I am often inspired by the life stories of really successful people. Some, like Oprah Winfrey, have come from pretty terrible circumstances.
Others, like Bill Gates, come from rather ordinary white American upbringings. Others are the children of immigrants, like Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy. One part of these individuals’ lives I have never quite considered is what books they read – what are their favorites, and have those books influenced them, inspired them, or simply entertained them?
Here are 10 books that are recommended by some current icons:
1. Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner
These two books provide new twists on the study of economics, pulling together seemingly unrelated phenomena and showing their relationships. In the first book, such chapters as “Why Drug Dealers Still Live with their Mothers,” describes the entire corporate structure of drug kingpins and the fact that the corner drug dealer would make more working at McDonald’s. The second book is just as “freaky,” with compelling chapter titles such as, “What do Prostitutes and Department Store Santa’s Have in Common?
“I really liked Freakonomics and I think SuperFreakonomics is even better. I recommend this book to anyone who reads nonfiction…one of my favorite things in the book is the debunking of many of the studies economists have done that they use as the basis for claiming that people are irrational in their choices….” – Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft)
2. Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift
Johnathan Swift was a satirical writer of the 18th century who criticized England, the self-righteousness of governments that rule over others because they are somehow more enlightened or morally correct (referring to England’s ruling over its colonies), and the foibles of human nature in general.
“To learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos (slaves in the book).” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson
3. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
This book proposes ways in which new startups can scientifically, more efficiently, and more rapidly test out their innovations, so that money and time are not wasted. As such, the methods proposed by Ries, are operational both in a college dorm room and in a corporate boardroom. Clearly, this is a book for today’s entrepreneur.
“If you want to read only one book on startups, you should choose The Lean Startup. It’s about one of the hottest startup theories today. Startup is all about testing your idea, hypotheses, and then finding their best combination. Like a science, not a casino.” – Dustin Moskovitz (Co-Founder of Facebook)
4. An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
According to Branson, he began reading the book while in the bathtub and was so absorbed and disturbed at the same time that he could not stop. Gore has made the case about climate change and man’s guilt in its cause, with data that really cannot be interpreted any other way.
Branson was so shaken by the book, and, specifically, the contributions of the transportation industry to the problem that he subsequently has pledged all of the profits from Virgin Airlines to clean energy efforts and has made it his mission to pressure other “dirty” industries to contribute as well.
5. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
“This is probably the book that’s made the biggest impact on my life over the past five years. The author examines the beliefs about happiness of different cultures, religions and philosophers from different periods, and then compares those beliefs with research that’s been done on the science of happiness. The book is thought-provoking and the concepts can be applied to business and to life.” – Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos)
6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This is the story of Holden Caulfield, a teen who has been expelled from school and is in search of himself. The events and encounters he has are typical of a teen in the 1960’s, but are just as relevant today as then. This is also on the favorite list of Bill Gates.
“It’s very clever. It acknowledges that young people are a little confused but can be smart about things and see things that adults can’t. I’ve always loved it.” – Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft)
7. Running on Empty by Peter Peterson
Peterson writes a scathing condemnation of all politicians who are too concerned about their own political futures than to do the right things – fix the tax code; stop huge cuts and subsidies to corporations that don’t need or deserve, pass laws that will harm future generations, and fail to fix critical programs like Social Security and Medicare.
“Today, too many of our country’s key economic decisions are being made with an eye to the next election rather than to the next generation.” – Warren Buffet
8. The Power of Now by Eckert Tolle
Philosopher and “new age” spiritualist Tolle posits that time is an illusion and that there really is only “now” for any of us. But living in the moment does not mean that we are to be superficial “carpe diem” actors – we need to engage in “mindfulness,” to become one with the Universe through that mindfulness, and that will take us to the action we are meant to pursue. There is a lot of Zen Buddhism in this book, and Oprah Winfrey recommended it many times on her iconic TV show, having Tolle on as a guest several times.
9. Competing Against Time by George Stalk
The thesis of this work is that time is now added to the other three critical factors of competitiveness – money, productivity, and quality. In fact, says the author, because changes and innovations are occurring so rapidly, that time may indeed come to be the single most important factor in remaining competitive.
Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) is so enamored with this book, that he passes it out everywhere and recommends its reading to all new hires at Apple.
10. Life is What You Make It by Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet’s son)
This book is also on the favorites lists of Bill Clinton and Jamie Dimon. This book is autobiographical, of course, and through it, Buffett expounds on the wisdom he has accumulated from his family and his experiences. From his family, he learned that “everyone must find his own way in life.” He also challenges his readers – rather than take the way of least resistance, choose the path to greatest satisfaction.
“With home-spun, heart-felt wisdom Peter Buffet ponders how to make a meaningful life, while making a living. Life is What You Make It is thought-provoking, worthwhile reading.” – Ted Turner (Media Icon and Founder of CNN)
I hope you enjoyed my article! Which book is your favorite from this list?
How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
Time is the raw material of our lives. How we choose to spend it, shapes our life accordingly. So having the motivation to spend it on achieving goals is crucial to creating a life we want.
What is Motivation?
The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the desire or willingness to do something – our drive to take action.
Scientifically, motivation has its roots in the dopamine pathways of our brains. When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. Our actions are driven by the desire for that reward (the good feeling).
Author Steven Pressfield describes motivation more practically. He says we hit a point where the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. He sees motivation as crossing the threshold where it’s easier to take action than it is to be idle. Like choosing to feel awkward while making sales calls over feeling disappointed about a diminishing bank account.
However you choose to think about it, we all want to harness motivation to achieve our goals.
How to Get Motivated
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that most people misunderstand motivation. They think that motivation is what gets us to take action. In reality, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Once we start a task, it’s easier to continue making progress. Like Isaac Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion.
This means most of the resistance when working on your goals comes right before we start. Since motivation naturally occurs after we start, we need to focus on making starting easier.
4 Ways to Make Starting Easier
1. Schedule it
One reason people can’t get started on things is that they haven’t planned when to do it.
When things aren’t scheduled it’s easier for them to fall by the wayside. You’ll end up hoping motivation falls in your lap or hoping that you’ll muster enough willpower to get it done.
An article in the Guardian said, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”
2. Measure something
It’s easy to feel uninspired when you don’t know if you’re making progress or what you’re even working towards. That’s why you need to make your success measurable in some way. Starting is easy when you know exactly how much closer your current actions will bring you to achieving your goal.
3. Extrinsic motivation
This type of motivation is from external factors. It can be either positive or negative. Positive motivation consists of incentives like money, prizes, and grades. Negative motivation consists of deterrents like being fired, having a fight, or being fined. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work effectively long-term, but it can work well in the short term to get you started on something.
4. Make it public
Keep yourself accountable by telling friends and family your goals, or even sharing them on social media. This makes it easier to start something because you’re pressured to not let others down.
How to Stay Motivated Long Term
When we say we want to feel motivated to do something, we don’t want to be pushed or guilted into doing a task. We want to be so attracted and drawn to the idea that we can’t resist not taking action. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation that will set you up for consistency.
These are 5 techniques that will help you do just that:
1. Stay in your goldilocks zone
The goldilocks zone is when a task is the perfect level of difficulty—not too hard and not too easy. In this zone, we reach peak motivation and focus.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against a 4-year-old. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become bored and not want to play. Now let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against Serena Williams. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become demotivated because the match is too challenging.
The Goldilocks zone is in the middle of that spectrum. You want to face someone with equal skill as you. That way you have a chance to win, but you have to focus and try for it. Adjusting your workload and goals over time to stay within your Goldilocks zone keeps you engaged and motivated long-term.
2. Pursue intrinsically motivated goals
Being intrinsically motivated to achieve a goal is when you want to achieve it for what it is. There are no external factors like a reward or the risk of being fired. The drive behind your actions is coming from within.
For most intrinsic goals we pursue them because they will enrich our lives or bring us closer to fulfillment. That makes these goals extremely sustainable long-term because they directly affect our quality of life and the things we care about.
3. Use “chunking”
Chunking is the technique of breaking down a goal into smaller short-term targets. By doing this you achieve multiple successes in your pursuit of the main goal. This triggers the brain’s reward system and drives you to keep going.
Traditionally, you may set a goal that you expect to achieve in one year. That’s a long time to commit without seeing any results along the way. By chunking your goals into monthly or quarterly targets, you get the consistent positive reinforcement you need to stay motivated long-term.
For example, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds in one year, try to lose 4 pounds every month for 12 months.
4. Be flexible
We’re all victims of circumstance. Things happen along our journey that we can either adjust to or quit because of. That’s why it’s important to have leeway and flexibility when you’re pursuing a goal. If you expect everything to go perfectly, the inevitable failure can make you disengaged and desireless. When you plan for things to go wrong, you make sure you can keep up for the long haul.
5. Pursue your goals in a sustainable fashion
Don’t lose hope when you’re not an overnight success. Overnight successes are the 1%—for the most part, they don’t exist. What we see as an “overnight success” is actually countless hours of work behind the scenes finally hitting a tipping point. Pursuing goals is a story of patience, persistence, and unseen effort.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is a recipe for a drop in self-confidence and satisfaction. It also cultivates a mindset where you think you haven’t done enough. As a result, you may raise your expectations and put more pressure on yourself.
This is pointless because things worth achieving take time. So we obviously won’t compare to the things around us when starting.
Mastering motivation is a superpower. With that ability at your fingertips, you can accomplish your goals and shape a life you want to live in.
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