The Best Psychology Books of the Past Five Years (10-1)

Welcome to the final part of my countdown. If you’d like to check out part one first, click here. Otherwise, enjoy!

10. ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance‘ by Angela Duckworth (2016). Goodreads star rating = 4.08/5.

grit

Why it’s good: Duckworth shows that talent tends to be hugely overrated when looking at who is likely to succeed in life. Her father always taught her the value of hard-work and told her that she was “no genius”. Yet through finding her passion for psychology and persevering through difficulties, she eventually won the MacArthur Genius Award.

If you are not overly gifted or talented at something it is not the end of the world. What is important is knowing what you need to do to get better (through learning, coaching, deliberate practice and feedback), and then putting in the hard yards in whatever it is that truly interests you. If the long-term goal inspires you and feels like it will be worthwhile, it suddenly gives meaning to the hard work that you put in, and helps you persevere until you achieve what you have set out to do.

I used to want to get as far as possible in life with as little as work as possible. This book has shown me that putting in the hard work and becoming grittier will help me much more than always trying to take the easy route. It also suggests that making small changes if you are sick and tired of something is much better for long-term success than always trying to reinvent yourself.

Read it if: You are striving to succeed and want to learn how to identify your passion, increase your ability to persevere, and learn more about how to become grittier in pursuit of your long-term goals.

9. ‘Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy‘ by Irvin Yalom (2015). Goodreads star rating = 4.12/5.

creatures of a day

Why it’s good: The fact that Irvin Yalom was still conducting therapy with patients and writing books at the age of 83 is pretty amazing, and is a credit to his work ethic and generativity throughout his life. On top of that, the book is actually pretty good.

Written in a similar style to Love’s Executioner and Momma and the Meaning of Life, Creatures of a Day consists of ten therapy tales that give a sense of what it would like to be one of Irvin’s patients and also gives you some insights to his inner thoughts and struggles with these cases too. Beyond that, each tale offers up things to think about and lessons to be learned about life, but not in a directive or preachy way.

Read it if: You have ever wondered what the therapy experience is like, or have tried therapy before and wondered what was going on in the therapist’s mind.

8. ‘Ego is the Enemy‘ by Ryan Holiday (2016). Goodreads star rating = 4.12/5.

ego is the enemy

Why it’s good: The main obstacle to a fulfilling and successful life for the majority of people is not something in the outside world. It is their ego. It prevents people from being able to learn fully and cultivate their talents, it blinds people from their faults, and makes recovery from failure that much more difficult.

Similar to ‘The Road to Character’, it discusses successful examples of historical figures that reached the highest levels of influence and power by conquering their egos rather than being controlled by them. This includes Eleanor Roosevelt and Bill Belicheck, and highlights their strategies and tactics that they used so that we could employ them too if we want to follow in their footsteps towards reaching our highest goals.

Read it if: As Holiday writes, “you (want to) be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness, and liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”

7. ‘Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine‘ by Derren Brown (2016). Goodreads star rating = 4.15/5.

happy

Why it’s good: The pursuit of happiness has long been a desire for many people. But what does this actually mean for you? And how do you know if you feel it? Is it a sense of satisfaction with your overall life, or just a fleeting sensation or feeling that can disappear as quickly as it arises? This book can answer all of these questions plus more.

In Happy, Brown explores the history of happiness, shows the different philosophical views towards how we might live a happier life, and shows how the self-help industry has taken over the concept of happiness these days. He wants to reclaim happiness for everyone, and help you to appreciate the truly good things in life once again.

Read it if: You have ever wondered if there is more to life, or wished that you could be happier on a more regular basis.

 

6. ‘Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us‘ by Will Storr (2017). Goodreads star rating = 4.17/5.

selfie

Why it’s good: In modern day Western culture we have more material possessions than we have ever had before, and yet we are also more miserable than we have ever been before. Depression, anxiety, insomnia and suicide have all increased over the past 50 years, and narcissism rates continue to rise exponentially too. Could this be due to our increased self-obsession and the ongoing negative impact of the self-esteem movement of the 1970s. Storr seems to think so.

We have turned away from the Christian and Psychoanalytic traditions of seeing ourselves are inherently flawed and sinful, and towards the Humanistic approach of thinking that we are the source of our own success and have all of the important answers within. We aren’t just meant to accept ourselves as we are however. We need to follow our dreams, and try to reach our limitless potential. We need to be slim, fit, rich, popular, outgoing and happy. We then need to project this image for the world to see just how great we are.

This split between the external projections and the internal insecurities is the narcissistic dilemma. People feel both special and inadequate, and worry that they’ll never be able to reach the perfect self that helps them to feel good whilst giving them the recognition that they deserve. Faced with this dilemma, people can either keep trying under immense stress and pressure, give up, or attack anyone who is perceived as a threat.

What we really need is to believe in something bigger than ourselves, to find a sense of belonging and community again, and to accept ourselves for who we are. By understanding our temperament, personality, strengths and weakness, and values, we can then make the connections with others and changes within ourselves that actually lead to true satisfaction in life, rather than blindly just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Read it if: If you want to learn more about when and how we became obsessed with ourselves and the damage that this obsession can cause.

 

5. ‘Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead‘ by Brene Brown (2015). Goodreads star rating = 4.19/5.

rising strong

Why it’s good: I think I actually enjoyed Brene’s previous book ‘Daring Greatly’ more than this one, but I really do appreciate the openness, honesty and vulnerability that she expresses in her writing and talks. If you haven’t see her TED talks yet, please do check them out:

Her research has highlighted to me that we really can’t grow and connect with others as much as we would like if we are not willing to be vulnerable and explore or express what hurts and what holds us back. Brown believes that times of struggle are great opportunities to be courageous, and taking emotional risks is how we can build wisdom, hope and meaning in our lives.

Read it if: You have had a big fall or setback that is still holding you back in your life, and want to know how to learn and grow from the experience, or simply get back up on your feet and start moving forward again.

4. ‘Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast‘ by Barry McDonagh (2015). Goodreads star rating = 4.24/5.

Dare

Why it’s good: This is the most helpful and practical book for anxiety that I have read since ‘Feel the fear… and do it anyway!’ by Susan Jeffers.

It goes through how to successfully manage anxiety and panic attack symptoms in a multitude of common anxiety provoking situations, from airplanes to public speaking to enclosed spaces and everything in between.

Dare is also a helpful acronym to remember the DARE response to anxiety:

D = Defuse from any unhelpful or unrealistic anxiety thoughts that tell you that you are in imminent danger, especially if you really are safe.

A = Allow the anxiety to be there and choose to accept and welcome whatever it is you feel in the anxiety provoking situation even though it may be uncomfortable or not what you wish for. Observe the feeling of anxiety and see if you can make room for it. The more you resist the feeling, the more it will persist.

R = Run towards your anxiety by telling yourself that you are feeling this way because you are excited rather than scared. Changing the meaning of the physical symptoms can be more effective than trying to reduce their intensity. It can also help to run towards what it is that you are afraid of (as long as it is safe).

E = Engage in something that will take up your full attention so that you anxious mind doesn’t pull you back into a state of worry and fear. This could be any activity or specific task such as talking to someone, reading or exercise. Whatever it is, focus your whole attention on it, and bring it back to this point of focus if your mind starts to wander or worry again.

Read it ifYou suffer from anxiety or panic attacks and would like to learn scientifically supported strategies that can actually give you some relief. For more information, check out the dare response website.

3. ‘Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise‘ by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool (2016). Goodreads star rating = 4.31/5.

peak

Why it’s good: Anders Ericsson’s research was brought into the spotlight with Malcolm Gladwell’s hugely successful book on success, ‘Outliers’. Gladwell said that to develop true mastery in any subject, we need to spend 10,000 hours on that task. This is potentially true, especially in super competitive fields such as violin playing, but it isn’t always the case, and Ericsson’s own book ‘Peak’ explains why.

The secret is deliberate practice. This is hard work, and often not a lot of fun, but it is the secret to getting better at anything. I know how to juggle three balls for example, and have done so since I was 16, but seeing that I have never taken any lessons the idea of juggling 4 or 5 balls seems impossible. With coaching by an expert, a clear and concise training program and regular and immediate feedback, I probably could learn it fairly quickly. That’s the difference between play and deliberate practice.

The majority of people are happy to learn a skill up to an adequate level of competence, at which point they become satisfied, stop learning and therefore stop improving. The amount of practice that you do isn’t the most important thing. It’s the mindset you have, and the type of practice you engage in. In order to get better, you need to be deliberate about it.

Read it if: You would like to learn the techniques that can help you to develop mastery and expertise in any skill.

2. ‘The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity‘ by Esther Perel (2017). Goodreads star rating = 4.46/5.

state of affairs

Why it’s good: It’s an interesting paradox in most cultures across the world. Outside of France, the majority of the population agree that cheating is morally wrong and unacceptable. However, the prevalence rate of cheating is much higher than we would actually like to admit.

Another paradox is that the majority of people say that they would like to be told if they were cheated on, and yet the majority of people who commit infidelity don’t say anything because they don’t want to hurt their partner.

Personally, my view towards infidelity had always been straightforward. It is wrong, and it is a deal breaker. If someone wants to cheat, they should break up first, and then do as they please. If someone is cheated on, they should leave the relationship straight away. This book helped me to not see it in such black and white terms, and showed me that it is not even clear what is and is not cheating, and therefore how it should be dealt with.

What is known is that dishonesty, secrecy and affairs can cause significant harm to relationships. Openness, respect and equality are all crucial components to a successful relationship, regardless of where you draw the line on what is and isn’t infidelity.

Read it if: You have been hurt by an affair in your life and are seeking to understand why infidelity occurs and what we can do about it.

  1. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma‘ by Bessel A. van der Kolk (2014). Goodreads star rating = 4.62/5.

body keeps the score.jpg

Why it’s good: The most comprehensive, scientifically supported and effective book on trauma ever written. Bessel van der Kolk has put his three decades of trauma learnings and expertise into one book and the result is powerful and engaging.

Seeing that trauma is so pervasive in our society, everyone would benefit from a greater understanding of how it can change our brain, emotional responses, physical reactions and behaviours. This knowledge could then be utilised to help people seek out the most appropriate and innovative strategies for their trauma symptoms, whether that is neurofeedback, mindfulness meditation, yoga, play or other experiential exercises.

Drugs and talk therapy can help to some degree, but seeing that it is the body where trauma is stored, we need to change what people suffering from trauma do so that they can reclaim a sense of pleasure, trust, engagement and control.

Read it if: You’d like to learn more about the bold new paradigm for healing from trauma and post-traumatic stress.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

5 thoughts on “The Best Psychology Books of the Past Five Years (10-1)

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