What are some of the best life-changing books?

 

Here are 7 books that have made a big impact on my life most recently, along with a few details on why I think they’re important:

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca.

There’s so much timeless wisdom in this book! A collection of letters written by Seneca, it’s a dense read but be warned—you’ll be taking notes from every letter because each one is full of practical advice we can incorporate into our lives. And maybe it’s an even better idea to read it through once, then go back and take notes the second time—you’ll be glad you did. The letters cover quite a large selection of topics. You’ll get to the bottom of what is the importance of true friendship, to why you should exercise your mind daily, to specific ways of reducing anxiety about all the different events that are happening in your life, Seneca’s ideas are a blueprint for living a high quality of life every single day.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Written by two decorated, former Navy SEALs who fought during the war in Iraq, this book is a glimpse into what happens on the battlefield, and even more how a leader makes (or breaks) the success of a team. It’s a fascinating read about the importance of setting a strategy, how to prioritize what needs to be done first, how critical it is to check your ego, and why taking full responsibility when things go wrong promotes good leadership and success. At times the book reads like a thriller, and then you realize all the scenarios that are described are based on real events and experiences we can learn from and apply to our daily lives.

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to acquire a growth mindset, this book is an informative and excellent read. Written by a psychologist PhD who teaches at Harvard Medical School, the book introduces the concept of emotional agility—being flexible with our thoughts and feelings (the equivalent of having a growth mindset), instead of being rigid and holding on to beliefs from our past (the equivalent of having a fixed mindset). There are four key concepts of emotional agility: showing up (facing your thoughts and feelings), stepping out (detaching from them), walking your why (focusing on your core values), and moving on (getting proactive in changing your habits and mindset).

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport.

The title comes from advice that the comedian Steve Martin gave a while back to aspiring entertainers: be so good they can’t ignore you! Newport challenges the advice we often hear that we should follow our passion, and says that going down this path can be dangerous, invoke anxiety, and feed into a constant need to reinvent ourselves. Instead, Newport argues that matching our dream job to a preexisting passion doesn’t matter, but that passion comes after we put in the hard work to excel at something that provides value to others. This is a must read for anyone who feels they don’t really have any specific passion and are not sure how to choose their career path or move forward with their life.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss.

This book looks and reads like an encyclopedia: there’s so much information included and it’s best if you read it in small chunks! In essence, the material is divided into three sections (Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise), and consists of a comprehensive collection of life experiences, tools, and hands-on tactics compiled from a series of interviews Ferriss conducted with world-class leaders in diverse fields of expertise. These leaders range from top athletes to best-selling authors to Special Ops commanders. It’s like drinking from a very concentrated cup of wisdom!

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.

The Daily Stoic is almost like a workbook: it offers 366 days of quotes of Stoic philosophers as well as practical applications of their wisdom through exercises. The philosophers mentioned include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Zeno, and Cleanthes. Here are two examples of powerful quotes: “We suffer more in imagination than in reality” (Seneca), and “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own” (Marcus Aurelius). In other words, everyone can find something here they can relate to! There’s also a ton of commentary to accompany each quote, and a super useful glossary of Greek terms.

Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel.

The artist provides a blueprint on how we can build strength and resilience in order to become a stronger, better balanced, and happier person. Instead of being impatient with ourselves, we should be more like hard wood that grows slowly: not look for quick fixes, but focus more on who we want to become in the long run. Jewel suggests this is possible to do by making decisions that aren’t focused on only the present, getting to the root of the problem we’re facing, and giving ourselves the permission to grow so that we can become the architect of our dreams.

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What should one do in one’s free time?

As long as you have free time, that’s a good thing!

Just one suggestion: use it wisely. Because it’s finite. And because it’s the perfect opportunity to lead a high quality of life.

Here are 5 tips on what to do in your free time.

Tip 1. Spend it on your future self.

Those 48 hours sound like an opportunity to put school or work on pause and just look for what can entertain you. That’s perfectly okay! But many times we end up spending a lot of time doing things that other people want to do. It can be hanging out with a friend because they want to go to a party, even though we don’t feel like going. Or it can be spending a whole afternoon shopping because someone asked us to come along.

How about making a change and devoting some time to yourself? You can create some space to process what you’re going through, and to think where you want to be in 5 or 10 years from now. It’s a good time to dream big: think of that life you want to have in a specific city, with a career in an industry that motivates you, and maybe a partner who’s the right fit. Which is why it’s a good idea to set aside a few hours to do the following:

  • Write down your top 3 goals: they can be personal, professional development, or both.
  • Under each goal, write down 3 things you would need to do on a consistent basis to get you closer to each goal.
  • Create a plan for the week ahead so that you can devote blocks of time to making progress in the areas you’ve identified.
  • In a week, do an assessment of the progress you made. Did some activities take more time than you anticipated? Did you need to plan better? What could you have improved? Then make adjustments for the following week.

Tip 2. Feed your brain.

Use your free time to learn something new, expose your brain to different ideas and perspectives, maybe even others’ point of view. You never know when you might find an idea or two you can implement into your daily life. Use this time to learn, be curious, wonder, question, pause, think. One way to do this is to listen to podcasts. They help to feed your brain, keep you alert and focused, and boost your curiosity. Try some of these podcast ideas:

  • The Tim Ferriss Show. He’s the author of the famous book The 4-Hour Workweek, but this entrepreneur powerhouse is the author of many more—my favorite is Tools of Titans. His podcast is full of interviews with smart people, useful tips on living a high quality life, and excellent advice on everything from important life lessons we can learn from Warren Buffett and Bobby Fischer, to deconstructing concepts such as meditation, mastery, and mindset.
    • Episode ideas: Look for Testing the Impossible: 17 Questions that Saved My Life (#206), How to Design a Life – interview with Debbie Millman (#214), Seth Godin on How to Think Small to Go Big (#177), the Canvas Strategy (#165), and On Zero-to-Hero Transformations (#155).
  • Optimize with Brian Johnson. This podcast feels like getting an education in how to live smarter. It’s about gaining more wisdom in less time to help you live your greatest life. Brian condenses big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas.
    • Episode ideas: Look for The Power of WOOP, based on brain training research by Gabriele Oettingen, PhD; Create Zen Habits with Leo Babauta; and Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. Then check out his micro classes on a variety of topics, from overcoming procrastination to how to train to be a hero.
  • The Model Health Show with Shawn Stevenson. Shawn is an author, nutritionist, and coach and he hosts a fantastic educational show on many interesting topics related to health, fitness, and personal growth. He does a ton of research to prepare for each episode.
    • Episode ideas: Look for tips on how to learn faster and increase focus with memory expert Jim Kwik (#197), how to embrace change and become emotionally agile with Dr. Susan David (#185), how to exercise your “NO” muscle with Michael Hyatt (#206), and how to stop the stress cycle with Dr. Pedram Shojai (#142).

Tip 3. Read books.

Why? It’s the equivalent of living multiple lives; reading can stimulate your imagination, utilize your critical thinking skills, and ultimately, give you food for thought (regardless of whether you agree with what you’re reading or not). And find your thing, fiction or non-fiction, that you’re super interested in.

  • Fiction: Dive deep into the lives of others and get lost in private lives of fictional characters, find out what makes them tick, ask yourself what would you do in their place.
  • Non-fiction: Learn from the experiences of others in their quest to live a happier life, become healthy, start a business, excel at a skill, overcome an obstacle, live a life with more meaning and a sense of purpose.

Tip 4. Forget about TV and find interesting documentaries.

The downside to TV is that it can easily take hours, where you might start watching one show and end up channel surfing. Next thing you know, that precious free time you had is gone. You’re much better off customizing what you watch, which is easy when you look for topics that suit you and your interests the most. Here are a few documentary ideas:

  • Finding Joe: It’s a documentary based on the work of professor and writer of mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the concept of the hero’s journey: why the myth of the hero is still important to us, how we can discover what excites us and gives us greater purpose, and what we can do to apply these ideas to the personal journeys in our lives.
  • The Ancient Worlds: British historian Bettany Hughes shares her passion for ancient societies and talks about everyday life in ancient Alexandria, Rome, and Athens. She gives an in-depth look into the way society was organized among Minoans, Spartans, and the Moors.
  • Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit: Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, explores questions such as how the Roman Empire was constructed, how it functioned, what the infrastructure was like, and how different parts of the world merged together to expand one of the most powerful empires of all time.

Tip 5. Be good to yourself.

And here, like everywhere else, you’re the best judge of what this means. Being good to yourself simply means knowing what helps you to relax, what can charge your batteries, what makes you happy. This of course depends on your personal interests, your passions, as well as your personality. And bottom line, it depends on how well you know yourself. Because regardless of whether you’re a true introvert and prefer staying in each evening, or an extrovert who likes to go to concerts and parties, you need to spend quality time doing what is best for you.

  • Do you enjoy spending time with friends? Get a couple of close buddies together for an evening out to watch a movie together, attend a concert, catch up over coffee or dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  • Would you prefer to spend some quiet time alone? Schedule a night in, order takeout, watch a film or a documentary that interests you, or do something else that makes you feel really good, like playing guitar, painting, writing, or any project that really gets your mind engaged.

What’s a great educational podcast?

Optimize with Brian Johnson

What makes it a great educational podcast?

It’s a collection of condensed big ideas from the best books on optimal living, from philosophers from ancient Rome and Greece, to contemporary philosophers, psychologists, scientists, and thought leaders from around the world. The episodes are of different lengths: some are 30-minute interviews with writers of the books being discussed, while others are 5-minute micro classes on how to apply ideas from the books to your daily life: in school, at work, in your personal life, and towards achieving your personal goals.

What makes it unique and different?

It’s both fun and informative: the approach, language, and style of presenting the material is engaging without sounding too academic or dry. Every episode has ideas for practical application of the concepts that are covered.

What are some examples of topics presented?

Some of the most important topics covered in the podcast are developing mini habits, the benefits of positive psychology, how to achieve mastery, what helps you keep your focus and motivation on work, the importance of emotional intelligence, tips for mind hacking, why fear is the #1 enemy, how strategy and a good plan can help you master your life, and others.

What’s an example of a book that is recommended?

This is my #1 podcast where I get the majority of book recommendations, including most recently Seneca’s small book On the Shortness of Life. I wrote a review of the most important ideas from this book in this post.

Any suggestions on what’s a good time to listen to this podcast?

Try it at the beginning of your day: as you’re getting ready, while you’re having breakfast, or during your commute to work or school. You can also maximize the time when you’re running errands, doing household chores, or taking a walk during your lunch break or in the evening when you have some time to yourself. All of these times are an excellent opportunity to feed your brain and get new ideas for making a positive change in your life and taking your education to the next level.

What kind of books should I read if I want to become a smarter person?

Get super strategic about the types of books that can help you discover the world, enhance your learning experience, give you skills to become smarter about what you can do, and overall improve the quality of your life.

 

Start with several ideas to customize your own fun and informative reading experience:

Idea #1. Download the Goodreads app as your starting point.

It’s one of the most practical ways to stay on top of reading. With this app you can:

  • Discover new books and authors and check out book lists
  • View book summaries, reviews and updates from your network
  • Get recommendations based on your personal reading preferences by genre, topic, and author
  • Use the barcode scanner to scan books you find in a bookstore or library
  • Keep an up-to-date status of your reading by selecting books you want to read, those you’re currently reading, and those you’ve finished

Idea #2. Use Quora as a source for what to read.

  • Get a list of recommendations on the best books of all time
  • Regularly check and skim through answers under the Book Recommendations topic
  • Follow writers who post frequently about books and book recommendations, and write down the names of books they write about if the topics intrigue and fascinate you

Idea #3. Get condensed book ideas to speed up your selection process.

Idea #4. Read books on developing a life philosophy by discovering unique life stories of interesting and wise people.

  • Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: the psychology of survival and finding strength to live in circumstances where most would give up. It is written as a real life story by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. A very humbling reading experience.
  • The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer: it reads like a roadmap to achieving happiness. The author explores what letting go can do to one’s life and what can happen when we tune out the noise of our busy lives.
  • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer: a book about transforming your relationship with yourself and the world around you. It reads as a practical guide to letting go of painful experiences, living mindfully, and freeing yourself from habitual thoughts, emotions and energies that limit your growth, your work, and the quality of your life.
  • Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh: it is a practical guide to finding peace, reducing daily stress, and overcoming fears, written in a voice that is kind, calm, reassuring, and wise – a true mark of a spiritual leader.
  • Mastery by Robert Greene: this book debunks the myth that it takes a genius with innate talent to produce work of timeless quality. It’s full of examples of some of the biggest minds through history, and it emphasizes how focus, true passion and dedicating ourselves to doing deep work all make us successful in what we do.

Idea #5. Pick books to boost your strategic and leadership skills that you can use to build your career or personal development.

  • The Prince by Machiavelli: learn in depth about human behavior, politics, and gaining power.
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu: think ahead, develop tactics to manage conflict, and ensure victory.
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield: find out how to go from amateur to a complete professional, and what it takes to gain respect from others as well as yourself.
  • The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin: learn the importance of working on the resistance you feel when faced with a challenging situation, instead of simply giving up.
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: learn from high-achievers and what makes them different, and discover whether it’s genius, talent, or mastering a skill through overcoming a difficulty that makes them be the best in their field.
  • The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: it can help you understand the impact of the highly improbable and our error of placing too much weight on the odds that events from the past will repeat themselves.

Idea #6. Work on developing a more positive mindset.

Idea #7. Ask!

Whenever you have the chance, ask people which book they’re reading and if they’d recommend it. You never know: sometimes you might get an answer you couldn’t have guessed, and many times you’ll be glad you started the conversation to get to know them better. Some places and situations where this can work best:

  • Waiting in line at the bust stop or coffee shop
  • In a bookstore
  • During lunch break at school or work
  • Hanging out with friends on a walk, hike, or anywhere outdoors
  • Catching up over the phone with someone you haven’t seen in a while, but whose opinions you respect

What are some of your favorite podcasts to listen to in the morning?

 

Here’s an eclectic mix of podcasts I like listening to:

  • BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent (an in-depth look at the stories behind the top news headlines around the world, told by BBC correspondents, journalists and writers in a captivating storytelling format; hosted by Kate Adie)
  • Optimize with Brian Johnson (condensed big ideas from the best books on optimal living and micro classes on how to apply these ideas; here’s where I get a lot of book recommendations, including most recently Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life)
  • Invisibilia (a show about invisible forces that affect and control human behavior: our ideas, beliefs, and emotions)
  • Intelligence Squared (the world’s leading forum for debate and intelligent discussion; I like the diversity of topics that are covered and that include Brexit, democracy, foreign intervention, capitalism, the art market, contemporary literature, feminism, events in the Middle East)
  • The Memory Palace (storytelling podcast about events from the past)
  • Middle East Analysis (podcast on events happening in the Middle East and North Africa regions; the main contributor is international lawyer and political advisor Dr. Harry Hagopian)
  • This Is Your Life with Michael Hyatt (a podcast dedicated to living a life with more passion, working with greater focus, and pursuing goals that give purpose and meaning to our lives)

How do I create an interest in learning new things?

Make it personal and turn it into a habit.

Start with the basics: figure out your why, narrow down your what, create a ritual around the where and when, and master your how.

Ask your WHY.

Find out what is your purpose and goal to learn a new thing. When you make this connection, you’re more likely to stay motivated to keep learning. Why is that important? Because you should always make sure you’re learning something because you want to, and not because someone else thinks it is important. It is your personal development you should be focused on, not the development of anyone else. To narrow down your why, ask yourself the following:

  • Why is learning about this topic important to me?
  • Is this something I was interested in even when I was young?
  • Am I looking to become an expert in a certain field?
  • Do I want to use this knowledge to better my education or career?
  • Am I looking to develop a skill I will need to live a higher quality of life?

Narrow down the WHAT.

When you find out your why, narrow down what you’re learning. Make sure you identify one field, area, or subject matter so that your learning becomes more focused and targeted. Why is this relevant in the long run? Because you don’t run the risk of getting distracted and also demotivated because you want to achieve too much at the same time. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn more new things; it just means you should target one area at a time so that your habit of learning is easier to grow.

Create a ritual around the WHERE and WHEN.

Don’t wait for nighttime to begin learning something entirely new. If your goal is to absorb new information more effectively, especially if that information is dense, unfamiliar, and includes concepts that will require your analytical mind to take over, read the new material early in the day.

  • Why is it important to learn new things early? Because that’s when your analytical brain is more likely to perform the most complex tasks (in the case of learning new things, these tasks can be reading, comprehension, application, repetition).
  • When should you study? Your brain’s peak performance time is around 2-4 hours after you wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times for review are between 8 and 10 a.m. To maximize your focus time, extend studying until midday to cover the most important concepts by lunchtime.
  • Where should you study? Create a peaceful and calm space to sit and work undisturbed. It could be your bedroom or a quiet corner at home. But if you live in a noisy environment, you might need to get creative. Try investing in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones to block out noise, or get a pair of soft silicone ear plugs like these so that you can study in silence. Music can help you improve your focus: it can be classical music (Mozart, Chopin, Bach), a playlist of chillout tunes, or sounds of nature.

Master your HOW.

Now that you’ve dedicated the time and space to learn something new, think how you can best optimize the time to get the most out of your learning experience. If you think that you should be sitting in one place reading for hours, that’s the wrong approach. Why? Because you’re more likely to lose focus and your motivation, not to mention you’ll get tired fast. Here’s how to study better:

  • Use a timer to divide up your study sessions into 30–60 minute increments that will allow your brain to focus in a more targeted and effective way. If you don’t have a lot of time, though, try the Pomodoro technique: study only in 25 minute increments, with a 5 minute break.
  • When you’ve completed one study session, get up and do something completely unrelated to work to give your brain a chance to rest. The benefit? You take advantage of the Zeigarnik effect: it’s a concept developed in psychology that suggests that students who take breaks during which they perform unrelated activities (studying other unrelated subjects, reading a book, working out or performing other physical activities, for example) will remember material better than students who go through longer study sessions without taking a break. So go ahead: get some fresh air, make yourself a sandwich, write a short list of other things you need to do later in the day, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea.

 

What are some must read non-fiction books?

Explore these 5 categories of non-fiction books to feed your intellect and discover:

  • a different approach to the meaning of life
  • the importance of building goals and a life strategy
  • how to master skills you need to succeed
  • how to boost your levels of happiness
  • the best ways to feed your brain and optimize its performance

CATEGORY ONE. Expand your mind by discovering how other people approach life and create their personal philosophy.

  • Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: the psychology of survival and finding strength to live in circumstances where most would give up. It is written as a real life story by a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. It is also one of the most humbling reading experiences of my life. I recommend it to every human being.
  • The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer: a roadmap to achieving happiness, an exploration of what letting go can do to one’s life (it’s not what you think! so be prepared to be challenged as you read this), and a discovery of what happens when we tune out the noise of our busy lives.
  • The Untethered Soul (also) by Michael A. Singer: transforming your relationship with yourself and the world around you, a practical guide to letting go of painful experiences, living mindfully, and freeing yourself from habitual thoughts, emotions and energies that limit your growth, your work, and the quality of your life.
  • Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh: a practical guide to finding peace, reducing our daily stress levels and overcoming fears, written in a voice that is kind, calm, reassuring, and wise – a true mark of a spiritual leader.

CATEGORY TWO. Positively change the way you look at challenges, the work you do, the skills you need, and your abilities to master anything you set your mind to.

  • Mastery by Robert Greene: a book that in essence debunks the myth that it takes a genius with innate talent to produce work of timeless quality. Greene gives examples of some of the biggest minds through history, and shows us that it is focus, true passion and most of all dedicating ourselves to doing deep work that can make us successful in what we do.
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck: a book that focuses on how the view we adopt for ourselves profoundly affects the way we lead our life. Dweck explains the difference between a fixed mindset (believing that our qualities are set in stone – we can only have a certain level of intelligence, a certain type of personality, or a certain moral character, which we need to prove over and over) andgrowth mindset (believing that the hand we are dealt is just the starting point in our development, and that our qualities are things we can cultivate through our efforts, in other words we can change and grow through application and experience).
  • Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg: Being busy doesn’t always mean we are being productive. In fact, there are ways to work smarter instead of harder. Duhigg provides powerful real-life examples of why it’s important to develop motivation to accomplish our goals, how we can strengthen focus by building mental models, and how daily rituals can give us space and time to think about the bigger picture and what our true goals ought to be.
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: learn from high-achievers and what makes them different, and discover whether it’s genius, talent, or mastering a skill through overcoming a difficulty that makes them be the best in their field.

CATEGORY THREE. Boost your strategic and leadership skills to help your career or personal development.

  • The Prince by Machiavelli: learn in depth about human behavior, politics, and gaining power.
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu: think ahead, develop tactics to manage conflict, and ensure victory.
  • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield: find out how to go from amateur to a complete professional, and what it takes to gain respect from others as well as yourself.
  • The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin: learn the importance of working on the resistance you feel when faced with a challenging situation, instead of simply giving up.
  • The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: understand the impact of the highly improbable and our error of placing too much weight on the odds that events from the past will repeat themselves.

CATEGORY FOUR. Flex your happiness muscle by treating happiness like a habit and by actively working on becoming happier every day.

Get ideas from one of Harvard University’s most popular lecturers, Tal Ben-Shahar, who writes books on positive psychology and gives examples how you can apply it to your daily life:

CATEGORY FIVE. Feed your brain with power foods to boost your cognitive powers and strengthen your memory.