Every year when September rolls around I get a burst of energy and motivation to set new goals and get things done. I haven’t been a student in a while now, but the feelings associated with “going back to school” each September haven’t passed. Whether you or your kids are going back to school or not, if you’re feeling energized to start a new routine, bring an old project to fruition, or even establish a new fitness or nutrition plan, here a few of my all-time favorite books for igniting the brush fire:
1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath, 2010.
“Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.”
I read this book a few years ago in the context of coaching and motivating others, but it’s about creating effective and lasting change in general. Borrowing from psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis, the Heath brothers describe a duality within each of us– an emotional elephant and a rational rider. This duo is responsible for our ability to make decisions, react to our surroundings, and create change. Although we may initially assume the rider is in control, this is not always the case. For the Heath brothers, successful change comes down to three basic tasks: directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path (i.e. the environment).
The rider comes up with a rational plan, the elephant provides emotional drive, and the path provides an actionable direction for the two. To enhance the rider’s vision, the Heath brothers advise the reader to seek out “bright spots” — or individuals and situations in which change has been created successfully– and replicate that path for their own rider. But, as they point out, the rider is no match for the elephant. If the elephant isn’t motivated, the rider will end up going in circles too, and without a defined path, the two are destined to get distracted and lost. It’s a great book for laying out actionable steps for creating change on any level.
2. The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, by Christine Carter, 2014.
“The Sweet Spot is about shifting the small gears, the ones that rotate relatively easily. And because all the gears are interlocking, when we tweak a small gear, large gears start to move–effortlessly– as well.”
Carter uses the analogy of creating pharmaceutical products to explain how one goes about finding their sweet spot. For example, “the minimum effective dose” (MED) is the lowest dose of a product that spurs a clinically significant change in health or well-being. So, what is the minimum effective dose (for you) of: sleep, work, housework, exercise, checking email, quality time with family, etc? More is not always better, and can actually push you beyond your “maximum tolerated does” of something, the level at which the activity (or drug) becomes toxic and starts causing an adverse reaction. The goal is to find the level where you have “great strength, and great ease”; where you can turn exhaustion into productive and creative energy. The book is filled with evidence-based research, and helpful and practical advice from her own personal experiments.
3. The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit, by Seth Godin, 2007.
“The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.”
This book is a gem. Godin acknowledges that all the planning and motivation in the world won’t necessarily make you successful if the project is not worth your time and energy. He takes a simple idea– that all projects start out fun, but get tough, leading to “the dip”— and discusses how to determine which projects are worth completing. According to Godin, what sets successful people apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated when it really counts. You have to know when to quit, and when to get to work. He argues that winners seek out the dip, because they know that only a minority have (or will) overcome it, making them more specialized in their field, and therefore more valuable. The point is to know when a dip is worth gutting out– and if it’s not, to quit so you can excel at something else.
These are just three of my favorite reads, but here’s a short list of new and old non-fiction books that are sure to inspire:
- Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahreman
- Drive, Daniel Pink
- Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg
- The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
- Crazy is a Compliment, Linda Rottenberg
- Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin