At the start of 2017, the fresh-start feeling of the New Year had me (along with most people) vowing to make some improvements to my life. One of my major projects was to read more books. I love learning and reading, but felt like I could never find the time. A harsh examination of my days, however, revealed a lot of available time that could have been spent reading, but was instead being frittered away on nonsense. So to turn the very ephemeral resolution to "read more books", into an actual series of actions here's what I did:
I deleted time-suckers like Candy Crush off my phone and turned off the notifications from Instagram and Facebook. When those things pop up, I just can't NOT look. I vowed that every time I found myself aimlessly scrolling Reddit, Instagram, or Facebook, that I would close it and open the Kindle App on my phone instead. Don't get me wrong, I do like seeing pictures of your kids or your latest travel adventures, and I did still look on occasion, but I greatly dialed back the amount of time I dedicated to social media.
I swore off Netflix and instead subscribed to Audible and listened to audio books during quiet moments getting ready in the morning, cooking in the kitchen, folding laundry, or on long car rides.
In waiting rooms, on the sidelines at swimming , and before bed, I read books. Sure, I probably missed some funny posts or the latest Instagram story, and I don't know anything about Game of Thrones... but I crammed a whole heck of a lot of knowledge into my brain instead!
Top 3 of the Year
Gary Taubes builds on his first book Good Calories, Bad Calories (probably my favorite book of all time) with his unbelievably well-researched indictment of sugar as the culprit of the "slow plague" of the diseases of Western Civilization - diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and more.
This book will scare the pants off you and have you looking around in horror everywhere you go at the pervasiveness of this poison in our society. The list of negative consequences of our excessive sugar consumption literally fills an entire book.
"We now eat in two weeks the amount of sugar our ancestors of 200 years ago ate in a whole year"
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck
My absolute favorite of all the "self-improvement" type books I've ever read. I normally hate the floofy language and false positivity in most anything written on happiness.
This, on the other, speaks directly to my soul with a no non-sense tone and a lot of profanity. It fundamentally changed how and to whom I give my fucks.
"We think we're all sophisticated with our toaster ovens and designer footwear, but we're just a bunch of finely ornamented apes."
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
This was one of those books that so captured my attention I couldn't put it down and I kept insisting on reading passages out loud to my unwitting husband.
It explores the most talented individuals in the world (athletes, musicians, writers, etc) and finds that there is no special gift present in any of them, just a whole lot of deliberate practice and hard work. Coyle picks up where other authors left off by discussing the actual physiological adaptations that occur in the brain when we practice. This was the part I found exceptionally fascinating and it changed the way I view learning and acquiring new skills.
"To get good, it's helpful to be willing, or even enthusiastic, about being bad. Baby steps are the royal road to skill".
And The Rest
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman takes readers on an intensely detailed exploration of the brain's two systems that drive how we think. System 1 is quick, intuitive, and reflexive while system 2 is slow, methodical and logical. Recognizing the limitations of each and how they work together can change the way we interact with the world.
If you can slog your way to the end of this heavy read, it will change the way you think about thinking.
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
I listened to this one on Audiobook and, narrated by the two authors, it was a compelling mix of business advice and war stories.
The main message is always a welcome reminder: if something isn't going well, that's on you. Take responsibility for your own shit.
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Dr. Jeff Volek
A quick read that delves into some specifics regarding ketogenic performance for athletes... and by athletes they mean endurance athletes. There is good information in here, but no mention of strength or high intensity sports applications.
Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron
An event-by-event break down of the 2016 CrossFit Games mixed with regurgitation of Stoic philosphy. It tells the story of Ben Bergeron and his border-line creepy relationship with Katrin Davidsdottir as he coached her to being the Fittest on Earth. An easy read that filled the time on an airplane.
For any area of your life, your mindset can be either "fixed" (pre-determined by your genetics) or "growth" (under your control and changeable/fixable). These two mindsets can apply to areas like athletic ability, musical talent, intelligence or personality traits like sociability or shyness.
Maintaining a growth mindset puts your in the driver's seat in terms of making improvements to all parts of yourself and allows you to work towards your actual potential.
Astrophysics for People In A Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
I worked through this one as bedtime reading with my 7 year old. I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson and thoroughly enjoy being humbled by the wonders of the universe.
Robb Wolf has mellowed substantially from high hardline-paleo stance of his first book The Paleo Solution. In this book, Robb advocates a much more individualized approach by undertaking some self experimentation. Armed with a blood glucose monitor available from any pharmacy, readers are encouraged to test their blood sugar at regular intervals following the ingestion of various foods.
Great info here and a welcome reminder that we're not all the same and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another.
Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew
I had high hopes for this book to provide useful tools for me to use in my full time gig as a CrossFit coach, but to my disappointment it was a run-on list of buzzwords and jargon with very little actual content. It was a chore to make it to the end of this one.
The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung
This book provides some context to the practice of fasting and it's cultural and religious significance throughout history. Typically attached to words like "cleansing", Dr. Fung goes through the scientific and physiological explanation for the benefits of fasting. He outlines various forms of fasting (intermittent, alternate day, extended, etc) and the health benefits, specifically focusing on those with metabolic syndrome.
I Wear the Black Hat By Chuck Klosterman
I've been a fan of Chuck Klosterman for more than a decade. His insights and wit are a welcome change from the health/science/cognition-type books I usually read.
This book is all about what constitutes a villain and why we're culturally obsessed with them, with examples from OJ Simpson to Hilter. He manages to make you think and make you chuckle at the same time.
I started reading this on the same day I started wearing a Whoop HRV Monitor, because it felt like a good contrarian balance to my fascination with bio-feedback data.
While the point could have been reached in an article, the book has a much-needed message: Do not let technology become your taskmaster.
Ego is the Enemy By Ryan Holiday
I listened to this one on audiobook during a long car ride. Narrated by the author, Ryan weaves together anecdotes from throughout history with principles of stoic philosophy.
Like several others I read this year, this book plays on the theme that the problems we encounter seldom stem from outside forces, but instead grow from our own shitty attitude and inflated sense of self-importance. Learning to "check our ego" allows us to find purpose and personal growth, without tying our self worth to our accomplishments.
Obstacle is the Way By Ryan Holiday
More stoic philosophy here, this time emphasizing how we should view our most difficult situations in life as opportunities for challenge, learning, and growth. Rather than avoiding or hiding from our hardships, we should endure these obstacles head-on with perseverance and resilience.
If you find yourself in a rut or at rock bottom, this book can help re-orient your outlook to emerge stronger and tougher on the other side.
The Upside of your Darkside by Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan
A lot of the self-help genre's message of constantly seeking happiness never really sat well with me. It seemed artificial and it's followers always seemed fake. This book finally put those feelings into coherent thoughts for me.
You're not supposed to be happy all the time. Negative feelings are there for a reason. Guilt guides you to more ethical decisions, fear helps you avoid senseless risk, and anger can be a powerful motivator. We should not try to "tune out" the bad feelings, but instead learn to sit with them and explore what they have to teach us.
This book is not about accepting when you are wrong or adopting humility to atone for your wrongness*, but instead it's an examination of the state of being wrong. When you are wrong, it feels an awful lot like being right... until you learn that you are wrong (which feels awful), but by then you're aware of the error and are on your way to fixing it and being right.
Our senses deceive us, our mind plays tricks, or entire populations of people are misguided. Kathryn advocates that being wrong is an essential human condition.
*that's a different book called Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), which is an all-time favorite of mine
Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg
An extremely well researched exploration of the science of productivity. Charles brings together stories from worlds as different as professional poker players to the movie makers at Disney.
He makes some interesting points about the way groups interact as well as how individuals can interact with data for better learning. Productivity essentially relies on the choices we make, both big and small.