The Best Recent Titles for Inspiration, Motivation and Personal Revolution

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More information is published on just about any subject than ever before. As Tesla founder Elon Musk says, “You don’t need college to learn stuff… you can learn anything you want for free.”1 I adore this piece of advice.

There are two challenges when attempting to learn on your own. First, determining what’s important. Second, clearing the static created by the barrage of available information. So we’ll limit what’s important to psychology, self-improvement and insight. And let’s just say the purpose of this article is to clear the static!

In the last five years, print book sales have reached 650 million. Printed books maintain popularity over digital and audio version of the same. Sixty-five percent of adults in the US have read a printed book in the last twelve months2. Educational material has never been more in reach for human kind than in this moment, right now.

The following are seven must read books! These books will shift your paradigm, motivate and inspire you.

#7 Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization

Scott Barry Kaufman delves into the personal journey and research of famed Psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Perhaps the most interesting gem this book provides is that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was never intended to be a pyramid. The idea was not that you could not be actualized without food or shelter. Or, that when you were hungry and without food that you couldn’t experience love.

This idea was hijacked by management schools as a gross oversimplification of Maslow’s Ideas. This book attempts to give Maslow’s theory the nuance and depth it deserves.

In a tireless effort both into Maslow’s research (finished and unfinished) and personal journals, Kaufman explores each of the ideas associated with Maslow’s self-actualization, including safety, connection, self-esteem, exploration, love, purpose, peak experiences and what Maslow referred to as Theory Z. The concept of self-actualization defined as “…the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”3

During Maslow’s later years, he began to understand that self-awareness could lead to transcendence. Those self-actualized individuals that he used to exemplify his idea described experiences beyond the recognition of their ‘selves’. Experiences transcended their own sense of self and ego.

In what seemed a contradiction, these folks also had a strong sense of who they were at their core, exuding strong values and beliefs. This simultaneously perplexed and inspired Maslow. There appeared to be a phase beyond self-actualization. Maslow didn’t get the chance to fully flesh this out in his lifetime.

The book discusses the D-Realm and B-Realm. The D-Realm (D for Deficiency) refers to ‘needs’ that come from a deficiency in shelter, safety, love or esteem. These are called safety goals. In contrast, B-Realm referred to growth related needs. For example, gaining wisdom, insight or integrating life experiences. These are growth goals. Maslow used the B-Realm to describe what we refer to now as “being present” or “in the moment.” Ultimately, the choice between safety goals and growth goals may differentiate between the paths to self-actualization and transcendence.

In sum, the book illustrates the possibility of a culture that takes care of the most basic human needs. Thus, humanity can actualize, growing to our full potential.

#6 Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope

Perhaps Manson is best known for his 2015 inaugural bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. In this follow up, Everything is Fucked, he has come into his own. The book simultaneously recognizes the insanity as well as the importance of hope in our lives. Anecdotes illustrating how hope drives us through tumultuous and uncertain times, provides meaning and will very likely be the cause of human extinction.

The concept of hope is examined from many angles, revealing its impact on humanity. From its function in cults and religion to how it moves us to join political parties to how we are inspired daily, individually. The full-force of hope is undeniable.

We find Nietzsche’s concepts of master morality and slave morality. Master morality describes how those who have success and own the spoils of society feel they have earned it. Slave morality, on the other hand, recognizes that the average person is much like a ‘slave’ to those who feel they have earned the success. (IE business owners, corporate presidents etc.) The tension between these two moralities exist in our society. Nietzsche warned that this tension would only grow. (Sound familiar?) These moralities are often used to inspire people to join one side or the other. Hope used to divide.

In Manson’s estimation, hope is both the cause and the effect of what is wrong with the societies of today and the future.

On its face, it seems a bleak statement: Everything is fucked and it has a lot to do with hope. Fucked is past tense, referring to that in the past. And hope calls to the future. And so implied, is the importance of the present. There is a strange comfort in the eastern-style idea of being present or content with your life in the now. A mind in the past is depressed and a mind in the future is filled with anxiety. Enjoy the now. Regardless of what we do, the future will inevitably bring our demise. There is a positive message to be taken away here.

The book goes on to report that anyone offering hope, is not doing so for free. There is a cost that is not always immediately obvious. We are sold hope to soothe our emotions. Pain is a constant throughout humanity. And so, there will always be a market for hope in all of its constructive and destructive glory.

Interesting ideas in this book. Old ideas, presented in a fresh way with a modern framework. A must read.

#5 Atomic Habits

Want to change your life? Change your habits! After all, your life is the sum of every little habit that you have. This is a wonderful nuts and bolts book on improving your life, by James Clear.

We’ve all been in a rut before where we knew we had to make changes, but we couldn’t fathom where to start. Additionally, when faced with this challenge the journey to the goal seems insurmountable.

As Clear writes in several examples, throughout history real lasting change has come come from very small changes over a longer period of time. In the framework of self-improvement, this is very small changes in our personal habits designed to enhance our lives.

Clear teaches that there are four steps in creating habits: cue, craving, response and reward. These four steps were originally identified by Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit. Clear builds on the four steps with four laws.

  1. Make it Obvious
  2. Make it Attractive
  3. Make it Easy
  4. Make it Satisfying

The nature of the talent needed to put these types of books together is in the supporting analogies. This is where Clear shines. Interestingly enough, motivation can’t be counted on to fuel a habit. It is far more dependent on the environment. Several great examples of how this is the case are shared in the book. Habits that need changing begin by expanding awareness.

The idea that bad habits are solutions to fulfill primal cravings makes sense. The reason we crave high calorie food has to do with our desire or craving to sustain our life. However, we now live in an environment where this is not always healthy. Consequently, our access to high calorie food is much greater than it was. And so the trick becomes associating healthier, low-calorie foods (to stick with the current example) with a positive experience.

Ultimately, Clear’s support for the ideas he puts forth is intriguing, commonsensical yet not always obvious to most before the read.

#4 Outliers

(I know, I know, I know. This one’s not recent. But that is okay. It’s relevant and I’ve re-read it recently!)

Leave it Gladwell to point out why innumerable successful people are in position due to the system they came up in. At first glance this may not be a very shiny idea.

The book paints an image of the systems of humanity at large, shining a light deep into our cultural unconscious. We are challenged to think more critically about how to see power and influence in relation to humanity.

Gladwell masterfully and surgically approaches each success story willing to disregard what we may naturally attribute as likely causes and instead posits that credit is due to something far less obvious.

For example, Gladwell proposes The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes. In this theory, Gladwell hypothesizes that cultural circumstances made communication between air traffic control and a flight crew impossible causing a deadly crash. This power distance index (PDI) indicates the culture’s disinclination to challenge authority was the circumstance at play. Because of a cultural difference in the perception of power and communication, a deadly and completely avoidable plane crash occurred.

In the infamous 1990 Avianca flight from Columbia to New York, the failure of the pilot or co-pilot to challenge the air traffic controller’s direction caused the disaster. Though both knew the that fuel was running out, they would not bring it up. Even in this life or death situation, cultural norms and beliefs may have a large role in disasters life this.

This and other less than obvious ideas regarding success are also shared. Including 10,000 hour rule, the Matthew Effect and others. This book is known for turning common cause and effect assumptions on there heads.

#3 Upstream: How to Solve Problems Before They Happen

I heard Heath on the a podcast and was stunned at the beautiful simplicity of this idea. For Heath, it began when he heard this parable: You and a friend are having lunch by a river. Suddenly, you hear a child calling out as s/he is carried by the river. You jump in and save the child. As you bring the child to shore, you hear another child coming down the river. Your friend takes off running up the river, leaving the new child for you to rescue. Where is your friend going, you ask? Your friend tells you “I’m going to go upstream and stop the bastard who’s throwing these kids in the water!”

As leaders we are problem solvers. Yet we often become caught up in a cycle of reactivity. With our current knowledge and technology, we should be in a position where we can solve problems before they happen.

Heath discusses the three barriers to upstream thinking, problem blindness, lack of ownership and tunneling. The book would be interesting enough identifying these ideas. However, the book leaps ahead to dig into how what we are doing now to solve problems (or at least creating the appearance we are solving problems in our organizations public and private) just isn’t working and in some cases is making things worse. Thinking upstream is necessary.

Upstream is a book requiring a bit of study and time. It is important the idea stay top of mind as we race into the future. There’ll be no excuse to not see some of the most trying problems humanity has ever had to deal with.

#2 Think Like A Monk

Shetty brings the secrets of the monastery to light in his book, Think Like a Monk. All of the simplicity of the monastic lifestyle applied to our hectic lives. The books shines in its simplicity and the everyday activities he provides to grow the concepts in our own lives.

The book is divided in the three parts; part one, let go; part two, grow; and part three give. The first part focuses on the sense of self, negative emotions and your intentions. One of the activities supplied are in this section involves identifying personal values. The activity asks you to make note of the three whom you spend the most time. Of the three, what values do you share with these folks? How important is that value to you?

The second part, grow, gets into our day to day, discussing routine. Very good, focused information here.

If you’re reading this, chances are you are on the periphery of some of these practices and this middle section of the book will help you solidify some things you’re circling.

And finally, give. The way of a monk is to give. There are some simple but profound ideas in this final part. For instance, you don’t have to have a lot to give. Many of us are waiting until we get to that point where we have excess to…give. This is unnecessary and often we never arrive. Give now.

There is a large benefit to be had by giving to your community. If you don’t have a community in mind, Shetty does some work to help you identify this as well.

This book is truly great if you are looking for a modern book focused on improving your life and increasing satisfaction. The author achieves this by keeping it light, yet focused on age old wisdom that much of western culture has left behind. Awesome book. I’ll be picking through this one for weeks to come.

#1 Greenlights

My first feelings about this well-told, adventurous, introspective and inspiring book were that it was the everyman’s story. One of “us” makes it big. He carried ‘our’ story with him.

But something was off with that original view. There was something … else. I got the audiobook, I listened to it on one day off. I was digging.

What was it?

I realized that the real beauty and perhaps the secret to McConaughey’s success, was the story he was telling himself.

In one story from his childhood, McConaughey describes a scene where his mother and father get in a brutal argument. Dinner tables were flipped, knives were drawn and blood was shed. Here’s the decision point, the differentiator and the theme I was working for. McConaughey could have told this story as a victim. From the point of view of a scared child. But that’s not what’s on the page. Instead, the story is told lightly and is used to illustrate the beauty and passion on how his family interacts. In the end, his mother and father (drenched in blood and ketchup) make love on the floor in the heat of their argument.

The real idea that I was seeing working out in the authors life, was the way that he was telling himself the story was the key. McConaughey states in a stark phrasing at the beginning fo the book “I was never a victim.”

Many of us get the opportunity to decided how to tell our stories to ourselves. Many of us choose to tell the story with us as the victim or the martyr. No matter what happened in McConaughey’s life, he was never the victim and he only ascribed the most positive meaning. Really this is the metaphoric green-light. And perhaps, the idea that we choose our perspective on our lives.

We may not all get the opportunity to write a memoir. But why shouldn’t we? What story are you telling yourself? Hopefully one with a lot of green-lights.


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BA in Psychology and MBA from Kent State. ENTJ Myers/Briggs and my love language is acts of service. However, I don’t think any of those things should provoke you to read my blog. Hmmm. I want to talk about things we all think about but, can’t freely talk about.

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