Secret Writings of the Ash Ock

Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem

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Books that inspire me
I haven't posted here in a while, and I like the idea of occasionally posting longer entries on Livejournal.

As we get closer to the start of a new year, and my thoughts turn to "resolutions", I thought it might be a good idea to review some books that have helped me acquire a healthier mindset. These are books that I come back to. I'd love to reread them all with pencil and paper in hand because I think they provide a lot of overlap into being a better person.

If I had to summarize what I was looking for when compiling this list, it would be:

* inspiring me to find my talents and develop them
* behavioral fundamentals (building blocks for healthy and productive behavior)
* creating a better sense of self
* learning critical interpersonal and relationship skills
* helping me to live a more compassionate and happy life.

The Talent Code - Coyle
The Little Book of Talent - Coyle

Honorable mention goes to Talent is Overrated and Outliers for paving the way on "talent", but I really prefer these two books because they go into more depth. Essentially, all of these books on talent changed my attitude towards life from "I'm terrible at XXX skills" to "...but if I'm willing to practice them, I can improve." What I like about Daniel Coyle's two books is how they distill practical information about inspiring yourself and others. The first of his books is more like journalism, while the second book is a pragmatic list of things to do.

The Power of Habit - Duhigg
The Willpower Instinct - McGonigal

These two books are great building blocks to removing bad habits and creating better ones.

The Willpower Instinct can be a depressing book (in that it shows you all the ways you will fail!) but I think it is really helpful. It has some interesting overlap with concepts in the various mental health books, in that having a strong sense of self is really an important part of building strong willpower. Meaning you know your personal values and are unlikely to compromise them.

The Power of Habit was mentioned in The Talent Code, and it takes some ideas there to a deeper level.

Getting Things Done - Allen
How to organize and prioritize all the things in your life, without having them completely dominate your thoughts. I'm reading the new edition to improve my overall approach towards managing my time and projects. It waxes philosophical in a few places, in that part of prioritizing your choices of things to pursue is fundamentally part of who you are, what your values are, and who you want to be. So, you can treat this as simply practical advise (how to survive the job) or take it much farther.

Self-Esteem, McKay and Fanning
Why Can't You Read My Mind - Bernstein

These are my go-to books for improving my own sense of self and expressing it in relationships. I link them together because both have a similar discussion on negative thought patterns (negative self talk, absolute or extreme positions). The former focuses on yourself, while the latter independently talks about these ideas in the context of relationships. I read the second book shortly after a failed relationship a few years back (that failed because we couldn't find common ground) and found it very helpful to see areas where I could have handled things better.

How to Be an Adult - Richo

I've got about four of his books, but this one is a good (and short) starting place. Yet another "mental health" book; this one gives good practical explanations of healthy behavior and interactions with others. Sometimes I feel the spiritual information and background information is not clear enough to act on, but I come back to these books a lot. In particular, the chapter on assertiveness is something I come back to quite a bit.

The 5 Love Languages - Chapman

This is also a first of a collection of similarly named books. The key concept here (shared with some ideas in How to Be an Adult) is that people react differently to different expressions of love. Knowing how you want love to be expressed and knowing how you want friends, family, and partners expect to receive love helps you build stronger relationships. My recollection is that this book focuses on practical ideas (without cumbersome psychology language.)

Thinking In Systems - Meadows

I found this to be a great book for really understanding how to model problems as systems and to really understand positive and negative feedback loops in the real world (such as taxation). It isn't quite in line with the other books in this collection, but I found it to be a good book for thinking about the world more thoroughly.

Influence - Cialdini

A great book at dissecting the tools that marketers, politicians, and con artists use to influence your decisions. My copy is more than 20 years old, so there might be a better place to look). (

Difficult Conversations - Stone, Patton, Heen
Crucial Conversations - Patterson, Granny, McMillan, Switzler
People Skills - Bolton

These books teach better communication and interpersonal skills. Listening to understand and bringing difficult ideas up in conversation in a way that maintains respect for other participants. Having the right mindset when communicating with others. The first two books focus on "high stakes" situations, either in business or in relationships, where stress and adrenaline make it harder to think and respond well. The third book is a more general look at a wide variety of social skills.

The Mindful Path to Self-compassion - Germer
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - and it's all small stuff - Carlson

These are good books to go to when you need to relax and stop thinking about all the crazy things the other books in this list get you thinking about. ;) Especially if you start perceiving that that you are 'broken'. Relax, love and accept yourself, and live a happy life.

There's one topic that isn't covered in depth by these books - mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Some of them touch on the concepts but don't dig deep into technique. When I find a book I really like, I'll add it here.

Feel free to recommend other books in the comments.

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These would be pretty old, but I remembering hearing a lot of good things about Suzette Haden Elgin's Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense books. I only looked at one of them, Staying Well with the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense which focused on how to talk to medical professionals, and I found I had some philosophical differences with her with regard to medical issues (she was pretty definitely of the opinion that medications cause more problems than they solve which is a survivable opinion when you're quite healthy but was already way out of line with my reality when I read that book). Still potentially worth looking at.

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