Around this time every year I make quiet promises to myself. No two years are precisely the same, but they usually follow the same tune: to eat better and to slow down. I start off the year so well, my plate draped in greens as I commit to being more mindful. As the year progresses I tend to lose momentum, ending the year kicking myself for returning to exactly where I started. Sound familiar?
This year I’m committing to a promise I am more confident I will keep: I’m making a reading list instead.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.” Ah, isn’t it true? A good book expands your mind and influences every aspect of your life through your thoughts, your conversations and your dreams. You are the books you read, after all.
So, rather than making promises to myself to be “healthier”, “happier”, “more productive”, to go to yoga more and keeping up my running, I’m committing instead to read the books that will educate and inspire me towards my underlying goals.
Here are seven books, organised into topics, which I will read this year.
- Write better: “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century”, by Steven Pinker.
If you’re not an author or journalist, why should you bother with a book about writing? Because we are all writers, from the emails we craft, the reports we write to the text messages we create. Now, we write more than ever before. And writing with style and precision is important for many reasons, as Pinker points out in his introduction:
“First, it ensures that writers will get their messages across, sparing readers from squandering their precious moments on earth deciphering opaque prose…
Second, style earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about consistency and accuracy in her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily…
Style, not least, adds beauty to the world. To a literate reader, a crisp sentence, an arresting metaphor, a witty aside, an elegant turn of phrase are among life’s greatest pleasures… This thoroughly impractical virtue of good writing is where the practical effort of mastering good writing must begin.
- Be more productive: “Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More, Love What You Do”, by Graham Allcott
I read this book at the end of last year and I will continue to read it again, and again and again, until being an uber productive productivity ninja is second nature.
Our time is finite. We cannot create more of it, but we can make better use of it. Of all the literature I’ve read on the topic so far, this has been the best and most useful.
- Keeping myself on track: “Success Your Way: Do What You’re Meant to Do”, by G Richard Shell.
“Simcha… is, “the experience of the soul that comes when you are doing what you should be doing”. Simcha can encompass everything from taking the time to comfort a sick friend to the joy of practising your profession at a high level of skill. Positive psychologists have used words such as “flow”, “flourishing” and “meaning” to describe this deeper sense of happiness. The Greek word Aristotle used… literally means “spirit of goodness”.
Despite being written by a senior faculty member at the Wharton School of Business, this isn’t a book about getting rich. It’s about finding your true path. Your “simcha”. According to Shell, that’s where true success and happiness lies.
For someone who made a big career change three years ago, it may seem a little strange that I’m picking up this book now, but it is because I believe what lies at our core and uncovering our purpose in life is an eternal process of inquiry.
I started reading this book last year and was really impressed by both the writing and the probing questions along the way. More than anything, I feel it will help me (and you!) get more out of my day as I uncover what it is I really should be doing each day.
- Positive Psychology: “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.
I read this book a few years ago and will pick it up again this year. It is essentially a dialogue between western psychiatrist Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama, drawing parallels and insights from both western and eastern psychology. It is the most accessible book on Buddhist philosophy I have ever read. It will change the way you approach each day and how you interact with other people.
Another “happy” book I will finish this year is The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor (watch his Ted talk if you haven’t already). There’s lot of other positive psychology texts out there and I hope to read more in this area, so keep an eye on My Reading List, below.
- Philosophy: “Light on Life: The Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom”, by BKS Iyengar
“Most of those who begin to practice [yoga]… do so for the practical and often physical reasons. Perhaps it is for some medical problem…Or perhaps it is as a result of a broader concern to do with achieving a better lifestyle or coping with stress, weight problems or addictions. Very few people begin yoga because they believe it will be a way to achieve spiritual enlightenment, and indeed a good number may be quite sceptical about the whole idea of spiritual self-realisation. Actually, this is not a bad thing as it means most of these people… have practical problems and aims – people who are grounded in ways and means of life, people who are sensible.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could turn that hour a week you spend contorting yourself into strange positions into something more meaningful? If, like me, you go to yoga and are interested in eastern philosophy, read this book. It’s clearly written and can be understood by non-yogis.
I’m hoping it’s the stimulus for a greater commitment to a consistent yoga practice this year. After all, as Mr Iyengar so aptly points out:
“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit the broken pieces together. Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known even existed…not being battered by the dualities of life, its ups and downs, its pleasures and suffering.”
- Health, health and more health: “The New Health Rules”, Frank Lipman M.D.
Amazon promises me “175 actionable tips that will improve every aspect of our health—body, mind, and soul” with this new book from leading voice in functional and integrative medicine, Dr Frank Lipman. Irrespective of whether the book delivers, it’s meant to jolt me into reading and learning a lot more about health and what that really means this year.
I also plan to read It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, particularly as I’ve started the Whole30 diet this month (more on that later). Paleo for Athletes by Joe Friel and Loren Cordain is another book I aim to finish.
- Sport and kickass athletes: “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” David Epstein.
I’m fascinated by athletes and what makes them tick and I cannot wait to read more about it in David Esptein’s New York Times best-selling book.
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What’s on your reading list this year? Please let me know in the comments below!
As my reading list will no doubt expand during the year, please feel free to check out this link to my reading list that I will update as and when new books come on my radar.