Emotional Health Tactic: Read Empowering Books

Hi! How’s it going. What’s up.

I went on somewhat of a self-help-book binge throughout 2015; the good ones play about the same melodies, just with different instruments. I’ve read both research-based and spiritual-based books, and I’ve learned I appreciate both approaches for way different reasons. My thirst for advice and vicarious wisdom has accelerated my personal growth by what I can estimate would have taken years to a lifetime on my own. So, yay, books! This is a list of my top 4, plus my other favorites.

Here we go.

#1 – The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
Self-empowerment. Qualitative research.
How to be yourself and the immeasurable benefits of doing so. How to stay sane in a crazy world. With every page I read, I felt a cocktail of joy and unexpected relief.

This book is magic. It’s a short read, too, and the most densely packed with gems of any book I’ve read thus far.

#2 – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Radical creative empowerment. Spiritual.
If you create things, read Big Magic. Period.
Liz Gilbert frames creativity in a way that brings me back to how I saw creativity when I was a kid, and how I’d like to always see creativity. Big Magic invites a style of creative living beyond fear; I recently reread it to remind myself of what really matters (and what doesn’t).

Do you have what it takes to be creative? “The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

#3 – May Cause Miracles by Gabrielle Bernstein
Self-betterment. Spiritual.

Concrete applications and very mindfully organized. Read/do a little daily for 42 days (passages are a page or two and any homework is small and super approachable). Takes canons from A Course in Miracles and makes it more digestible. Frequently features identifying your fears, which are actually hilariously less intimidating when exposed to light.

#4 – Rising Strong by Brené Brown
Self-empowerment. Qualitative research.
Topics are illustrated with brilliantly woven, moving, and highly insightful stories. Rising Strong is about the moment we’re face-down in the arena, bruised and alone. It discusses strategies to identify when we’re vulnerable and hurt, and how to move through these emotions constructively and emerge from the experience even stronger. AND see that as realistic and exciting. Not surprisingly, it focuses a lot on people’s behavior (especially our own).

Its lessons are broadly applicable across all terrains of life. (After reading it, my aunt texted me, “Rising Strong should replace the Bible.”)

Smartcuts by Shane Snow
Professional acceleration. Qualitative research.

Smartcuts explains simple strategies to get way more done with way less energy. It regularly provides examples of prolific success of individuals who didn’t do things the normal, hard way, but who actively look for “smartcuts” (Shane’s word) to accelerate success by spending less energy in radically more efficient ways.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Human psychology. Quantitative research.

It covers a seemingly endless array of topics. It’s dry as hell, but its content is so grossly captivating and often mind-blowing that it’s surprisingly readable (though skim or skip the first chapter). Very different from the other books in this list, this book is more about the psychology behind how we make decisions and perceive information. I am convinced that reading this book simply makes you smarter.

Why Quantum Physicists Do Not Fail by Greg Kuhn
Self-help/self-betterment. Very spiritual, but through the paradigms of modern science (yes, it’s weird).

Endorsing the “law of attraction”, Do Not Fail focuses on how to manifest our desired reality by shifting our perspective. The real meat is in the last third of the book, which is filled with brilliant, actionable techniques. It’s way too spiritual for my palate, but I read it for the how, not the why, and used it for the betterment of my life. (This book is what kicked off my self-help-book binge.)


Actually not a book BUT I wanted to add to this list. Meditation app for meditation noobs; Headspace had enough structure and was approachable enough for me to get into it. I’ve been using it (almost) daily for a year, and it’s worked extremely well with my other sources of personal growth. Some books I read, get psyched, and fall back to old habits a month later. My progress with meditating with Headspace has been gradual (read: “slow”), but its positive effects on the rewiring of my brain are, with my permission, nearly permanent.

Five Minute Journal
Okay, another app, but GUYS gratitude is IT, man. In the morning, list 3 things you’re grateful for and 3 things you’ll do to make today great, and at night, list 3 amazing things that happened today and how you could have made the day even better. This doesn’t have to be an app (I wrote down hourly gratitudes for a few months on my own last year), but it makes habitual gratitude easier with its structure and nice interface.

The less I want to write down things I am grateful for, the more it benefits me when I do. #truthbomb

Hopefully this list has a positive impact on your life. I know it sure as hell has for mine.


How to Productivity: April 2016 Edition

Look at that big-ass task list. Just look at it.

“I’m overwhelming!” it crones. “You’ll never amount to anything and your breath smells like fingers!”

Your eyes well up with tears. Your hands are trembling. “We used to be friends, Task List. You used to keep me organized and on track. What’s going on?”

“Gloop glorp!” it hoots, “I’ve sucked the FUN out of all your tasks! I’m nothing but a graveyard for hope! Wheeee!” And with that, Task List zooms around, knocks over a chair, and shits on your keyboard before giggling its way out of the room.

You sit there, your body filled with the familiar hollowness that accompanies a friend shitting on something you own. After a moment, you look down at your hands. They’re not trembling anymore. They’ve become fists.

Your body is tense, your enthusiasm gone. Your once-fun-but-now-unpleasant task list’s cackle still echoes in your mind. What do you do? You resume work like you’re supposed to, your soul sluggish and your mind cluttered. You try to keep typing, but typing with fists is nearly impossible.

And scene.

This happened to me a bunch over the last few weeks, and I dealt with it, but I didn’t understand what was going on until now. The technique that’s been working the best is this: any time I felt overwhelmed by tasks or guilt, I’d ask “What am I in the mood to work on right now?” and then have fun doing that thing. That’s it.

Somehow, as if by magic, my productivity soared. But it’s not magic; it’s the fact I’m enjoying and interested in what I’m working on. Once I separate a task from its priority, perceived difficulty, how much I’ve been putting it off, and so on, I can actually see what makes it fun.

It’s important to note that what I think I’d want to work on is often not what I want to work on: I can’t use logic to deduce what I’m in the mood for. I’ve gotta look through the whole menu and see what whets my brain-appetite. Remarkably, I found myself tackling tasks I’d been putting off for months because I’d built up a picture in my head that they were harsh and intimidating. I completed them, did them well, AND enjoyed myself.

The coolest unexpected effect I found was that I’d complete tasks I didn’t expect to enjoy (but did), then I’d ride that momentum to complete harder tasks. Now that’s pretty cool.

Caveat time: It’s easy to take breaking the rules of doing tasks in priority order too far. If I let myself slide too deep down the carefree-attitude slope, I’d gradually bend other rules (e.g. sleeping in on a work day because I stayed up late— a cardinal no-no). Whenever I float towards this cycle, I lose sight of my goals, I start drifting, and I feel crappy and unproductive. So this specific rule-bending tactic is simply one productivity strategy in a toolbox of many. I’ve been oscillating regularly between excessive rule-breaking and excessive rule-following over the last year (each bout a reaction to the other), and I gradually find myself spending less and less time in the extremes as I work towards hovering around the sweet spot in the middle.

TL;DR: When you start dreading all your tasks, stop, and only work on whatever task interests you in that current moment.

“…Hey,” says Task List, waddling back in. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier. And for shitting on your desk.” You watch as Task List shuffles over to your computer and sucks the shit back up into its butt.

“It’s okay, Task List,” you reply, “It’s my fault for taking you too seriously. Friends?”

Task List sizes you up with a mysterious smile.

“Yep. Friends. Now let’s get back to work.”