Start the year right – Books to make 2016 your best year ever
When Lauren asked me to write a guest post on self-help books that I love and recommend to readers in the New Year, I knew I had to write a few words on why these books continue to matter. The genre of self-help has a bad rap. The image that comes to mind is the episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte walks into a book store and finds a sobbing woman in the self-help aisle that makes her run backwards and far away from the store. I think that’s an unfair characterization of a genre that is actually very relevant and important. Today, we’re at a wonderful time in the evolution of self-help books.
- Authors are increasingly acknowledging their imperfections and are being vulnerable. Brené Brown calls herself a mapmaker – sure, she makes maps for a living but she cannot be expected to know the way to every place. None of the authors in my list of favorite books claim to be experts. In the game of life, no one can claim to be an expert. We’re all growing and get by with a little help from our friends. (Side note: The Beatles are now on Spotify!)
- A lot of self-help books today are explorations of research findings or written like an individual’s story. This makes it a lot more interesting to read.
- We live in a world of constant change. I mean, change is the only constant – Am I right? In such an environment, you cannot afford to close yourself to new ideas. Ever since I made a commitment to read more, I’ve witnessed a revolution in my life because suddenly I am equipped with a new vocabulary to explain my thoughts, feelings and emotions, I have an increased self-awareness, and I am far more empathetic towards my friends and family.
That ends my two cents on self-help. Check out my top five books (in no particular order) for 2016!
Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
When I heard the title of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes’ new book, I was convinced I’d hate it. Why? Because women are notorious for saying yes to everything that comes our way. We’d rather say yes and then resent or hide from our commitments than be articulate about why we cannot say yes. So why is this book on my must-read list for 2016? Think about it – what are you saying yes to? Yourself? I’m thinking not. We’re guilty of saying “yes” all too often to everything else other than ourselves. When did you last prioritize your health, or creativity or getting outside your comfort zone? Shonda will show us the way and how! In this book, Shonda Rhimes chronicles her journey of saying yes to the things that matter. To say “yes” to playing more, “yes” to her body, “yes” to speaking her mind, the all-important “yes” to saying no when it was needed and much more. The book also has three terrific speeches Shonda gave at different events during her “Year of Yes” – the commencement speech at Dartmouth, her thoughts on shattering the glass ceiling at the Hollywood Reporter, Women in Entertainment breakfast and her talk on “normalizing” television at the Human Rights Campaign gala. These speeches alone confirm what a powerful role model Shonda Rhimes is for the youth of today.
“Everything sounds like crap until you are in the right mind-set.”
“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time.”
“I’m great at taking care of other people so why am I so bad at taking care of myself? Why am I so unwilling to show myself the same kindness and consideration, to cut myself the same slack, to give myself the same protection and care that I would give anyone else?”
The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown
If you told me, in the fall of 2013, that a book would come by and change my life – I would laugh hard because I was one of those people who firmly believed this was impossible. And then came Brené. Brené Brown is a research professor of social work whose research around shame, vulnerability and courage is so powerful that her TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world. Gifts of Imperfection is the best introduction to her work and serves as a foundation to her other best sellers, “Daring Greatly” and “Rising Strong.” The Gifts of Imperfection is a book dedicated to exploring Brené’s research on what are the elements that make a wholehearted life. A life where we’re acknowledging and embracing our own worthiness. A life that remains meaningful even in the presence of great adversity. A life that values compassion and connection to our fellow human. The book is divided into the ten guideposts of authenticity, self compassion, resilience, gratitude, intuition and faith, creativity, play and rest, calm and stillness, meaningful work and laughter, song and dance. I list out all of these here because each one of these chapters has different meaning for different individuals. When I first read the book, the chapter on authenticity blew me away. I came back to it again and this time, my gratitude practice was born. Today, I am swimming in the pool of my creativity and who knows what tomorrow will bring. If you haven’t read Brené Brown’s work I urge you to go out and buy this book. If you are familiar with her work, I also recommend her art journaling eCourse based on this book. It’s worth every penny!
“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
“Perfectionism is self destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The Untethered Soul – Michael A. Singer
I’ve forever self-identified as a spiritual seeker. I’ve been deeply influenced by a family that had a very non-traditional approach to faith and allowed me to explore my way around my beliefs. However, books and teachings on spirituality can be so mysterious sounding and inaccessible that at times I’ve wondered – What is Spirituality? The Untethered Soul was one of the first books I’ve read that I can say did a wonderful job of demystifying what spiritual growth looks like. This is one of those books that will teach you something new every time you pick it up. My first lesson from this book was to stop, slow down and observe what my mind was trying to tell me. Most of us are going through lives on autopilot taking instructions from our minds, never really stopping to identify the thoughts that arise, their origins and whether they represent the truth. Learning to examine my thoughts has been crucial in my personal growth because I’ve become better at recognizing hurt as it arises and letting go of it before it mutates into anger or resentment. Another important lesson I got from this book was the power of memories (both good and bad) to destroy your peace of mind and why it’s important to let experiences pass through us and not let them linger around. This book is a gold mine of ideas – I see myself reading it for many years to come.
“Life is continuously changing, and if you’re trying to control it, you’ll never be able to fully live it.”
“To attain true inner freedom, you must be able to objectively watch your problems instead of being lost in them.”
“You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience.”
Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
When I think back to my childhood, there’s not a time when I wasn’t creative. Whether it was art or music or dance or theater or writing, I was always using my creative gifts with wild abandon. I was free and I was me. And then, out of nowhere, came self-doubt and fear. I started to wonder if my art was worth it, if I was worth it and if my creative efforts mattered. I first gave up art, then dance and by the time I graduated from college I had let go of my creative side and assumed my place in the world as a grown-up. So you can imagine how I felt when I read Brené Brown say, “unused creativity is not benign,” in The Gifts of Imperfection. From then on, I have re-acquainted with my creative gifts and once again found joy in creating with complete freedom. Regardless of where you are in your creative journey, whether you’re an established artist or a regular Jane like me bringing creativity back into her life one word, one paint brush stroke at a time, Big Magic is a book that all creative people will relish. It gives you the permission to accept that the journey of a creative is accompanied by fear and helps you make peace with this hard truth. This book is a great ode to the creative life – a celebration of the choice to be brave and share your gifts with the world.
“I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
“Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.”
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin
The first and foremost thought every new year on most people’s minds is how to sustain good habits and nix the bad ones. I am no different – I love the promise of a good habit. The idea that I don’t need to actively monitor and nag myself into doing something is very desirable. Building habits aren’t easy and a carefully established habit can easily be destroyed when something about your environment changes (for instance, a job change, moving homes or your trainer at the gym quitting). Better than Before is an in-depth study on habits. Right at the outset, this book addresses an important fact about habit formation that is often ignored in most books – people are different and the strategies that work for some people need not work for others. The author starts off by discussing her own framework that divides people into one of four tendencies: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel. Even if you don’t fit one of these tendencies to a T, I think this categorization can be helpful. For example, I know that I am not an upholder so I am likely to need a lot of external accountability and support to keep up a habit. I also loved the strategy of monitoring – the idea is that simply monitoring your goals is likely to boost your success rate of staying on track. This book is a great addition to the New Year reading list because it is well researched, full of ideas that can immediately be put to action and practical because it encourages you to stay true to your personality and what works for you.
“To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not. For this reason, we should pay close attention to the convenience of any activity we want to make into a habit.”
“The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now.”
“People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more.”
A creative being on a journey to living life mindfully, being curious and loving every minute of it. She writes about life lessons, books, travel and much more on NISHNU.com.
It’s been a pleasure writing this post. Let the reading commence! See you in the self-help aisle!
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