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"Knowing Is Not Enough; We Must Apply. Wishing Is Not Enough; We Must Do." – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

What books do you turn to when you are feeling a lack of motivation? Sometimes it hits us when we least expected, and as Goethe notes, we then must find it within ourselves to do.


Decided to share five books I turn to when those moments of doubt start to creep in and I need to find my way back to the path. I'm sure you've seen some of these before, but a couple of maybe new to you! Let's dive in.


1) David Goggins' Can't Hurt Me


For straight-up ferocity of will, there is hardly a person that can keep up with David Goggins. If you've heard his stories about going through Navy SEALs training three times or competing in some of the ultra races he has been in, you will know what I'm talking about. Just thinking about this guy gets me moving towards the door with a pair of shoes on, ready to run (and I hate running). This book is seriously packed full of David's own stories and how he has mentally built his mind into an indestructible force. We may not reach his level, but if we can add 10% to our own mental toughness from inspiration alone, this is the book.


I often think about his 40% Rule when I'm out doing anything challenging and ready to quit.


"When your mind is telling you that you're done, that you're exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you're only actually 40% done."

Sometimes, recognizing that we aren't really at the wall can push us through small mental barriers when we need it most. Those breakthroughs become building blocks for the next challenge and help to get us back on track.


2) Steven Pressfield's The War of Art


"Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it."

The War of Art will bring you face to face with your fear and make you recognize that everyone is right there in the game with you. Resistance always lurks in the shadows of your creative endeavors, and often when we find ourselves in a lull, we've allowed those negative storylines in our head to take on more prominence. Pressfield's matter-of-fact demeanor recognizes that to get through these ruts, we must return to the work. Often times we can let the stories in our heads build-up and slowly chip away at our work efforts. We slowly convince ourselves that our work isn't good enough (which is a self-sabotaging lie!). The secret is to get back to work.


"This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don't. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete."

Work may feel like the last thing we want to do, but work is what we most need to do. Get back to the keyboard or the camera or whatever creative outlet you currently have. Do the work and let your power concentrate.


3) Epictetus' The Art of Living


Written 2,000 years ago, Epictetus' The Art of Living brings stoic philosophy to the people and brings a sense of calmness to anyone who might be struggling with life feeling a bit overwhelming. Some of the wisest life advice has been passed down from this little book.


"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."

As Pressfield brings the idea of Resistance to the forefront, Epictetus recognized this problem millennia earlier as we often take personally everything that happens to us. We use the negativity to build storylines that we are unable to break free from. How we react to life is how we live our lives. If you find yourself giving up at the first sign of difficulty, then that pattern will likely live on in later attempts. Epictetus recognizes the true enemy within: "Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems."


This book brings a calm practical discussion to many topics but ultimately how to live. How to find a solid footing when things feel unstable. This book can help bring calmness to our lives while reminding us that our problems start from within and we need to start there.


4) Michael Hyatt's Your Best Year Ever


This book may not be one you've heard of before, but it is a book I often return to, at least on an annual basis. Are you struggling to figure out where you need to be going? Within these pages, Michael Hyatt has laid out a program that is simple to follow and gets to the heart of finding our purpose in life.


Sometimes the rut we find ourselves in is simply us veering away from the path we set out on years ago. It doesn't matter why we are lost because a book like this forces us to ask questions about why we were on the path in the first place. I also loved this quote that strikes at the heart of many of my own struggles: "I can do anything I want. I just can't do everything I want." Michael Hyatt recognizes that we are bombarded with things that everyone wants to be doing in today's day and age. Why can't we do everything we want? The simple answer is we don't spend enough energy becoming amazing at one or two things to become successful.


This book will get you on a program that will include weekly reviews, monthly check-ins, and quarterly updates. There are no more excuses if you follow the program within this page, which is one reason it is so powerful. If you are like me and like systems to move you forward, then this is your book.


5) Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander's The Art of Possibility


Last but not least. If none of these books resonate with you, let me introduce you to this little gem of a book. I'm guessing you probably haven't heard of this one, and that's ok because I hadn't either until it came up on Tim Ferriss' podcast with author Seth Godin claiming it was one of his favorite books. If you aren't familiar with Seth Godin, his writing abilities are off the charts, not to mention his productivity levels easily dwarf many around him. If he recommends a book about creativity, you have my attention!


This book brings a practical approach to creativity by first starting with the stories we tell ourselves. We move about this world with a frame of reference based on the lessons and stories we tell ourselves. Something that happened 20 years ago may show up in how we respond to a new creative activity. That English teacher in junior high school who criticized your writing and whose voice you now hear in the back of your mind as you sit down to write is simply that, a story. It truly has no place in your life today, and yet those stories can cripple us.


“How often do we stand convinced of the truth of our early memories, forgetting that they are assessments made by a child? We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories, free from childish fears, and, in doing so, disperse long-held psychological stumbling blocks.”

This book first tries to break down these frames of reference before moving on to ways we can embolden ourselves to create once again. As we move away from our past stories, we can focus on what we bring to the world. It isn't about being the best in the world; it's about being our best for the world. That is a big difference and one that is often misunderstood.


So there you have it. Five books to help get you back on track and on your way. Of course, there are hundreds more we could point to, and I'm sure you have some of your own. I'd love to hear in the comments what other books you'd add to the list. These just happen to be the five books I turn to when in need of a boost.


If you are still looking for more suggestions, I'd give Ryan Holiday's books a read and check out this post here. Gary John Bishop also brings to the table some great advice and you can check out this post here. Lastly, if you aren't convinced about the power of work then I think The Compound Effect is something worth reading about; I have a post about it here.



Welcome to Part 2 of the Bhagavad Gita discussion as we dive into Stephen Cope's The Great Work of Your Life. An excellent companion piece to the Bhagavad Gita, outlining the fundamental tenets of the Gita while also sharing stories of many of those influenced by it in history. Cope's book provides a guidebook for those who find themselves uncertain about diving straight into the Gita.


Cope's book begins with a great quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas that parallels much of what the Gita pronounces:


"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

If you recall the previous post, this aligns closely with the idea that "it is better to do your own duty badly, then to perfectly do another's; you are safe from harm when you do what you should be doing." Not physical harm but rather the mental ruminations that can carry us off in the form of regrets of an unlived life. Many historical figures make their presence felt in this book, including Thoreau, Emerson, Gandhi, and Keats. Cope walks us through each of their lives while reflecting on the essential teachings of the Gita.


As we meet Arjuna and Krishna on the battlefield, we see that Arjuna is filled with doubt about his future. Taking up arms against his fellow humans seems pointless, while Krishna points to Arjuna's doubts as one of the biggest challenges people face. Doubt leading to inaction tends to carry us off the path we are meant to be on. It takes us away from our path, and as Cope describes it, "our little corner of the world [that] is ours to transform."


Cope describes the story of Robert Frost and finds parallels in the ideas of choice with one of Frost's most essential and famous poems, The Road Not Taken. At the end of the poem, we find a few of the most famous lines in poetry:


"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Much analysis has been done on this poem but Cope points to the importance of simply choosing. Regardless of the direction, a path was selected, and that was the difference.


"What Frost makes clear in his poem is that the act of choosing is the most important thing. The act of moving forward is what matters."

Have you ever had those moments in your life where choosing made all of the difference? It didn't even matter if you chose the wrong thing but moving in the direction that felt right was all that mattered. Cope refers to this as the task of unification. A practice that we must carry with us all of our life based on choices to align ourselves with who we truly are.


"Perhaps the most demanding practice in a life of dharma is the ongoing practice of unification. Unification means simply that everything in your life must line up around the spine of your dharma."

And of course, how could we forget the famous lines from Annie Dillard: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."


The key message is that we must choose, and we must act.


We then return to that second passage from Part 1: "You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions' fruits. Act for the action's sake. And do not be attached to the inaction." We must act but work to avoid the desires attached to those actions. As Cope notes: "But let go of the outcome. Be alike in success and defeat."


This is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of the Gita; how do we simply let go of outcomes if we've been raised in a world to strive for success? Who are we, if not people who view success as the inevitable outcome of a life of hard work? Cope reflects on this through the latter half of the book noting that we often don't recognize that grasping itself is another form of doubt. "Grasping, or clinging to a particular outcome splits the mind from the present moment."


I've often found this to be a challenge for creative activities. We start with clear intentions, an outlet for our creative energy that, with a bit of success, can slowly morph into something else as we grasp for just a bit more success. Our initial clear intention then becomes split, as Cope notes, and doubt allows itself to creep back in. One of the things I have found helpful is to set aside time to re-evaluate what our initial creative endeavors are regularly. Perhaps every month, you can sit down with a pen and paper and write down your purpose with your creative outlet and if you are staying true to it. Cope focuses on John Keats, the famed English poet who wrote furiously before his death at 25.


Keats, forced to come to terms with his tuberculosis, was also forced to think deeply about his own writing and what it meant to him. Was he focused on money or the art of writing? As Cope notes on Keats: "What alone mattered was the activity of writing, the kingdom of his own creation which he entered every time he sat down to work." Writing for Keats was ultimately his purpose, and when we look back on his life, we don't note his wealth; we note the incredible language that came out of his poetry.


Final Note:


The book itself is a great read, and I highly recommend it to anyone unsure how to tackle the Bhagavad Gita. It opens the door and makes for an excellent companion book while also working through whatever version of the Gita you may have. Cope ends with these thoughts as we all try to find our way in the world:


"You only have to love your little corner of the world. But you have to do it intentionally. And full out. And you have to get yourself out of the way. Then you can care for all things."

Be sure to check out Part 1 of our discussion of the Gita if you haven't already. If you are feeling inspired and want to dive into more books on spirituality I recommend this post here. I find mindfulness to also be a clear path to working on our cravings; this post outlines five books on mindfulness worth checking out.



"It is better to do your own duty
badly, then to perfectly do
another's; you are safe from harm
when you do what you should be doing."

Those fateful words, a message to us all, begin this first of two posts on the Bhagavad Gita and Stephen Cope's The Great Work of Your Life. My exposure to the Bhagavad Gita comes via Stephen Mitchell's translation, a recommendation that several years ago came by way of Tim Ferriss' podcast. It is of course no substitute for the actual book and some have been quick to point out that this is just a translation and not the source.


It is what I have at hand though and when read with Stephen Cope's book provides a deeply engaging look at how we should be envisioning and living our lives. Believed to have been written in the second century BCE, the book continues to inspire to this day. Cope's book outlines some of the famous individuals in history who have been inspired by the works including Thoreau, Emerson, Jung, and Gandhi to name but a few.


Like many of the great books of humanity, the Gita is something that will read differently to everyone. This post does no justice to a book I've only read once (and assuredly requires multiple visits) but at the same time will perhaps expose others to it.


As that opening quote suggests, one of the key takeaways is that we must find ourselves first, be confident in how we proceed in the world, and be true to who we are. The Gita tells the story of Arjuna, a prince caught in the middle of two warring factions, seeing the hopelessness of it all. Krishna, appearing as a charioteer, describes the way of the world and the place that all people have within it. A place that we all share that should fundamentally be based on selfless action.


"You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions' fruits.
Act for the action's sake.
And do not be attached to inaction."

Cope does an excellent job diving into the truths of these words. We are often caught clinging to results in everything. To be wealthy, to be successful. We tend not to focus on the purity of the action itself. In a way, creativity can be guided along this path as well. Do you create for the sake of creating or are you in it for something else? It is of course not an easy path to take. In today's day and age, we are bombarded with messages that run counter to this idea. We idolize those who are successful in the form of many guises. Capitalism runs on the notion that if you work hard enough you will reap the rewards; the idea to work/create simply for the sake of it seems to be lost.


Is this an outdated idea then? Are we really to believe that someone can sit down with the Gita and take these ideas to heart?


I don't think it's outdated but rather something we all can strive towards. Something we can lay down in the back of our mind as we make decisions every day on what we want to do with our life. Echos of Buddhism reverberate in the Gita with the idea that we must work to abandon our desires and what we cling to:


"Abandoning all desires,
acting without craving, free
from all thoughts of "I" and "mine,"
that man finds utter peace."

Buddhism recognizes that craving and clinging ultimately lead to suffering as outlined in the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth outlines the anxieties and stresses we encounter when trying to hold onto things as they are constantly changing. Our desire for stability leads us away from peace.


The Gita is a book written for everyone. Easily accessible and interpreted as one pleases. The messages are universal which is both a pro and con. On the positive side, you can read through this book at your own pace and interpret it as necessary for your point in life. As a con, it can feel difficult to interpret what the implications actually are. How does one abandon all desires? In my next post, I will dive into Stephen Cope's book and hopefully close the loop. Through interpreting the Gita, it also provides the "how" while sharing stories from many individuals in history inspired by the book.


For a brief introduction to Stephen Cope's book check out this earlier post. Spirituality is a big part of my reading so if you are interested in a few other books check out this post. Want to go even deeper? Here are five books on mindfulness worth checking out.