As the year comes to a close, I want to share some of the best books on personal development and creativity I’ve read this year. Since “best” is subjective, I’ve defined it here by a) how engrossed I was while reading, b) how much the book and its ideas stayed with me afterwards, and c) the positive impact the ideas had on my awareness, thoughts and behaviour.
The best books on personal development and creativity from 2015
The Power of TED is one of my favourite books from this year. After recommending it in the summer, I also heard from a lot of Becoming Who You Are readers who loved it too.
TED stands for The Empowerment Dynamic and describes a framework for relating to the world that helps us stop feeling like a victim (disempowered, helpless, at the mercy of external forces beyond our control) and start feeling like a creator (empowered, solution-focused, aware of the opportunities and possibilities to create the life we want). I made a series of short videos as an introduction to the key ideas in this book: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Rising Strong is the final book in the trilogy that started with The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. It completes her key themes of vulnerability, compassion and living wholeheartedly by exploring how we “get back in the arena” after a fall and develop the resilience to live with rejection and perceived failure in all areas of life without resorting to defensivness or shutting ourselves off from our feelings.
You can read my full review of Rising Strong here.
One of the things I appreciated most about this book is how it combines sayings and statements from ancients like Plato and connects them with relevant modern science. It’s an interesting and effective mix of ancient philosophy and practical advice.
Like The Pursuit of Perfect (see below), this is one of those books that leaves you realising that most of what you were taught about success, achievement and progress when you were younger was actually more of a hindrance than a help.
Dweck differentiates between what she calls a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset,” and makes the case that it’s our mindset that influences whether or not we succeed in life far more than our intelligence and skill. She also explains how our mindset influences how we approach every area of life, from work to relationships, parenting and more.
As someone who is not religious or new-agey but also believes the human experience is full of wonder and mystery (and has long wondered how that all fits together), Waking Up intrigued me.
Sam Harris dives into the science of spirituality and goes into detail about research regarding meditation and how it is possible to have a spiritual experience and existence without believing in any kind of deity or higher power.
The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar
The Pursuit of Perfect is one of my most-recommended books to coaching clients this year, mainly because the experience of reading it is like taking off a pair of sunglasses you didn’t even realise you were wearing.
Tal Ben-Shahar divides our approach to life into two broad categories: perfectionists and optimalists. He goes into a lot of detail about what perfectionism is, how it manifests, and why it is so destructive, and shares exercises and insights into the “optimalist” mindset; the healthier (and happier) alternative.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be much of a perfectionist, I recommend giving this book a read—you might be surprised!
Big Magic is a collection of thoughts on the creative process that draw on Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience as a semi-well known writer who finds herself catapulted to international fame and success with a single book (Eat, Pray, Love). Faced with the knowledge that her most successful work is probably behind her and beset by both the good and the ugly that come with being a public figure, Big Magic is an exploration of what it means to be creative and how we can deal with some of the not-so-fun parts of the process, like fear, doubt and rejection. Some of her theories early on in the book might turn off more rationally-minded readers but it’s worth skipping forward for some no-nonsense, down-to-earth encouragement and guidance.
You can read my full review of Big Magic here.
Confession time: I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. In retrospect, this is mostly because I’ve heard so many people say some variation of “OMG, the best book on writing ever” and I went in with intensely unrealistic expectations. As a result, I found it a little waffly, self-indulgent and underwhelming.
With that being said, Anne Lamott is deeply realistic about what the daily life of a writer actually looks like, the shadow side of writing (jealousy, rejection), and shares useful guidance and encouragement about how to find your voice, draw on your daily life for inspiration, and start writing. Even though it wasn’t quite what I had imagined, Bird by Bird is worth a read if you’re interested in craft of writing, especially fiction.
Motivation for Creative People: How to Stay Creative While Gaining Money, Fame and Reputation by Mark McGuinness
Motivation is something that is often seen as a mysterious external force that comes and goes on a whim, but Mark breaks it down into a four-piece framework, sharing tools and exercises along the way that help readers identify how they can buoy their motivation and regain control over their creative practice.
This book will be especially useful for people who want to combing (or are currently combining) their creative passions with their career.
Steal Like an Artist // Show Your Work – Austin Kleon
Technically, these are separate books but they complement each other so well I’m including them as one here. Both books are very quick reads but packed with useful principles that apply to any creative pursuit or project.
Steal Like an Artist is based on 10 things Austin Kleon knew when he was starting out as a writer and artist. It tears down the myth that art needs to be 100% original and instead shares the more realistic perspective that all art is influenced by other people’s ideas. It’s the ideal read if you want to spend more time on creative pursuits and need a little encouragement to get started.
Get your copy of Steal Like an Artist here.
Show Your Work is the follow-up to Steal Like an Artist and explores the process of the next step after “stealing” and creating: sharing. The advice in this book ranges from the abstract to the very practical and is relevant and useful to anyone creating in the digital age.
The best of the rest
Here are some of my favourite reads from other genres:
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
What are your best books on personal development and creativity from 2015? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!
Image: Annie Spratt