“A deftly crafted and thoroughly fun read … especially and unreservedly recommended for elementary school, middle school, and community library Fantasy Fiction collections.” —MBR Midwest Book Review

5 Books That Changed My Life

Your future depends on what you do today.

As someone who reads for both a living and pleasure, I go through a lot of books in a year – from the most serious non-fiction to a wide spectrum of fiction, some of it admittedly frivolous! In the past few years, I have come across 5 books that have changed my life. The ideas in these books are meant to become a consistent practice – no immediate quick fixes here.

James Clear wrote, “New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results.”

Here is a short list of five books that have helped me to build better habits or daily practices. The results: I’m more focused, organized, productive, relaxed and, most importantly, happier.

Atomic Habits, by James Clear

The Premise:

Tiny, incremental changes lead to remarkable results.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear offers a four-step approach to making tiny, incremental daily changes that lead to remarkable results over the weeks, months and years ahead.  He asserts that if you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you, it’s your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. Develop new systems and instead of focusing on goals, focus on the trajectory you are on. And be willing to change your beliefs about yourself in order to get, and stay on, a positive trajectory.

Some key points:

  1. The risk inherent in focussing on goals is that there is nothing to push you forward once you achieve them. Then it’s easy to fall back into bad habits. Focus instead on the long term and continuous improvement
  2. Find a regular practice or routine that is small and easy to do. It will be a source of incredible power.
  3. Make it so easy you can’t fail and improve on it at small regular time intervals.
  4. Be patient. Sometimes it seems like nothing is changing but persevere, stay on the positive trajectory you’ve chosen, and you will experience a tremendous breakthrough.

 What changed for me:

  1. I’m now doing a serious workout 3 – 4 times/week
  2. I’m reading more books
  3. I’m developing a system for writing every day.
  4. I’ve given up any food with sugar (or it’s myriad aliases) as one of the top three ingredients.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown

The Premise:

Time is a non-renewable resource.

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about squeezing more into each day. It’s about getting only the right things done.  It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, in order to make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter to us. 
Applying a more selective criteria for what is Essential, empowers us to reclaim control of our own choices about where to spend our precious time and energy – instead of giving others the implicit permission to choose for us.

Some key points:

  1. If you aren’t clear on your priorities, you will be hijacked by other people’s agendas.
  2. The key is to weed out the vital few from the trivial many, and then ditch the trivial many
  3. Focus on no more than three priorities
  4. Keep in mind that priorities change over time and be prepared to pivot to a new cluster.
  5. Make doing the vital things as effortless as possible: remove obstacles, focus on small steady wins, establish a routine.

What changed for me:

  1. I have redefined what success is for me.
  2. I’ve reconsidered and retooled my business strategy to allow for more personal time for me by not trying to solve everyone else’s problems.
  3. I am now fully focussed on my relationships, my health and long-term well-being.

The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor

The Premise:

Our most commonly held formula for success is broken.

Everything we do is because we want a feeling: happiness. Conventional wisdom holds that if we are successful achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.

Be Positive
When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe.       
By isolating seven practical, actionable principles, Shawn Achor shows us how we can capitalize on The Happiness Advantage to improve our performance and maximize our potential. This book isn’t only about how to become happier at work. It’s about how to reap the benefits of a happier and more positive mind-set to achieve the extraordinary in our work and in our lives.

Some key points:

  1. There are proven ways we can improve our moods and raise our levels of happiness every day: meditation, planning something to look forward to, planning and committing acts of kindness, finding something positive about our surroundings (20 minutes outside in good weather improves mood and expands thinking and working memory), exercise, spend money on experiences not stuff, do something you’re good at.
  2. An attitude of gratitude leads to astonishing results. Our brains are wired to find confirmation of our beliefs. If we believe a good thing has happened, no matter how small, our brains will look for more evidence to support the belief that good things happen to us.
  3. Simply believing that we can bring about positive change in our lives increases motivation and performance so that success becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  4. If we are able to see a failure as an opportunity for growth, we are more likely to experience growth. Fail forward!
  5. One of the biggest drivers of happiness is feeling that our behaviour matters (a sense of purpose) and that we have some control over our outcomes. Don’t go for the home run. Master small tasks and gradually spread your circle of competency outward.
  6. Make it harder to succumb to distractions and bad habits.

–       Avoid watching or reading the news. If there is something you really need to know about, someone will tell you.

What has changed for me:

  1. I have maintained a daily meditation practice for over almost a full year straight.
  2. I strive to note three things I’m grateful for each day
  3. No screens for the first hour to 90 minutes of my day. Instead I have a quiet coffee and talk to my husband or I read a book.
  4. I am planning more new experiences.I am spending more money on experiences than stuff.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

The Premise:

Your happiness depends on the quality of your thoughts.

 The man had everything: power, fame, money, a loving family and good friends. He also dealt with war, famine, disease and insurrections. But the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121–180) still spend time with his journal every day, examining himself and working diligently at getting better being human. In this, he leans on the teachings of the Stoics and how he saw significant figures in his life live their lives. His meditations, or journal entries, still speak to us almost 2,000 years later. 

Some key points:

  1. Be grateful for the gift of every new day.
  2. If it’s not right, don’t do it. If it’s not true, don’t say it.
  3. Practice really hearing what people say. Try to get right into their minds
  4. Sanity means tying your well-being to your actions and not what happens to you or other’s opinions of you.
  5. Your happiness depends on the quality of your thoughts. And you get to choose your thoughts.
  6. Don’t fear dying. Fear never living.

What changed for me:

  1. I now watch my thoughts. It’s tempting to believe the stories my brain tells me. But just because I believe something, doesn’t mean it’s true. When I find myself getting worked up about something, I stop and ask myself ‘What is real here’.
  2. Instead of focussing on success, I am trying (not often very successfully still) to be a better human being.

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, PhD.

The Premise:

Get your sleep. Make it a priority.

In Why We Sleep, Dr Walker clearly demonstrates how we can harness the transformative power of sleep to change our lives for the better. His synthesis of research and clinical practice (spanning decades) gives us a new understanding of the vital importance of sleep and dreaming. Sleep amplifies our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. It recalibrates our emotions, restocks our immune system, fine-tunes our metabolism, and regulates our appetite. Dreaming eases painful memories and creates a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge to inspire creativity.
Walker answers some other important questions about sleep: What really happens during REM sleep? Why do our sleep patterns change across a lifetime?

Some key points:

–       Insufficient sleep causes devastating health consequences

–       In depth discussion as to how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood, and energy levels; regulate hormones; prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; slow the effects of aging; increase longevity; enhance the education and lifespan of our children, and boost the efficiency, success, and productivity of our businesses.

  1. The effect of common sleep aids and are there undesirable long-term consequences?
  2. What are the prime sleep disruptors, such as caffeine and alcohol, and what can we do about them?

 What changed for me:

  1. I try to turn off all electronics one hour before turning off the light
  2. I go to be early enough it is possible to get more than eight hours of sleep and I guard that time fiercely.
  3. No caffeine after noon
  4. Little or no alcohol or sugar within a few hours of bedtime.

There you have it. 5 books that have changed my life. I’m still a work in progress, though because there are more days I’m not successful than I am.

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