Roll your eyes at this title all you want, but I am absolutely giddy with glee at being able to use a click-baity headline that’s truthful! And sure, it’s not that reading these book was like immediately ingesting a magical formula. It’s more that when I read them, the messages resonated with my journey and where I was at the time, and there’s something powerful I took away from them that’s stayed with me to date. Personal development/ lifelong learning is one of my top values, and these books have spurred me along on that journey.
Disclaimer: I expect that this list will evolve over time; both as I read new books but also as I revisit old ones whose messages may resonate better than they initially did.
- We become (or manifest) what we think, from The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. The central thesis of this book is that we manifest what we think, to the point that we manifest EXACTLY what we think. I remember one particular part of the book, where the author references someone imagining a feather in great detail, and then a few days (weeks? months?) later, seeing that exact feather float down in front of them. Now, when I read that book, I may have taken the message more literally than I should’ve (as you can tell, I’m skeptical (but open to changing my mind)), but now have come to realise that our thinking is something incredibly powerful, and can profoundly influence who we are. Seems obvious when I put it that way, right? By thinking happier thoughts, by internalising them, we can truly BECOME happier. Jury’s still out on manifesting pretty feathers.
- Vulnerability is not weakness, from Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown. Us mere mortals cannot hope to put into words the power of her work, so if you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to check out her iconic TED Talk and then read this book as soon as you can. I’ve read it about three or four times in the past three years, and it’s probably the book I gift others most often.
- Sleep is a nonnegotiable priority, from Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. Here’s another simple lesson that we may be forgiven for thinking is more accepted than it currently is. I’d always known sleep is necessary on some level, sure. This book really hit home WHY we need to sleep, why we don’t just need to sleep, but need good quality sleep, and all the scary stuff that can happen if you don’t sleep. I’d especially recommend this if you’re in a professional path where sleep is often the activity that gets compromised due to academic or professional work loads. Oh, look! He’s another one of those with an awesome TED Talk you can check out.
- Solve for energy, not time, from The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by James E. Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Along the same work-life balance lines for lack of a better category (life-life balance maybe?), this book helped me realise that when your energy is at its highest level, you bring your best self to all aspects of your life and get the best out of all your resources, including time. And there are things we can do to cultivate and replenish our energy and but we DO need to remember that our energy is not infinite (hence the need for replenishment).
- Simplify, reduce, prioritise, from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. This books speaks a lot about prioritising in a professional context, but the stuff that I took away was more about prioritising personally; for example, the people whose opinions matter and the things I choose to spend my time (and energy!) on.
- All we have is now, from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This book, along with conversations with the friend who gave it to me, have helped ground me in the present (another simple, obvious thing I don’t do enough). I realised I was spending unnecessary time and energy analysing my past or preparing for my future—time and energy that were taking away from today.
- We’re capable of terrible and beautiful things, from The Ten Types of Human: Who We Are and Who We Can Be by Dexter Dias. This book is a TRIP. Dias explores ten archetypes of humans, making the case that we can be (and we are) all of them. All of the greatest and worst of humanity’s achievements are things are things we’re ALL potentially capable of. It’s scary and yet empowering at the same time. Emphasis on the empowering; we’re not necessarily slaves to our human nature (whatever that means), but can CHOOSE.
- But mostly, we tend toward beautiful things, from Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman. I know, I know, humans are crap sometimes. Well, we choose to be. This is the perfect follow up to the previous title. It was the perfect read to end my 2020 with and reminded me that actually, humans are pretty decent overall (you’re probably at all the way at skeptical on a scale from 0 to skeptical, but trust me, check it out). Not only does this book make the case for humans being good and decent, it works to dispel some of the erroneous myths based on sensationalised cases like Kitty Genovese’s murder and the Stanford prison experiments.
- Say yes!! From Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. This one is self-explanatory, but I experimented with using this for about a year, and I definitely felt much happier/freer/ less encumbered.
And last but not least,
10. Romance is a great genre, from the Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn. I know, I know, you expected this post to be full of preachy, self-help-y wisdom, and then I threw a historical romance series at you. Psshhh. Life is nothing if there’s no time for fun! This is the first historical romance series I read more than a decade ago (maybe even the first romance series?), and it opened up the genre for me. It’s funny, well-written, with believable characters who have GREAT chemistry (not just in the romantic sense). Of course I’m celebrating now that it’s been (further) popularised by the aforementioned Shonda Rhimes in a new Netflix series. (Us diehard fans are shaking are heads as we breathe “FINALLY!”)