Since 2005, I have been deeply immersed in the study of motivation, habit change, applied psychology, stoicism, and Buddhism. All personal plans contain perspectives and exercises based on my observations, adapted to individual circumstances. Most of my personal plans last from three to twelve weeks, and prescribing three thousand pages of reading to Clients who don’t already have a reading habit is unrealistically ambitious. However, as part of the long-term personal development plans that I create for my Clients, I recommend one or more of the below books as important texts.
The Consolation of Philosophy – Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius
The impact that this book had on my world-view is a reason why I chose Boethius’s name for this enterprise. All of us, at some point in our lives, reflect on the nature of Good in a world that seems steeped in Evil, and lean to bitterness when betrayed, deceived, or treated unjustly. Boethius, a Roman Senator, wrote this book in prison while awaiting trial for treason – his conviction and execution were certain. This book explores the workings of the mind of a man who believes himself innocent, yet is condemned to die. He runs the gamut of emotions – vulnerability, despair, cynicism, optimism, and eventually settles in a state that we today call Radical Acceptance. You will recognize parts of his journey – having certainly walked them yourself. This book will give you new perspectives to suffering and acceptance.
The Art of Thinking Clearly – Rolf Dobelli
All my clients receive a copy of this book at the end of their first program with me. Dobelli has collected 99 cognitive errors and described them in chapters of one or two pages, making it simple for even a non-reader to digest. This book is a must-read for all professionals, especially those in decision-making roles.
Games People Play – Eric Berne MD
This book is one of the most insightful works on interpersonal communication and the psychology of human relationships. Berne posits that in all our relationships, we play the role of either Parent, Adult, or Child based on our ego-state. Thus, each relationship exists as a transaction between people existing in these ego-states. Problems arise when communication fails to match the ego-state of either participant. Furthermore, many of these transactions or “games” have an adverse impact on players’ potential. This book is a heavy read, and took me over two years to digest completely. However, it transformed the way I view relationships and helped my understanding when dysfunctional relationships were causing me stress or anguish. I consider this a very important book for people who are struggling with workplace dynamics or personal relationships.
The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph John Campbell
The modern model of the Accidental Hero – a person who prevails by luck, predestination, or being in the right place at the right time is flawed. The Zero Becomes a Hero concept is ubiquitous in popular culture – Die Hard, Kung Fu Panda, and The Matrix are key examples. This model is so toxic that the 25 year old Billionaire is considered to be a benchmark of success, and I’ve spoken with people in their early 30s who consider themselves to be life failures because they haven’t met this absurd and unrealistic standard. This book is an interesting insight into the “process” of greatness. In breaking down the journeys of Prometheus, Osiris, Jesus, Muhammad, and Gautama (Buddha), Campbell derives a model of the Hero and emphasizes the toil and sacrifice that goes into enduring greatness.
True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh
“Love” in 21st century English is a blanket term applied to several mutually exclusive emotions, each defined quite specifically in ancient traditions. In a departure from traditional discussions of “love” which tend to be quite complex in Buddhism, Hanh breaks the concept of love down into key components – loving kindness, compassion, joy, and freedom. This short book of just over a hundred pages, may be the most important book you will ever read if failing familial or romantic relationships are weighing upon you.
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Emil Frankl
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Psychiatrist who lost most of his family in the Holocaust. This book, based on his experiences while interned in German concentration camps, explores the mindset of his fellow inmates and looks at the factors that led some to thrive and others to collapse in the hideous camp conditions. This book is an important reflection on suffering and the means to thrive in difficult times.
I’ll be updating this reading list from time to time.