Found: Books to Inspire, Inform…and Help You Feel A Little Less Crazy

By Laura Braden

My favorite word in the English language is WHY?

Why is it so hard for people to go from intent to action (in losing weight, quitting smoking, being a better X, Y or Z)? Why do most religions share creation stories? Why is it so hard for friends to walk away from a relationship that doesn’t make them happy? And why can’t I find the time/motivation to go to Pilates class 4x a week?

Not sure if this means I should have been a Buddhist monk or behavioral psychologist, but over the years, I have subjected my parents, my closest friends – and a number of boyfriends who just couldn’t hack it – to hours of these questions.

I consider it my biggest weakness (overthinker!) and my greatest strength (truthseeker!).

Thankfully, I’m not alone in my quest for truth. Along the way, I’ve stumbled across authors that strive to help humans “figure it all out” and explain why we think, feel and act the way we do. Here’s my list of must reads. You’ll note that most of these are not “self help” books. I have no problem with The Secret, but my favorite books tend to back up their theories with more “helpful” things – like facts, data and research. 🙂 Happy reading!

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

  • By: Chip and Dan Heath
  • The Gist:  Switch explores how and why change – kicking a drug addiction, eradicating malnutrition in Vietnam, forgiving a former squeeze for cheating on you, improving your profit margins – is so hard. What’s extra great about this book is that it walks you through exercises and provides tools to actually enact change.
  • Some of my Fave Insights:  I’m currently reading it, but so far…  “Understanding a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it.” and “More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan.” and “Ask the question, ‘what’s working, and how we can do more of it?’ Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet in the real world, this obvious question is almost never asked. Instead, the question we ask is more problem-focused: ‘What’s broken, and how do we fix it?'”

Seth Godin’s Blog

  • The Gist: Seth is the author of several books, but I’ve made his blog my “must read” every morning. His advice and commentary links across life and work: marketing, how ideas spread, how to really deliver quality work to clients, etc. He’s excellent at poking holes in theories and flipping mainstream thought on its head. Be sure and subscribe to receive his daily insights – it’s a great way to refocus at the start of each day!
  • Some of my Fave Quotes: “Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.” and “I stumbled on a great typo last night. ‘Staff in the lobby were wondering around.’ Wandering around is an aimless waste of time. Wondering around, though, that sounds useful… Wondering around is the act of inquiring with generous spirit.”

Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps

  • By: Allan and Barbara Pease
  • The Gist: Does it drive you crazy that your boyfriend/husband/boy toy can’t find the ketchup in the fridge even though it’s right in front of him? Does it drive you nuts when he replies “fine” after asking how his day went (meanwhile, your response is a doctoral thesis)? Then this book is for you. It’s a short, easy read (think beach book) that takes all the research out there to explain the scientific and biological ways men and women are different – in simple English.  This is not Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – this is a how-to guide to understand where your partner is coming from. And they are VERY quick to point out that these theories are generalities – people are not, so don’t put anyone into a box until you get to know them.
  • One of my Fave Parts: Men and women evolved differently because they had to.  Going waaaaay back, cavemen hunted, cavewomen gathered. And so since women had to keep an eye on the crops, their kids and watch out for saber-tooth tigers invading their village, women have approximately 30% better peripheral vision (which is why we can spot missing keys or ketchup in the fridge faster) than men. We also use (on a typical day) nearly 3x times the number of words than men. Part of that goes back to the beginning as well – you’re sitting around a campfire all day shucking corn with the other women in your village, what else is there to do but gab? Meanwhile the hubster is spending the bulk of his day hunting mammoths with his buddies, an activity which pretty much demands silence.

Committed – A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage

  • By: Elizabeth Gilbert (Same author of Eat, Pray, Love, which now hits theaters on August 13!!)
  • The Gist: Liz (yep, we’re on a first name basis), after going through a horrendous divorce, no longer sees the institution of marriage as necessary to her life.  Enter the catastrophic problem – her Brazilian boyfriend/life partner (who has also sworn off re-marrying) has been kicked out of the country, and the only way they can live together in the U.S. is to get married.  As her wedding approaches, she decides to go into her second marriage with a clear and rational understanding of the institution – something her 23 year old self never took the time to do. Whether you’re divorced (mwah), married or single, this book is deeply illuminating and profound. Growing up in the South, where being married at the age of 22 is a badge of honor, this book made me rethink everything.
  • One of my Fave Parts: This is tough since nearly half of my copy is highlighted but…Liz explains that only in the last few generations have couples (in the U.S.) married almost exclusively based on love. Think about that for a minute. For the majority of human history, who you married used to be based on personal safety, tribal relations, business and land transactions, and/or political alliances. If you don’t believe me, go Netflix Shakespeare in Love, Pride & Prejudice, Vanity Fair, Gone with the Wind, Sense & Sensibility – even Reese Witherspoon got dumped in Legally Blonde because her bfriend wanted to marry into an East Coast, political family so he could eventually run for office! We now mostly marry for love, which has its own dilemna: “If you honestly want to have a society in which people choose their own partners on the basis of personal affections, then you must prepare yourself for the inevitable. There will be broken hearts; there will be broken lives. Exactly because the human heart is such a mystery…love renders all our plans and all our intentions a great big gamble. Maybe the only difference between our first and second marriage is that the second time at least you know you are gambling.” Someone hand this woman a Pulitzer!

Who Moved My Cheese

  • By: Spencer Johnson
  • The Gist: The grandpa on the list (published in 1998), it’s a business parable that examines change and typical reactions to it. What motivates people? How do routines get established? How does fear block us from moving forward? Why is it so hard change?
  • My Fave Part: I haven’t actually read yet, but my girlfriend insists that I’m Scurry (???) and that I can’t have a list like this without including this book. And at 98 pages, this quick read is definitely next on my list.

Blink

  • By: Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Gist: Blink explores how your brain can work fast and automatically with little information – and how those mental processes can help and hurt you.
  • One of my Fave Parts: I love the whole concept of the book – that you don’t need to know everything to make the right decision. One of my favorite examples was of John Gottman’s research on marital stability. By simply looking for certain (mainly contempt) microexpressions (facial tics that you can’t control that convey emotions) between a husband and wife’s convo, he can predict whether or not that couple will be married in 15 years – with 95% accuracy. And if you need more proof, please go read his 500 page treatise called the Mathematics of Divorce. 🙂

And just where can you find these books?  The titles are linked to Amazon.com, but be sure to hit up our bookstores on the grid:

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1 Comment

  1. Caroline Silveira says

    Laura – You’re deep! Great post. I better get to reading your finds and try to answer my favorite “why” — Why can’t people just be good to one another? Awww, I know.

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