I read a lot of books, but I don't consider myself the best book reviewer. Even though I read with pen in hand and underline and take notes throughout my books, I'm not great at writing about the details. But what sticks out to me are those big ideas in a book...the ones that you can't stop thinking about. The ones that cause paradigm shifts within. Those I obsessively think about, and figure out ways to practice them in my own personal life, and in the work of my clients in my therapy practice.
Over the last two years, four books have stood out in my mind like no other because of some lasting ideas that have created big change for me. Some of these books are fairly new (like this year) and others are a few years old. But their thoughts are ones that I have been writing and speaking about a lot the last 18 months. And I have found ways to implement the ideas into multiple areas of my life (parenting, marriage, running, therapy practice, etc.).
So I want to mention these 4 books to you and the big ideas that are sticking in my brain and impacting my life. And then I will also mention two other books that have stuck with me, but if you have to read only 4...then I'm sticking with the original four I'm discussing.
Book 1: Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance by Angela Duckworth --This book was absolutely amazing. But there is one thing I keep coming back to time and time again. In the book Duckworth talks about the importance of deliberate practice and flow. The takeaway for me is that we can never reach a flow state, or become great at what we do unless we deliberately practice over and over and over again. This has absolutely changed how I work with clients. Even though I always gave them things to practice, I'm now convinced more than ever that change doesn't occur without this practice. Michael Jordan doesn't reach that flow state in a playoff game unless he deliberately practied 10,000's of hours. Michael Phelps never reaches that flow state unless he swam lap after lap after lap, and visualized himself swimming every stroke of a race before racing. Couples don't change negative patterns of behavior (pain cycle) and create new ones (peace cycle) without deliberate practice. But when they do, the flow is beautiful to watch in a relationship. She writes, "First, deliberate practice is a behavior, and flow is an experience."
Book 2: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown --This book was also amazing. I had already been listening to The Minimalists podcast and been exploring this idea. I have always been attracted to minimalism and it's aesthetic, but he takes the understanding of essentialism and brings it into real practical, real world examples that I could employ. A lot of things stood out to me, but I loved this quote, "Remember that if you don't prioritize your life someone else will.” I started realizing that if I didn't take control of my life and prioritize what was important, I would never accomplish the big goals in my life. And prioritizing helped me really come back to the essentials and what I wanted to do in my marriage, parenting and work.
Book 3: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport --I only read this book back in March or so, but it has already changed a lot of how I work and how I think about work. His recommended experiments with social media abstinence already produced higher levels of focus and output in my life, and it has helped increase my enjoyment in life and my connection with other people. Newport makes a compelling case for the future of work will be dependent on those who are able to stay focused, cut out distractions and work at a very deep level. Those who can't do this will find it ever increasingly hard to find work. He writes, “If you don’t produce, you won’t thrive—no matter how skilled or talented you are.” Newport also gets a lot into the brain science behind distraction and deep work, and it resonates deeply with the work I do with Restoration Therapy. This is just one of those books you read and you keep saying "wow....wow", and it lead to a a lot of conviction that created healthy change.
Book 4: Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness --I just finished this book in June while on vacation. What I loved about this book the most is that I felt it was a culmination of the three books above, but they take it a step further. They get into the importance of deliberate practice and flow, and they talk about why it's important to become an essentialist, and they talk about the brain science...but then they put it all into a real practical framework that you can start practicing yourself. Their chapter and tool to help you develop a personal purpose statement is worth the book alone. This book just brought everything home to me in a very powerful way. I highly recommend this book.
The corresponding themes that these books contain, and what resonates so powerfully for me in my own life and my therapeutic work is this:
And all these things are crucial in counseling and therapy, and in creating change and getting to transformation.
I talk about two other books in this podcast episode as well, but I don't write about above are:
The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable? About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life by Patrick Lencioni. I read this book back in 2010 and have written and talked about it extensively, and even recorded a podcast episode on it last year. I love the book, but I feel that the purpose stuff in Peak Performance is easier for people to complete than in this book. But I love this book and highly recommend.
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why? by Laurence Gonzalez. This is a great book filled with stories of survival and tragedy. Gonzalez dives in real deep to how our brain works in survival/panic/conflict situations, and why the ability to remain calm (emotionally regulate) means everything often to who survives. This book just reiterated even more the work of emotional self-regulation in therapy work, but is attached in the context of wilderness stories. It's a great read.