Sitting through an entire lecture or even a movie without furtively glancing at a cell phone can be surprisingly difficult for some of us. In Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (HarperCollins, 2013), psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman explores the significance of attention, revealing the deleterious effects of distractions on work and relationships. Investing more fully in the moment can spur creativity when wrestling with a problem or even spark a new romantic connection. Attention, Goleman suggests, is like a muscle, and learning to strengthen it through simple exercises, such as 10 minutes of deep breathing every morning, can help the brain gain focus.

Enhancing attention is not the only thing that can improve our prospects. In Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential (Penguin Group/Hudson Street Press, 2013), communications consultants John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut illuminate what makes certain people particularly likable and magnetic. Neffinger and Kohut home in on two especially important characteristics: strength and warmth. They argue that strength reflects a person's competence and that warmth indicates someone's capacity for empathy. The authors also offer tips on how to increase these qualities.

Despite a desire to aim high, insecurity often holds us back. In The 5 Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life (Penguin Group/Hudson Street Press, 2013), cognitive neuroscientist Bob Deutsch, with writer Lou Aronica, contends that we can overcome this impediment by developing certain innate abilities, such as curiosity and openness. Deutsch provides inspiration by describing the personal trials of artists and scientists who have overcome self-doubt or other setbacks to ultimately achieve success.