The books a person reads reveals, if momentarily, a lot about that person. I say momentarily because, as I think back to the books I’ve read over the years, the range in topic and tone, in subject and world-view, is broad enough that someone might think I’m suffering from a personality disorder. But, if viewed through a small enough lens, you can tell a lot about a person from the books they are reading in a given period of time.
I’m doing well on my reading goal. I’m ahead of schedule in fact. Since January 1st, I’ve read three books – my goal was two by the end of the month – by sitting down for 30 minutes a day. Okay, full confession, I missed one day. But I read for 45 minutes on the next two days to make up for it.
So, what have I read and, by extension, what do the books I’ve chosen to begin my year say about me?
Well, first I read “A Curious Mind” by Hollywood Producer Brian Grazer. In it, he explores the value of curiosity as a personality trait and offers guidance on putting curiosity to work in your career, in your art and in your personal life.
Next, I read “Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It” by Dr. David Lewis. In this book, the neuroscientist explores what’s happening in your brain that causes you to impulse buy, overeat, veer left when you might have gone right and all the other tiny decisions that your brain makes without you realizing it. He also delves into some methods for recognizing these behaviors and avoiding them. Fantastic book. The last three sentences literally – and I know the proper definition of literally – left me in a state of stunned bewilderment.
Finally, I just wrapped up a re-reading of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.” A good friend gave me this book a year ago and it was a revelation. Pressfield, perhaps best known as the author of “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” explores the notion of Resistance in this devotional-style book on finding the focus to achieve your creative goals. It’s so good, I’ve given copies to friends and have made a vow to read it every January for my entire life as a writer.
Curiosity, impulsive thinking and creative focus. Three distinct, but related topics and the perfect snapshot of my mental state right now. I chose these three books specifically to begin the year for a few reasons: they were interesting, they were highly readable and they all set the tone for my year of Iteration.
Curiosity is core to my goals for the year. I’m pushing myself to explore new areas – fiction! – and new ways of working. I’m also challenging myself to reach out to new people, to do interviews with folks I might not otherwise have a chance to learn from. I’m learning a new language – which can only happen if you’re curious – and pushing myself to achieve fitness goals I’ve always wondered about – can I run a 5K? Can I do 100 push-ups? Can I learn to swim distances?
Grazer’s book was great inspiration to get moving this year. Reading it first set the tone. It made what I’m trying to achieve seem like an adventure instead of a slog.
I’ve always suffered from impulsive thinking. Impulse eating. Impulse buying. Following the impulse to quit. Dr. Lewis’s book helped to put into perspective what often feels irresistible and provided enough knowledge to let me ‘check myself’ when I’m feeling impulsive. Take a walk before you buy. Switch hands before you mindlessly eat. Recognize the desire to quit as an impulse and think about the long-term.
Impulse and Resistance are related. The way Pressfield writes about Resistance, impulse is a symptom of a human desire for the path of least resistance – for the water of our will to find the lowest point. While Dr. Lewis’s work is scientific, Pressfield’s work is artistic. They tackle similar subject matter from different points of view. One is quantitative, the other ethereal and I needed both in order to serve two distinct sides of my brain.
Looking at my January reading list, it’s easy to get a sense of where my mind has been to start the year. Be curious, be thoughtful, fight through. It’s been the theme of 2016 thus far for me and will continue to be.
So what’s on deck for February? Well, the plan is to begin by exploring empathy and then an adventure. I’m looking forward to next month.