While coping with the cognitive burdens that are imposed by writing a book, we can easily lose sight of our reason for doing all the work in the first place. Especially with nonfiction books that offer instructions, we want someone to get off the couch, say something new, and do something new.
We are foolish enough and bold enough to hold a sense of possibility for our readers. We remind them that their future does not have to be a reactive and automatic extension of their past.
I find that it helps to remind myself of the books that affect me, and to distill their key insights. Surprisingly, it’s sometimes possible to reduce a 50,000- or 100,000-word book to a few points or paragraphs of pure power.
Following are three books that matter to me.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen
Often mistaken for a time management book, Getting Things Done (GTD, to the aficionados) is really about 1) getting clear on all the agreements you’re making and 2) how you intend to fulfill them.
Allen makes several distinctions that take you light years closer to that clarity. The main one is the definition of project as any outcome that takes more than one action to produce.
Agreeing with yourself to start a business is a project.
Agreeing with yourself to lose weight is also a project.
So is agreeing to spend more time with your friends.
The practice of GTD hinges on asking:
• What are all my current projects in life?
• What’s the very next thing I will do—a physical, visible action—to move each project forward?
If that sounds simplistic, just try filtering your calendar entries and to-do lists through those two questions.
I immediately saw that I paid lip service to a number of ill-defined outcomes and had no real intention of producing them. The discovery of this problem also revealed the solution.
Constructive Living, by David K. Reynolds
Reynolds champions an approach to mental health that is based on three core maxims:
• Accept your feelings
• Know your purpose
• Do what needs to be done
Applying these ideas is much easier when you stop trying to fix your feelings and simply accept them. After all, we cannot directly control our feelings.
On the other hand, we often control our behaviors. This means that we can take constructive action even when we feel sad, mad, or afraid.
Or as Reynolds points out, we can feel depressed and still do the laundry.
And, we might even feel less depressed when the laundry is done.
As soon as I truly understood this, I realized that I can always respond effectively to my circumstances—no matter what they are, or how I feel about them. This is as close to unconditional freedom as human beings get.
For a delightful page of aphorisms based on these ideas, see this.
The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment, by Thaddeus Golas
I’ve posted about this book in more detail. For now, I’ll just highlight what Golas wrote about resistance. He defines it as:
• Denying unpleasant thoughts and feelings—pretending that they don’t exist or trying to push them away.
• Clinging to pleasant thoughts and feelings—trying to make them last, even though they are impermanent.
Enlightenment means seeing your resistance in any moment and dropping it—or simply being willing to drop it. This insight neatly echoes the tenets of Constructing Living.
Golas admits that when life backs us into a corner and we really start suffering, we’ll find it hard to remember the contents of any book. But there is a chance that we can remember two words:
Or: “Love as much as you can from wherever you are.”
There’s not much I can add to that.