What I’m Reading: Fall 2014 Edition

It’s time for the Fall 2014 Edition of my reading list.

For each of the books below, I have assigned a rating and written a three sentence review, which summarizes my thoughts about why I did or did not enjoy the book. At the end of each review, I have included a link to the book on Amazon so that you can read additional reviews and learn more about the book.

Here’s what I’m reading…
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Measure Backward, Not Forward

We often measure our progress by looking forward. We set goals. We plan milestones for our progress. Basically, we try to predict the future to some degree.

We do this in business, in health, and in life at large.

  • Can we increase our quarterly earnings by 20 percent?
  • Can I lose 20 pounds in the next 3 months?
  • Will I be married by 30?

These are all measurements that face forward. We look into the future and try to guess when we will get somewhere.

There is an opposite and, I think, more useful approach: measure backward, not forward.

Here’s what I mean…
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The Simple Secret to Having Good Luck

In 2002, Markus Zusak sat down to write a book.

He began by mapping out the beginning and the end of the story. Then, he started listing out chapter headings, pages of them. Some made it into the final story, many were cut.

When Zusak began to write out the story itself, he tried narrating it from the perspective of Death. It didn’t come out the way he wanted.

He re-wrote the book, this time through the main character’s eyes. Again, something was off.

He tried writing it from an outsider’s perspective. Still no good.

He tried present tense. He tried past tense. Nothing. The text didn’t flow.

He revised. He changed. He edited. By his own estimation, Zusak rewrote the first part of the book 150 to 200 times. In the end, he went back to his original choice and wrote it from the perspective of Death. This time—the 200th time—it felt right. When all was said and done it had taken Zusak three years to write his novel. He called it The Book Thief.

In an interview after his book was finally released, Zusak said, “In three years, I must have failed over a thousand times, but each failure brought me closer to what I needed to write, and for that, I’m grateful.” [1]

The book exploded in popularity. It stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for over 230 weeks. It sold 8 million copies. It was translated into 40 languages. A few years later, Hollywood came calling and turned The Book Thief into a major motion picture.
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The Physics of Productivity: Newton’s Laws of Getting Stuff Done

In 1687, Sir Isaac Newton published his groundbreaking book, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which described his three laws of motion. In the process, Newton laid the foundation for classical mechanics and redefined the way the world looked at physics and science.

What most people don’t know, however, is that Newton’s three laws of motion can be used as an interesting analogy for increasing your productivity, simplifying your work, and improving your life.

Allow me to present this analogy as Newton’s Laws of Productivity.
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7 Improvements I Have Made to My Writing and Work

Back in June, I took a sabbatical from writing for the entire month. One of the reasons for the break was to reflect on how I could produce a higher standard of work.

When I returned in July, I started to test a few of my ideas. Today, I want to share 7 ways my work has improved, what you can expect from me in the future, and what steps I am taking to deliver a higher standard of work to you.
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How to Build Skills That Are Valuable: Lessons Learned From Selling Matches

In the early 1940s, a young boy was growing up in the small county of Almhult in southern Sweden. Within a few years, he would impact millions of people. At the time, however, nobody knew his name.

The boy was occupied with a small and relatively simple project. He had recently discovered that it was possible to buy boxes of matches in bulk from Stockholm, which was a few hours away from his small town. He could get the matches for cheap and then sell them individually for a nice profit, but still at a reasonable price.

Pretty soon, he was riding around town on his bicycle and selling matches one by one to anyone who needed them.

Once the matches began selling well, the young boy expanded his tiny operation. Before long, he added christmas ornaments, fish, seeds, ballpoint pens and pencils. A few years later, he started selling furniture.

The young boy’s name was Ingvar Kamprad and when he was seventeen, he decided to name his business. He called it IKEA.

In 2013, IKEA made over $37 billion dollars. It’s amazing what you can do with a few matches.
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Photo Essay: The Rocky Mountains and Streams of Colorado

Each week, I write about the science of behavior change and better ways to build habits. My hope is that the research I share makes it slightly easier to improve your health, happiness, and creativity.

But I don’t just want to focus on the highest quality research. I also want to be someone who puts ideas into action. I think it’s just as important to understand what it’s like to make improvements in the real world as it is to ground your ideas in proven science.

With that in mind, one of the creative habits I have been working on is my photography. In my 2013 Annual Review, I mentioned that I would be putting more energy toward photography in 2014. This started with my trip to Morocco. (Photos here.)

Today, we’re continuing with another photo essay from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. As always, all photos are my own.
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Mozart as Medicine: The Health Benefits of Music

David Binanay started playing the violin when he was five. By age twelve, he performed at the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York City and, soon after, at the White House.

In 2006, fresh off graduation from Villanova University, Binanay was positioned perfectly to build his life around music. He had just moved into his own place and started a job at a high-end violin shop.

That’s when he noticed the bleeding.
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Breaking Bad Habits: How Vietnam War Veterans Broke Their Heroin Addictions

It was 1971 and the Vietnam War was heading into its 16th year when two congressmen, Robert Steele from Connecticut and Morgan Murphy from Illinois, made a discovery that stunned the American public.

While visiting the troops in Vietnam, the two congressmen discovered that over 15 percent of US soldiers had developed an addiction to heroin. (Later research, which tested every American soldier in Vietnam for heroin addiction, would reveal that 40 percent of servicemen had tried heroin and nearly 20 percent were addicted.) The discovery shocked the American public and led to a flurry of activity in Washington, which included President Richard Nixon announcing the creation of a new office called The Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention.

The office was created to promote prevention and rehabilitation of drug addictions and also to track and research the paths of addicted servicemen and women when they returned home. It was this last part, the tracking of returning soldiers, that led to some surprising insights.

Lee Robins, one of the researchers in charge of tracking the veterans, found that when the soldiers returned to the United States only 5 percent of them became re-addicted to heroin. In other words, 95 percent eliminated their addiction nearly overnight. [1]

This finding completely contradicted the patterns of normal addiction. The typical heroin cycle went something like this: an addicted user would enter a clinic and get clean, but once they returned home, the re-addiction rate was 90 percent or higher. Nearly every heroin addict relapsed. The Vietnam soldiers were displaying a pattern that was exactly the opposite.

What was going on here? And, perhaps more important, what can it teach us about changing our own behaviors, building better habits, and breaking bad ones?
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Habit Stacking: How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones

In 2007, researchers at Oxford University started peering into the brains of newborn babies. What they found was surprising.

After comparing the newborn brains to the normal adult human, the researchers realized that the average adult had 41 percent fewer neurons than the average newborn. [1]

At first glance, this discovery didn’t make sense. If babies have more neurons, then why are adults smarter and more skilled?

Let’s talk about what is going on here, why this is important, and what it has to do with building better habits and mastering your mental and physical performance.
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