Book Summaries: Self-Improvement

The best self-improvement books I have read, summarised in one paragraph. Follow the links to see more detailed book summaries and reviews.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - By Stephen Covey

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In one of the best selling non-fiction books in history, Stephen Covey highlights 7 habits he associates with effectiveness. The habits follow a progression from dependence to independence to interdependence. In his discussion of the 3 habits which underpin the move from dependence to interdependence, Covey tackles the issues of proactivity and self-responsibility, visualisation of the future, and prioritisation. The subsequent focus is interdependence, where Covey introduces the concept of an abundance mindset in thinking win-win, as well as discussing the importance of listening and recognition of the strength of teams above individual. The final habit (Sharpening the Saw) is dedicated to the importance of continuous improvement.

Related Article: Mastering Your Mindset: The Abundance of Minimalism

How to Win Friends and Influence People - By Dale Carnegie

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Carnegie provides straightforward advice on how to relate to people. This is first done in the form of some fundamental rules about handling people: don’t criticise and condemn, appreciate others, and have our desires work with others’ wants.  Carnegie then introduces six simple principles for getting people to like us – essentially,  this concerns showing interest in others by actively listening and asking, as well as exhibiting respect by, for example, smiling and remembering names.  The subsequent sections deal with winning people around to our point of view and leading change without stoking resentment. Carnegie addresses both of these areas with some simple principles and examples. The book is one of the best selling of all time for good reason. Carnegie wraps up persuasive advice with thought-provoking ideas on almost every page.

Black Box Thinking - By Matthew Syed

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Perhaps the best book I have read on the importance of failure. The book has a simple premise: that we should level up on our approach to using failures as improvement opportunities, just as the airline industry has. Syed illustrates this point using both examples of disastrous failures with inadequate subsequent learnings and failures that brought about incremental marginal gains. Supported by the latest research, suggestions are made for those industries that could benefit the most from a shift to ‘black box thinking’, but the principles are highly applicable at the individual level, too.

Atomic Habits - By James Clear

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The small habits that bring about marginal gains are our ‘atomic habits’. These habits, Clear suggests, are the the compound interest of self-improvement. In order to change them and improve our results, Clear suggests we must turn our attention to our systems instead of our goals. To change behaviour, the book identifies four simple rules: (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying. We stand the best chance of delivering these habit changes when we ensure the cues for our habit loops (cue-routine-reward) are clear with our environments.

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The Power of Habit - By Charles Duhigg

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The Power of Habit explores the science behind habits. The book begins by outlining the basis of all habit formation: the habit loop, along with some evidence from neurological science and psychology. The basic premise is that habits are formed based on a cycle of cue, routine and rewards. The interaction of cues and rewards can create the presence of cravings, which reinforce habit loops. Habits can be reformed, Duhigg argues, by replacing the routine in the habit loop, but keeping the cue and reward – though willpower plays a critical role. Duhigg spends a number of chapters outlining examples of keystone habits: individual habit loops capable of cascading through societies and businesses.

Related Article: The Psychology of Saving Money: What Does the Research Tell Us?

Deep Work - By Cal Newport

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Newport introduces the concepts of deep work and shallow work. Deep work is the intense work that stretches our cognitive capacities to their full potential, performed in a state of deep concentration. Shallow work, on the other hand, is the less-cognitively demanding work which we often perform in the face of many distractions. Unfortunately, Newport rightly highlights that work is becoming increasingly shallow and the ability to perform deep work is becoming a rarer skill, precisely when we need it most. He argues that with increased exposure to frenetic and distracted shallow work, our ability to perform deep work becomes more inhibited. Deep work is therefore a hugely valuable 21st-century skill. The book puts forward numerous techniques to encompass periods of deep work in our routines.

Related Article: The Life-Changing Power of Deep Work and Deep Play

Rest - By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

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In a timely contribution, Soojung-Kim Pang makes the important case for work and rest working in tandem. Supported by scientific research,  the book outlines the importance of rest, not just for recovery and recharge, but for stimulating creative insights. Numerous suggestions are made for how we can better incorporate rest into our routines, such as walking, napping, the power of morning routines, exercise and sabbaticals. The concept of deep play is also discussed: activities that act as rest but stimulate the mind in some other way. Throughout this read, Soojung-Kim Pang, references anecdotal evidence from historical figures from many walks of life.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - By Mark Manson

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Mark Manson provides straight-talking life advice in this entertaining read. Instead of seeing problems as an annoyance to be solved, Manson makes the case that problems are indirectly the source of most of our happiness. We have a choice about how we react to the worst of these problems, and often those that yield to victim mentality end up the worst off. Rich in entertaining anecdotes, Manson sets out the case for embracing uncertainty, failure, and rejection, and ultimately taking responsibility for a life in which you choose carefully what to give a f*ck about.

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Read more book recommendations, summaries and reviews on the Lifelong Learning page.

Got a suggestion for a book I should read and add to this list? Get in touch on Twitter @HustleEscape.

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