Book Summaries: Self-Improvement
The best self-improvement books I have read, summarised in one paragraph. Follow the links to see more detailed book notes and related articles from the blog.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - By Stephen Covey
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
The Algebra of Happiness - By Scott Galloway
Scott Galloway is a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business, perhaps best known as the author of The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The Algebra of Happiness is Galloway’s second book and it outlines his perspective on the fundamentals of a happy life. From our money to our health to our love lives, lessons are given in the form of short anecdotes from Galloway’s personal experiences.
Atomic Habits - By James Clear
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.
Related Article: Stretch, Sleep, Repeat: The Neuroscience of Habits
Black Box Thinking - By Matthew Syed
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.
Deep Work - By Cal Newport
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
Factfulness - By Hans Rosling
We systematically overestimate how bad things are and underestimate how much they have improved. Rosling believes this tendency is driven by 10 innate “overdramatic instincts”, from the way in which fear, urgency and negativity rule over our worldviews, to our tendency to generalise and seek single causes and solutions. Factfulness provides an entertaining and data-based antidote to many of the thinking errors that underpin our worldviews.
Related Article: Cognitive Biases: Predictable Thinking Errors and How to Avoid Them
How to Win Friends and Influence People - By Dale Carnegie
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.
The Power of Habit - By Charles Duhigg
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?
Rest - By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
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.
Related Article: The 24-Minute Rule: Why Napping Improves Performance
Sleep - By Nick Littlehales
Nick Littlehales is an elite sports sleep coach and has worked with high-profile athletes from across the sporting spectrum. In this illuminating read, Littlehales provides actionable practices for better sleep. From thinking in cycles instead of hours through to the power of napping, the ideas in this book will leave you thinking differently about our most important tool of physical and mental recovery.
Related Article: The Benefits of Thinking, Working and Resting in Cycles
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - By Mark Manson
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.
Surrounded by Idiots - By Thomas Erikson
Thomas Erikson is a behavioural expert from Sweden. Having spent two decades helping organisations and teams understand their behaviour through the DISA system, the book provides a comprehensive look at the application of this model in practice. The aim of the book is to help people get past the mentality of assuming we are surrounded by idiots and instead become fluent in the language of behaviour.
Talk Like TED - By Carmine Gallo
As Carmine Gallo puts it, “ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century.” But crucially, we can only change the world through these ideas by effectively communicating them. After analysing more than 500 TED presentations and interviewing presenters, neuroscientists, psychologists and communications experts, Gallo presents what he believes to be the nine most important elements of effective presentations.
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