10 Self-Help Books that Have Made Me Feel More In Control of My Life – GQ

Posted: May 16, 2020 at 1:42 pm


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For those holed up at home, the pandemic has stripped away the given minutiae of everyday livingthe commutes, the casual asides, the inessential errands. In so doing, it has also provided a rare opportunity to get outside the slipstream of movement and productivity, the doing, doing, doing that can keep you feeling like a tumbleweed in a strong wind. Right now, things are oddly still. And if youre privileged enough to have health and workand to not have your stillness disrupted by anxiety and fearinside the carousel of monotony you might find some space for self-reflection, to consider what you want normal life to look like when isolation lets out.

Ive been lucky enough to get to do some of that self-examination as part of my job at GQ (mostly in the name of health and wellness coverage for our Level Up vertical and Airplane Mode podcast). In that time, Ive spent an inordinate amount of time reading books that have helped me do it. Theyre about everything from building better habits to getting better at being bored to the therapeutic, healing power of psychedelics. And though a fair number, perhaps unsurprisingly, stress the importance of stillness (you cant swing a cat in a self-help section of a bookstore without hitting this Blaise Pascal quote: "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone), each is really about autonomy: in a world of constant noise and distraction, how can we live a bit more intentionally?

The idea here isnt that you should use your time in isolation productivelythat type of thinking can lead right back into the whitewater of busyness (not to mention that, as ever, any type of self-care or self-improvement remains the province of the privileged). Right now, the only prescription should be to protect your mental health in whatever way is best for you. Over the past couple of years, these books have afforded me a deeper sense of agency and control in an unpredictable world. In this Great Reset, if thats something youre looking for, I hope they'll do the same for you, too.

The title of Odells book is misleading. (A bit of intentional trickery: By the time you figure out that it's not [self-help], it's too late, she says.) Its less a guide to being idle that will help unlock the secret to inner joy! than it is an examination of why we all feel so existentially unmoored (hint: it has to do with how we spend our attention) and how we might go forward from here (hint: pay a different kind of attention). How to Do Nothing is a book about letting go of the idea that all of your time must be used to produce something, a mindset that keeps us constantly toppling forward into the next thing. Instead, Odell proposes ways to deepen your attention to your immediate environment and the moment, explaining that doing so can actually expand both: Tiny spaces can open up small spaces, small spaces can open bigger spaces." Right now, maybe you're searching for a release from the pressure to do more, or maybe youd just like to see your small space expandHow to Do Nothing can point you in the direction of both.

Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge has summited Mount Everest and walked to both poles. (Those combined feats are known, in adventure circles, as the Three Poles Challenge). In his book Silence, he says the hardest part of walking to the South Pole was getting himself out of his tent on mornings when the temperature was 50 below. The second hardest part? To be at peace with yourself, he writes. With so many of us thrown into extended periods of solitude, Kagges reflections on his own solitary adventures into frozen placescombined with thoughts from a deep reservoir of writers, poets, and philosophersmight help you navigate this coronavirus wilderness. I tend to think about silence as a practical method for uncovering answers to the intriguing puzzle that is yourself, and for helping to gain a new perspective on whatever is hiding beyond the horizon, he writes.

In this meditation on the positive power of silence, a worthwhile companion to Kagges book, Maitland searches for places of solitude to reflect on what happens when we get quiet. What she learns is that a lack of noise does not lead to an emptiness: I increasingly realise there is an interior dimension to silence, a sort of stillness of heart and mind which is not a void but a rich space. Now, not only is Maitlands aloneness self-imposed and spent in sublime, natural places (like the Scottish Hills and the Isle of Skye), she also clarifies that there is a chasm of difference between qualities like quietness or peace and silence itself. Many of us have been driven into small spaces that dont feel at all tranquil. That said, even if you can only find brief moments of peace at an anxious time like this, Maitland will have you thinking differently about what to do with those pockets of open air, why you might resist the impulse to fill them, and how you can work with silence, instead of in silence.

The Georgetown computer scientist has become one of our leading thinkers on techs increasing influence in our culture. In Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport encourages readers to reclaim autonomy over ever-distracting devices by developing a philosophy of technology use that he calls digital minimalism. It involves forgoing optional technologies (tech you can give up without causing harm in your professional or personal life) for thirty days, reconnecting with your values and desires (developing a game plan for your life, essentially), and then intentionally introducing tech back into your life by selecting whichever platforms will help you achieve those things. Even if youre not worried about your screen time, Newport's book is a useful reminder of the importance of attention and intentiontwo of our most undervalued currenciesin a modern society largely designed to steal them from you: The sugar high of convenience is fleeting and the sting of missing out dulls rapidly, but the meaningful glow that comes from taking charge of what claims your time and attention is something that persists.

As the host of WNYCs Note to Self, Zomorodi led her listeners through a week of challenges thatsimilar to Newports Digital Minimalismwere meant to get participants to disconnect in order to reconsider the role devices had come to play in their lives. The result? Less time plugged in meant more time being bored. But. to Zomorodis surprise, the boredom her listeners reported wasnt the dull monotony were so accustomed to running away from; in their boredom, theyd found a new source of imagination. So Zomorodi took that anecdotal feedback, buttressed it with recent psychological and neuroscientific research, and wrote a book that will help you understand that boredom isn't a problem, it's an opportunity.

You probably remember this 2018 book as the one that had all your friends talking about doing shrooms. In it, Pollan sets out to explore the emerging research on the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, does some himself, and pens a fascinating exploration into the nature of consciousness: how we create meaning, how our own perceptions deceive us, what it means to be human, and how reflecting on all of those thingswhich, surprise, is often what happens on a psychedelic journeycan change our experience of being alive. Take, for instance, this thought, which comes after Pollan smokes The Toad (that is: 5-MeO-DMT, a psychotropic substance found in the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad): Everybody gives thanks for being alive, but who stops to offer thanks for the bare-bones gerund that comes before alive? I had just come from a place where being was no more and now vowed never to forget what a gift (and mystery) it is, that there is something rather than nothing. How to Change Your Mind is a welcome balm at a time when were stuck in one place and a literal trip into the philosophical wilds of your mind, and reading it proves consciousness-altering in its own right.

Humans are very bad at being wrong, which makes sense: it feels great to be right. So we generally default to assuming we know what were talking about. But years of playing professional poker taught Annie Duke that, in a game of cards, assuming youre right is a sure path to losing all of your money. She learned quickly to be more open-minded, to question what she thought, and to accept that, ultimately, luck and risk would play a role in any decision she made at the table. Shed go on to win $4 million. In Thinking in Bets, she channels those lessons in an effort to help readers fix a fundamental problem with human cognition: our inability to change minds, to not be open-minded, to believe youre right, and to not listen to dissenting voices. Self-righteousness might feel good, and admitting youre wrong might feel badbut its only the latter that gets us closer to an accurate view of the world. Getting better at being wrong wont just help you acquire more knowledge; itll also help you be less defensive (youre not so worried about proving your point) and more compassionate (youre less dismissive of beliefs that discredit your own), and get you accustomed to the reality that, in poker as in life, uncertainty always plays a role. So if youre looking for a challenge to complete in isolation, how about this: learn to be critical not just of others thoughts, but of your own, too.

Chris Baileys book helps you be more productive precisely by taking aim at our cultural obsession with productivity. In his eyes, weve become so obsessed with being busy, that instead of doing what matters to us weve become content to stop merely at doing. The result? An inability to prioritize or focus, which keeps us not just from doing meaningful work, but from living present lives. If there's one thing that I realized over the course of writing this book, it's that the state of our attention determines the state of our lives. And so if we're distracted in each momentand that leads us to feel overwhelmedthose moments accumulate day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, to create a life that feels distracted and overwhelmed. The real reason to [manage your attention well] is to increase the quality of our lives.

If building better habits (or kicking old ones) has been on your to-do list for a while (e.g. your whole life), Atomic Habits just might finally light the under-ass fire you need to actually get started. Why? For one, it hammers home the point that habitslike interestcompound. The sooner you start, the more outsized your rewards. And two, we like to think identity influences behavior (I am an active person, so I will exercise), but, often, its our behavior that creates our identity. Pretty much everybody thinks they have integrity, Clear said, when we spoke to him about the book. And it's not that often that there's one grave mistake that wrecks you. It's usually a bunch of, just this one exceptionWell, this time it's a little bit different. And then you turn around five or ten years later and your habits aren't lining up with the type of person that you thought you were.

Poet Ross Gay opens his 2019 book The Book of Delights with a straightforward statement of purpose. One day last July, feeling delighted and compelled to both wonder about and share that delight, he writes, I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful. And it is simply that: a collection of delightfully snackable essays (rarely longer than four pages) recorded over the course of the year, each detailing a suspended moment in timein a garden, on a plane, at a book readingbefore unspooling into a short meditation on how the episode weaves into the themes of lifes larger tapestry, investigating everything from death to race. Disjointed as that may sound, the real joy comes in developing what Gay calls a delight radar. The more he wrote about delight, the more he noticed it everywhere. A similar thing happens when you read the book. Pick it up, read for ten minutes (start anywhere, really), put it down, and youll find that the delights of Gays world illuminate the delights of yours, that his wonder is contagious and has caused you to deepen your own.

A Q+A with the computer scientist about his new book Digital Minimalism, why future workplaces may go email-free, and why tech backlash is about to go mainstream.

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10 Self-Help Books that Have Made Me Feel More In Control of My Life - GQ

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May 16th, 2020 at 1:42 pm

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