Book Recommendations: Expanding Your Brain

August 11, 2011

Sometime during the spring of 2000, sitting in the sixties-themed basement of Burge Hall on the University of Iowa campus, I was handed a book that would spark one of the biggest themes of my life; personal development.

The book was eye opening for me, and it wasn’t just because of the advice and information in that specific book, although it was pretty wonderful. (It was Rich Dad Poor Dad. Remember?) Reading and digesting author Kiyosaki’s philosophies on money and business opened my mind to a myriad of possibilities that I never even knew existed. For me, it was a game-changer. A HO.LY.CRAP. moment that forever altered the ideas I had for my life.

With the exception of a few rebellious years during middle school – I’m sorry, Mom. I’m really, really sorry. – I have always been a big reader. But RDPD launched me into a whole other planet of reading.

I didn’t just read for entertainment anymore. I read for entertainment and education and inspiration and curiosity.

Keep up that habit for the better part of 12 years and one will start to accumulate quite the list of Have Reads. Having such a list, I get asked regularly about what books I’d recommend.

Hey Annie, I’m going on vacation to the beach, what fluffy novel shall I take with me?

Annie, I like non-fiction! What do you recommend?

Hi, I’m a personal development newbie, what can you throw at me?

Hi Annie, I’m a Type A, coffee-drinking, overly driven, tidy but sometimes disorganized, perfectionist but laid back, tomboy who likes to fish and watch Star Trek with her Dad and get drunk on New Paperback Smell who wears too many hats and is snobby about her pedicures and IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR ME?

Ok. Just kidding on that last one.

Sort of.

Of everything in the massive genre of Self Improvement and Personal Development, I think the books that generally but forcefully open your mind to new ways of thinking – and new ways of living – can be the most powerful.

These books aren’t specifically business-related. They’re just, well, they’re just life-related. Take a look at ’em if you need a jolt of creativity or inspiration, an excuse to think a bit bigger and reflect on your life, or just want to be introduced to a new idea.

They’re usually shorter reads, and the kind that keep you pondering long after you’ve flipped the last page.

Here are my top 5 recommendations for books that will rip open your mind and force you to think differently than you ever have before:

1. Poke the Box , by Seth Godin

Oh Seth. Everyone knows that it’s often more difficult to make an impact with a shorter piece of writing than a longer one, and you are the master at this. Short, concise, powerful. Yum, yummy, and yummier.

Poke the Box introduces a new way of thinking about how you can change the environment around you, take personal responsibility for that environment, and make it bigger and better.

It will inspire you to stop assuming that the way things work now is the way they always has to work, or that the way they work for others is the way they have to work for you. This book is revolutionizing in the way that only Godin knows how – with the simplest, most profound of ideas.

2. The Slight Edge (Revised Edition): Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success , by Jeff Olson

I know, I know. I’ve mentioned this book before. But with good reason!

It’s just so.darn.good.

The Slight Edge is very similar in concept to a few other books out there. Notably The Compound Effect and 212: The Extra Degree. In my opinion The Slight Edge the best of the three for the simple reason that it’s applicable to any area of life – business, relationships, home, everything.

This is one of the books I find myself recommending to people over and over and over again. It’s enjoyed by and applicable to personal development first-timers, business first-timers, non-fiction first timers, all sorts.

It’s. It’s just wow.

The examples that Olson uses to powerfully support his theory – that the smallest of differences in effort and execution, exponentially added over time, are what makes the difference between success and failure, between the majority of average and the minority of extraordinary – are perfect. They are detailed enough that you can imagine and understand, yet still generic enough that they can relate to anybody in any situation.

I dare you to read this book and not turn the volume up on your work one tiny notch today for the possibility of what it can do for your tomorrow.

3. The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World , by Chris Guillebeau

You know what this book gives you? Permission. And ohh, what a grand thing that is to have, especially when it comes to ideas about business or life that shy away from the mainstream.

The confidence and determination that having permission to feel a certain way provides is indescribable. And powerful. And infectious.

After all, isn’t it fear of change and what others will think the reason that the vast majority of people simply hope for something better, instead of taking action towards something better? Permission to act anyway is huge.

You also have to give Guillebeau props for the last bit of the sub-title; Change the World. Who doesn’t want to figure out how to be a part of that, right?

4. The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich , by Timothy Ferriss

Oh Tim. Timmy Tim Tim.

I struggled with whether to include this book in this list, as it’s pretty specific to Ferriss’ views of lifestyle design. To His Way of doing things. However, when I first read this book three or four years ago, it did significantly alter my thinking. Or, it altered the limitations I had in my thinking. It really, really did, and I can’t deny that.

With the expanded and updated edition, Ferriss includes dozens and dozens of stories and testimonials from followers of his. How they have made the impossible possible for their lives and their lifestyles. If nothing else, ignore the specifics and use their stories to enlarge your mind. They provide the real proof on how these elements of lifestyle design can realistically be applied.

You need facts and details while you’re dreaming. This will give it to you.

5. The Book of Awesome , by Neil Pasricha

I mentioned this book, and the blog that’s behind it, a couple weeks ago in an edition of Feature Friday. After reading it, my mother-in-law called me and mentioned how much she liked the site.

What stood out to me as I read this book was the humor and awareness of the everyday things that Pasricha points out.

Kind of like comedians, you know? They point out the mundane, make you think twice about your surroundings and the facts of life that you take for granted, and often make you laugh about it. That’s what I noticed, anyway. But my mother-in-law immediately picked up on the stronger message behind the book – gratitude.


Because if you suddenly open your eyes to all of the amazing – read: Awesome! – things that happen during our day, you acknowledge you gratitude for the fact that they even exist.

After all, popping bubble wrap is fun, the smell of rain on a hot sidewalk is yummy, and waking up and realizing it’s Saturday is so satisfying. (Also satisfying? Fixing electronics by smacking them! Brilliant, Neil. Absolutely brilliant.) We should more often open our eyes to appreciate those little things, and shower our gratitude upon them.

So there you go, my top book recommendations for opening your mind. Read ’em and be prepared for your brain to swell.

What mind-bending books would you add to the list?

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