Books for sorting yourself out

How to read yourself into someone different

 
 
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Principles - Ray dalio

Ray Dalio, one of the worlds most successful investors and an incredibly innovative business leader, shares the principles he's developed over 40 years in his life and work. He covers everything from business principles to general life principles, but they constantly bleed into each other, because a business is just a goal oriented tribe of people. 

What I've learned 

The main focus of his book is confronting reality and finding strategies and systems to deal with it successfully. Reality is sometimes painful, and the mature way to approach it is to realise that pain is inevitable. What's not inevitable is how we react to pain. 

Ray presents a simple equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

Being realistic about your own qualities and weaknesses is the best foundation to build your future growth on. When you're outwardly focused, like me, and you get your cues from other people, this is a real challenge. Because you inflate or diminish yourself to adapt to others, it's hard to disentangle the truth of your potential from the persona that you've 'built to please'.

The book also taught me that you can't take on huge challenges alone, and that you can't be good, let alone great at EVERYTHING. Dalio created an empire because he understood the power of delegating to people that were better than him. 

Creating the ability to deal with not knowing is an exceptional power. We're all programmed to know. Knowing (or pretending to know) is something we get rewarded for since childhood. Being comfortable in the inevitable uncertainty of life keeps us open to newer, better ideas than the ones our brain comes up on the fly just so we don't look dumb. You don't have to know, you have to be open to finding out.


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Mastery - Robert Greene

Robert Greene is a controversial author because he tells it like it is. The good the bad and the ugly of human nature is out and proud in his writing. His first book, The 48 laws of power is the most requested book in prison libraries in the US. He's loved by rappers and sneered at by the intelligentsia. He's also Ryan Holiday's mentor. My kind of guy. 

What I've learned

Greene has spent his life looking at power. Who has it, how to get it. The ultimate form of power in his mind is mastery - being so good at your craft you can't be ignored. 

What I loved most is Greene's concept of apprenticeship. This is the starting stage on every journey towards mastery, the phase where you have to accept that you don't know. It's a place where you have to put your ego aside and learn.

"Accept that you'll be ridiculed" - that struck a chord with me. Accepting ridicule is probably one of the things I'm worst at, but it's not optional. You'll suck at things in the beginning, and some people will feel the need to tell you about it. Take it as a gift. You're out there, taking chances, swinging for the fences, and you'll get better. 

The path to mastery is riddled with mistakes. They are necessary and they are good. Collect mistakes, but accepting responsibility

Mastery is not an end goal, it's a process. The highest achievers in any field face frustrations and failure daily. Being open to these failures and learning from them distinguishes the master from the amateur.


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The obstacle is the way - Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is Robert Greene's most famous apprentice, a marketing and growth hacking prodigy and probably the closest thing to a renaissance man we're going to get in 2017. I love all of Ryan's books, and in this book, he moves on to life hacking, by using the ancient tradition of Stoicism. 

What I've learned

Stoicism is about perspective. Even Hamlet observed: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." We're so caught up in the maelstrom of our own, often skewed, perspective, that it's impossible to objectively judge our lives.  Have you ever noticed how your friends' problems are simple to solve, but yours are incredibly hard? That's because your problems are emotional, while theirs could be solved by a simple, obvious, objective solution. Stoicism challenges you to take the perspective of a friend, a benevolent outsider, and to judge your situation with the calm serenity of someone not dealing with your complex bundle of years worth of shit. 

Change what you can and forever make peace with what you can't change. This is much easier said than done, of course, and it requires you to confront reality (which is almost always a bummer). Looking reality in the face and not squandering your time on impossible things frees up your energies to focus on the places where you can really make a difference. 

A little personal observation: Obstacles are hard to overcome because they trigger emotions and become insurmountable because we give them that power. You feel like the obstacle is a personal failure and load it up with all of your insecurities. But obstacles just represent a change in in the scenery. Once you get the bigger picture view, the panorama, it's clear that an obstacle is just what we need to call a change in the map towards our goals. Time for plan B. 


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Meditations - Marcus Aurelius

As someone who's sorrows are created in her own mind 99% of the time, the musings of a long dead Roman emperor have been incredibly helpful. I've had my share of tragedy, but I've had a comparatively easy life. Things came to me with ease, and that slowly bent me out of shape, because I felt that hardship was not only hard, but somehow a conspiracy against me. Or even worse, a condemnation that I wasn't worthy enough for the things I wanted. If I would have been 'good enough', things would be easy, no?

What I've learned

1. Everything happens for a reason. This phrase has been taken to mean esoteric bullshit, where the universe is concerned with your wellbeing, all that weird 'law of attraction' nonsense, etc. This is not the way it's meant.

It's meant as in: everything has its own, inscrutable logic, and every element of our universe follows from everything else. And it can't be any other way. And best of all: there is no use fighting it. Like you can't fight a rainbow or a smile, you can't fight disease or war. Accept the things that you can't change and be virtuous in the face of disaster. The only thing you can control is your reaction. Don't let logical things surprise you, because they are part of life.

2. The mind will enslave you if you let it. I've been guilty of spinning threads of bullshit in my mind my whole life. The human brain is built for threat detection, so it takes bits and pieces of information from the world around us and tries to filter them for threats. Not just sabre tooth tigers, but threats to your sense of self, your ego. A snide remark, an off colour joke, some well meaning criticism all can set off your mind’s alarms in protecting your fragile sense of self. You are not objective, you are a filter for threats. Being aware of the traps of your own mind is a superpower and stepping away from your story and looking at multiple interpretations of the same story is crucial. I find it helps to write things down when I’m in that fear state, when everything seems to conspire against me.

3. Being part of the world is what it’s all about. It’s a scary world out there, you will be rejected, challenged and put down in every way imaginable, but there is no opting out. I know that sometimes it’s easier to retreat, crawl back into a fetal position and wait out the storm of life. That’s the wrong strategy. Life is a game played with other people and those interactions will make you better. They might break the carefully constructed sense you have of yourself, but who are you anyway? You are in flux, and the people you encounter are the pebbles in the stream that you have to sometimes hit to get polished. Be curious about people, nature, philosophy and get unstuck from your own bullshit.


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Mindset - Carol Dweck

This one really hit home for me, because I feel like my life could be the test case this book was written on. The main idea is pretty much intuitive: What you achieve is dictated by how your ideas about achievement itself. So, if you think you can grow, you will, and if you think success is just a roll of the dice for talent and innate ability, you’ll be stuck. Before I read this book, I never thought about my mindset about achievement. I guess I believed in learning and growth, but more in the abstract sense, as in some people, somewhere were definitely growing - but it wasn’t in the cards for me. My job was to look competent at all times, no time for all this silly learning, I had innate abilities and would ride that wave until the tide slammed me into the grave.  

 

What I learned

1. That I was wrong. It’s not that innate talent, intelligence or creativity doesn’t matter, it’s that even though some get more gifts than others, everyone can improve. This is especially hard for people that think they’re already pretty impressive (very subjectively, of course) and that think they would lose face if they stooped down to the necessary humility of being a beginner. This is even worse if (like me, for most of my life), you get your confidence from outside and see criticism as someone slapping a huge ‘unworthy’ sticker on your forehead.

2. Loving a challenge and not being defeated by failure. When you’re living under the tyranny of a fixed mindset, failure feels final. You haven’t just failed at a task, you are the failure. So, you avoid failure, and the best strategy to be absolutely certain you won’t fail is, you guessed it, you never try anything too risky. Why be a failure, when you can be a *very* cautious success at the things you’re already good at, like, hmm, making omelettes and that sport you learned when you were too young to realise you sucked at it (that would be skiing for me).  

3. Failure is not only inevitable, it’s essential. The way we look at failure defines who we are. If every failure makes you want to reassess your whole being, crawl into a fetal position and sulk, you might have a fixed mindset. Failure is the direct consequence of growth. When we were learning to speak, or to walk, we were saying gibberish and running into furniture and tumbling on the floor for months, but there was no inner dictator to make us feel like crap. We didn’t have the voice of the whole world judging us, reverberating cruelly from inside our skull. If I did, I would have been mute and in a wheelchair for my whole life. It’s not about not caring what other people think, it’s about understanding that we all have to go through this holiest of all initiation rites: failure. Nobody that’s ever accomplished anything gets left out.