top of page
  • Writer's pictureSean

"Human beings are designed to assess their social environment, and, having figured out what impresses people, do it, or having found out what people disfavor, avoid it."

Where do you stand on the idea that morality itself is an evolutionary trait? How about the jealousy that you or I may feel being simply our genetics and how we can make out better in this infinite game we call life. My understanding of evolutionary psychology is limited to this book (Robert Wright's The Moral Animal) and perhaps a few more touchpoints, so apologies to any experts that are gripping their phones in anger right now.

When I think about morality or humans as moral creatures, it doesn't seem like that big of a stretch to believe that we may ultimately benefit by being charitable to others. That we've evolved to be kinder to one another to help our own gene pool. If you consider that most of us, whether we accept it or not, seek to impress others, kindness can be looked positively upon; it can be based on how we are perceived.

Let's consider the impact of social media (not even a thought when Robert Wright penned this book in 1995) today; an easy tool we can use to alter how we are perceived. As Chris Bail notes in Breaking the Social Media Prism: "The deep source of addiction to social media, I've concluded, is that it makes it so much easier for us to do what is all too human: perform different identities, observe how other people react, and update our presentation of self to make us feel like we belong."

In other words, social media is likely popular because it plays right into our evolutionary nature to be perceived by others positively while ultimately helping facilitate the success of our genetic future. What better way to make oneself look better than through social media?

Another idea I've been mulling has been that religion is baked into evolution. Perhaps something about religion's altruistic/moral nature has also been instilled in us to keep us alive longer in large groups and fighting less (yea, I know religions don't lead to violence, right?).

This book will take some time to get through as there is a lot of detail, which builds slowly. Darwin features heavily throughout as the book jumps back and forth between Darwin's history and his ideas. The book also spends a fair bit of time discussing the nature of our sexual activities as a species. Is human nature designed to be monogamous? It would seem men are created to be eager to reproduce with as many women as possible while women are less enthusiastic and more demanding. There is a can of worms on this one that I'd do no justice explaining when the book is right here.

It does raise interesting questions about beliefs that humanity has created over the ages, though. Why were Puritanistic views so heavily followed through the 16th and 17th Centuries, and even today, we see remnants of these heavy-handed cultural decisions on the individual? I think the challenge will be to bridge the ideas of cultural evolution with the actual biological evolution we seem to be mapping.

Another interesting question is the idea that our own genes have, for some reason, built us to not understand our own subconscious. We know it exists; we have glimpses of it, perhaps when we dream or else when we spend time in deep reflection or are hypnotized. Why is it so hard to actually access the underlying motivations that seem to drive us without knowing it? This is a rabbit hole for many areas. Consider a subconscious driving someone to commit a crime; what if we can prove that the person really wasn't in control?

Many good questions come from a book like this, and I'm confident that newer books add to this one; Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate comes to mind as another one to pick up.


For more details on Chris Bail's book, Breaking The Social Prism, check out my post here. If you like to dive into books that raise more questions I'd suggest this post on Sam Harris' Making Sense.

"But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place."

Powerful words in amongst a powerful story as we dive into James Baldwin's Go Tell It On The Mountain. This is the second Baldwin Novel I've read, following Giovanni's Room, and I must say, I found this one to be much more captivating. It also came on the heels of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, another religiously fueled book, so I felt primed for this one.

Have you had a chance to read anything by James Baldwin?

This book tells the story of John Grimes, a teenager living in Harlem during the 30s, son to an oppressive father tied fanatically to his Pentecostal religion. Baldwin's powerful voice brings a pace and emotional grit to this one as we jump back into the lives of everyone around John. We begin to see the people in his lives, not just how they are today but what brought them to this point. I'm always a fan of a book that forces you to question your own feelings about a character partway through the book. Do I see this person in a different light now, or does my opinion still hold?

Great book, and I think I'd recommend this one over Giovanni's Room as this one felt more visceral; there was more of an emotional charge to this one. The next Baldwin book on my stack is If Beale Street Could Talk, so looking forward to that one when it comes up!


If you are looking for another classic I'd recommend my post on Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. With James Baldwin being an influential writer and critic during the Civil Rights Movement, you may want to consider my post on the Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr. as an add-on.

"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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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.

PayPal ButtonPayPal Button
bottom of page