Looking back at 2013 I realize there were a lot of ideas and people that captured my attention and caused me to look at the world a little bit differently.
The following are quick summaries of the books, ideas, people and websites that I found interesting, thought-provoking and worthwhile to pay attention to.
I’ll start by saying that in past years the books I’ve gravitated towards have mostly been about self-improvement and spirituality. Books that in reflection that probably tended to have had more style than substance (and I think that’s okay if that’s what can serve a person at the time).
Some of the following books and ideas below have helped redefine what these topics mean to me. For instance – books that are on self-improvement that are simply cheer-leading (“you can do it!” type messages) aren’t doing it for me anymore, I want something with more substance (science/research/practical advice). Further, my notions of spirituality that used to include a higher power have now been replaced with simple reverence for life (not to say I’ve ruled out a higher power – yet I don’t think the concept is necessary for living a “spiritual” life). More on this below – including books that stood out to me that caught me by surprise.
(Note* links to Amazon pages [not affiliate] are in the book titles not the pictures below)
The first “self-help” book on the list. I hesitate to categorize it in the traditional self-help category because of the way it’s written – it is as much a treatise on the science of willpower as it is a practical guide for living better. Kelly McGonigal does a great job of highlighting the latest research on willpower – what it is, how to improve it etc, all in the context of an easy to understand framework that gives immediate actionable advice. If I had to pick one self-help type book from my collection for the best bang for your buck – this one wins hands down.
This book wins for the most divisive book/theme on my list (as evidenced by the amazon reviews). In a nut shell it is a book that explores the idea that the path to success in life is not necessarily in line with what we are taught in school and that by embracing certain realities/truths and leveraging certain behaviours and traits we can accelerate ourselves along that path. The main theme is Power (as per the title) but I found it to be primarily valuable in understanding the dynamics of persuasion, interrelations and self-promotion on a more subtle level. I think the reviewers on amazon who rate it as one star are likely uncomfortable with the topic in principle and discount it immediately. I found there to be a lot to learn and think about in this book. I would recommend it to most anyone and especially to those fresh out of school who are entering the workforce as it could help take years off your learning curve and help give you the awareness to make it further in life, quicker.
This book simply punched me in the brain and caused me to reevaluate my preconceived notions of spirituality. In other words – before reading this book I was fairly confident that there is a higher power (because it “felt” true to me). After reading this book (and delving into the topic further – see Sam Harris below) I am not so confident and have come to see that the research shows that the brain is hardwired for this type of belief pattern. It might stand to reason that this loss of faith could have negative consequence on the mind and personality yet I feel just as “alive” (or more) and empowered to live a good life than prior. In other words, confronting the idea that – this life might be it – was actually pretty liberating as it doubled-down my commitment to making the most of it while I’m here.
This book wins for its all round bad-assery. In a nut shell, survival expert Les Stroud details a number of famous survival cases from the past 100 years and provides his own summaries of the situations insofar as what he thought they did right, wrong, what the could have done differently, etc. It is written in a very humble (appreciative of the fact that these are dire circumstances) and mesmerizing way. It highlights the extreme will to live and ingenuity of a number of people who have had to face life or death scenarios. If you have an inkling of interest in this area you’ll probably really enjoy this book and it may even make you more appreciative for how good we have it in our day to day lives as it provides an extreme contrast to everyday life.
This book caught me by surprise for how much I enjoyed it and the further interest it provoked (learning more about the Space Program in general and watching videos on YouTube, etc). The book was a gift from my brother and topic that I would have likely never delved into on my own. It is a very interesting story that brings to life the path of one man as he goes from young man to commander of the international space station. I found it entirely fascinating and really did a good job of bringing to light a topic that I had no idea I’d appreciate so much. In short – what NASA and related space programs are doing is wholly badass.
An excerpt from the book:
“…and that’s when I notice the universe. The scale is graphically shocking. The colors, too. What’s coming out of my mouth is a single word: Wow. Only, elongated: Wwwooooowww. It’s overpowering, visually, and no other senses warn you that you’re about to be attacked by raw beauty.”
What’s cool is Chris Hadfield became a social media sensation during his 6 months in space in 2013. I’m just digging into some of his YouTube clips (which do a good job showing what it’s like to live on the space station) and enjoying them quite a bit. With the help of his son and others they managed to produce the first music video from space, which has some clips and sights from the station. Here it is if you are interested:
There are probably as many people whose ideas influence me as there are days in the year – however the following two people are at the top of my list this year for people who I enjoyed learning from most.
If you’ve heard about Brené Brown before you know that she is a warm personality, a great presenter and a stunningly honest and open person. Her work personifies courage and what it means to live a whole-hearted life. To me it doesn’t come as a surprise that her TED talk is one of the most viewed in the sites history. Her message on the power of vulnerability cuts straight to the core and I believe is very relevant in this day and age.
From her talk:
“…in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen – really seen.
I’m not sure I even know where to start when describing Sam Harris. To me, he epitomizes the pinnacle of intellectual honesty and reason. His capacity to take on tough/taboo topics and elucidate on them is overwhelmingly powerful. In the public sphere he is probably best known for criticizing religion (and if you follow his train of thought it’s hard not to agree), but to me his most touching discourses are on meditation, mindfulness and living life to the fullest.
People of faith might write him off on first glance yet I believe there is a lot of be gained from reflecting on what he says – and that some of his messages are actually compatible with what a religious person might put forth, such as:
There is “..nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.”
The following talk of his is my favourite and in my belief worthy of revisiting from time to time:
Websites that I love
I can’t recall exactly how I came across this website but I’m certainly glad I did. In essence this website is a hub for captivating ideas and topics. It’s basically brain candy – bite sized reflections on a wide variety of topics. It’s easy to get lost in the site but it is time well spent as it is usually very thought provoking. The site also has a facebook page which is great too.
Instead of summarizing the site in my own words, here is a description of this website/group:
The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.
Much like brain pickings it is a site that reflects on a wide variety of topics. It is well organized and contains a lot of good content. They also have a quality facebook page.
More to Come for 2014
Well that’s the shortlist for exciting books, people and websites for this year. Let’s see what we can find in 2014.