13 Oct 5 Books That Will Challenge You To Think Different
We read for many reasons. Many of us read to escape reality. When the world is on fire, a good fantasy or romance novel can help us escape the pain. We also read to reaffirm our existing beliefs. We all know that one guy who posts constant articles from extremely biased websites simply because it reaffirms what he already believes to be true. The books that help us escape or reaffirm existing beliefs are fun to read. I love a good fiction book and I enjoy a writer who tells me that everything I already think is correct. But this year I’ve challenged myself to read more books that challenge me. The websites I read and podcasts I listen to are already tailored to my existing beliefs, and I spend plenty of time escaping into fictional worlds thanks to Netflix and Hulu. If I’m going to read, I decided, I’m going to learn.
Learning isn’t always comfortable. The books on this list weren’t all easy to read. Some of them were more naturally appealing than others. Depending on your own values and beliefs, some of these books will affirm your opinions, while others challenge them. But each has a lesson worth learning. These all happen to be non-fiction, although I believe there are many great lessons to learn from fiction as well. I’ll save that for another blog post.
(This article contains affiliate links. I never suggest a book I haven’t read, a product I don’t use, or a service that I don’t believe in.)
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.” — Jonathan Haidt
After the 2016 election, I began a quest to discover why the nation was so divided. How did Donald Trump tap into such a dark, angry side of our country? I’m a fan of the moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt. (In fact, two of this books are on this list.) So I picked up The Righteous Mind, hopeful that it would give me insight into what is happening in our country, and in many other countries throughout the world.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion explains our belief systems as products of our own moral judgment. Most of us believe that our beliefs stem from our ability to consciously reason between right and wrong. However, Haidt argues that most people are not skilled at conscious reasoning. If probed to explain why we believe something from a purely reason-based perspective, most people do a poor job. Once every explanation is countered, it often comes down to, “I can’t explain it, I just know it’s wrong.” Moral intuition is our guide and we have little control over where it guides us.
This is a challenging read for several reasons. If you’re not interested in psychology, philosophy, politics, or religion, you most likely won’t get through the first few pages. Haidt is a psychologist, not a writer, and it’s not fluffed up to make it an easy read. This also isn’t a book that is going to affirm everything you’ve always believed. In fact, the point is to have the opposite effect. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, there will be points made that you won’t like and don’t agree with. At the end of the day, the point is that none of us are completely right. There is value on every side and the only way to learn is to listen.
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” — Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah is my favorite talk show host. He’s witty, but not over-the-top. He addresses hard issues from a humorous and empathetic perspective. And let’s be honest, I could listen to his beautiful South African voice all day long. Which is exactly what I did after purchasing the audiobook version of Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood.
In Born a Crime, Noah tells tales from his childhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the end of apartheid. Noah’s father is white and his mother is black. Under apartheid, it was illegal for black and white South Africans to have any sort of romantic or sexual relationships. Therefore, being mixed was technically illegal (hence, “born a crime”). When Noah was born, people were legally defined and divided by the color of their skin: Black, White, Indian, and Coloured. The Coloured group included anyone of mixed racial descent. Even though Noah looked like many people in the Coloured group, he didn’t have Coloured parents and therefore defied the carefully structured racial segregation system entirely. Since he never fit in with any one group, he was able to blend in and develop an understanding and empathy toward each group.
History is different depending on who tells it. At the end of apartheid, people in South African had very different stories depending on the color of their skin. Noah is able to tell a bit of each, simply by telling his own. Born a Crime is heartbreaking, humorous, and hopeful. It’s a reminder of the terrors that exist in our world and the power of human resilience. It will challenge you to view race purely as a social construct and understand how powerful and devastating oppressive systems can be.
Buy it here: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau
“Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.” — Chris Guillebeau
I’ve always known that I want to be an entrepreneur. The idea of working for myself is much more attractive than working for anyone else. Entrepreneurs tend to score high in personality traits such as creativity, autonomy, impulsivity, and risk-taking. I love to create and I can work alone for hours on end, but I’m not an impulsive person. For me, the hardest part of entrepreneurship is getting started.
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau is a quick, motivating read for anyone who needs help getting started on their entrepreneurship adventure. Guillebeau interviewed hundreds of business owners, from an unconventional bike retailer to a couple who “accidentally” started a successful business after a high demand for a product they were trying to get rid of.
The $100 Startup isn’t a step-by-step guide for starting your own business. It’s for people like me, who need an extra push to get going. It shows how so many other people, just like you and me, have left their nine to fives and created a new future doing what they love. It’ll remind you that being a business owner doesn’t require superpowers, but it does require motivation and hard work. It will challenge you to see past the limiting beliefs you have about yourself and more clearly envision of future of possibilities.
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Jonathan Haidt
Maybe you’re not ready to start a business and maybe you want a break from anything that even remotely has to do with politics. Maybe you just want something pretty simple — to be happy.
According to Haidt, happiness is much harder than it looks, but that’s because we approach it in ways that are entirely wrong. We seek happiness in praise, recognition, support, wealth, and materialism. When we think about what we need to be happy, the answers are nearly always external. To an extent, we do need those external things. One of the greatest factors that account for happiness is having a strong sense of community. We need other people to be happy. But the often overlooked factor is having a strong sense of self. Haidt explains how happiness comes from within and in between (the in-between refers primarily to spirituality and mindfulness). He references several studies linked to happiness and offers his own carefully researched hypothesis about how to be happy.
Again, Haidt will remind you that your own ideas about yourself are often wrong. We don’t have as much control over our thoughts and emotions as we think we do and as much as we try to reason, the intuition always wins. To be happy requires us to feed the intuition and to nurture our unconscious minds. This book won’t give you all of the tools to do it, but it will give you a lot of insight and ideas to get started. Happiness, of course, is a journey, not a destination.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
I read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear last year when I was in a creative rut. It was exactly the book I needed to get out of my own way and take big steps in my career as a writer. The fear of putting myself out there is one that’s always held me back. I prefer to slowly tiptoe into the deep end rather than jump off the diving board. This book gave me the confidence to jump into any figurative body of water, regardless of how murky it looks.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert is as inspirational and brilliant as ever. It is a motivational self-help book for sure, but it doesn’t read as preachy. Instead, every page feels like getting a supportive pep talk from your best friend. Gilbert addresses where inspiration comes from, the power of ideas, and how to face the fears that hold us back. She explains how creativity isn’t a skill or personality trait saved for artists and writers, but something innate within each of us.
If you’re a creative who needs motivation, you will get something out of this book. But if you don’t think of yourself as creative, you may get even more value from Big Magic. Studies show that creativity can boost your well-being and make you happier. However, the fear of failure and rejection often hold us back from pursuing creative endeavors. The inspirational message in Big Magic is one that we all need to hear, again and again.
Buy it here: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think? Share some books that have challenged you to think different in the comments.