This is my list of recommended books, organised by theme. Each book on this list is incredible. If read at the right time in your life, they are each lifechanging.
A list of books that will transform you: what better way to improve your life?
Some of the books show up in more than one theme. This is because the themes aren’t hard boundaries. Each bleeds into and supports the rest. Naturally, this makes categorising things… interesting. If you disagree with any of my sorting, then get in touch and explain why. Better yet, start your own reading list! I can’t wait to read it.
Each book has a quick description and five action points. These action points are things that the book teaches you to do or think. They are not a substitute for reading the book, but an enticing glimpse of what you can take away from it. If I can’t think of five things, to do from reading something, then it probably won’t make the list.
All of my favourite books could be Mindset books. Each represents a way of viewing the world, a collection of attitudes and beliefs that shape the way you live. That made it hard to narrow it down, but I have done so. These books, in particular, represent the clearest examples of improving your outlook on life.
see under PURPOSE.
Smarter, Faster, Better
‘Productivity’ isn’t a nebulous term. It’s a state where defined attributes (like motivation and focus) come into alignment. There attributes can be trained and enhanced by paying attention to what incredibly productive people do.
* Motivate yourself by making a choice. Any choice. Choosing puts you in control of the situation, which makes it easier to follow through.
* SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) are great… when used right. They can give you a solid plan for proceeding, or describe how to do something pointless. Combine them with Stretch goals – goals that take you beyond your comfort zone.
* Focus better by anticipating what will happen. What is the first event? What are likely distractors?
* When struggling with a big decision, imagine multiple futures. How likely is each future? What are the consequences of each?
* When you learn something new, do something with that knowledge. At the least, write it down.
Gorillas are powerful animals, and you want to tap into that power inside you. But you want true power – not mindless dominance over others but mindful control over yourself. What you attract into your life and how you react to it is a choice. Strength – of body and mind – is something that you cultivate, as well as something that rewards you.
* How you talk to yourself and how you see life’s challenges go a long way towards a happy, successful life. Tell yourself that you are a winner and challenges are opportunities.
* Control your ‘state’ (your mood, attitude and current outlook on life) through meditation, visualisation and thinking big.
* Fitness and a good diet are vital. Eat lots of plant-based good, lift weights and do cardio. Experiment with supplements like magnesium.
* Money is a powerful tool for good. Make more and save some.
* (Here’s one I really like) Visualise what your perfect day, five years from now, will look like. Be specific.
The human brain is the most complicated thing in the known universe. And it’s the most valuable thing. The universe may or may not be cold, empty and purposeless. But even if it is, the purpose comes from within us, not out there. Beauty, love and truth are not physical properties of matter – they lie within us. And although there is much we don’t understand about brains, we know enough to help everyone enrich their lives.
Dr Michael Merzenich
The brain is incredibly plastic. What you do – and don’t do – rewires the brain, the same way your muscles grow or shrink with usage. Many conditions, from Alzheimers to chronic pain (and much more) result from the wrong activities wiring your brain in bad ways.
* Challenge your mind with exercises and activities that stretch yourself. These should be achievable with effort.
* The sorts of skills to focus on include focus, memory, brain speed, navigating time and space, ignoring distractions and a few other skills.
* Joy is good for the brain. Relax, enjoy and explore the things in your life. Focus on the details and find happiness in them where you can. The brain likes surprises, so search for them.
* Physical exercise is important. Movement and balance are key. Add variety and focus on each action.
* Socialise deeply and meaningfully. Let your social life add joy to yourself and others.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
The brain contains two systems. System One is fast, intuitive, automatic and irrational. System Two is slow, deliberate, conscious and rational. System One directs our attention, which shapes what System Two thinks about. System Two can train System One to respond differently to given stimuli.
* Biases and heuristics are predictable flaws in human thinking. Start to recognise them in other people. Then (and this is the hard part) admit that you are just as susceptible to them. And then (even harder) consider ways to overcome them.
* Your default thinking likes to assume that What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). Cultivate the habit of looking beyond what you see. Ask yourself what you don’t see. Ask yourself what other explanations fit the data, apart from your first reaction.
* Quantified values – such as risk, probability or an amount of money – carry an emotional component that colours your decision-making. For example, going from a 95% chance to a 100% chance feels more valuable than going from 40% to 45%. If you have numbers, trust them.
* Related to the above: if you estimate a probability (“I am 80% sure this will work”), remember that you are describing an emotion using numbers. Where possible, find the base rate for your probability – it will eb far more accurate.
* Your brain emphasises losses, threats and failures over gains, opportunities and successes. This quirk of our evolutionary heritage biases us towards negativity. Be mindful, so the fear of a small loss doesn’t outweigh the anticipation of a big win.
If you want to be healthy, you can’t ignore the body.
If you want to be successful, you can’t ignore the body.
If you want to be happy, you can’t ignore the body.
If you want to be smart, you can’t ignore the body.
A confident person moves differently to a timid person. The state of mind causes their eyes to lift, their back to straighten and their chest to expand. Confidence inspires people to appear relaxed, yet take up more physical space. And, as it turns out, it works in reverse. Just as forcing a smile can make you happy, adopting a confident frame can fill you with genuine confidence.
* Confidence does not mean arrogance. Confidence is when you feel capable, calm and open. Arrogance is about placing yourself above others, whereas confidence is about self-acceptance.
* ‘Power posing’ – adopting a posture of high confidence – decreases cortisol and boosts testosterone. Thus, power posing is a great way to alter your biochemistry for the better.
* Power posing before stressful situations (like job interviews and public speaking) improves your performance. (If this sounds like a big claim, read the book. It covers many scientific studies that back this up.)
* Power pose regularly and in private. Doing it during conversations puts people off. Doing it before the conversation, though, will make you seem more appealling.
* Make incremental improvements to your life. Big, ambitious plans tend to fail, whereas small changes are more manageable.
Can’t figure out what you want to do with your life? Stop asking the question and start doing something. Your purpose will find you. And if not, it beats drifting aimlessly.
In the past, success was granted to you. You had to work for it, sure, but you could only succeed if you were ‘discovered’. If you wanted to be an author, you needed a publisher; if you wanted to be a musician, you needed a record label. Or you could join a corporation, work hard and work your way upwards over time.
That almost sounds quaint these days…
* Daily practice – feel grateful for what you have, come up with ten ideas and look after yourself.
* Don’t look for anyone to ‘discover’ you because it won’t happen. If you want to create, then publish online, write a blog, publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace…
* Ask yourself if you need the things people say you need. Like a university degree, a house, a stable career. Really ask yourself. Until you have found viable alternatives – even if you ignore them – then you haven’t asked.
* Solve problems for people. Better yet, oversolve their problems. Then figure out if you can make money doing that.
* Be good to people. Celebrate their successes. Be honest. Strive to do the best for people. It will make you stand out as an employee or brand.
“Ill Habits gather by unseen degrees,
As Brooks make Rivers, Rivers run to Seas.”
– John Dryden
“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”
– Many people throughout history
I like both. There’s wisdom there.
The Power of Habit
Our habits are powerful. Good habits lead to a happy, healthy, productive life; bad habits lead us astray. Habits aren’t just for individuals; groups, even communities, have habits of their own. The good news is that all habits can be changed, with less effort than you may think.
* Habits are made of a Cue, a Behaviour and a Reward. The Cue could be anything – a sense, a time, an emotion – that, through exposure, makes us perform the Behaviour to get the Reward. For any habit you want to instil or break, map these elements.
* Habits only stick when they have a clear Cue – something that tells you it’s time to do the Beahviour. This is why exercise clothes are so popular, as wearing them is a Cue to tell you to exercise.
* Revolutionise any habit by keeping the Cue and Reward the same while changing the Behaviour. A lot of self-destructive Behaviours arise from distressing Cues, and the Reward is relief from that Cue. The same Reward can be achieved with a healthier Behaviour.
* Rewards can be intrinsic (like a feeling of pride). Like Cues, they should be clear.
* People like the familiar. Learn to like something new by disguising it, or surrounding it, by familiar, likeable things.
Creativity is the golden skill. It’s what separates humans from animals, humans from machines and knowledge workers from corporate drones. To be creative is to float one level above your limitations, gazing down on them from the vantagepoint of a master tactician. Creativity is the alpha and the omega; the gate and the key; the apex predator and the parasite. Use it or fall behind.
Your Creative Brain
Dr Shelley Carson
Everyone is creative, but not in the same way. The CREATES model identifies seven modes of creative thought, including the strengths and weaknesses of each… plus some strategies for developing your styles.
* Explore your creative thinking style. The CREATES model is one way to do so. You can find a quiz at Carson’s website.
* Learn your preferred style for creative thinking. Learn its pros and cons. Practice your other thinking styles to offset these weaknesses while leveraging the strengths.
* Real creative power comes from flowing between the states deliberately and effortlessly. Practice thinking fast and slow, divergent and convergent, logical and intuitive.
* Nurture a creative environment by reducing distractions, filling it with inspiring artwork, incorporates nature and provides an opportunity for socialising with other creative people.
* Get the products of your creativity out there. Be visible, create a brand and never stop sharing.