Thirty-six was my number last year.
My goal was to read 36 books in 2016, and I actually hit 39! Let’s not talk about me buying around 100 last year, giving me a long list of books to get to eventually.
I don’t state my goal of reading 36 books this year to brag. In fact, not too long ago, I had fallen off the book-reading wagon, reading maybe 1-4 books per year. My personal development and my business suffered. Starting in 2015, I set ambitious goals to read much, much more—and I have reaped the rewards from that groundwork.
And I want you to do the same!
I’m going to go through my favorite 6 books from 2016—what I loved about them, the takeaways, and a few of the standout quotes. Wait, isn’t this titled “7 Best Self Development Books of 2016”? Why yes—yes, it is. I’m going to bring in a guest—my wife, Stacy—to go through the last one since I didn’t read it.
Let’s get into it!
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1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
This one was recommended to me by none other than the infamous Brandon Turner, and I’m glad I didn’t ignore this suggestion. This book in a nutshell? The time you currently spend working could be better used to focus more and be more productive.
Newport’s “deep work” is defined as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction free concentration.” With lots of studies and practical ways to dive deep into your work, Cal Newport breaks down how he is able to be a busy professional and still have time to publish multiple papers per year without working 80 hours a week. He goes through many real-world examples of those who have used this to their enormous benefit, from JK Rowling to Bill Gates.
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I LOVE this concept, getting more done in a few hours than you could in a whole day. We have all been in the flow of deep work, insulated from distractions and laser-focused.Trying to get work done the day before leaving on vacation, I bet you got more done in one day than the previous two weeks!
Now, what if every day we could slip into hyper-productive deep work at will? Talk about real world superpowers!
The big takeaway for me: My favorite new thing is to schedule some distraction breaks. It helps me keep in the zone when I know there is a fun distraction coming up (i.e. walking the dog or taking a 20-minute video game break if I meet my productivity goals).
Quote: “To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.”
2. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
What the heck is grit? Well, as Duckworth states, it’s the stubborn “stick-to-it-withness” that we can all work to improve in our lives. In other words, perseverance through all things. What makes one person quit one mile into a run, while another can run for 100 miles in an ultra-marathon?
As a scientist, Duckworth believes that science can tell us why. She studies who is successful and why. It boils down to what she calls grit, which is defined as “the sustained application of effort towards a long-term goal.” We become enamored with people who exhibit natural talent and credit their success to that alone, but Duckworth says, “Where talent counts once, effort counts twice.”
But grit isn’t just for long-term goals. I experienced this firsthand, about seven miles into a 13-mile Tough Mudder race. This was at an altitude of 10,000 feet in October in the mountains of Colorado, no less. At mile seven, I wanted to quit. My wife and I had just swam in a mountain lake, gotten sprayed by frozen water, and were chest deep in mud on and off for 2.5 hours already. I dug deep, accessed the grittiest part of my reptile brain, and committed to finish right in the worst of my whining. Finish we did, two hours later. The gratification of perseverance is understated. I felt extremely proud of sticking to it and finishing even though I would have paid $10,000 to quit right then and there. Sucking it up and getting it done—that is grit!
Quote: “…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.”
3. Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holliday
Taking many examples from history and his own life, Holliday goes through multiple scenarios where ego was the source of pain and downfall for those involved. He defines ego not in the Freudian sense, but as “unhealthy belief in our own importance.”
But aren’t we all important? Of course, but this takes our desire to achieve long-term goals and makes us talk about doing it more than putting in the work. It’s like those people who post on social media, “Hey, I’m writing a book, aren’t I cool?” and then never write it. Focusing on public perception of what others think of us is disastrous. Concern turns to obsession, and confidence turns into arrogance.
From Howard Hughes to the former owner of American Apparel to the author himself, the stories here are directly relatable to our own lives today. A cool concept and directly applicable takeaway I picked up from this book comes from Frank Shamrock of UFC fame. I was introduced to the “+/-/=” rule, where we each need someone better than us we can learn from (+), someone lesser we can teach (-), and someone equal we can challenge ourselves against (=).
Quote: “Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.”
And one more: “Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.”
4. #AskGaryVee: One Entrepreneur’s Take on Leadership, Social Media, and Self-Awareness by Gary Vaynerchuk
Next to Tim Ferriss, Gary Vee is my favorite social media presence out there today. A daily video show/podcast, where Gary answers viewer’s questions about pretty much everything, turned into this impressive book. This book is social media and marketing-based, a treasure trove of answers to anyone looking to do better in this part of their business.
It’s not all business, though. He talks a lot about big goals as well: “It’s not what a goal is, it’s what a goal does.” Focusing on the big picture can drive you to get up every day like a goal Godzilla, crushing skulls and not letting the petty issues get in your way. The two main themes are “hustle” and “self-awareness.” For hustle, ask yourself, “Am I working as hard as I could?” For self-awareness, try his test of emailing some people you trust to tell you what you are good at and what you are bad at. Talk about a kick in the gut. From connecting with your audience to providing value to those you work with to whether Vary likes Star Trek or Star Wars better, this book is for you.
Quote: “Provide 51 percent of the value in a relationship, whether it’s with an employee, a client or a stranger.”
And: “Stop focusing on dumb sh*t. Don’t be afraid to break things. Don’t be romantic. Don’t take the time to breathe. Don’t aim for perfect. And whatever you do, keep moving. Reread this a few times…”
5. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
This giant book will be on my nightstand for years, I guarantee it. I’m already a fan of Tim’s podcast. This takes 200+ episodes of information plus more to it to turn it into a 674-page Swiss Army knife of awesome. A really cool tidbit is that a fellow BiggerPockets blog writer, Jordan Thibodeau, was involved in the research of this book, making an awesome connection back to our community here!
Why reinvent the wheel when you can copy the blueprints from people more successful than you? Tim profiles 200 world class performers in 3 categories—healthy, wealthy, and wise. No matter where you flip in this book, it’s oozing with gold nuggets: “tactics, routines, and habits” from billionaires, amazing athletes, and some of the most interesting people on this planet.
My quick tip: Devour maybe 2-3 profiles a day, each from one of the three sections. Reading it cover to cover would be a bit brutal, and the goal is to retain the information and put it into action, right?
My favorite profiles in the book: Tony Robbins and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Quote: “The superheroes you have in your mind (idols, icons, titans, billionaires, etc.) are nearly all walking flaws who’ve maximized 1 or 2 strengths. Humans are imperfect creatures. You don’t ‘succeed’ because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them.”
6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
I am, apparently, collecting books with the F-word in the title now. I bought three this year—I guess I can’t refuse a well-placed f*ck.” Despite what you might think right now, this book isn’t the paperback version of some edgy 12-year-old throwing around this word for a reaction. You could replace “f*ck” with “what you care about and focus on,” but that wouldn’t sell as many copies. It’s a subtle nod to a Buddhist philosophy of focusing on what really matters, then cutting out those things in life that you shouldn’t really give a f*ck about.
Quit trying to be positive all the time, and embrace the diversity that life throws at you. Like the book Grit reviewed above, the power comes from not running away from our problems, but facing them head on. and pain is part of that process. In a business sense, this should help you focus on what really matters. Cut out what doesn’t, and give all your f*cks to the right things.
Quote: “Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.
Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many f*cks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a f*ck about the pain, you become unstoppable.”
7. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
Stacy: You would have to live under a rock to not know about the HGTV show Fixer Upper. Chip and Joanna are relatable, down to earth, everyday people with genuine chemistry together. You can tell that they absolutely love working close to each other and that they love what they do. The design and trends that they come up with are having a nationwide impact in real estate, and I love their style. So, of course I picked up the book because I am a fan! What I didn’t realize was how much the book would show me along the way.
- Putting in Sweat Equity: I didn’t know that the Gaines started off by living in their own flips, which is something Anson and I did when we first started in Phoenix. Our first home was a live-in flip, and it was a great way to put in sweat equity and gain experience in real estate. It was neat to see how we got a similar start and how beneficial this strategy was for both of us.
- Working as Married Business Partners: Being married and in business together is tough, and I definitely got some insight on how we can improve as a couple and as business owners. They have supported each other every step of the way, and more than that—they complement each other, which is very important. I’ve been working part-time in Anson’s business on an off around raising our son. I work part-time for a CPA firm that I’ve been with for, let’s just say, a LONG time. Which leads me to the last point…
- Geting Out of Your Comfort Zone: Chip constantly pushes Joanna out of her comfort zone, and reading about this made me realize how much Anson does this for me as well. When Joanna talked about maybe opening her own shop one day, Chip told her to start looking for spaces. He then found the money to fund the start and pushed Joanna towards her dreams. When I get out of my comfort zone, I grow from this process; I learn and I see what I can actually do. When I finished the book (took me two days to read while on vacation), I put it down, and said to Anson, “I’m quitting and working for you.” His expression was priceless. It’s time I go all in on our dream. I love working with houses and creating designs, and I want to love what I do full-time. It’s time to kick the comfort zone to the curb.
Quote: “If I had planned my life, it never would have ended up like this. So maybe it’s kind of fun not to plan. Maybe it’s more fun just to see where life takes you.”
[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to help out out newer readers.]
Which of these books have you read—and what did you think? What other books have impacted you lately?
Leave your best suggestions below!