I love a good journalist. Tara Parker-Pope is one of those. She’s done her research on the research, and now presents us with a thorough examination of the science of marriage. Here are my notes on For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed.
Contrary to popular opinion, “. . . marital stability appears to be improving each decade.”
Modern marriage is sometimes called the “soul mate marriage,” and the expectations on it are high.
“. . . Strong marriages have at least a five-to-one daily ratio of positive to negative interactions.”
Scientists have found a genetic link for monogamous and non-monogamous behavior.
Hormonal contraceptives can cause women to choose the wrong partner, blunting her natural instincts.
Marriage is a protective factor for colds, cancer, heart attacks, dementia and more.
The longer a relationship continues, the less sex women crave. “Researchers from Hamburg-Eppendorf University in Germany interviewed 530 men and women about their relationships and interest in sex. They found that 60 percent of the thirty-year-old women studied wanted sex ‘often’ at the start of a relationship. But within four years this figure dropped to fewer than half, and by twenty years, only one in five women wanted regular sex. The sharp decline in sexual interest wasn’t seen among men in the study.”
Researchers found that the way a partner describes how they met their spouse–whether their story of the event is tinted with optimism or with negative or regretful overtones–predicts their future with that spouse. (Happy couples also say “we” or “us” more often than unhappy ones.)
Eye rolling is one of the most reliable body language indicators of troubled marriages.
“Marriage researchers say that 70 percent of the time, the conflicts that arise between couples are never resolved. In one study, couples who were tracked for a decade were still fighting about the same things they had been arguing about ten years earlier . . . The lesson, say a number of noted marriage researchers, is that compatibility is overrated.”
“Studies show that women tend to initiate about 80 percent of fights. This doesn’t mean women are to blame for causing all the trouble in marriages. It just means they are more willing to take the emotional risk of trying to resolve problems.”
Physiologically, women respond with greater calm to conflict than do men.
Successful arguments often start with a complaint. Unsuccessful ones often start with a criticism.
Successful arguers know how to de-escalate a fight using calm tones and non-hostile body language.
New parenthood lowers marital satisfaction greatly, though largely temporarily.
A fair division of household chores is one of the best ways to avoid marital tension.
Often, women chose to take on more responsibility at home because they don’t want to give up control. They also care more about and are better at deciphering details.
Arguments between same-sex couples seem to contain fewer verbal attacks and less controlling behavior.
Couples who stay married often marry after the age of twenty-five, are not college dropouts, wait ten years before deciding whether or not to divorce, marry someone with similar interests and background, and marry someone whose parents are still married.
About the Author
Tara Parker-Pope is a writer and journalist who specializes in health and wellness. She is best known for her work as a health columnist at The New York Times, where she has written about a wide range of health topics, from fitness and nutrition to medical treatments and public health policy. Parker-Pope is widely respected for her in-depth reporting, her ability to translate complex medical information into accessible language, and her commitment to helping people live healthier, happier lives.
David Burns has been writing about depression, anxiety and one of the best-known treatments for it, cognitive therapy, for a long time. In my opinion, this is his best work. When Panic Attacks: A New Drug-free Therapy to Beat Chronic Shyness, Anxiety and Phobia provides surprising methods for combating these difficult mental health challenges, and his conversational–even humorous–tone will inspire you to try them (no matter how wacky they may seem).
Read this book to learn a variety of interesting techniques for coaching yourself through difficult moments.
There are many cognitive exercises you can use to self-calm during an acute episode of anxiety, panic or depression. Here are just a few:
The “what-if technique”: Write down the negative thought and ask questions to challenge them. Keep asking questions until you get to the core fear.
The experimental technique: Test negative thoughts like a scientist tests a theory, asking for and weighing the evidence.
The reattribution technique: Rather than talking yourself out of your negative thought or fear, simply take a more well-rounded perspective and reduce exaggeration. Look for the shades of grey.
The “process versus outcome” technique: When worried about your performance, think about both the effort you put in and the outcome. You can control your preparation and hard work, but external factors may affect the outcome. Focus on the effort you put in, like attending classes and preparing well, and accept the outcome.
The should-catching technique: Catch any “shoulds” that you find in your negative thought or fear. Realieze that “words that cause emotional distress often fall outside the categories of moral, legal, or laws-of-the-universe shoulds. For example, feeling shy is not immoral, illegal, or a law of the universe.”
The “be specific” technique: Don’t let overgeneralizations fool you. Be specific about your self-critiques so they will hold less weight. Performance anxiety can come from fear of failure and being labeled a failure as a person.
The “supervisor from hell” technique: Play the part of a grumpy supervisor (your inner critic) who is telling you the things that your brain is telling you in your negative moment. Then, gently talk to the supervisor, questioning them until you see how illogical your inner critic is.
The self-monitoring technique: Count your negative thoughts throughout the day. Continuously monitoring negative thoughts can lead to a significant decrease in them and a noticeable improvement in your mood. You can use a score counter, like the ones golfers use, to keep track of your negative thoughts.
The worry breaks technique: Schedule time to purposely allow negative thoughts and feelings to surface and not fight against them. During these scheduled times, you allow yourself to experience the negative thoughts fully. The rest of the day, you can focus on living positively and productively.
The paradoxical magnification technique: Instead of refuting your negative thoughts, buy in to them and exaggerate them until they become humorous and absurd. “For example, if you feel inferior, you could tell yourself, ‘Yes, it’s true. In fact, I’m probably the most inferior person in California at this time, and maybe in the entire United States.'”
The humor technique: Substitute a funny, absurd fantasy in place of the one that’s making you anxious.
The acceptance technique: Instead of defending against the negative thought, find some truth in it. Agree with it, and befriend the critic in your mind.
The cost-benefit analysis technique: Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of having a negative thought that is bothering you.
The “devil’s advocate” technique: To overcome tempting negative thoughts, make a list and give it to a friend or family member. Ask them to act as the devil and tempt you with the thoughts on the list. The other person should use seductive language and address you with “you.” Your goal is to resist the temptation and defeat the devil. It can be challenging to do this, especially if your list is honest. If you get stuck, reverse roles so your friend can demonstrate a more effective response.
Other techniques for effectively overcoming an acute anxiety or depression episode are behavioral rather than cognitive. Some of these are:
Shame-attacking exercises: In order to overcome a fear of embarrassment, intentionally do something foolish in public. “You’ll usually discover that most people don’t look down on you and the world doesn’t really come to an end. In fact, most of the time, everyone ends up having a lot of fun.”
Exercise: Bursts of intense exercise, like jumping jacks, can stop a panic attack and get you out of a negative spiral.
Exposure therapy: Instead of avoiding your fears, engage in them! This is one of the best ways to overcome the fear. Keep track of your progress in writing.
About the Author
David D. Burns is an American psychiatrist, author, and pioneer in the development of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). He received his medical degree from the Stanford University School of Medicine and is best known for his bestselling self-help book, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” which has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and is widely regarded as a classic in the field of CBT. He has also written several other books on CBT and psychotherapy, and is a frequent speaker and trainer at professional conferences and workshops. Burns has received numerous awards for his contributions to the field of mental health, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.
You’ve probably already noticed that these days, figuring out what to eat isn’t a simple matter. Opinions are all over the place. Unlike most diet books, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan is objective—maybe the most objective, balanced diet book out there. Pollan is not a nutritionist, but a journalist seeking the answer to a seemingly simple question, namely: “What should I eat?” You’ll never sound gullible quoting from a book by Pollan.
Pollan offers sixty-four succinctly and divinely worded food truisms, including “Eat only foods that eventually will rot” and “It’s not food if it’s called by the same name in every language. (Think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles.)”
Says Pollan: “There have been, and can be, healthy high-fat and healthy low-fat diets, but they have always been diets built around whole foods.”
And: “I learned that in fact science knows a lot less about nutrition than you would expect—that in fact nutrition science is, to put it charitably, a very young science … Nutrition science … is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650—very promising, and very interesting to watch, but are you ready to let them operate? I think I’ll wait a while.”
A wide variety of traditional diets are healthy; the modern diet is not. “What this suggests is that there is no single ideal human diet but that the human omnivore is exquisitely adapted to a wide range of different foods and a variety of different diets.”
The book’s bottom line is this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
About the Author
Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is best known for his work on the intersection of food, agriculture, and culture, and has written several highly acclaimed books on these topics. Pollan is a strong advocate for sustainable agriculture and the importance of knowing where our food comes from. He has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world and has won numerous awards for his writing, including the James Beard Award and the John Burroughs Medal. Pollan’s books, including “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” have had a significant impact on the way we think about food and the environment.
Malcom Gladwell, y’all. He’s not just another writer. He’s a genius journalist, whose stories keep you on edge and intellectually stimulated at the same time–even his story about ketchup. (Yes, he’s written one, and it was awesome.)
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about what happens when we make crucial decisions in the tiny span of time between the external stimuli and the onset of logical thought. It takes you from a doctor’s office to a forest fire to a police shooting, recounting the ways that professionals applied split-second intuition (or missed their opportunity to do so) in vivid detail.
Read this book to better understand the inner workings of your mind, to better appreciate its powers of computation, and to learn when to listen to your intuition–and when not to.
Intuition is a powerful tool. Gladwell argues that our first impressions and gut feelings are often more accurate than we give them credit for. He explores the concept of “thin-slicing,” which is the ability of our unconscious mind to make snap judgments based on small amounts of information.
Sometimes, split-second decisions are more reliable and accurate than well-thought-out ones–but only when instinct has been cultivated over time with experience and expertise. These Gladwell calls “blink moments” – instances where people make split-second decisions that have significant consequences. He explores how experts in various fields, such as art, music, and medicine, use their intuition to make quick and accurate decisions.
When trying to decide if a painting was real or a fake, the split-second guess of three experts was more accurate than the well thought out decision of different experts.
Context matters too. Gladwell emphasizes that context is crucial in our snap judgments. He argues that we need to be aware of the factors that influence our gut reactions and take steps to eliminate biases and external factors.
We can improve our intuition over time. Some ideas that can help us do this are: practicing mindfulness, paying attention to our first impressions, and seeking out diverse perspectives. Gladwell also discusses the role that experience plays in developing expertise and intuition.
Intuition does have some drawbacks, however. Snap judgments can be influenced by factors such as stress, fatigue, and emotion, and how these factors can lead to errors in judgment.
Intuition doesn’t always work when fear short-circuits our instincts. An example is when cops shot an innocent kid while looking for a criminal (they were inexperienced and didn’t follow protocol).
Bias is also powerful and can affect our intuition negatively. Gladwell explores how our cultural backgrounds, experiences, and stereotypes can influence the way we perceive people and situations.
About the Author
Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author, and speaker. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has published several best-selling books, including The Tipping Point,Outliers and Blink. Gladwell is known for his ability to weave together complex ideas and research to create engaging narratives that challenge our assumptions and offer new insights.
Whatever Arises, Love That is one of my favorite book titles ever. When it comes to this book by spiritual teacher Matt Kahn, a self-proclaimed channel, this short phrase is pretty much the whole show. In it, the idea of acceptance of what is is expanded and expounded upon until (hopefully) it sticks.
Read this book as a way of getting the title’s message more deeply into your mind and to encourage you to start or continue a habit of mindfulness.
Whatever arises in your life, choose to love it. This practice is the gateway to feelings of well-being.
Honor your feelings. Give them permission to be. In this way, we avoid rumination during times of hardship, and instead gracefully accept the present moment.
No matter what life situation comes about, meet it with love and acceptance.
Repeat the words “I love you” over and over throughout the day in order to practice acceptance of what is.
“No matter what seems to trigger you, each reaction represents the releasing of cellular debris collected from lifetimes of experiences.”
“Throughout this process, it is important to remember that a sensation only feels like a barrier for as long as you refuse to feel it. As it is invited to be felt, a willingness to experience each moment as an opportunity to heal clears out layers of cellular memory to make room for the emergence of heart-centered consciousness.”
“Instead of using this practice as a cosmic fire extinguisher to merely resolve the flames of personal despair, I invite you to treasure your heart on a regular basis, until the world you are viewing reflects back the light that your love reveals.”
“While moments of transcendence are incredible to behold, the true benchmark of spiritual maturity is how often your words and actions are aligned with love.”
About the Author
Matt Kahn is a spiritual teacher, author, and empathic healer. He is the author of several books on spirituality and personal growth, including Whatever Arises, Love That and The Universe Always Has a Plan. Kahn’s teachings emphasize the power of self-love and compassion to transform our lives and the world around us, and he has gained a large following through his YouTube channel and live events.
Parenting books based on research–particularly recent research–are a nice break from polemics based on anecdotes and opinion. Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is particularly worthwhile since its focus is teaching children, not disciplining them.
Read it to be in the know about stuff your parents might’ve been clueless about.
Don’t praise kids for their smarts, or they might think of intelligence as a fixed feature and become afraid to try new things. Instead, praise them for effort and persistence, showing them that intelligence can be developed and motivating them to take on difficult challenges.
Kids who get even fifteen more minutes of sleep per night on average do much better in school.
Do talk to your kids about race. Kids are constantly looking for differences. They want to belong, so they often exclude others unless told not to.
All kids lie. See untruth telling as teachable moments, not moral failure.
Teach kids to interact with siblings in much the same way they interact with friends.
In addition, here are some tips for helping a baby learn how to speak:
Words should accompany interaction, especially facial cues. TV doesn’t help with this.
Follow the baby’s lead. Say the words for items they’re showing interest in, when the internal motivation to learn the word is already present.
For small babies, wiggle a toy or object to draw attention before naming it.
Incorporate common sentences with new words.
Say the same idea in different words.
Respond to almost all vocalization in same way, teaching the child they’ll affect you in predictable ways by their sounds.
About the Authors
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are American journalists and authors, known for their work in popularizing research in social and behavioral sciences. They co-authored the books Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children and Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, which explore topics such as parenting, education, and competition. Their writing has been featured in many media outlets, including The New York Times, Time, and Newsweek.
Anger is natural. It’s a normal part of life. But we don’t want to experience it for longer than necessary. Fortunately, our emotions aren’t entirely out of our control; by examining our negative beliefs, our accompanying negative feelings become less persistent and less convincing. There are many methods for doing so, but the one with the most evidence behind it is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In The Feeling Good Handbook, one of the most-read books on the subject, David Burns details the process. I highly recommend this and other CBT books, or working with a therapist who uses the method regularly. (There are also CBT worksheets and instructions online.)
In spite of the prodigious amount of literature devoted to the subject, CBT is a simple, intuitive process. Working either with a therapist, or alone with a journal, you identify your most anxious, fearful or hateful thoughts. Then you examine it objectively, asking yourself if the thought is entirely true, or if it’s untrue or just partly true–an exaggeration. By the time you’re done, you’ve found at least a few more positive thoughts to counteract the negative ones, and as a result, your depression or anxiety is lessened. In a perfect world, every child would be taught the technique in school, and every adult would practice it regularly.
As one of the early, and most thorough and textbook-like books on cognitive therapy, The Feeling Good Handbook has become a legit self-help classic. However, other books on cognitive therapy use the same basic principles and might be more concise. I recommend reading at least a few on this subject and using cognitive therapy weekly at least throughout your life.
The way to change how you feel is to change how you think.
“If you say, ‘I just can’t help the way I feel,’ you will only make yourself a victim of your misery–and you’ll be fooling yourself, because you can change the way you feel.”
“I don’t believe you should try to be happy all the time, or in total control of your feelings. That would just be a perfectionistic trap. You cannot always be completely rational and objective.”
Beware of the ten most common forms of twisted thinking, namely: all-or-nothing thinking; overgeneralization; using a mental filter; discounting the positive; jumping to conclusions; magnification; emotional reasoning; ‘should’ statements; labeling/name calling; personalization; and blame.
The author suggests ten ways to question your negative thoughts: examining the evidence (like a judge would); using the experimental technique or the survey method (like a scientist would); thinking in shades of gray or using the semantic method (like a philosopher would); using the cost-benefit analysis method (like an economist would) and more.
About the Author
David D. Burns is a psychiatrist and author known for his work in the field of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and self-help literature. He gained prominence through his best-selling book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” which was first published in 1980.
“Feeling Good” is a self-help book that focuses on CBT techniques to help readers understand and manage their emotions, alleviate depression, and improve their overall mental well-being. The book presents practical strategies and exercises to challenge negative thought patterns and develop healthier ways of thinking.
In addition to “Feeling Good,” David Burns has written several other books on related topics, such as anxiety, relationships, and communication. Some of his other notable works include:
“The Feeling Good Handbook”
“When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life”
“Intimate Connections: The Clinically Proven Method for Making Close Friends and Finding a Loving Partner”
“The Ten Days to Self-Esteem”
David Burns is known for his engaging writing style and his ability to translate complex psychological concepts into practical advice that readers can apply to their lives. He has also been involved in teaching and training mental health professionals in the techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
It’s another marriage book, but it’s not just another marriage book. It’s The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference, and in it, researcher Shaunti Feldhahn throws all the researcher at us, giving us the closest thing we have to a scientific formula for a happy partnership.
Read this book to find out what happy couples do and don’t do and to begin to incorporate the helpful habits into your current life (married or not).
Highly happy couples feel deeply cared about. When asked whether they care deeply about their spouse in a survey, eight of ten said “yes, absolutely.” In fact, out of the 1,261 people officially surveyed, only nine people said, “not really.” However, more than four out of every ten coupled people said they believed their spouses didn’t care about them deeply. This might explain some of the problems between unhappy couples: they care about their partner, but don’t feel cared about in return.
“Once you believe your spouse absolutely cares about you, those distancing feelings of hurt, anger and resentment arise a lot less often,” writes Feldhahn.
Highly happy couples always assume good intentions. “By expecting the best, you bring out the best.”
Highly happy couples do go to bed mad. They take time to cool off before continuing difficult conversations.
Highly happy couples are not brutally honest. They know how to calm their partner and sometimes, tell white lies.
Highly happy couples hang out with each other. In doing so, their ratio of positive-to-negative interactions is tipped to the positive side.
About the Author
Shaunti Feldhahn is an American author and social researcher. She is best known for her books on relationships, personal finance, and work-life balance, including For Women Only and For Men Only. She has also written several fiction and non-fiction books on other topics such as leadership and success. Feldhahn holds a degree in public policy from Harvard University and has worked as an investment banker and a public policy analyst.
There’s really no way around it: In order to be a person in a partnership in the 21st century, you pretty much have to know about attachment styles. Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin is one of many primers on the topic, but its a really good one.
Read this book to understand your own attachment style and to learn what to expect from the attachment of others.
There are three types of partnership styles: securely attached; islands; and waves. Islands prefer aloneness and are often uncommunicative. Waves are highly emotional, turbulent and have a great need for reassurance. Securely attached partners often give and receive assurance, but also trust their partners and don’t disconnect.
One way to securely attach to your partner and to provide for their needs is to learn what their triggers are. Often, people feel like they are “messed up” and have a lot wrong with them, but most people have only three or four major overarching triggers. These have often been wired in them from a young age and will likely be with them for the rest of their lives, to some degree. The loving partner’s goal should be to understand, recognize and calm these triggers as needed so that their partner feels safe and protected. No shame. No blame. Just helping them get through that situation. Then, when it’s your turn, they will do the same for you.
Being on each other’s side, always, is the best way to engender feelings of security. Also, attachment requires full and complete honesty, especially regarding third parties (coworkers, friends, etc.).
About the Author
Stan Tatkin is an American psychotherapist, author, and speaker. He is the founder and developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT), a research-based and innovative method of treating couples and families. Tatkin has written several books on relationships, including “Wired for Dating,” “Wired for Love,” and “Your Brain on Love.” He has also been featured in various media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. Tatkin has a private practice in Calabasas, California, where he provides therapy and training for individuals and couples.
I have a special affection for the book What Would Google Do?: Reverse-Engineering the Fastest Growing Company in the History of the World by Jeff Jarvis. It not only changed how I thought about business and marketing; it is the book that ignited my passion for nonfiction. Here, you’ll find good business strategies, but you’ll find something else, too: a new way of thinking about economics, creativity and society.
Read this book to get your mind blown in the way that the best nonfiction books are capable of doing.
We are in a new age of marketing and business, the author writes. The new rules of the new age are as follows:
Customers hold the power now–not marketers, managers or CEOs.
With social media, customers have the ability to have a major impact on large organizations in an instant. Be aware of the power of the crowd. People have easy access to information and can either support or harm a company based on their experiences.
The key to success is no longer just marketing, but having meaningful conversations with customers.
Trust and control have an inverse relationship. Trust your customers and let go of control.
Listen to your customers. Be honest, transparent, and collaborative. Encourage, enable, and protect innovation. Allow customers to feel like they are a part of the process and able to provide suggestions.
Life is always in a beta stage! Embrace changes and improvements.
Amazingly, “free” is a now viable business model! Many of the largest online companies (Facebook, Google) started by offering their services for free–and still do. The “tree” business model involves giving away value to expand your market base, then making money through alternative means.
The mass market has been replaced by a multiplicity of niche markets.
Don’t just be a product; be a platform! Help others build value on your site. Examples of platforms: Home Depot (for contractors) and Continental Airlines (for booking tours).
Ownership is no longer the key to success–openness is.
Google commodifies everything, especially knowledge. The economy is no longer based on scarcity, but on abundance. Control over products or distribution does not guarantee premium profits.
Focus on intangible solutions and rethinking physical products for an online presence.
Determine what business you are really in and protect it by offering solutions better than competitors.
Blunt honesty is more effective in marketing materials and blogs. When creating marketing materials, always use a natural and human tone.
Examples of Google-league marketers include: Facebook, Craigslist, Amazon, Flickr, WordPress and PayPal.
Give control to customers and they will use it.
Your worst customer can be your best friend, providing valuable feedback about how to improve.
Your best customer is your partner. Incentivize them to spread the word.
Links are vital. Get linked to and talked about.
Focus on what you do best and link to the rest.
Join a network or, ideally, become a platform for others.
Think in a distributed manner.
Being searchable is essential for visibility.
Life and business are transparent.
Learn to handle mistakes well.
Rethink company structure for an “elegant organization.”
Small is the new big in a post-scarcity economy.
About the Author
Jeff Jarvis is a journalist, author, and professor. He is best known for his work as a media critic and commentator on the intersection of technology, media, and society. He is the author of several books, including “What Would Google Do?” and “Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live”. He is a professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where he teaches courses on technology and entrepreneurship.
Oprah loves Eckhart Tolle, and she’s almost never wrong. In her book of short essays, One Thing I Know for Sure, she says A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose is her favorite book of all time. I prefer The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, but both are pretty great.
Read these books for inspiration to try the evidence-based strategy of mindfulness (present moment awareness) for mental health.
Key Takeaways from The Power of Now
Realize that possessions, social status, relationships, beliefs, and other ego identifications are not truly who you are. The ego’s needs are endless and lead to a constant state of fear and want. Instead of exploring its manifestations, understand that the mind is not dysfunctional but becomes so when mistaken for self.
To end this delusion, focus on the present moment and body awareness to stay rooted in the now.
Experiment with closing your eyes and waiting for your next thought, realizing that intense presence frees you from thought. To deepen your connection with your inner body, focus your attention within and let all negativity flow through without reacting.
Focus your attention on the feeling inside of you, even if it is painful. Don’t judge or analyze the feeling, simply acknowledge its presence.
Be mindful of any defensiveness, as it is likely an attempt to protect an illusory identity or image in your mind.
There are many portals to the source, including the now, dreamless sleep, cessation of thinking, surrender, being in touch with the inner body energy field, disidentifying with the mind, and silence. You only need one portal to reach your inner being.
Love is not a portal, it is an inner feeling.
Space and silence are portals, as you cannot think and be aware of them at the same time.
The body is the way to reach your spirit or inner body.
Adjust your vision and look closely at what you thought was a stone statue. You might find that there was never a stone statue, but instead it was an angel all along.
Illness is not real in the present moment; rather, it is the belief, label, and past/future associations that give it continuity in time and make it seem real. Outside of time, it is nothing.
Key Takeaways from A New Earth
Humanity is ready for a major transformation in consciousness (enlightenment). This book discusses how to accelerate this process.
Get rid of ego. It’s just not helping. All that anger, defensiveness, arguing, making wrong, being right … all of that can safely go away. The death of your ego is not the death of you. Instead, it’s the start of your real life.
When you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as a field of conscious Presence. (I have a couple of friends who consciously follow this advice, and it shows.)
A Few Good Quotes from A New Earth
Shift “your attention from the external form of your body to the feeling of aliveness inside it.”
“Give up defining yourself—to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you.”
“An essential part of the awakening is the recognition of the unawakened you, the ego as it thinks, speaks, and acts as well as the recognition of the collectively conditioned mental processes that perpetrate the unawakened state.
The author tells of how he once saw a crazy woman talking to herself on a bus, then realized he was like her. Her constant angry chatter was the same as his constant anxious mental chatter. “If she was mad, then everyone was mad, including myself. There were differences in degree only.”
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.”
“There are people who have renounced all possessions but have a bigger ego than some millionaires.” Take away one ego identity, and it will find another.
About the Author
Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher, author and speaker. He was born in Germany in 1948 and later moved to England. Tolle’s teachings focus on helping individuals connect with their inner selves and find peace and happiness in the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. His books have been translated into over 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Tolle continues to offer teachings and workshops on mindfulness and spirituality to this day.
This book sells itself. Who doesn’t want to break a bad habit or learn how to maintain healthier routines? It’s called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, and it’s written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.
Read this book to map out a plan for change, whether personally or professionally.
Changing a habit or a culture is like forcing an elephant carrying a writer to change direction. One must not only convince the rider (the rational mind) but also the elephant (the emotions). In addition, one must make the path easier to follow. In this book, the writers describe these three main ways to encourage change: direct the rider; motivate the elephant; and shape the path.
To direct the rider: find the bright spots; script the critical moves; and point to the destination.
To motivate the elephant: find the feeling; shrink the change; and grow your people.
To shape the path: tweak the environment; build habits; rally the herd; and keep the switch going.
The Happiness Hypothesis study showed that our emotional side is like an dlephant and our rational side is its rider, with the rider holding the reins and seeming to be in control. However, the rider’s control is precarious as it is small compared to the elephant. When the elephant and the rider disagree, the rider always loses.
On finding the bright spots: The “bright spots” refers to the positive aspects of a situation or a person. To find the bright spots, one must avoid the “fundamental attribution error”, which is the tendency to attribute a person’s behavior to their inherent qualities instead of the circumstances they are in. This is why shows like “The Dog Whisperer” or “Super Nanny”, which depict the transformation of “bad” dogs or kids, captivate our attention. The fact that these dogs or kids can be reformed in a short intervention amazes us–but the truth is that they were never bad. They had bright spots already, but those spots had to be highlighted.
On scripting the critical moves: In Miner County, South Dakota, high school students conducted a survey to revive their dying community. They found that if residents spent just 10% more of their disposable income at home, the local economy would be boosted by $7 million. A year later, the amount of money spent in Miner County had increased by $15.6 million, showing that clarity is important for change to be successful.
Another way to script the critical moves is to preload decisions. Preloading a decision refers to making a decision in advance, such as deciding to go to the gym after dropping off the kids, to increase the likelihood of following through with it. This technique involves action triggers, which make the decision easier by reducing the mental effort required to make it later. By preloading the decision, there is less work involved in making it later on.
A research study conducted by Peter Golwitzer and Veronica Brandstatter tracked college students who had the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paper by December 26th. While most students had the intention of writing the paper, only 33% actually wrote and submitted it. However, for a different group of students in the study, the researchers required them to set action triggers–to note in advance when and where they intended to write the report. The results showed a significant improvement, with a whopping 75% of those students successfully writing the report.
On pointing to the destination: Crystal Jones was a teacher for Teach for America in 2003, teaching first grade in Atlanta, Georgia. The school lacked a kindergarten program, so she had to use language that motivated her students. Jones told her students, “By the end of this school year, you will be third graders,” and held a “graduation” ceremony when they reached second and third grade. She referred to her students as “scholars” and, by the end of the year, more than 90% of the kids were reading at or above a third-grade level.
For change to be effective, it must be clear and specific. A local media campaign was created to encourage people to switch to 1% milk and it was a success, increasing the market share of low-fat milk from 18% to 35%.
On finding the feeling: Robyn Waters, a “Trend Manager” at Target, played a crucial role in transforming the company from being similar to Walmart to the iconic “Tarzhay”. She achieved this by creatively incorporating displays of colorful M&Ms and the latest Apple iMac computers to demonstrate the importance of incorporating color in their offerings.
The rider wants to “analyze-think-change” but in reality we “see-feel-change.”
Change can be facilitated by visual and emotional cues. For example, a presentation on reducing spending on gloves was made more effective by laying out all the gloves with different prices on a table, rather than using spreadsheets.
On shrinking the change: In 2007, Alia Cru and Ellen Langer conducted a study on hotel maids and their exercise habits. The study divided the maids into two groups, with one group being told that they were already meeting the recommended exercise levels, while the other group was informed about the benefits of exercising. After 4 weeks, the results showed that the maids who were told that they were good exercisers lost an average of 1.8 pounds, which is equivalent to almost a half-pound per week, a significant weight loss. However, the other group of maids did not experience any weight loss.
On growing your people: Lovelace Hospital Systems in Albuquerque, NM was facing rapid turnover, a common issue in the healthcare industry. To address this, they hired Susan Wood of Appreciative Inquiry, a method of transforming organizations by focusing on their strengths rather than weaknesses. Wood discovered that the nurses who remained at the hospital longer believed in the noble nature of their profession. In response, the hospital created an orientation program that emphasized the admirable qualities of nursing and established mentorship programs to enhance the nurses’ skills and knowledge. Employee satisfaction surveys indicated that these measures were effective, and as a result, turnover decreased by 30% over the following year.
On tweaking the environment: In 2000, a study was conducted in a Chicago movie theater where free popcorn and soft drinks were offered to movie-goers. The popcorn was intentionally made to be unappetizing, but even so, the results were surprising. People with larger popcorn buckets ended up eating 53% more popcorn than those with smaller buckets, and most of them were not aware of this fact. The results showed that the environment can play a huge role in affecting behavior.
In another study, participants were given chocolates or radishes and then asked to solve puzzles. Those who had only eaten radishes gave up after 8 minutes, while those who had eaten cookies gave up after 19 minutes, showing that self-control is an exhaustible resource.
It was also noted that our mind works differently when we are supervised, such as when learning something new, compared to when we are not, such as when driving a car. This is why shopping can be tiring.
On rallying the herd: We look for environmental cues and examples of others to know how to act. Therefore, make your change feel like a norm that has already been established. For example: “In the 1980s, Jay Winsten, a public health professor at Harvard, got interested in the idea of a ‘designated driver’..” unknown in the US at that time. “Winsten and his team collaborated with producers, writers and actors from more than 160 prime-time TV programs, sprinkling designated-driver moments naturally into the plots.” Requested just “5 seconds” of dialogue featuring the idea. “In 1991, three years after the campaign launched, nine out of ten people were familiar with the term designated driver.”
On keeping the switch going: Punishment rarely works. Instead, change the environment. Take small steps. Praise all steps on right path. You will get there.
About the Author
Chip Heath and Dan Heath are American authors and speakers who specialize in the fields of business and psychology. They are brothers and co-authors of several popular books, including Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. In Switch, the Heath brothers use insights from psychology, sociology, and other disciplines to explain why change is difficult and to offer practical advice for making change easier. The book is widely regarded as a practical and accessible guide to overcoming resistance and making real, lasting change in both personal and organizational contexts. Chip Heath is a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, while Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s CASE center. Together, they are known for their ability to make complex concepts accessible and actionable for a general audience.
Ghosts! Telepathy! Magic! Is there a reader on Earth who doesn’t love the idea of a scientific inquiry regarding evidence for the paranormal? When it comes to nonfiction, Fringeology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable – And Couldn’t by Steve Volk is in a class of its own. Where do they even put it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble?
Read this book because, firstly, you know you’re curious and secondly, because it might open your mind.
Scientists can be dogmatic and irrational in their beliefs, just like anyone else. This is a natural human tendency. The debate should not be between paranormal believers and skeptics but rather what evidence is sufficient to support the paranormal. This perspective is referred to as “possibilianism.” It is the position that all truly open-minded people take to the paranormal.
Chapter One focuses on near-death experiences and presents evidence to suggest they are real. There are numerous accounts of these experiences with interesting similarities between them, and skeptics have not provided a satisfactory explanation.
Chapter Two focuses on telepathy and presents evidence for this paranormal phenomenon. A small effect has been proven when large enough samples are used; however, the effect is not large enough to serve practical purposes. The author als describes the ongoing debate between skeptics represented by CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) and the Parapsychological Association, whose findings are sometimes dismissed without good reason.
Chapter Three explores the concept of consciousness outside of the brain. It provides an overview of quantum physics, which suggests that the smallest units of matter have mind of their own. The author tells the story of Dr. Stuart Hameroff, who wrote about consciousness.
Chapter Four discusses the possibility of aliens and UFO sightings, including a convincing sighting in Stevensville, Texas. The author points out that UFOs are certainly real, since they are defined simply as “unidentified flying objects,” but that most sightings have Earth-based explanations.
Chapter Five focuses on ghosts and the author’s personal experience living in a haunted house. The reality of ghostly phenomena is debated.
Chapter Six explores the Overview Effect, a feeling of unity or oneness with all that is experienced by many astronauts who view the earth from space. Edgar Mitchell, who had this experience, is on a quest to understand the source of the unity he felt.
Chapter Seven discusses the positive effects of meditation and meditative prayer, as researched by Dr. Andrew Newberg.
Chapter Eight focuses on lucid dreaming and the experience of becoming aware one is dreaming while still dreaming. The findings of notable sleep and dream researcher, Dr. Stephen LaBerge, are explored.
Chapter Nine explores Induced After-Death Communication (IADC), a therapeutic technique for overcoming trauma, which involves recalling painful memories and moving the eyes from side to side. The story of Al Botkin, who discovered this therapy, is told. Although anecdotal evidence is promising, no large-scale studies have been conducted.
Chapters Ten and Eleven present the author’s conclusions. The author discusses the human desire for certainty, though intellectual curiosity is often a wiser perspective to take.
About the Author
Steve Volk is a journalist and author, best known for his book Fringeology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable–And Couldn’t. The book explores the topic of the paranormal and the boundaries of science and skepticism. Volk is a contributing editor at Philadelphia Magazine and has written for a number of other publications.
Sometimes, you need some fatherly advice about money–from someone else’s father, of course. Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! combines good old-fashioned common sense with professional insights on financial success that apply to a wide range of investors (even–especially–the newbies).
Read this book to fill in your knowledge gaps regarding money and to get inspired to start an investment strategy today.
The definition of the word “rich” is “able to live off the interest from one’s investments.” This is your goal.
Look where no one else is looking for business opportunities. Don’t follow the crowd; buy when stocks crash rather than selling, as others do.
Know the difference between an asset and a liability. An asset puts money into your income column and a liability takes it out. Everything else, including personal property that can’t be easily sold, is neutral. Many people see their home as an asset, but it is not an asset if you aren’t gaining income on it.
Pay yourself first, even before paying your bills. Put money into your investments first! You’ll be forced to use your creativity to get the rest taken care of, too.
Don’t fear risk. This is what keeps many people from investing in anything high yield and going with mutual funds and others safe investments instead.
Money is not real. It’s all just a game. Have fun with it!
If you don’t enjoy a certain type of investing, do something else. You’re unlikely to be successful at something you dislike.
Hire people who are smarter than you.
Most rich people lose it all at some point but they usually make it back–and then some–because they know what they’re doing.
Create a corporation and wrap it around your largest assets.
Educate yourself about money. Read advice books and follow it.
About the Author
Robert Kiyosaki is an American author, entrepreneur, and investor. He is best known for his book Rich Dad Poor Dad, which has become a personal finance classic and has been translated into 51 languages. In the book, Kiyosaki shares lessons he learned about money and investing from his “rich dad,” and contrasts them with the financial advice he received from his own father. He has written several other books on personal finance, including Cashflow Quadrant and Retire Young Retire Rich. Kiyosaki is also the founder of the Rich Dad Company, which provides financial education and training.
Meditation isn’t just for the woo-woo crowd. Written by agnostic journalist Dan Harris, Ten Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story is a well-written memoir about an everyday workaholic who takes up meditation.
Read it to convince your skeptical self to try this evidence-based strategy for improving mental health.
Studies have shown the transformative effects of meditation, including evidence for the existence of enlightenment.
The purpose of meditation is not to feel something, but to simply try and build your meditation muscle, similar to practicing a sport or a musical instrument.
Meditation can help you improve your work relationships, as evidenced by the author’s own transformation from being a difficult colleague to being seen as “easy”.
To meditate, first choose a focal point for your breath, such as your mouth, chest, or belly. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath. You can silently repeat “in-out” to help you focus.
After grounding yourself in your breath, practice “noting”–noticing and labeling thoughts or dominant feelings without judgment. This is called “choiceless awareness” and can lead to a real breakthrough in meditation.
Don’t worry too much about how you feel while meditating. The goal is to redirect your attention back to your breath whenever it wanders. That’s the whole game.
During a long meditation, it’s normal to experience both bliss and misery within the same hour. As you advance in your practice, the ups and downs will become less pronounced.
If focusing on your breath doesn’t work for you, try a body scan meditation, a compassion meditation, or a choiceless awareness meditation instead.
About the Author
Dan Harris is an American journalist and author, best known for his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story. The book was published in 2014 and describes Harris’ journey from skepticism towards self-help and spirituality to a more balanced and mindful life. In it, he explains how he found inner peace through meditation, and how this practice helped him to be more productive, less stressed, and happier in his personal and professional life. The book was a New York Times bestseller and has been praised for its accessibility and practical approach to mindfulness and meditation. Harris is also a co-anchor of ABC News’ “Nightline” and the co-founder of the 10% Happier movement and app.
In a word, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness is stunning. In it, author Michelle Alexander carefully walks the reader through the many legal and law enforcement practices that raise the statistical chances of people of color being incarcerated (most often for minor drug offenses), then, once branded felons, denied civil rights and social services.
Read it to gain a basic understanding of multi-systemic racism in America.
African Americans and other people of color are brought into the U.S. criminal justice system at a much higher rate than White people. This mass incarceration can be considered the new Jim Crow–the new system for propagating racism and segregation.
The path to mass incarceration, Alexander writes, includes:
Government programs that (handsomely) incentivise local law enforcement agencies to increase drug-related arrests in any way necessary;
Pinpointing poor neighborhoods for random searches and seizures, which should be illegal but through many legal loopholes, now are effectively entirely legal;
Using very minor driving offenses as an excuse to search and seize;
Inflating penalties for minor drug offenses (such as possession of a small amount of drugs or even being present when drug crimes take place) to frightening (and unconstitutional) levels in order to pressure people to take plea bargains–even people who are entirely innocent of any crime;
Removing civil rights, such as the right to vote, from people branded felons;
Removing social services, such as child care, food benefits and housing from people branded felons;
Allowing places of employment and housing to discriminate based on felon status;
For people of color, the U.S. criminal justice system is a nearly inescapable entrance to a parallel universe in which Constitutional and other rights are systematically removed and thriving is greatly hindered.
About the Author
Michelle Alexander is an American author, lawyer, and legal scholar. She is best known for her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which was published in 2010. The book critiques the U.S. criminal justice system and argues that mass incarceration functions as a system of racial control, similar to the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alexander has also written for several prominent publications, including The New York Times, The Nation, and The Colorlines. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and has taught at a number of universities, including Ohio State University, where she was an associate professor of law.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is one of those nonfiction books I hear quoted most–and the love doesn’t seem to be subsiding. Written by one of the founders of the positive psychology movement, psychologist and researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it makes a single point, and makes it well: if you want to enjoy what you do, seek flow.
Read this book because you want to figure out how to hack work in such a way that makes it feel like play.
Flow, says the author, is a state of focus during which a person loses self-consciousness and time-consciousness and is deeply engaged in the process at had.
Flow isn’t a mysterious condition, though; it comes when three specific, identifiable conditions are met. These are: an appropriate level of challenge; clear goals and feedback, and control/autonomy.
Autonomy can be achieved in even small ways, and the difference it makes to work satisfaction can hardly be overstated.
Flow can be achieved even during what some consider routine or menial tasks. The book tells the story of a farmer in the Italian Alps who enjoys all her various tasks, from dawn to dusk. When asked which task she enjoys most, she named them all, one by one. The book also features a self-taught welder who mastered every phase of his plant’s operation and, in his spare time, built a backyard garden (with rainbow features!). “It could be said that they work sixteen hours a day, but it could also be said that they never work,” the author writes of these workers.
About the Author
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychologist and researcher. He is known for his work on the concept of “flow,” a state of complete engagement and enjoyment in an activity. He has written several books and articles on the subject, and his work has had a significant impact on the fields of psychology and positive psychology. Csikszentmihalyi has received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to the field of psychology.
Don’t worry: it’s not another book on spirituality, even though it might sound like it. Instead, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach is a primer on being a human being with feelings.
Read it to find out an exciting (but not new) way of accepting the ups and downs of life.
Radical acceptance is the practice of accepting what is–even the bad stuff. Every aspect of your current experience is healthy, Brach writes. Radical acceptance is also the practice of unconditionally accepting yourself.
Most of us have an internal story about our own acceptability and enoughness. We are not good enough, perfect enough, etc. At heart, we believe that something is fundamentally wrong with us–something that we need to fix.
Only when we first accept ourselves, can we change what we prefer to change.
To combat this, accept every emotional experience that comes. Doing so–saying “yes” to our experiences–doesn’t cause us to become apathetic. Instead, self-acceptance allows us to grow at a relaxed but consistent pace.
Human nature finds apathy and stagnation uncomfortable, disagreeble–almost impossible. We consistently desire to grow and improve, especially when we feel good about ourselves.
One way to learn radical acceptance is to practice pauses. Pause, notice, sit with and accept whatever you are experiencing in the moment. Do this when emotionally flooded, and also make a habit of pausing throughout your day.
Offer unconditional friendliness to your pain, suffering, insecurities and all other feelings. Invite the feelings to tea, so to speak.
Name these insecure and painful thoughts as a way of noticing them.
Instead of resisting everything, agree with everything. Silently whisper, “yes” to it all. It will feel mechanical and insincere at first, but in time, it will feel more natural.
Don’t blame yourself and criticize yourself for your pain, illogic, insecurities and other negativity. Simply notice and accept.
About the Author
Tara Brach is a psychologist, author, and teacher of mindfulness and Buddhist meditation. She is the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C. and a guiding teacher at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. Tara is known for her work in the field of mindfulness and emotional healing, and has written several books, including the popular Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha.
It’s been many, many years since John Gottman started bossing around the world of marriage counseling, and guess what? He’s still bossing it. As far as I can tell, no one’s ideas or research have influenced couples counseling practices more than those of this psychologist and researcher from way back.
There are some drawbacks to reading Gottman, though. To me, Gottman’s many books are highly repetitive in nature and lack a sophisticated edit. Clearly, Gottman is a researcher first and a writer second, but that’s okay. That’s why we have book summaries.
Four bad communication habits are responsible for much of the world’s communication-related distress: criticism, contempt, stonewalling/withdrawal; and defensiveness. Anger and arguments are not likely to become a serious problem in a relationship if they are not accompanied by one of these behaviors. (That’s good news!)
Criticism is a form of complaint that points to a person’s attributes as the source of a problem rather than pointing to their behavior. Replace a person-focused criticism with a problem-focused complaint, Gottman recommends. Note that “I” statements are usually complaints and “you” statements are usually attacks/criticisms (though not always).
Use a “soft startup” to a disagreement by beginning with a complaint rather than a criticism.
Contempt is the worst of what Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In his research he found that the presence of this habit is most predictive of divorce. Replace mean-spirited contempt or condescension such as eye-rolling with compliments and nonverbal signs of respect.
Stonewalling sometimes occurs due to emotional flooding–a physical and psychological response to emotional stress. To effectively handle emotional flooding, take a break, then return to the discussion once your emotions have stabilized.
Defensiveness is one of the most common, if not the most common, communication difficulty. When someone is defensive, they are more likely to interpret others’ comments and actions as threats and respond with resistance, anger, or aggression. This type of response can escalate conflicts, create barriers to effective communication, and damage relationships. Additionally, being defensive often leads to a lack of self-awareness and a failure to see one’s own role in conflicts. This can prevent individuals from learning and growing and can result in repeated patterns of negative behavior. Replace defensiveness by discussing one topic at a time, not responding to personal attacks, and listening with open-mindedness and assumptions of good intention.
“Negative sentiment override” occurs when one or both partners assume the worst of the other person (negative intentions, etc.). This is another problem to avoid whenever possible, as it causes defensiveness.
There are three types of communication styles: conflict-avoiding, validating, and volatile. Conflict-avoiders argue infrequently and opt to agree to disagree while focusing on the positive aspects of a situation. Validators prioritize compromise and approach conflicts calmly and objectively. They are known for their kindness but may lack honesty and independence. Volatile couples are prone to frequent and passionate arguments, but also enjoy making up in similar fashion. They are candid and honest, but prone to being easily upset.
When both partners the same style, any style can be healthy.
Gottman believes that one of the most effective ways to improve marriages is to simply increase positive affect and decrease negative affect in both verbal and nonverbal ways. Even small gestures like looking up from your phone, smiling and physically turning toward your partner can make a significant difference.
For a relationship to be healthy, the ratio of positive to negative interactions should be at least 5:1. If negative interactions outweigh positive ones, the relationship is likely in trouble.
The failure to acknowledge repair attempts is the central predictor of divorce. As much as possible, turn toward your partner instead of turning away.
Recognize that some issues may be unsolvable at present, as 69% of conflicts often go unresolved.
Focus on creating a sense of understanding and connection by showing interest in each other’s lives and sharing personal dreams, with a commitment to supporting one another.
Establish a shared sense of meaning and purpose.
Whenever possible, de-escalate arguments through agreement and validation.
Practice good listening skills by doing the “speaker-listener exercise.” This involves one person (the speaker) expressing their thoughts and feelings about a specific issue, while the other person (the listener) focuses on understanding and validating the speaker’s perspective. The listener summarizes and reflects back what they have heard, avoiding interruptions and making the speaker feel heard and understood. The exercise is repeated with the roles reversed, allowing both partners to have a turn at speaking and listening. The goal of the exercise is to build trust, increase understanding, and reduce conflict.
Acknowledge the goal of the conversation: is it to be heard, or is it to solve a problem? Don’t rush to problem solve for or with your partner unless they ask you to.
Gottman Book Selections
Gottman’s most well-known books include:
“The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”: This book provides a framework for building a strong and healthy marriage, based on Gottman’s research on what makes relationships successful.
“Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”: This book provides a scientific analysis of what makes marriages work and what causes them to fail.
“And Baby Makes Three”: This book provides advice on how to maintain a strong relationship after having a baby and how to navigate the challenges of parenthood as a couple.
“The Mathematics of Marriage”: This book offers a data-driven approach to improving relationships, and provides practical tools and techniques for building a stronger and more fulfilling partnership.
About the Author
John Gottman is a renowned American psychologist and relationship expert. He is a professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Washington and the co-founder of The Gottman Institute, which provides workshops and resources for couples and mental health professionals. Gottman is the author of numerous books on relationships and his research has been featured in many media outlets.
Make no mistake: Self-help reading isn’t just self-help books. Nonfiction of all kinds contributes to a person’s physical, intellectual, emotional, financial, spiritual, and relational well-being. For this reason, I’ve made use of my obsession with all kinds of nonfiction (and love of note-taking) to compile a comprehensive-as-possible recommended reading list for people looking to achieve their own feats of great strength. This list includes books on business, finance, psychology, sociology, history, spirituality and more. For each book listed, I provide a brief content summary, then offer practical takeaways from a self-help lens.
Does your next feat of great strength require research–more than you have time to do? Subscribe to the right for a comprehensive self-improvement self-education, featuring summaries and tips from over 400 works of psychology, sociology, biography, history, anthropology, spirituality, science, memoir, economics, self-help and more.
Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, Hugh MacLeod
Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster
A Whack On the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative, Roger von Oech
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott
Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug
Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads, Luke Sullivan
Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, Leslie Edgerton How Fiction Works, James Wood
How to Be Funny: The One and Only Practical Guide for Every Occasion, Situation, and Disaster (No Kidding), Jon Macks
Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, Elizabeth Lyon On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Steven King
Plot and Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish, James Scott Bell
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, Blake Snyder
Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told, Blake Snyder
Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy, Judd Apatow
Spunk and Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language and Style, Arthur Plotnik
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, Lester Kaufman and Jane Straus
The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, Donald Maass
The Non-Designer’s Design Book, Robin Williams
The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, Martha Alderson
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battle, Steven Pressfield
The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less, Peter Bowerman
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler
Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, Mary Cole
Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider Advice for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level, Donald Maas
Your Life Is A Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir, Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover
Go Ask Alice, Anonymous
A Stolen Life: A Memoir, Jaycee Dugard
A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Into the Wild, John Krakauer
Untamed, Glennon Doyle
Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson
A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken
A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
The Holy Bible The writings of Buddha (500s–300s BCE) The Analects, Confucius (500s BCE) Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze (500s BCE) The Art of War, Sun Tzu (500s BCE) The Magna Carta (1200s) The Declaration of Independence (1700s) The Constitution of the United States (1700s) The Bill of Rights (1700s) The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano (1700s) Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey (1800s) The Gettysburg Address (1800s) Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth (1800s) Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1800s) Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs (1800s) Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1800s) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Frederick Douglass (1800s) The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. DuBois (1900s) Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson (1900s) I Have a Dream, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1900s) The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (1900s) The Story of My Life, Helen Keller (1900s) Roots, Alex Haley (1900s) Autobiography of Malcom X, Malcom X (1900s) The Jungle, Upton Sinclair (1900s) Black Boy, Richard Wright (1900s) Native Son, Richard Wright (1900s) Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1900s) The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom (1900s) A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking (1900s) The Meaning of It All, Richard Feynman (1900s)
Advanced Classic Nonfiction
The Histories, Herodotus (400s BCE) The Republic, Plato (400s BCE) History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (400s BCE) Rhetoric, Aristotle (300s BCE) Apology, Plato (300s BCE) Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (300s BCE) On the Nature of Things, Lucretius (60s BCE) De Republica, Cicero (50s BCE) The Early History of Rome, Livy (20s BCE) Wars of the Jews, Josephus (70s CE) Annals, Tacitus (100s CE) The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius (100s CE) Anabasis of Alexander, Arrian (100s CE) Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (100s CE) Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch (100s CE) Enchiridion, Epictetus (100s CE) The Confessions, Saint Augustine (300s) The City of God, St. Augustine (400s) The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (500s) The Quran (600s) The Ecclesiastical History, Adam Bede (700s) The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Peter and Heolise Abelard (1100s) Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas (1200s) The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (1400s) In Praise of Folly, Erasmus (1500s) The Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus (1500s) The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther (1500s) Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1500s) History of the Reformation, John Knox (1500s) The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila (1500s) The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila (1500s) Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross (1500s) The Defense of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney (1500s) Novum Organum, Frances Bacon (1600s) The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1600s) Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes (1600s) Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes (1600s) Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke (1600s) The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke (1600s) The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys (1600s) Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather (1600s) An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope (1700s) An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope (1700s) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin (1700s) The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine (1700s) Common Sense, Thomas Paine (1700s) On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1800s) The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1700s) The Journal of John Woolman, John Woolman (1700s) The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1700s) A Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (1700s) On American Taxation, Edmund Burke (1700s) Life of Johnson, James Boswell (1700s) The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton (1700s) Memoir, Correspondence and Misc., Thomas Jefferson (1800s) The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, Victor Hugo (1800s) Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (1800s) A Child’s History of England, Charles Dickens (1800s) For Self-Examination, Soren Kierkegaard (1800s) On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin (1800s) The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1800s) Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Frederich Nietzsche (1800s) Beyond Good and Evil, Frederich Nietzsche (1800s) An Autobiography, Annie Besant (1800s) Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale (1800s) Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler (1900s) Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud (1900s) The Ego and the Id, Sigmund Freud (1900s) The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud (1900s)
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