Every year, I take a look back at the books that have influenced my coaching, behavior, and thinking the most. Books are special because they allow you to take understanding to a deeper level. In a world that is constantly being shrunk to cater towards bite-size pieces of information, books are one of the last sanctuaries for the deep dive, the quest for full understanding.
Ideas are the fuel for curiosity. The more ideas we collect, the greater the likelihood we have of connecting disparate concepts. And in that connection- of two seemingly unrelated fields- is where the magic happens. That’s where the “Aha!” moments arise and breakthroughs occur.
My goal has been to branch out of my comfort zone (running and science) and to look further away. 2018 saw a dive intro understanding a few different religions, a journey into psychology and social science, and a greater reliance on biographies of great men and women of the past and present. If one theme was present throughout it would be how to understand people. Where there motivation and drives reside, where our insecurities come from, and how to lead and develop each other.
Endure, by Alex Hutchinson. Alex hit this book out of the park. It is the best sports book since The Sports Gene. Hutchinson explores the limits of human performance and the interplay between the mind and body. I walked away from this book more convinced than ever that it’s not mind or body, and not even a mind-body connection. It’s a mind-body system. Alex uses science and story to illustrate how this is the case and what we, even us athletic mortals, can do about it.
The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. We all know the story…at a superficial level. The actual battle for the first flight and the aftermath of reaching popularity is a must read. How did two brothers without a college education who spent around $1,000 get to the air before a scientific, government backed group who spent over $70,000 on their attempt? By having a different focus.
Endurance by Alfred Lansing. By no means is this new, but rereading this classic was a reminder of how Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton rose to the occasion and provided incredible leadership when his crew was on the brink of death. While not intended to be, this might be the best book on leadership there is.
Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor. If I’m an endurance athlete, I’m picking this one up and giving it a read. Elite marathoner Deena Kastor gives us a tour of the inner workings of the mind of a world-class runner. She takes us through the inner dialogue of racing, the doubts and anxiety of competing, and more. I really enjoyed understanding Deena’s journey, but more so seeing how she figured a way through all of the challenges and setbacks along the way.
On Confidence, by Alain de Botton. As he often does, philosopher Alain de Botton turns common advice on its head in this short read. Instead of putting the focus on psyching yourself up and reminding yourself of your own greatness to increase confidence, de Botton’s solution is to embrace reality. Realize that everyone is a bit crazy, weird, and different is just one of the ways de Botton suggests to increase our confidence. In a world of constant comparison, this short read is much needed.
The Coddling of the American Mind, by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. “How do I understand this generation?” is a question I get at just about every conference or consulting gig I attend. Haidt and Lukianoff’s work takes us through a subsection of today’s younger generation, explaining how our proclivity to protect children is leading to children who are fragile. As they say in the book, we’ve turned to clearing the road for our children, instead of preparing them for the road they will face.
The Culture Code, by Dan Coyle. Culture is one of those buzz words in the world of sport, where we know what it means but we can’t quite explain it. We just feel it. In The Culture Code, Dan Coyle sets out to combine science and story to explain what makes up great team culture and leadership. Whether part of a sports team or a company, there are many gems in this book.
The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey. I am not a parent, but if I was, this would be the first book I’d turn to. A wonderful discourse on how we’ve slowly taken away risk and failure from our children’s lives and the consequences of doing so.
The Laws of Human Nature, by Robert Greene. This is an epic discourse on the psychology and behavior of humans. It’s long, but worth the read. In Greene’s trademark style he combines a dash of science and lots of historical examples to create a grand takeaway. Occasionally, Greene gets over ambitious in making connections between, but that can be forgiven as his conclusions are mostly spot on. If you deal with people, this is a great start towards understanding why people act and behave the way they do.
The Phenomenon, by Rick Ankiel. The rare biography in my reading list, the Phenomenon explores baseball player Rick Ankiel’s journey. What makes Ankiel’s story fascinating is that he was once a phenom pitcher, who had his baseball career derailed by a case of the “yips.” He lost the ability to do that which made him great, throw a baseball. He then battled back to the majors as a hitter. If you’re interested in the mental side of performance, this one is worth a read.
Why Buddhism is True, by Robert Wright. I’m not Buddhist but in a world where mindfulness is reaching trendy fad level, Wright pulls together the science to explain the practice. Wright offers a mixture of ancient wisdom and neuroscience heavy explanations for why you should implement practices like mindfulness into your daily life.
You are Not a Rock, by Mark Freeman. A book on mental health that doubles as one of the best guides to handle the inner battle of racing. In Freeman’s book, he discusses how to deal with the urge, or in his words, compulsions. It could be to stop in racing or to scroll through Twitter, or the strong urge experienced by those of us who suffer from OCD. They all have remarkable commonalities and are more similar than different. And it’s these commonalities that let you apply Freeman’s framework for dealing with mental health issues, as well as figuring out how to push harder in the middle of a race.
The Craving Mind, by Judson Brewer. So many of our behaviors happen on autopilot. How many times per day do you check your email or phone? Perhaps you are addicted to thinking, getting lost in your head when with family or friends only to regret not being more present later on. Do you often find yourself eating loads of food after 9PM, not sure how you even got started? Maybe you struggle with a more traditional compulsion, be it substance abuse, exercise addiction, or responding to uncertainty with gripping anxiety. Whatever your case, this book can help. Brewer, an addiction researcher, and psychiatrist, shares a compelling program that is both simple and hard. The way through cravings, he writes, is to pay closer attention to them; to get to know them and their effect on you so well that you can’t help but make a more conscious choice about whether or not to engage in them.
How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan. A mind-blowing book on how psychedelics can support cognitive, emotional, and spiritual growth. Pollan weaves his world-class reporting; personal experience from his own trips; and the somewhat surprising history of psychedelic research and medicine into a compelling and scientific case for the broader use of psychedelic compounds. If you find yourself having a judgmental reaction to this summary (in either direction; good or bad) that’s all the more reason to engage in what amounts to a nuanced conversation on the topic with Pollan.