By: Michael Beiter
I've been asked a lot lately what books people should read. The self/help type are what they inquire about.
I'm reminded of a quote from Nassim Taleb whenever I'm asked these questions because it's true. Taleb says "My top 10 books of all time changes every summer."
The more I read the more I find hidden gems or value in the not so openly marketed stuff.
Here are my top 5 books I think you should read to help you live a better life. You might find one of them in the 'self - help' or 'personal transformation' section of your bookstore. Otherwise they are psychology and philosophy books.
1. A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine
Irvine teaches contemporary readers how to apply Stoic principles to the modern world. I literally got goose bumps reading his introduction. I love reading and will never stop. It has arguably one of the highest returns on your time investment of any activity. Kind of like exercise and sleep. Admittedly, I've been searching for something through my reading. Irvine spoke directly to my searching self when he writes:
What is the thing in life you find most valuable that you're pursuing?
"Many people will have trouble naming this goal. They know what they want minute by minute or even decade by decade during their life, but they have never paused to consider their grand goal of living. It is perhaps understandable that they haven't. Our culture does not encourage people to think about such things; indeed, it provides them with an endless stream of distractions so they won't ever have to. But a grand goal in living is the first component of a philosophy of life. This means that if you lack a grand goal in living, you lack a coherent philosophy of life.
Why is it important to have such a philosophy? Because without one, there is a danger that you will mislive - that despite all your activity, despite all the pleasant diversions you might have enjoyed while alive, you will end up living a bad life. There is, in other words, a danger that when you are on your deathbed, you will look back and realize that you wasted your one chance at living. Instead of spending your life pursuing something genuinely valuable, you squandered it because you allowed yourself to be distracted by the various baubles life has to offer."
His clarity in getting to the core of a question I've been after the answer to left me speechless.
I wrote in my journal not long after: 'I found my book. This is my guide.'
2. The Art of Living by Epictetus
Epictetus is one of the fathers of Stoicism, the philosophy outlined in Irvine's book. This modern translation is full of one page pieces of advice that strike at the heart of many issues still facing us today - 2000 years after it was written.
Here is some of his advice that is fitting to being part of a fitness and nutrition group:
Take care of your body
Respect your body's needs. Give your body excellent care to promote its health and well-being. Give it everything it absolutely requires, including healthy food and drink, dignified clothing, and a warm and comfortable home. Do not, however, use your body as an occasion for show or luxury.
3. Flow by Mihaly C
Have you ever experienced something so deeply that all of your anxieties, fears, and worries melt away? You lose track of time and become completely engaged in whatever it is that you are doing. This is called being in Flow and Mihaly C. (his last name looks like the alphabet) named the phenomenon and has spent his career studying it and the positive affects it has on our lives. Put simply, flow is what happens when we are at our best. Be it exercising, conversing, reading, thinking, or something like it, there are a certain set of constraints that need to be present for us to reach this state. Setting your life up in a way that allows for the maximum amount of flow states is about as good as we can do to ensure our lives are full of optimal experience.
4. The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
Russell was my first foray into philosophy. He is world renowned and his work is timeless. He wrote the Conquest of Happiness in 1930 and his diagnosis of the issues facing the modern man which get in the way of happiness are shockingly relevant, even 90 years later.
Russel on Boredom:
We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement....
Wars, pogroms, and persecutions have all been part of the flight from boredom; even quarrels with neighbors have been found better than nothing. Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.
He goes on to suggest embracing boredom. Just like we do with our fitness and nutrition. It is the sign of high levels of skill and low levels of challenge that lead the master exerciser and eater to be bored, if not relaxed in any physical or food situation they find themselves.
5. The Power of Less by Leo Babtua
This is the original essentialist tome that was out before the explosion of books on the topic. Babtua is a famous blogger who echoes many of the other authors and thinkers on this list when he suggests non attachment and the relentless removal of the unimportant from your life.
We use the idea of minimum effective dose in everything we do in our work at Pillar. This is the pharmaceutical term for the same thing Babtua writes on - the power of less. As a refresher it means that you should never do more than you have to, use the smallest amount necessary to do the job, and gladly ignore the trivial many for the vital few.
It is the same minimalist perspective I used to grow this business and design our methods. The power in less is astronomical.
So here are the books I suggest when someone asks me what they should read for self help.
This list will no doubt be different a year from now than it is today. And that is just a tiny part of the beautiful art in reading. Each new idea, chapter, and title you consume builds and links to the lifetime of others you have read. In this sense the books you read and what you think of them are distinctly 'you.' Just like your fingerprint or food preferences.