Sunday, October 30, 2011

Personality Development Books

The Best Personal Development Books Reading List – A Practical, Short List

Let’s get right to it – I’ll lay out the list for you, and then explain each of my choices.
  1. The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
  2. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  3. Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen

The Best Personal Development Books Reading List Explained

  1. Greatest Salesman In The World Og Mandino Book CoverGeneral Purpose Personal DevelopmentThe Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino.   This book is the perfect place to begin. The “scrolls” (self affirmations/positive self talk) at  the end are what make this book worthwhile.  As recommended, I read each one to myself 3 times a day for a month.  I now read them at least once a day and alternate the scrolls each week.  The main purposes of this book are to:
    1. Instill the discipline to stick to the process daily.  I read each scroll 3 times a day, and aloud the third time.  By instilling a habit of doing this three times a day, every day (I did it on weekends as well), it brought my personal development, as well as each individual lesson, to my attention constantly.  It is not enough to just read the books on this list: I needed to act on each lesson and, in the case of later books, employ the outlined strategies.  Reading the scrolls daily is a small step that instills the habit of taking action – it requires only a small time commitment and is easy to do. Continuing the reading once per day after this is even easier.
    2. Provide a starting point for future personal development with broadly applicable lessons.  The Scroll Marked III (persistence) and The Scroll Marked VIII (overcoming procrastination) are my favorites, and for those two alone it is worth reading the book. The rest of the scrolls in this book will bring about changes in the way you interact with people, your view of your place in world, the way you present yourself and the way you approach your goals.
    3. Show tangible results. In my writing here, I have always tried to back up what I write with personal experiences and references. When I’m wrong, I’ll search for the truth and admit it.  My own personal experience has been that reading this book, following it and constantly reaffirming each lesson has brought about changes in myself.  It is hard to describe the mental shift that occurred when I read this book, applied it, and quickly saw results – changes in my attitude, my personality, and yes, in what matters most – results in achieving what I desired.  Based on the success I had, I gained a new respect for self improvement authors, and mentally was more open to trying new things without questioning them first. Rather than judging based on my opinions as I read, I have judged future books on empirical evidence – I optimistically try what is suggested, and see if it works.
    4. *** Note: I actually own this Og Mandino Trilogy.  I would recommend just reading the single book though, as it was the most useful for me.
2.How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleInterpersonal Skills, and Social SituationsHow To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  Once the you’ve had a taste of personal development, and developed the habit of committing to it daily by following The Greatest Salesman in the World, it’s time to start working on interpersonal skills, for a few reasons. First, regardless of what field you are going into, at some point interaction with other humans will be required and all but the most charming people could use some guidance in this area.   Second, the reason to begin work on them right away is they require the most personal growth and time to change.  I have wondered why this is the case, and I believe one reason is that for social skills, unlike say running, playing guitar, or other goals, your growth depends on irregular practice with disparate stimuli and situations.  You can’t just decide “Ok, today I am going to try and deal with an irate customer, and implement strategy x.”  Indeed, while patterns emerge, each social situation is unique and strategies must be adapted tothe circumstances and context.  The primary things I gained from this book are:
  1. Effective Conflict Resolution – I’ll admit it: intellectually intelligent, but emotionally stupid people, like myself, can be very argumentative – especially when we’re right.  This book taught me it’s not always necessary to use confrontation, arguing and reason – sometimes, social awareness is enough and other times, I should just let it go and let people be wrong. The whole book was worth reading for this nugget alone:  “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”.  The story Carnegie relays in the chapter with this lesson is fantastic – Dale comes across as petty, and I realized that I must come across as petty as well when I try to win arguments that are truly pointless.
  2. Breaking down social interactions into patterns – Everyone is different, but we often find ourselves in similar sitautions over and over.  It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that more than 50% of my social interactions each day are influenced by the lessons in this book, as so much human interaction falls into predictable patterns. When I first read it, for nearly all my interactions I looked for patterns to see if I could apply and test what I had learned.  I still refer to this book often and reread a chapter or two each week.  That is not to say I’m not myself – I am, but when I am trying to work towards a common goal with coworkers, swing people to my point of view, or perhaps resolve a disagreement, I use the lessons from this book to ease tension and work through the situations in a more positive, constructive manner.
  3. Leadership TrainingHow To Win Friends and Influence People may not sound like a book about leadership: however many of the examples are pulled from stories of famous, accomplished people (Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, other presidents and business tycoons).  When I was thrust into leadership positions in college and later in my professional life, I have often looked to the lessons from this book to effectively lead.

3.  Getting Things Done David Allen CoverTask ManagementGetting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen.  GTD will not provide you more time to do things, but it will keep all the machinery focused and moving forward.   I only wish I had found this book much earlier, perhaps in high school.  I did not encounter it until well after I had graduated from college. The main results gained from Getting Things Done are:
  1. Clearing your head so you can focus – By putting everything in it’s place, clearing my mind and being able to lay out my day ahead of me in one system, I was able to focus more clearly on my tasks and goals. My favorite part is my “Someday” list.  I have a list of tasks (technically “next actions”) that I constantly monitor and deal with – and a list of “Somedays” that I may or may not get to.  Just having them off my main task list makes life easier and the list appear more manageable.
  2. Never lose anything again – I archive, tag and reference everything.  GTD discusses using paper based file folders in the book – I do everything I can digitally, and back up important documents with soft copies (basically receipts and tax returns).
  3. Know that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing – This is a tall claim made early in Getting Things Done, that you’ll be able to go to a baseball game and never worry about the project you left at home, etc.  I was skeptical of this claim, but when I follow GTD strictly, it’s true.  I never have to worry about anything during my leisure time – I know that any event I am attending is in the system, and I have handled everything that needed to be handled.  They key however is that it is a comprehensive system, and needs to be treated as such.  Let one small thing slip, and (if you’re like me) you’ll constantly worry about it until you put it in its proper place in the system.
Zen To Done ZTD Ebook Book Cover Green Leo Babauta*** Note: I know I said this was a 3 book list, but I’ve got to throw one caveat in here.  Some readers find GTD to be too much and too difficult.  Though I love GTD in all its GTD-ness, you may have seen other people discussing it online and feeling overwhelmed by the thought of setting up a completely new organizational system for your tasks, appointments, reference material etc.  That’s ok – if you fall into that camp, then as a replacement for GTD, consider an ebook Leo Babauta has written called Zen To Done (ZTD).  His ZTD system simplifies some of the aspects of GTD, and approaches the problem as habit changing, rather than system changing.  In his own words:
“Zen To Done takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more.” – Zen To Done Explained
I have read ZTD and agree in large part with it. I have always used GTD, and there is a lot of overlap, since GTD heavily influenced Leo as well as his book.  If you are a beginner, it is a choice of two great options, and here is how to pick between them.  For those who are overwhelmed with making large changes, ZTD is the better option as it introduces the system as a series of smaller, easier to digest habit changes. For those who want to change their whole system at once, GTD is a better choice.  I stand by my recommendation of GTD based on my personal experience using it, but I have read ZTD and many people enjoy that system as well. Plus, I recently met Leo in person and he’s a great guy.  You can’t go wrong with either.


The Problem Is Not A Lack Of Good Books

I want to close by noting that I do not believe the problem most people face is a lack of content. The problem most people face is too much content, and no easy way to sort through it and separate the best from the good.
Reading books without applying the lessons is further counterproductive to the very personal development and productivity improvements we strive for.  Just reading doesn’t actually change anything: reading is just metawork to prepare you for the changes in your life.  The real results come from daily application of the lessons and strategies.  Rather than reading more books, focus on applying what you have learned in books you have already read. In fact, if you are already in the middle of a book, don’t begin any the books I’ve recommended.  Finish applying the lessons in the book you have first, and then read these.  On the other hand, if you are looking for a fresh start, and don’t know where to begin – I don’t think you can do any better than the books presented here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

One Day My Soul Just Opened Up - Iyanlah Vanzant

In the Meantime: Finding Yourself and the Love You Want

By Iyanlah Vanzant

You know where you want to be, but you have no clue how to get there. You know exactly what you want in life, but what you want is nowhere in sight. Perhaps your vision is unclear, your purpose still undefined. On top of it all, your relationships, particularly your romantic relationships, are failing. If these scenarios feel familiar way down in the deepest part of your gut-- then you, my dear, are smack dab in the middle of the meantime. Your mother, bless her heart, and your father, with all of his good intentions, did not prepare you for the meantime. They did not because they could not. No one can prepare you or help you find what you are looking for. What you need is love, not romance. Love, not more money. Love, not a new car. Love is the only thing that can make the meantime worthwhile. Once you find love, true selflove, and unconditional love for everyone all the time, things will look, feel, and be a lot better. The question is: What do you do in the meantime? Every living being wants to experience the light of love. The problem is that our windows are dirty! The windows of our hearts and minds are streaked with past pains and hurts, past memories and disappointments. The windows are so clouded by fear, self-doubt, and inaccurate information that the light of love cannot shine through. In the meantime, we keep looking through the foggy window, trying to convince ourselves that what we see is the real thing. It's not, and we know it, but we can't seem to figure out what to do until the real thing comes along.

Yesterday, I Cried : Celebrating the Lessons of Living and Loving

By Iyanlah Vanzant

"Life is about cleaning up the crap and, while you're doing it, being okay with the fact that you have to do it.... A word of caution. You can't get caught up in the crap! If you do, you will surely lose sight of the real meaning of life and lose your Self."

Iyanla Vanzant knows plenty about dealing with just such "crap." She has led a difficult life, full of periods of abuse and self-loathing, but she has managed to learn "the lessons beneath the tears" and move beyond her grief and into understanding. In Yesterday, I Cried, she passes these lessons along, continually stressing that past hardships can and should be used to teach us how to grow, heal, and love others and ourselves. The message is one that has been echoed in her bestsellers One Day My Soul Just Opened Up and In the Meantime, but when presented as a memoir, the result is particularly moving.

As any regular Oprah viewer knows, Vanzant is a feisty and charismatic orator, and her no-nonsense style translates well into print. She is candid about her experiences without ever painting herself as a victim, effectively coming across as inspirational rather than preachy or self-pitying. The tone of the book is especially engaging because she seems to be actively working out her problems as she writes, gently pulling the reader into what becomes a mutual catharsis. "Of all things to master," she asks, "why did I have to pick tears?" By the end of Yesterday, I Cried, she finds the answer. And in searching the depths of her own soul, she encourages others to do the same. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Information:
Bestselling author Iyanla Vanzant has had an amazing and difficult life -- one full of great challenges that have unmasked her wonderful gifts and led to the wisdom she has gained. In this simple book, she uses her own experiences to show how life's hardships can be relanguaged and re-visioned to become lessons that teach us as we grow, heal, and learn to love. Iyanla Vanzant is an example of how yesterday's tears become the seeds of today's hope, renewal, and strength.

The Celestine Prophecy - James Redfield

Under The Tuscan Sun - Frances Mayes

Frances Mayes entered a wondrous new world when she began restoring an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. There were unexpected treasures at every turn: faded frescos beneath the whitewash in her dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles in the garden, and, in the nearby hill towns, vibrant markets and delightful people. In Under the Tuscan Sun, she brings the lyrical voice of a poet, the eye of a seasoned traveler, and the discerning palate of a cook and food writer to invite readers to explore the pleasures of Italian life and to feast at her table.

Now Discover Your Strengths and/or Strengths Finder 2.0

Key Takeaway:

1. Each person's talents are enduring and unique.
2. Each person's greatest potential for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength.
3. As an organization or as an individual I/we can:
a. Reach our maximum potential only by using our individual strengths
b. Match my/our strengths to our roles at work, home and in the community
c. Enjoy what we are doing because we are using our true talents

Action Items:

1. Determine my individual strengths (and/or my team’s strengths)
2. Analyze results
a. Identify strengths and match to role (example: “Communicators” are probably our best teachers)
b. Identify opportunities to use my/our strengths

Unfortunately, most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths, much less the ability to build our lives around them. Instead, guided by our parents, by our teachers, by our managers, and by psychology's fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.

What to do:

Identify their talents, build them into strengths, and enjoy consistent, near‐perfect performance.

When you exploit your natural abilities, you can't help but succeed. Of course, the converse is also true.  Expect an uphill climb if you are always in "self‐improvement" mode.