Books I've Read: 2013

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Fascinating collection of studies on influence. The book gives very practical examples that challenge you to translate these methods into your daily interactions. There are quite a few reminders throughout the book letting the reader know that, of course, these tools should be used for good. I’ve already implemented a few of the ideas in my life. This is the kind of book I would like to read through again to remind myself of the nuggets of wisdom.

Shift Your Habit: Easy Ways to Save Money, Simplify Your Life, and Save the Planet

One of my least favorite books I’ve read in awhile. All of these money-saving books promise new ideas, but for the most part they each rehash what has already been said. This book does have a nice layout where it highlights the shift you can make.

Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma

Loved this book! I’ve analyzed people for a long time, but this book provides many insights I had not completely thought through. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to be more self-aware and more aware of what others may show through their body language.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

I read a few reviews on Amazon of people who hated this book. I can see their point. The authors suggest a path of libertarian paternalism and acknowledge that both of these words can have negative connotations, let alone what putting them together might suggest. At the same, they make a good point to acknowledge people will hold influence over others, whether we like it or not. Thaler and Sunstein use the phrase “choice architect” to describe how they view this responsibility. A choice architect can choose to ignore the influence he or she wields, or she or he can use that influence to make people’s lives better.
Throughout the book, the authors balance their suggestion of libertarian paternalism by trying to find the leverage point that has the least restriction on people’s freedom. I think they’ve worked out a good philosophical system in this book.

Organize your Mind Organize your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time

Very interesting set of methods to get a hold of your life. Some ideas are ones I’ve read in many other places, but they do present their system in a very practical way. One take away that I’ve used for many years is to have a “landing pad” for various items in your life. Put your keys/wallet/glasses in the same spot every time, and have a special holder/cup/drawer for those things, and you will be less likely to lose said items. Routines, rituals, hard reminders; these can all play a key role in organizing your life.
Similar to David Allen’s “mind like water”, by organizing the small things, you allow yourself room to focus on the bigger and more important areas of your life. Making time, space, and energy for these more important challenges may bring you more happiness and success.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

I’m currently reading this book. I found out just recently the book was pulled from shelves. He lifted quotes from others’ work, among other unethical practices. As far as I could tell, these shady techniques do not discredit the science or ideas in the book. I’m liking this so far. It is very similar to Nudge, and Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Francis for Men: “Otherwise, We Need Weapons” by Markus Hofer

This is the book I chose to read at night before bed. It is a mix of a simple biography of St. Francis, but mixed with a historical fiction counter-balance. Each chapter shares a portion of Francis’ life and follows with the author taking on the first-person voice of Francis as if he were speaking to us today.
As the title suggests, this book is written as a reflection guide for men. The first portion of the book dwells on the relationship Francis had with his father and how it broke down when he began to radically transform his life.
The rest of the book takes us through the struggles Francis repeatedly encountered in living out the calling he had heard directly from God. Hofer insists that Francis was a man who lead through passion, love, and a dwelling on beauty. He was not an administrator and struggled with that tension throughout his life.
The description of how Francis tried to codify his vision is fascinating. It suggests that you cannot really write passion and fervor into law, which is really the point Francis was trying to make in relying heavily on scripture and story as opposed to rule-making.

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins

I won this book in an online contest. I read through it to force myself to read something I might not otherwise read.
My initial impression was not that great. I had a hard time getting over the fact that the author labeled himself as a good writer but constantly used sentence fragments throughout the book. I guess that writing style is more acceptable now as way to try and be impactful. It just bothers me.
The premise is that there are points in our life where we are “wrecked”. I would describe it as an experience that forces us to recognize the injustice in the world. Goins works in the mission-trip world and so draws heavily from those types of experiences.
In the end, I was glad I made it to the end of the book. Goins make some great points about the importance of commitment on our path to maturity. He also makes interesting points about the benefit of listening to and working for an authority figure/boss.
I didn’t realize this going in, but the book is really for college students and recent college grads through late twenty-somethings. It heavily processes what it means to grow up, with a chapter even titled, “Get a Job”. But if you are in this position and have a passion for social justice, it is well worth the read.

Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t and How to Make Any Changes Stick by Jeremy Dean

This is one of the more interesting books I’ve read thus far this year. I found myself taking many notes throughout.
A great first question is, “What are the characteristics of a habit?” Dean defines them as such:

  1. “We’re only vaguely aware of performing them.”
  2. They are curiously emotionless.
  3. We tend to perform the same actions in the same context.

Point three struck me last night when I was watching The Intouchables, a French film. The main character Driss, recently out of join for robbery, finds a new life as a caregiver for a wealthy paraplegic. At one point in the movie, Driss has to go back home. Once he is home, we see him go through nearly the same scenes as earlier in the movie. I noticed this because it was point three in action: we form habits in a context. Leave that context and it is much easier to make new habits. Get back into the old context and we will probably fall right back into our old habits.
There was another quote in the book that I took the time to write down. It defines a common mistake: the planning fallacy. Here’s the quote:

Participants who visualized themselves reading and gaining the required skills and knowledge spent longer studying and got better grades in the exam than those who only visualized their goal.”[You here this too often: just visualize your goals, but it doesn’t always work out that well!]
One of the reasons just visualizing an outcome doesn’t work is the planning fallacy. This is our completely normal assumption that reaching our goal will be easier than it really will be.

Don’t you find this to be true? All to often we quit pursuing a goal because it is harder than we had imagined.
This brings my thoughts to another point in the book. When trying to make a new habit, it is very important to visualize the barriers you will encounter and visualize and plan out how you will overcome them.
Here is a plan Dean suggests, the WOOP plan:

Wish – write down the habit you want to achieve

Outcome – write the best outcome of your habit

Obstacle – write out obstacles you will likely face

Plan – write an implementation plan. Make sure to write IF this happens (obstacles), THEN I will do this

You can think of the IF as a situation or trigger for you action. You use the IF to balance the specific and abstract. It is also important to pick an event trigger and NOT a time trigger. Events are much more concrete. If you start to pay attention to your current habits, you will find that most all of them are connected to events. It is a fascinating self-study to figure out these event-driven habits.
Another important point is that “Dissatisfaction is a real killer for a new habit.” Dean suggests three way to deal with this.

  1. To defeat lack of progres –> show/publicize and progress you do make
  2. To motivate–>keep goal and motivation in focus
  3. To defeat tiredness–> set up energy boosters, whatever works for you.

To this last point of tiredness, “…everyone’s self-control is a limited resources; it’s like muscle strength, the more we use it, the less remains in the tank, until we replenish with rest.” This complements Tony Schwartz’s idea that rest is essential for working at our maximum. We have to cycle in and out of work-rest times. Part of the reason for this is that our self-control diminishes over time unless we re-energize.
Overall, this book is worth the read and I could recommend checking it out. It offers some very practical and insightful advice on how to change your habits.

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