“A person who does not read good books has no advantage over a person who cannot read.” – Mark Twain
Books have changed my life.
Here are six books that will change yours.
I promise they make you a healthier person, a better human, a more caring partner, and a better thinker.
#1. Developing Mental Fortitude
Let’s be honest, life is really messed up right now.
We rage on social media, we clench our fists as we read clickbait after clickbait, and we numb ourselves with Netflix to forget that we’re stuck.
I get it. I do all of these things too.
I’ve also come around to the realization that a “once in a lifetime” disruption and catastrophe is actually the rule, NOT the exception throughout human history.
Hell, this certainly isn’t humanity’s first interaction with a global plague. We’ve been doing this since the days of Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
Enter Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key.
It’s through Ryan’s writing that I have become a huge fan of stoic philosophy.
I’ve come to realize I’m an emotionally-reactive manchild who struggles to pay attention to the important stuff, so doubling down on quieting my emotions and focusing on the important has been incredibly impactful in changing my life.
Stoic philosophy has served as a great touchstone and a great reminder to truly focus on what’s important in my life: my family, my health, focusing on meaningful work, and activities that recharge me.
Along with Stillness, Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy compose one hell of a trilogy for applying ancient stoic philosophy to modern challenges and should be revisited regularly.
It’s why they live on my top shelf of my office and stare at me all day as I work:
My favorite quote: “Build a life you don’t need to escape from.”
Living a good life is more than just making money and working towards eventual retirement. Or spending every week day counting down to the upcoming weekend where I can “escape.”
Instead, I’ve come around to the realization that I’ll never get to be “done.” That phrases like “After I get to X, then I can relax” and “if only” are really dangerous.
For that reason, I’ve put my focus on fine-tuning my typical day instead. I know if I can do most of these things, most of the time, my life is going to be mostly pretty great.
Here’s what a damn good day looks like for me:
- At least 7.5 hours of sleep.
- 1 hour of strength training or mobility work
- Take my dog Pepper for a good long walk.
- 4 hours of meaningful work (writing or creating).
- Time with my family.
- Reading a book.
- Playing some music or playing golf.
Every day is one day closer to the grave (“memento mori,” remember death), which means I could “leave this world tomorrow.” I’ve stopped living for an eventual hypothetical, and instead just want to have a meaningful day every day.
If you like this book, you’ll also like:
- Mental Models, vol 1. By Shane Parrish
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
#2. Removing Identity Politics from our Diet
“Well I’m Keto…”
“Oh I’m vegan…”
“You’re both wrong. I’m on the carnivore diet.”
“Oh, have you done the Military Diet though?”
Every day, there’s a new “best diet ever” to hit the internet. People have started building their identities – and self-worth – around how they eat and the rules they follow.
So, rather than trying to find the one BEST diet for everybody(there isn’t), I instead want the mental framework, science, and history of WHY and HOW our bodies process food.
Once we have this foundation, then we can make a dogmatic-free, informed decision on the right nutritional strategy for our situation.
Although it’s a bit dry, the best book I found at opening my eyes to the science around nutrition, calories, and nutrition science:
Why Calories Count by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim
The most important thing I learned from this book: freeing myself from any sort of identity-based nutritional strategy:
- I’m not a Paleo person (though I used to be!).
- I’m not a calorie counter (though I do track my food).
- I don’t build my identity around food – it’s just food.
- I don’t care about being perfect. I care about being good enough.
I am a scientist, and I treat myself like a human guinea pig. I am constantly tinkering with the best strategy for me (if you’re curious, I lay out my personal nutritional strategy here).
If you’re trying to get a grasp on your nutrition, and you’re willing to set aside your nutritional dogma and deeply held beliefs, join me over here in Science’s corner.
Most important lesson learned from this book: every diet works for the same reason. Every diet gets you to eat fewer calories which results in weight loss over time.
(No, seriously – the science is settled. Check this weight loss guide for the details).
Here’s the problem: Temporary changes create temporary results.
We suck at actually sticking with diets, which is why the results are temporary!
On top of that, we’re emotional eaters, terrible at estimating how much we ate, and can rationalize ANYTHING.
I’m not going to suggest anybody count calories or follow a specific diet. We’re all adults here, and we can all make our own decisions.
Instead, I want people to know HOW we lose weight, and WHY our bodies do what they do. Once you have that framework, then you can decide which dietary path is the best one for you.
#3. Leveling Up Personal Finance
As far as “return on investment,” this upcoming is the best $10 anybody could possibly invest.
Right now, lots of people are realizing they’re unprepared to weather even a slight change in their economic situation. If anything, this global pandemic has taught us we need to dramatically reimagine how we spend, save, and invest our money.
Fortunately, I stumbled across a book a decade ago that taught me the basics of personal finance, and has helped me weather this current storm.
That book is Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich.
This should be required reading for every high school senior.
From negotiating lower rent, to building an emergency fund, to learning what the heck a Roth IRA is, this book makes personal finance actually approachable and understandable.
This book has already helped me avoid $100,000+ of mistakes, and will result in $1,000,000+ worth of future value over the coming decades.
- If you are a high-earner looking to maximize your yearly return, you need this book.
- If you are currently living paycheck to paycheck, you NEED this book!
- If you’re an employee or self-employed, you need this book.
My favorite part of Ramit’s “Rich Life” philosophy: spend lavishly on the things that are important to you, and cut ruthlessly the things that aren’t.
My favorite tip: Build up an automatic “emergency fund.”
The book walks you through how to set up a free online savings account, putting your first $10 into it, and then automatically contributing $10 each month. The psychological win here is dramatic, and is something everybody should do now.
No, like right now.
#4. Becoming More Productive During Work Hours
Millions upon millions of people are working from home for the first time.
As somebody who has been working from home for 11 years, I’d like to say:
“Welcome! It’s the best. But, you’re gonna suck at it for a long time.”
Working from home requires the right kind of discipline, system, and strategy for actually focusing on the important work.
This is doubly true if you have children out of school and quarantined with you too!
After all, it’s one thing to be productive when you’re at an office, with your boss in the room next to you, and you’re required to be there for 8-9 hours per day.
However, it’s another thing entirely to be your own adult, avoid all the distractions your house has to offer, and learn to focus on the work that truly needs to be done.
Enter Nir Eyal’s Indistractable.
This step-by-step guide teaches how to effectively manage one’s time in a distracting home environment.
Not only that, but it also covers how to STILL spend time doing the fun stuff you enjoy (mindlessly scrolling through instagram, watching Netflix), but doing so in a way without feeling guilty.
Best tip from this book: Time blocking your schedule!
I’ve set up every minute of my day into my calendar, including things like “Screw around on the internet,” “video games,” and “reading.” If you don’t set your schedule, life will set a schedule for you – and you’re not gonna like it.
If you enjoy this book, you’ll also enjoy: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.
Although it treads similar ground, Newport’s book is more of a philosophical take on minimizing technological distraction, and how to meaningfully spend one’s time instead.
#5. Getting Your Head Right and Learning to Change.
Fun fact: the default human emotional baseline is NOT “happy” or “satisfied.”
It’s actually “unfulfilled.”
Back in the day, imagine there was a tribe who was satisfied and content and happy. And then, there was a tribe who was unsatisfied, unhappy, and constantly felt like they “needed more.”
This tribe totally kicked the shit out of the satisfied tribe.
Which means you, me and the rest of the human race are descendants of the unsatisfied tribe!
So, if you’re not happy all the time, that’s normal.
And if you’re sad, and you suck at changing yourself, that’s okay too!
Let’s be honest here: we humans are emotional bags of meat on a floating rock hurtling through space, and navigating this stuff is really challenging.
Enter Mark Manson’s perfectly titled Everything is F**ked: A Book about Hope.
Everything is F**ked is an incredibly entertaining, actually hopeful and helpful guide to understanding how our brains work.
It provides a great resource for learning how to work WITH the voice in our brains rather than against it.
Especially during this exact moment in history when everything is actually f**ked.
Best tip from this book: Don’t hope for – or expect – NO problems. Hope for – and try to have – different, better problems.
Also, change isn’t supposed to be entertaining and joyous. It’s hard!
Change doesn’t happen all at once in some grand declaration either. It happens in the quiet moments when we make decisions slightly different than the “old us” would have made. Those combine, over many months and years, to transform us into a different person.
#6. Strengthening Your Relationships
Whether we’re quarantined with a loved one, family or by yourself right now, we’ve been given a tremendous opportunity that might never present itself again:
We have the time and space to think deeply and work on strengthening the ties to the people in our lives.
After a failed relationship, and one – or both parties – usually wish they had been more communicative, had discussed more rather than shut down, and learned to work together rather than drift apart over the years.
Most relationship books often deal with communication tools to better converse with your partner, and how to navigate conversations without the emotional baggage.
Although I find these books to be incredibly valuable in sharpening one’s tools for relationships and conversations, few address the base level of true emotional need often at the base of every relationship conflict.
Enter Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a LIfetime of Love, by Dr. Sue Johnson.
This book completely shifted my perspective on the relationships in my life, and I began to see how my deeply-held beliefs had shaped my words and experiences.
Not only that, but I learned to have the conversation BENEATH the argument, which usually helped my fiancée and I reach a resolution sooner whenever we have disagreements.
This is a book worth reading for any couple or family, especially if they are stuck in quarantine together.
Favorite tip from this book: Recognizing the “demon dialogues” in our relationship, and working together as a couple – rather than against each other – to solve problems.
Just identifying these moments when they happen can be a huge breakthrough for discussions as a couple.
Never Stop Reading
I’d like to quickly note that I did NOT put my own book, Level Up Your Life, on this list.
I mean come on, that would be super tacky to RECOMMEND THAT YOU BUY LEVEL UP YOUR LIFE, my amazing book that will change your life, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Good thing I didn’t do that.
That would have been awkward.
When I’m not reading books or playing video games, I’m helping a few hundred thousand people change their lives by getting stronger, leaner, and healthier over at my company, Nerd Fitness.
Let me know what you think of these books over on Twitter (I’m @stevekamb).
PS: I also love reading fiction. If you’re looking for something new to sink your teeth into, here are my favorites:
- Favorite book: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet.
- Favorite sci-fi trilogy: Remembrance of Earth’s Past, by Cixin Liu (your head will explode)
- Favorite fantasy trilogy: Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. So satisfying.