And when I say grow, I think about becoming calmer, braver, more disciplined, compassionate, less biased, driven, creative and resilient. Some people think that these are qualities we are born with and we either have them or we don’t. If I look at my own experience, I would say that nothing is further from the truth. I had very few of these qualities twenty years ago, but as I kept learning and practicing, I developed skills that I never thought I would acquire.
When we get to practice and master skills like inner calmness, courage, self-control and continuous learning, we develop an authentic form of confidence that comes from knowing that we are enough the way we are, as long as we constantly improve. We become aware of our weaknesses and we embrace our imperfections without losing our self esteem. We become more skilled at facing discomfort in front of a difficult situation or conversation.
When I sat down to write this list, I thought 10 would be a good number, not too long for you to read, and not too difficult for me to summarize it. But when I reviewed all the books that influenced me in the last few years, I ended up with 36. It turned out to be a more difficult and longer exercise than I initially thought, but it also helped me clarify why each of these books and big ideas helped me grow.
1. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
Understanding in practice the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset has been by far one of the most important influences in my development. I probably re-read this book three or four times, and went back to deepen certain chapters or passages a dozen of times. I applied and tested the ideas in my work, with my team, with my clients and especially as a parent. It made me think back to moments and experiences where I acted with a fixed mindset and it helped me re-think those situation through a new pair of growth mindset glasses. Mindset was probably the first book that taught me about the incredible power of our brain and how malleable it is, if we nurture it in a positive way. If you want to read more about what I learned from it, I invite you to read my blogpost, If you want to change somehting, start with your mindset.
2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
This is such a classic in personal development and it gives the illusion that if you read it and understood what each habit is about, you’re halfway there. It includes some universal truths and common sense principles but I feel that many people around me know them in theory, but fail to put them into practice. This is one of the books I often go back to, whenever I need to re-evaluate my core values and priorities in life. Covey’s framework is very simple and elegant, but to apply it in our busy everyday life, gets extremely hard and complicated. It requires layered changes and getting to the core of who we are. I believe in the inside out approach and in the fact that becoming the best version of ourselves, starts with a strong foundation and a strong character. Like with Mindset, I apply the principles of this book everyday, in everything I do. The most difficult but also the most helpful framework for me, is Habit 3, Put First Things First. Difficult, because it took me a long time to develop from the chaotic, unfocused, multitasking person I was. Maybe the one habit I have a difficult time embracing is Habit 2, Begin with the End in Mind. While I am all in favor for having a vision and imagining what we want to be in the future, I also believe that if we live by the right principles and values, life has a wonderful way to surprise us. I like to think about future and imagine different possibilities and versions of myself but more in a playful open minded way than in a serious “objectives bound” scenario. It would be too boring for me to already know how I will be thirty years from now. But I do believe in the need of having a compass.
3. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein
For someone who most of her life saw herself as mediocre and not having a talent for anything in particular, doubting her capabilities and feeling like an imposter, Range was really the book that opened my eyes and my mind. Epstein managed to wonderfully deconstruct the idea that peak performance requires born talent and deep practice from an early age. He rather looked at examples of fulfilled people who had a more atypical path, who got different influences from many different areas and followed their intuition. Getting exposed to a broader range of experiences, increased performance, innovation and creativity later in life. This is an idea that fascinates me and I am obviusly biased, because my own development path has been with so many ups and downs and things started to connect into a bigger picture quite late in my career. But following the same idea that Robert Green develops in Mastery, each individual has a different path of reaching her potential and the key is to stop and reflect, adapt and build on the previous experiences and strengths. The worst we can do is to compare ourselves to others, who had a totally different path and set of experiences, capabilities and interests.
4. The Element, by Sir Ken Robinson
I am grateful that Ken Robinson existed and managed to radically change perceptions about what intelligence is and isn’t. Plus, he did it with so much humour. The Element explores not only the right mindsets and methods needed to develop each child’s unique potential, but also the diverse ways to tap into anyone’s unique potential.
As people, we have so many abilities that remain unused, just because we had the bad luck to end up in environments where nobody encouraged us to do that. As parents, teachers, managers, we have a responsibility to acknowledge everyone’s unique talents and support them to grow them further. We should not be content with accepting the so called common sense. If you want to learn more about how to find your unique talents, you can also read What’s Your Superpower.
A favorite quote that I often use as a reminder: “One of the enemies of creativity and innovation, especially in relation to our own development, is common sense. The playwright Bertolt Brecht said that as soon as something seems the most obvious thing in the world, it means that we have abandoned all attempts at understanding it.”
5. Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee
In Joyful, Fetell Lee deconstructs and demystifies the feeling of joy, which is being defined as that intense, momentary experience of positive emotion. She believes that true joy is not a feeling that comes only from inner peace and mindfulness. It’s not an exercise of mind over matter, but matter over mind. Tangible things can create an intangible feeling of joy if we know where to look and how to capture those elements of joy. She calls this framework, the aesthetics of joy.
As an irremediable optimist and joy seeker, I started to use this framework in many areas of my life, from home decoration, to the way I shop, and how I spend my free time with my family and friends. I see the world around me in a more joyful way, because I understand some of its patterns. From the ten aesthetics of joy, each of us has a certain set of preferences, but it’s easy and very practical to find those elements and environments that bring most joy to you personally. You can read more about what these are, here.
6. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman’s most popular book is one of those books that you read and re-read for years and you still have the feeling that you didn’t get all of its layers. It’s the most comprehensive study about human cognitive biases I read so far and it has applicability in all areas of our life. What I like in Kahneman’s approach is that even if he’s a scientist and all his theories are thouroughly tested, he has a very approachable style of writing and an amazing sense of humor. I’m not saying it’s an easy read and it took my almost 3 months to finish it the first time, but it’s worth the effort and you will want to go back and re-read certain chapters when you will face some of the inevitable everyday biases, in action.
7. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
When I first read The Power of Habit a few years ago, I had no idea about how our brains work and didn’t have any understanding of the neuroscience behind habit formation. In the meantime I read a few other books on habits and habit changes, and still, The Power of Habit remains my favorite. The main idea that stuck with me and I use it every time I want to change something is that “you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it. Use the same cue, provide the same reward, change the routine”. This golden rule is so simple, yet it requires so much discipline, willpower and character strength to achieve it. But it works. The book is also full of interesting stories and examples that make it enjoyable to read and not boring or “preachy”.
8. Finding Flow, by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi
One of the most important facts of life I learned in the last years is that the way we manage our energy is essential if we want to perform and be excellent in what we do. When we force ourselves to do things we don’t like, we use so much more energy, that we feel completely drained and not able to do the things that really make us happy. What a rich and fulfilling life ultimately means, is to feel that we are the main character in our own life, in control of what we choose to do, without wasting our time and potential. You don’t want to feel like the best-friend, when you’re in the leading role of your own movie. If what we do is serving other people’s goals and ignoring ours, we will feel trapped and controlled.
Flow is a state of mind in which we are completely immersed in an activity. When we go through a flow experience, what we feel, what we wish and what we think are aligned and in harmony. That’s because what characterises flow experiences are clear goals, a clear set of rules and immediate relevant feedback. If you want to read more check my blog post about what motivates us.
9. Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker
Did you ever read a book that left you thinking “how could I not have known this for more than 30 years?”. A feeling of revelation but also a of anxiety, at the thought that I might have messed up big time by ignoring the importance of healthy sleep for so long. After reading Why we sleep and watching Matthew Walker’s Masterclass, sleep became my the number one health related priority and as it turned out, it had an indirect positive impact on many other areas of life: better habits, more energy during the day, better focus, improved memory and learning capacity and increased ability to be present and live in the moment. If you truly care about yourself and want to live a healthy happy life, regulating your sleep and understanding why it is so essential for our well being, is simply a must. If you want to start with something lighter and more visual, I can send you a voucher code for a 7 days trial of Masterclass, so you can watch Matthew Walker’s course for free. Just send me a reply to this email and I will send you the code.
10. Indistractable, by Nir Eyal
When I read Indistractable a few years ago, I had a hard time finishing it and I found it shallow and too much like a self help manual. I particularly disliked the idea of timeboxing, as to me, this seemed like a rigid way of planning your life and reminded me of that scene from The Little Prince where the girl’s mom plans her life by the hour. But as my life became busier and busier and I started to be involved in more projects and have increased responsibilities, I went back to Indistrictable and re-read it through the glasses of more recent experiences. The essence of the book is simple. If you want to live the life you desire and move in the direction you choose for yourself, you must build a system that doesn’t let other people move into your driver’s seat. And one cornerstone of that system is of course... timeboxing. If you want to read more about what ideas helped me most, read more here.
While this seemed an easy and straightforward post to write, it was really difficult to come up with a top 10 list of books that helped me most. There are so many others that inspired me in different ways. In fact, each book I read or author I admire have some ideas that resonate with me and other that don’t. It’s important to keep that in mind when we consume any type of information. We don’t need to fully agree with someone, to be able to appreciate the usefulness of some ideas that actually help us. We don’t even have to like a person to acknowledge that she has some valuable insights that we can benefit from.
Good ideas and insights are all around us if we use our ears and minds not only for hearing, but for truly listening. If you are curious to see the complete list of the 36 books, you can find it here.
If you have any questions or want to share something about your favorite books, please write me any time. Until next time, keep on learning and stay happy and healthy!
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