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THE POWER OF HABIT - CHARLES DUHIGG

This book explains why doing new things is so exhausting.

It's not that we replace old habits with new, better ones, it's that our brain literally creates new habits which have to work overtime to maintain themselves and override the unhelpful ones. That's why, when under stress, we're more likely to default to our old habits, as it's what we know. It feels 'safe' - even if it's self destructive. 

rachel service habit.jpg

To change a habit, Duhigg says: identify the cue around the craving (eg hunger, rejection, sadness, boredom), the routine (it is at 3pm most afternoons, on a Sunday eve, after seeing X person), experiment with alternative rewards (eg read instead of eating X, phone a friend instead of drunk dialling your ex), create an alternative for your brain.

Habits influence everything we do, says Duhigg. From what we buy, what we say to what we do - even when it's not really what we'd choose to do. In this book I learned of the concept of 'weak-ties' - third party connections which influence our actions through social pressure. The fear of missing out, not being seen to do the 'right' thing, or letting down friends of friends have more influence than we might like to admit.

A little known fact, for example, was the role weak-ties played in the ground swell of the civil rights movement in USA. Rosa Parks wasn't the first person to refuse her seat for a white; but she was one of the most connected individuals in her community in Montgomery. Once word got out Rosa was in trouble, her immediate and third-party connections swiftly came into action - and soon, not participating in the bus boycott was a reflection of your commitment to the community.

For other marketers out there like me - it was also super interesting to learn that buying habits are most likely to be influenced by major life events. They act as a 'circuit breaker' if you will, for thinking differently, even if just for a small window. New parents, for example, are one most profitable market as when having a baby, it's likely sleep is the first to go and you'll consider anything to make life easier. Either you or your well meaning friend (that's me) is buying you crap you don't need.

I really enjoyed this as the science of it all was weaved into real life case studies. 

 

The habits of peer pressure, however, have something in common. They often spread through weak ties. And they gain their authority through communal expectations. If you ignore the social obligations of your neighbourhood, if you shrug off the expected patterns of your community, you risk losing your social standing ... On a playground, peer pressure is dangerous. In adult life, it’s how business gets done and communities self-organize.
You have this big crowd to remind you why you’re doing this in the first place, and a small group of close friends who help you focus on how to be faithful. Together, they’re like glue.
— Rick Warren, Founder, Saddleback Church
There’s a natural instinct embedded in friendship, a sympathy that makes us willing to fight for someone we like when they are treated unjustly. Studies show that people have no problem ignoring strangers’ injuries, but when a friend is insulted, our sense of outrage is enough to overcome the inertia that usually makes protests hard to organise ... People who hardly knew Rosa Parks decided to participate because of a social peer pressure - an influence known as ‘the power of weak ties’ - that made it difficult to avoid joining in.
In landing a job, [Mark S] Granovetter discovered, weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong.... our weak tie acquaintances - or people we bump into every six months - are the ones who tell us about jobs we would otherwise never hear about.
— Duhigg on The Strength of Weak Ties by Mark S. Granovetter

ESSENTIALISM - Greg McKeown

A super helpful, easy read which helped me big time with focus.

McKeown outlines 'Essential' behaviour which is individuals who prioritise the important tasks over the many; flex their no muscle to focus on what's important and how to take control of your to do list if you suffer from overwhelm. Included are gems for people leaders wondering if their frazzled behaviour is impacting their team (yes), and for employees who are feeling frazzled and wondering why (lack of clarity on what your focus is). Loved the concept of working on a 'Minimal Time Investment' of starting small on big projects or goals to set you up for success. One takeaway I've now implemented as a result of reading this is writing on a notepad 'what is important right now'? (immediate priorities), and, 'what is something I'd like to to as a result of today?' (ideas for the future). 

It reads sweeter with a cupcake!

It reads sweeter with a cupcake!

“When there was a high level of clarity of purpose, the team and the people in it overwhelmingly thrived. When there was a serious lack of clarity about what the team stood for and what their goal sand roles were, people experienced confusion, stress, forestation, and ultimately failure. 
Non-Essentialists tend to be so preoccupied with past successes and failures, as well as future challenges and opportunities, that they miss the present moment. They become distracted. Unfocused. They aren’t really there. The way of the Essentialist is to tune into the present ... To focus on the things that are truly important - not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now.
To some, routine can sound like where creativity and innovation go to die ... But the right can actually enhance innovation and creativity buy giving us the equivalent of an energy rebate. Instead of spending our limited supply of discipline on making the same decisions again and again, embedding our decisions into our routine allows us to channel that discipline towards some other essential activity ... personalising patterns of action helps to free the mind for the execrations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.
There are two opposing ways to approach an important goal or deadline. You can start early and small or start late and big. ‘Late and big’ means doing it all at the last minute: pulling an all nighter and ‘making it happen’. ‘Early and small’ means starting at the earliest possible moment with the minimal possible time investment. ... Take a goal or deadline you have coming up and ask yourself ‘what is the minimal amount I could do right now to prepare?’
The cue is a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is routine - the behaviour itself which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular habit is worth remembering. If we want to change our routine, we don’t really need to change our behaviour. Rather we need to find the cue that is triggering the non-essential activity of behaviour and find way to associate that same cue with something that is essential. 

WOMAN OF SUBSTANCES - Jenny Valentish

I learned more in this book than I have in years of reading about psychology. Woman of Substances shares the contributing factors which can make some people more susceptible to addiction, including temperament, personality type, what events we are exposed to between the ages of one to seven, socialisation, exposure to childhood trauma and environment. Valentish shares her own journey through addiction and what factors contributed to her behaviour with a chilling honesty that is part memoir, part research piece, and part call to action on what opportunities there are for providers, families, friends and people who suffer from addiction to seek support. Valentish has translated academic research into rememberable highlights that will help you become a better support person to those who may suffer from addiction or more aware of your behaviours if addiction, or addictive behaviours plays a role in your life - be it success, work, drugs, sex, food, or love. This book covers everything from physiology, psychology and real life experience including her lessons through recovery with refreshing cynicism, as though you're talking to a close friend.

In case you were wondering, an addiction story doesn’t necessarily involve trauma... in any case, it’s likely the messages we receive as children do more damage than any incidents themselves. But to flip that into reverse, it’s rare for a trauma story not to involve addiction.
It doesn’t take much imagination to visualise the desire for success - be it work goals, sporting achievements, or platinum records - malfunctioning, so that punishing the body becomes its own feat of endurance.
The deliberate self harm on addictions, or the self harm of being involved in harmful relationships - are all expressions of rage taken onwards and of really poor self esteem.
— Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Director, Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre
Bingeing - on food, drugs, or alcohol - is often trans-generational, in that it can be influenced by parental over indulgence or dieting behaviours. Family dysfunction and trauma can also lead to a lack of the behavioural skills required to process deficit emotions.
Stealing releases dopamine, the same way that drug and alcohol does... Scientists hypothesise that it’s released in a flood every time a reward is anticipated, rather than the reward itself. It’s evolutionary purpose is to motivate you towards goals necessary for survival such as feeding yourself and procreating but it’s also released when you walk into a clothes shop and start salivating, or when you reach for your phone to check for Instagram likes or when you rummage for your packet of smokes.
The criminogenic profile of women prisoners in Australia is very different from that of men, with at least 85% plus of women prisoners in Australia being victims of abuse... Women detainees are more likely to have used drugs to ease psychological distress of mental illness and child abuse, and so drugs have a much greater influence on women’s pathways into prison than they have for men.
We did a survey of whether clinicians working in mental health took a history of trauma in females admitted to the service. More than half did not. Somebody once said to me ‘the social workers are dealing with that.’ The social workers are saying ‘what?’
— Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Director, Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre

SO, YOU'VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED - Jon Ronson

Fascinating look into the psychology of what makes us feel mortified, embarrassed, and why we're more likely to divulge our deepest secrets when someone else shares theirs (see also: how to un-fuck up). If you love true stories, mixed with people / behaviour / psychology, backed by research and a healthy dose of cynicism - you'll enjoy this. 

It was some toxic mixture of insecurity and ambition... I felt like I was going to be hot for a second and then I would disappear. So I had to act while I could. And then there was some ... very dangerous and reckless ambition. You combine insecurity and ambition and you get an inability to say no to things.
— Jonah Lehrer, NY Times and WIRED writer accused of self plagarism and profiled in the book.
Universal among the violent criminals was the fact they were keeping a secret, a central secret. And that secret was they felt ashamed - deeply ashamed, chronically ashamed... I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of being shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed...all violence being a person’s attempt to replace shame with self-esteem.
— James Gilligan, Psychiatrist profiled in the book and best known for his work on motivations for violence.

LOST AND FOUND - Geneen Roth

I read this as a first step towards addressing my relationship with - or lack of attachment to - money (read also: why uber isn't a bank). Geneen literally teaches people the parallels between emotions, food and money through her first hand stories. Great if you're keen on taking a hard look at some of your money myths and peering into other peoples brains. Swap the lessons about food for basically any challenge you have in your life and there's some pretty confronting lessons in this book. Super interesting. 

It is virtually impossible to tell yourself something on the physical level that doesn’t also affect you emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. When you tell yourself you can’t eat what you want, you also tell yourself that you can’t have what you want. That you can’t be trusted. That you’re out of control. That what you want will destroy you. And in my experience of working with compulsive eaters for 33 years, no one can tolerate hearing this for very long without reacting to it by either restricting themselves further or giving up the battle and bingeing. Or both.
Until I am willing to name by beliefs, either because circumstances force my hand or because I wake up to the pain of seeing through distorted lenses, I will continue to act on my fantasy version of reality, which is why lottery winners blog through their cash and end up broke; even with tens of millions they believe they are poor, and actions always conform to beliefs. And I will continue to believe that my version of reality is the way it is, not the way I choose it to be base on my beliefs.

THE WAY WE'RE WORKING ISN'T WORKING

- Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes, Catherine McCarthy.

Major research suggests the way we're working is broken. This book suggests the way we kick ass at work is actually less about the work and more about how we're looking after ourselves. 

If we can regularly recover, rest and rejuvenate our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual selves we're more likely to produce kick ass work.

The book also delivers super complex info into digestible chunks to outline how our brain works and what emotions and beliefs trigger our not so hot behaviours (see also: my traffic light system if you're interested in the behaviour stuff).

This is the research and practically backed book you want to read if you're a people manager and the book you wanna show your boss if you want to advocate for a different way of working. (See also: perspective: you rock).

A hardwired response to danger was especially useful to use thousands of years ago, when we faced life-or-death threats from predators every day. Today, we rarely face such dangers. Our bodies, however, don’t make the distinction between a real threat to our survival and our more everyday fears. An angry boss, a conflict with a colleague, a difficult deadline... can all prompt our fight or flight response. The problem is that when our survival isn’t literally at stake, the benefits of fight-or-flight are often outweighed by the costs.
— The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance
... the self we’re aware of operates under the aegis of our prefontal cortex. It has a limitless ability to learn and grow. In this state, we’re capable of making rational choices based on a careful consideration of the costs and benefits. Our second, more primitive self, run by our sympathetic nervous system, falls under the province of our limbic system - emotions, impulses, instincts, and habits. This self runs automatically and reactively, mostly outside of our conscious control, and is designed to ensure our immediate survival and safety. It’s incapable of reflective thinking.
— The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance

FOCUS - Daniel Goleman

A dry read that has some helpful points for people leaders. Kick ass strategy is more likely to be produced when we combine creativity and insight, argues Goleman. Backed by case studies, he outlines how the biggest tech brands in the world are able to look  Internally (at themselves as individuals, what their skill gaps are, address them, recruit to fill them), Externally (what is going on outside the organisation in complimentary industries that can affect how our product / service is sold / distributed), and at the 'Other' detail of the organisation (what's working well? What element of our kick ass company can we better exploit / investigate?). I took out of this book that kick ass brands can exploit (market what they do hella well, shamelessly and to the point) while also looking for opportunities to explore different ways of doing things. I think we can apply this model to our own careers as well as building businesses.

People make their choices about where to focus based on their perception of what matters to leaders. This ripple effect gives leaders an extra load of responsiblity: they are guiding not just their own attention but to a large extent, everyone else’s.
— Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence
Companies with a winning strategy tend to refine their current operations and offerings, not explore radical shifts in what they offer. A mental balancing act - exploring the new while exploiting what’s working - does not come naturally. But those companies that can both exploit and explore ... are ‘ambidextrous’: they separate each strategy into units, with very different ways of operating and cultures. At the same time they have a right-knit team of senior leaders who keep an eye on the balance of inner, outer and other focus.
— Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A FUCK - Mark Manson

An entertaining read with great points to help you get out of your own way if you're feeling unhappy. Logic with plenty of laughs and reminder to not take life so seriously. A fun read for the perfectionists as well as those stuck in a rut. I found the chapter on boundaries particularly helpful (towards the end) as well as the analogy that we're all onions, slowly peeling away layers to find out who we really are through experience.

Key points: if unhappy, accept your disposition is based on crappy values; instead allocate values for yourself that are healthy and constructive to helping you get what you want; understand that all jobs / gigs / lives endure some form of suffering, instead of looking for something better, accept we all suffer, even people with kick ass jobs and lives so ask yourself how much suffering you're willing to put up with instead; seeking certainty is certainly going to make you more unhappy and stall in the long run; get familiar with what healthy boundaries look like for yourself and in relationships; and: you only get better at something by doing it more and accepting nothing is ever for certain: only death. Sounds grim but was refreshing and helped me just ... well, get on with it.

There’s a kind of self-absorption that comes with fear based on an irrational certainty. When you assume that your plane is the one that’s going to crash, or that your project idea is the stupid one everyone is going to laugh at, or that you’re the one everyone is going to choose to mock or ignore, you’re implicitly telling yourself, “I’m the exception; I’m unlike everybody else; I’m different and special.” This is narcissism, pure and simple.
If you’re sitting there, miserable day after day, then that means you’re already wrong about something major in your life, and until you’re able to equestion yourself to find it, nothing will change.
People are often so afraid of success - for the exact same reason they’re afraid of failure: it threatens who they believe themselves to be... It’s easier to sit in a painful certainty that nobody would find you attractive, that nobody appreciates your talents than to actually test those beliefs and find out for sure.
Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing if for certain and it has already happened - and even then, it’s still debatable. That’s why accepting the inevitable imperfections of our values is necessary for any growth to take place.
... not only is certainty unattainable, but the pursuit of certainty often breeds more (and worse) insecurity)... Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy... Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing.
Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he hasn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.
Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations. If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so.
— Chapter 8: The Importance of Saying No

 

 

Have reading recommendations? I'd love to hear them!

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