. Wayne Dyer on the cover.

If you know anything about Lao Tzu’s great work, you’ll understand the irony of him using a title like Doctor.

Does he deserve to be on the list?

Jesus apparently turned water into wine, but Dyer can trump that. He has managed to turn one, maybe 2 books, into a multitude without his army of supporters ever realizing what he was up to, he’s a true magician.

In fairness he’s written some cool stuff and said some cool stuff, and no doubt many people have benefited from his book in all its guises, but with accusations of plagiarism surrounding his work, nope he shouldn’t be on it.

3. Tim Ferris

This may surprise a few people that I would have Ferris on my list, but there is no denying the guys (largely) positive impact on a whole new generation of self development enthusiasts who want to change the world.

The book that shot him to prominence, ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ was a game changer for many people.

More than a few bosses were left cursing it as workers either resigned to set up their own business or demanded to be able to work from a bar in Tijuana.

For me, the 4HWW (you know you have made it when your book is shortened like that and people still know what you’re talking about) ran out of steam about half way through and Ferris ended up padding it out, presumably to meet his publishers word count.

Ferris’s follow up ‘The 4 Hour Body’ was nothing short of marketing genius.

Take the ideas from the excellent ‘The Primal Blueprint’, deliver them as your own, mobilize your huge loyal following from your blog and book to the point that you have over 150 five star reviews on Amazon before it’s even been published, and voila you have another best-seller on your hands.

Does he deserve to be on the list?

I’m honestly not sure on this one, probably not because I’m not sure we know his long-term influence at this point in time.

I’m not keen on Ferris’s tactics and he’s apparently admitted that it’s not really possible to do what he did working only 4 hours per week.

That makes me uneasy and in my mind demonstrates a lack of integrity. It’s not possible, but hey, if it sell’s books, then let’s go for it.

I’m also sure that there will be people out of work now after taking his advice, but equally I’m sure there is somebody at this very moment lying on a beach sipping a Pina Colada whilst their boss thinks they are typing out a TPS report.

I’ll let you make the call.

4. Napoleon Hill

There’s no doubting the influence that ‘Think And Grow Rich’ has had on the self development industry.

With over 100,000,000 copies sold and heaven knows how many free copies doing the rounds it’s probably the most read book in all of self development.

I read it about a decade ago and I was already a bit skeptical when all of a sudden he lurches into the bizarre field of sex transmutation.

I’d no idea what it was either, but according to Hill if men can harness their sexual power properly they can…oh fuck it, it’s gibberish and anyway, what about women?

There was some good stuff in ‘Think And Grow Rich’.

Hill was without doubt ahead of the curve when it came to his belief on the power of visualization, mastermind groups and learning highly specific knowledge and skills rather than just acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

But his leaning toward the law of attraction and seeming disdain for actual science left me a bit cold.

Should he be on the list?

Hm, I’m honestly not sure. I think probably as he did introduce self development to an extraordinary amount of people.

I think we’ll give him the nod.

5. David Allen

Allen achieved what Ferris did in so much as his classic book ‘Getting Things Done‘ was soon abbreviated to GTD on self development blogs and message boards across the globe.

It is seen by many as one of, if not the, greatest book ever written on productivity.

I hated it with a passion.

Then again I hate bananas, but you may well like them.

If you’re very right-brained and unstructured like I am (and like being like that) it will probably have little beneficial effect even if you can drag yourself through it.

However, I know a LOT of people who have utilized the methods and are almost reverential in their respect for Allen.

Does he deserve to be on the list?

I think so. It would be disingenuous of me to say ‘no’ just because I don’t like his rigid style.

Also it’s the kind of book (unlike 4HWW) that there is really no downside to. You implement the ideas and you will almost certainly be more productive, you don’t and you won’t

6. Seth Godin

What’s a marketing guy doing on a list about self development you may wonder?

Well in case you’re unfamiliar with him, Seth Godin isn’t just a marketing guy, he’s a spreader of ideas, a teller of stories and a beacon of common sense and integrity in a world full of cynics like me.

If any of the other people on this list told me I was a total idiot I would probably laugh (unless it was Bandler, then I’d probably run like hell), but if Godin told me I’d be mortified because he’d probably be right, he nearly always is.

Does he deserve to be on the list?

A resounding yes. Godin has delivered self development to thousands of people who didn’t even know they were reading self development.

The kind of people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading traditional self help lap up his books. What’s not to love about that?

7. Richard Bandler

If Bandler ever writes an auto-biography it will be a best seller if only half the stories he tells are true.

The co-founder of NLP has led an interesting life involving tales of drug abuse (most kinds) court battles with former friend John Grinder, murdered prostitutes, trying to launch a drug called ‘Placebo’ that was blocked by the FDA and much more.

In amongst all of that however, he helped implement a radical change in how many people approach self development.

Grinders importance to NLP and self development cannot be underestimated, but whereas he’s quietly spoken, humble and unassuming, Bandler is his complete antithesis.

Brash, very funny, highly intelligent, intimidating and probably the best story-teller I have ever heard, Bandler has the ability to polarize people like few others, and he really doesn’t care.

Does he deserve to be on the list?


NLP was pilloried by many in the therapeutic professions in its early days because so many of the rapid change processes it was famous for had little or no science behind them.

Some still don’t, but that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of therapists training in NLP, large corporations such Mercedes Benz, American Express and ADP contracting NLP trainers and millions of people worldwide hiring NLP Practitioners.

8. Tony Robbins

I go back and forth over 7’9” tall Tony Robbins. His aptly titled book ‘Awaken The Giant Within‘ (al) is indeed a classic and has introduced millions to NLP including me.

Unfortunately though, most of those people probably didn’t realize they were being introduced to NLP, or as Robbins called it, Neuro-associative conditioning.

He also forget to mention that many of the ideas in the book stemmed from work done by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

Having said that, his work doesn’t start and stop with that book.

His ‘Power To Influence’ is the single greatest work I have ever listened to on how to sell.

It’s pure genius and something I recommend to any clients who are in sales or just want to be better at influencing others buy.

As well as his books and audio programs he also influences tens of thousand of people every year with his extravagant seminars that bear more of a resemblance to a Pink Floyd concert than a self development conference.

Does he deserve to be on the list?

There’s no doubt he is a master marketer and as such I have mixed feelings.

However, I certainly don’t think he’s the snake oil salesmen some do and I genuinely believe he has a deep desire to help others. So yes, I think he deserves his place and his legion of rabid followers would agree.

9. Deepak Chopra

I was listening to an advert on Sirius Radio not long ago for a show Chopra was hosting. He declared in the trailer that he’s written over 53 books.

I’m going to guess he means he’s written 54, and that is rather a lot of books.

Chopra has a huge following with over 3 million people hanging on his every word on Twitter alone.

Probably the only thing bigger than his Social Media following may be his galaxy sized ego

He modestly claims to be enlightened and he also famously claimed in an interview with Richard Dawkins that Quantum Physicists hi-jacked the term Quantum Physics (3.30 into the video).

After making this gargantuan gaffe he then spent months sniping at a disinterested Dawkins on Twitter.

He once tweeted This:

Deepak chopra

You’re a smarter person than me if you have the slightest clue what the fuck God in drag means!

Chopra is a bit like Dyer in so much that he has written some good material, but his constant bullshit about quantum theory in which he has no formal training stops me taking him too seriously.

A physicist who actually does know about quantum theory once told me he thinks Chopra is one of the most dangerous men on the planet because of the way he distorts science and cons people.

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I get where he’s coming from.

Should he be on the list?


Fuck no, he’s a total interloper.

10. Martin Seligman

Less than 30 years ago the field of Positive Psychology was merely a glint in the eye of its father, Martin Seligman.

Prior to then there had been psychologists such as Maslow and Rogers who had done work in this field, but it was Seligman with the help of Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi who took it to the next level when he launched the first positive psychology summit in 1999.

Should he be on the list?

Without a shadow of a doubt, as probably should Csíkszentmihályi.

Not much more than thirty years ago there was almost zero research done on happiness with psychologists preferring instead to focus on people who were depressed in a search for a cure.

11. Eckhart Tolle

I’m almost nodding off as I’m typing this part such is Mr Monotonous’s effect on me. Don’t whatever you do make the mistake I made twice (I know, what was I thinking the second time?) of buying his books on audio.

And if you do, understand their soporific qualities and do not listen to them whilst driving!

Doing so is more dangerous than casually inserting a ravenous ferret down your underwear for kicks as you drive down the I4 and then pulling out your iPhone to Google, “How the fuck do I get a ravenous ferret out of my underwear whilst driving?” as it gratefully and hungrily gnaws away on your nether regions.

Should he be on the list?

Probably. I’m still doubtful as to how many people have read ‘The New Earth’ and ‘The Power of Now’ and truly implemented the principles.

It seems like every person in the western world has at least one of his books yet there doesn’t appear to be the radical global shift in consciousness that one would expect if so many people are embracing mindfulness.

12. Marianne Williamson

I have to admit I have never read ‘A Return To Love’ (al) Williamson’s seminal take on ‘A Course In Miracles’, but I rarely hear anything but bad about it.

Her quote/passage that is regularly misattributed to Nelson Mandela is probably one of the greatest of all time:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. As we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others

Should she be on the list?

She did have me doubting her sanity when she started explaining how God thinks in ‘The Shadow Effect’, but on the whole she has positively inspired millions of people so I’ll give her a pass.

Ok I’m done, I was going to take it to 15 with Dale Carnegie (should definitely be on the list), Susan Jeffers (probably not as the title of ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’ is about all you need to know from that book) and Pema Chödrön (a definite).

So come on don’t leave me hanging, who have a I missed?