Three Books That Changed My Life

Every time I pick up a new book, I remind myself to be reckless: to court radical possibility. To remember that the future does not have to be a reactive and automatic extension of the past. To remember that I can think and act in new ways that make a difference in daily life.

Books are maps for doing all those things. 

So, I find it valuable to periodically to ask: What books changed my life? 

Even better is to take those books and distill their key insights in my own words. 

This is a great journaling prompt. Simply ask yourself what you want to remember from the book and what you will do differently based on what you read. 

Surprisingly, it’s often possible to reduce a 50,000- or 100,000-word book to a single page or paragraph of pure power. That’s enough to capture the essence that matters to you. 

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) is really about 1) becoming aware of all the agreements you’ve made and 2) knowing how you will 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. Do they immediately reveal your current projects and next actions? If not, then you can benefit from GTD. 

I immediately saw that I paid lip service to a number of ill-defined outcomes and had no idea to produce. These are the problems that GTD solves. 

As I learned in the Landmark Forum, the world works when people keep their agreements. GTD is a huge step in that direction.  

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

The liberating message here is that we can stop trying to fix our feelings. We cannot directly control them, anyway.

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 mildly 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 a taste of unconditional freedom.

For more, see my posts about the principles of Constructive Living and slogans that capture the key points.

The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas

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:

No resistance.

This helps me immensely. Resistance is what the Buddha called craving:

  • 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 pass away.

The practice is to see your resistance in the present moment and drop it, or simply be willing to drop it. This allows us to experience clean discomfort (unpleasant sensations) rather than dirty discomfort (unpleasant sensations plus resistance).

A variant on no resistance is: “Love as much as you can from wherever you are.”

Nice. There’s not much I can add to that.

Alas, Thaddeus left us many years ago. But he left behind The Lazy Man’s Guide and other books — an enduring legacy.