I've Read Over 60 Non-Fiction Books But Only These 5 Changed My Life

October 16, 2021
A smiley man, books in the background

I’ve read over 60 books in the past 5 years, and although I took ideas and new perspectives from almost all of them, there are only a few that truly changed how I think about myself and the world. The influence of these books made me change my behavior and transform my life.

So here they are.

🙏🏼 The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

The first book is without a doubt The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. In fact, this is probably the most transformative book I’ve ever read. In a nutshell, it taught me that I have a voice in my head talking all the time. But that voice is not who I am, it’s “just” thoughts. Yet, these thoughts are responsible for most of my suffering because I identify with them. The book taught me to be present, observe my inner dialogue “from a distance” and disidentify from it, which let to more inner peace.

⏳ The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

The second book is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, which obviously inspired me to pursue “the Digital Nomad life”. More importantly, I was impressed by his unconventional way of thinking, and his first-principles approach to life and work specifically.

For example, he tells the story of his first job as a minimum wage cleaner in an ice cream shop. Since he was already obsessed with optimizing work, he was able to finish all his work in one hour instead of eight, and spent the rest of the time reading kung-fu magazines and practicing karate kicks in the back of the shop. Three days later he got fired because the owner thought "he didn’t know the value of hard work”.

I found it inspiring to look at work more practically, behind the veil of meaning we attach to it. The book also taught me that there is a correlation between being successful and seeking discomfort, and it inspired me to do many comfort zone challenges.

👀 Influence by Robert Cialdini

The third book is Influence by Robert Cialdini, which exposes the six cognitive shortcuts humans have to make decisions, and how they impact our lives. The heuristic of social proof was particularly enlightening. He explains that when we are in doubt, we look at others to know what to do because it saves us the time and energy to think for ourselves. Although this shortcut is useful for low-stakes decisions (e.g. how to dress in an office), it's detrimental when it comes to making important life choices (e.g. who to marry, where to live, how to live). In a nutshell, learn to think for yourself when making important decisions.

🙊 Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

The fourth book is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, which taught me that the way we live today is not necessarily the best way to live and it’s up to be questioned. Before reading the book I thought history was much more deterministic. I thought: “If society is the way it is, there must be a reason. It must be the best way we can possibly live.” But that’s not true.

How we live is the result of many decisions that our ancestors made without really knowing the consequences of their actions. For example, shifting from hunting to farming initially led to a lower quality of life. However, the new generations born into agriculture didn’t know how to live as nomadic hunters anymore, so they just continued living sedentary lives.

The point being: history marches on, we forget how we used to live and embrace life as it presented to us, but history is always up for questioning. We should shake ourselves from "the cold hand of the past" that grabs us by the neck and points our head in a certain direction. We can decide how we want to move forward.

⭕ Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

The fifth book is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. First of all, the book taught me that Minimalism can be applied to many aspects of life, not just material things. More importantly, the book frames social media use as a zero-sum game: either you win, or the platform wins.

Because social media companies are manipulative, you have to approach it as a war, and be ready to protect yourself. You can’t just put some time limits or go greyscale, you have to have a philosophy backing your social media usage. You have to be intentional on why and how you want to use social media.

Overall, the book made clear the trade-off of using these platforms: in exchange of a bit of dopamine we give away our time, attention, productivity, sense of agency, and wellbeing. This is not acceptable, we have to be proactive about it.


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