Five Psychology Books to Supercharge Your Mind
Once you start making the effort to "wake yourself up" - that is, be more mindful in your activities - you suddenly start appreciating life a lot more. - Robert Biswas-Diener
I'm often getting asked about book recommendations for all kinds of topics. In many cases I don't have a good answer off the top of my head but thought it would be helpful to start cataloging some easy to find lists for everyone. Over the past few weeks, psychology has been a repeating theme in the requests and so here we are. Not an exhausting list, but definitely a great starting point to get under the hood and start to understand how we think, how we feel, what motivates us, and why we make the decisions we do. Consider this your starting point and if you have other ideas leave them in the comments!
If you haven't read this book yet, please stop reading this post right now and consider picking this one up. The late Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman spent almost thirty years working together understanding the complexity of the human mind by trying to answer simple questions. Words like cognitive bias, the anchoring effect, and System 1 and System 2 thinking have become mainstream largely because of the work and renown that this book has received. A book like this lays down the groundwork for a multitude of ideas and therefore is a good starting point to dive in. As a bonus to this one, Michael Lewis wrote The Undoing Project which tells the story of these two brilliant men and their stories working together. It is a worthy book in and of itself because Kahneman and Tversky's story is itself pretty amazing.
"A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact."
- Daniel Kahneman
Flow has become a buzzword in the last few years largely to the new generation of self-help writers really focusing in on how we can optimize our lives. Before the hype came the work that Mihaly and his team did and this book packed full of everything he studied. This is where it really began and the book is fascinating to read through. The recognition that everyone can experience flow, that to experience flow is to achieve a different state and that flow can be measured in the brain was amazing. Without trying to break down the book here, Mihaly goes into many ideas on how to unlock and experience the flow state which is probably one of the biggest takeaways. Definitely worth a read.
“Most enjoyable activities are not natural; they demand an effort that initially one is reluctant to make. But once the interaction starts to provide feedback to the person's skills, it usually begins to be intrinsically rewarding.”
- Mihaly Csiskzentmihalyi
I purposefully left out the full title of this one because I think it does a disservice to how good of a book this really is from a psychology perspective. The full title is The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and I think that extra part would turn some off thinking this is purely a political or religious book. Jonathan Haidt's book might be one of the most cleverly written books I've come across. As he lays down the main ideas through the first part of the book you realize that for each idea he has outlined he has then unknowingly tested it on you. You come to the end of the chapter and recognize the exact idea in yourself. The power of group dynamics and belief systems really plays a central part in this one and is incredibly important to understand given we exist in a world surrounded by others. Without understanding how these play out in our own beliefs we are essentially flying blind. This was a best book in 2019 for me.
“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
- Jonathan Haidt
Although I'd consider this to be more on the business book side of thing, it came early in the study of motivation and really trying to link what research has been figuring out and what is actually happening. The idea of a bigger paycheck, thought once to be a key motivator, clearly isn't in the driver's seat amongst the younger generations and current workforce. Finding autonomy and purpose in our lives have become, especially in the Western world, key to where we are directing our energy these days. If you look around at the ways that companies are responding to workers (unlimited vacation, the ability to work on personal projects, remote work, etc.) the movement has shifted to flexibility and supporting individuals on their own growth and finding purpose. More recent books like Simon Sinek's Start With Why and Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour Workweek plant the flag in a new world and many successful subsequent books on personal growth have really honed in on figuring out these motivating factors.
“Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one's sights and pushing toward the horizon.”
- Daniel H. Pink
Diving into the ideas of happiness, Daniel Gilbert tries to bring a different perspective on what happiness truly is and some of the tricks our own brains play on us when trying to find it. We find out why the subjectivity of our happiness isn't necessarily shared with anyone else and why we seem to be able to imagine what happiness would look like but never seem to be able to chase it down. Despite everything, Daniel suggests our fleeting happiness may best be predicted in how others have reacted to having already achieved those goals. Although we may not share our happiness subjectively, it is likely a better predictor if someone else is happy having already achieved something vs. what we imaging our happiness to be.
“Our brain accepts what the eyes see and our eye looks for whatever our brain wants.”
- Daniel Gilbert
Ok, so five isn't enough if you really want to include a couple of extra amazing books on psychology. Thought I'd throw these in as well.
Pre-Suasion / Influence by Robert Cialdini
Robert Cialdini, with his book Influence, set the stage for many of the types of influencing factors we see today. He wrote about what works and savvy marketers have been perfecting it ever since. Although I can't say these are his ideas specifically, he has put them together in a book that can become a powerful tool in the right hands. A way to view the world in how to influence others and how we ourselves are influenced. If nothing else, this book is an excellent resource to understand our own influences better. To recognize them in ourselves.
“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.”
- Robert Cialdini
Pre-Suasion sets the stage with many of the ideas of Influence but then goes further to explain when (which can be just as important). We are all primed to be influenced and yet if the stage is set ahead of time we are even more likely to be influenced. As a simple example, if you want someone to feel warm about you, you should consider providing them a hot drink like a coffee or tea. Maybe that meeting at Starbucks you planned ahead of time actually has pre-suasive benefits! Start with Influence to an understanding of the core concepts then dive into this one to understand how and when you can set the stage.
Last but certainly not least is the powerful book brought on to the world to help us determine what type of mindset we might be carrying and how to change. Fixed or growth can come down to the simple words we tell ourselves: "I can't do it" or "I can't do it, yet". A simple example and yet profound to how we look at the world and ourselves in it. Do you carry yourself with an expansive mindset in that we may not be able to do something now but we can figure it out or do you stop at the first point of trouble? Unwinding our fixed mindsets can be the first step to big growth and Carol has written a book that helps you get there. Definitely worth a read!
There you have it! Eight books on psychology all of which will help you better understand the way the mind things and perhaps help in your own thinking. As mentioned before, if you have others be sure to let me know in the comments or reach out on Instagram.