Friday Short Stacks are light weight nuggets of content that are little more digestible than my usual 2400 word behemoths. This week, my four favorite books on self-improvement. If you feel stuck in a rut or that your personal evolution has stagnated, the answers may lie in these weighty tomes.
This was the book that introduced self-described “professional dilettante” Tim Ferriss to the world. And I stumbled across it a time when I felt like my life had officially departed from my control. I was working at a job I didn’t care about, I had a year left go in grad school, and baby #2 was about to be born. I was about ready to stick a fork in myself: I’m done. It’s over. I’ll never do anything cool ever again. The 4-Hour Workweek was exactly the book I needed to read exactly when I needed to read it. It wasn’t that I rushed off to find my own 4-hour workweek or start globe-trotting. But the book helped me realize that everything was still under my control, I just needed to focus on streamlining what I did and how I did it. And I needed to break out of the rat race of always needing more money and focus on what really matters: enjoying the time I have on this earth and making the most of it.
In short, the book changed my mentality about success, effort, and money. All for the better.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.
Growing up, I was easily deterred by failure. If I wasn’t instantly good at something, I’d simply assume I’d never be good at it. And in that case, why try? I was never going to be a good student, or charismatic, or speak a second language, or learn how to draw. What’s more, I took those failure personally. I didn’t see them as opportunities to grow. I saw them as deficiencies. And anybody I met who was skilled at something must just be a natural. A born talent. The idea that maybe, just maybe, that person also sucked at one time but put in the hours to get better never crossed my mind.
Turns out I had a”fixed mindest”, as Carol Dweck called it. I assumed my skill set was immutable: all of the talents I had were all of the talents I would ever had. What I needed was a “growth mindset”: the idea that I can (within certain physical limitations) learn how to do anything, as long as I was willing to put in the effort and time, and as long as I was willing to fail.
Mindset was an epiphany for me. Dweck codified a phenomenon that had been haunting me for years without me knowing it. Since reading the book, I’ve come to view any skill as acquirable. The way to view life is not “There are things I can do and things I can’t do.” The right way to look at life is to say “There are things I can do, and things I can’t do yet.”
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D.
Living inside your head with your own emotions can often be one of life’s greatest challenges. Brach combines her expertise in Buddhism, meditation, and psychology in the form of what she calls “radical acceptance”. Radical acceptance is not the same thing as resignation. It’s not about passively accepting what life throws at you. The goal of radical acceptance is to embrace your emotions – your insecurities, pain, anger, and grief – as natural parts of the human experience, and then transcend them. Radical acceptance is not about controlling your emotions. That’s a fool’s errand. The goals is instead to preclude your emotions from dictating your actions, perceptions, and quality of life.