Luckily for me, my day job has temporarily moved my office next to this place(above), the Central Library in Edinburgh. Built with funds from none other than Andrew Carnegie in 1890 the Edinburgh Central Library is not only an incredibly impressive building but houses a huge collection. I have spent the past month or so picking up books I’ve wanted to read for a while as well as some that have caught my eye.
‘The Power of Habit’ — Charles Duhigg
There are any number of books you can choose that cover this topic and if you’re anything like me, you are exposed to endless messages about habit formation and using habits to change your life. We all have habits, some we are more aware of than others.
Charles Duhigg takes a deep dive into the subject of habit formation, changing habits and how organisations have used habits to sell products and change societies. The entire premise is built around three stages: Cue, Routine, Reward. The Cue is the input or the trigger, the Routine is the action we take (or the habit) in order to receive the Reward, the expected payoff for having completed the action.
I admit, this is a very simple overview of the book and I guarantee you can gain a better understanding of why you have bad habits and why trying to change them is so difficult if you take the time to give this a read. There are a couple of actions and tools I have lifted from this book that I now incorporate into my life.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: There’s a section midway through the book that focusses on a group of orthopaedic patients who are split into two groups after their surgery. All of them are given a workbook to aid them in their recovery but half are given detailed instructions on creating a plan for rehab. The patients who successfully highlighted the issues they would face in advance and planned how to overcome them faired much better in their recovery. I think this is incredibly important to understand. Plan for the potential pitfalls so that when they come you are a) not surprised by them and b) know what to do next.
‘Give and Take’ — Adam Grant
Both ‘Give and Take’ and ‘Originals’ have been on my reading list for a while so when I was excited to finally sit down and give this a read. The book defines three distinct behaviours: Givers, Takers and Matchers. All three are pretty self-explanatory with the gist being that Takers like to put themselves first, Givers like to help others and Matchers trade favours.
The argument is that Givers fair better in the long run but it is a specific type of giving that wins out. Grant terms this ‘Otherish’. Otherish Givers provide favours that are low cost to them and they keep their own interests in mind so as not to burn themselves. The best example of this in the book is the five-minute favour. Something that would take five minutes of your time (ie. doesn’t give away your most precious commodity) that helps someone with their goals. A five-minute favour could be an introduction to someone or a small piece of advice from your area of expertise.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: 100–800 hours per year of volunteering is optimal. Less provides little to no value whilst more pushes you to the point where you can have an adverse effect on yourself. This made me want to reassess how I operate it. Added fun fact, people who volunteer, on average, live longer.
‘Happy Money’ — Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton
‘Happy Money’ reminds me a little of ‘Freakonomics’ with the difference being that it focusses on one topic, how to spend money better to live a happier life. The authors set out to explain their five principles (1. Buy Experiences, 2. Make it a Treat, 3. Buy Time, 4. Pay Now, Consume Later, 5. Invest in Others) with reference to various studies and stories.
I enjoyed this book, it was an easy read, funny in places and overall, entertaining but I don’t really feel like I learned anything new. Some of the principles are intuitive, we know that paying someone to do something we hate makes us happier. Advice about spending on experiences instead of things and spending money on others instead of ourselves is everywhere too. Maybe I have seen ‘Happy Money’ referenced too many times before.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: “You should never have a yacht; you should have a friend with a yacht” is my new few favourite saying. Apparently the origin is Portuguese.
‘A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary’ — Alain de Botton
Whilst browsing the library for a couple of other books I happened to see this on the shelf. Admittedly, I was becoming a very big fan of Alain de Botton’s work having recently finished ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ and having been a subscriber to The School of Life’s Youtube channel for a while.
The title intrigued me. Did he spend a week living in the airport like Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’? I had to find out. I checked this book out, along with a couple of others on this list and looked forward to finding out more.
The book was enjoyable; a combination of people watching, interviews and, of course, philosophical references. It was a nice change of pace, a chance to switch off a little and enjoy a piece of work purely on the basis of how well it was written.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: Did I mention how good Alain de Botton is at writing? If you are looking to publish a non-fiction book of your own, please spend some time reading this man’s work.
‘Contagious’ — Jonah Berger
I generally read from only a few categories, mostly for pleasure but sometimes also for work. ‘Contagious’ is for the latter reason. Jonah Berger writes about why ideas or products spread much in the way that Chip and Dan Heath wrote about in ‘Made to Stick’ or Malcolm Gladwell in ‘The Tipping Point’ (Berger has worked with Chip Heath in an academic setting before).
The book is built on a framework called ‘STEPPS’ which stands for:
These, Berger argues, are the basis for things spreading or going viral. A product or a message can have more than one of the attributes above in order for it to spread. For example, a story can evoke emotion and by telling it to others it gives us social currency. This really is a must read for marketing professionals and entrepreneurs and is a great framework to use when creating something new.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: “People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”
‘Tools of Titans’ — Tim Ferriss
Every time I came to write this section, I didn’t know where to start. There is so much here to digest and already so many summaries of this book out there. First, I have to admit I was a little late to the party on reading this. ‘Tools of Titans’ was on my Amazon wishlist as soon as it was available for pre-release but I didn’t purchase it until the end of April this year.
The book condenses the content of hundreds of hours of podcast interviews conducted by Tim Ferriss with people respected in the arts, fitness and health, sports, media, business and politics.
Ferriss recommends not reading the book cover to cover but cherry-picking the sections that are of interest to you. I did not do this. I sat and tackled to 600+ pages head on and was happy I did. Some of the best advice came from people I had no prior knowledge of, for example, Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) might have one of the most enjoyable and applicable chapters in the book. I have never read a Dilbert comic strip (I did, however, have Dilbert’s Desktop Games on my first Windows 95 run PC) and probably would have skipped this chapter if not for reading it cover to cover.
I honestly struggled to pick a main takeaway as there is so much in here.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: In the end, I had to choose this quote: “Are you doing what you’re uniquely capable of, what you feel placed on Earth to do? Can you be replaced?” This is from one of the mini-chapters from Tim about saying no to stuff that isn’t for you. I now make a point of looking at this one question regularly to nudge me in the right direction.
‘The Antidote’ — Oliver Burkeman
Every now and then a book comes along that really changes the way you think. For me, ‘The Antidote’ is one of those books. I believe I found this book on Derek Sivers’ reading list, which I was made aware of thanks to ‘Tools of Titans’ (reading this book prompted me to seek out some Eckhart Tolle and read more of Alan Watts’ work).
‘The Antidote’ is a great starting point and gives us an introduction to different schools of thought including Stoicism and Buddhism. Burkeman pits himself, from the outset, against the idea of positive thinking and shows alternative schools of thought that might put us in a better position to succeed. As someone who enjoys reading the likes of Tony Robbins as well as Ryan Holiday, I see value in each approach (positive thinking and goal-setting versus Stoicism).
The book is incredibly well written and I looked forward to picking it up to read the next chapter each time. I would urge anyone considering ‘The Antidote’ to give it a read.
MAIN TAKEAWAY: Dark but true: “On an individual level, too, no matter how much success you may experience in life, your eventual story — no offence intended — will be one of failure. Your bodily organs will fail, and you’ll die.”
That is it for May. I hope that by writing this I have provided you with some value, perhaps a new book recommendation or even a quote you liked. Although I primarily write this for myself, I would ask you recommend it to anyone that might also get something from it.
Also thank you to those who have followed me in the last month or so, I appreciate it.