At the beginning of every year, I enjoy looking back on the previous year and reflecting on what went well, what didn’t go so well, what I learned, and what I look forward to learning in the future. As I was considering topics for the blog this week, I thought of New Year’s resolutions and how often people set the goal of reading a certain number of books the following year (or just reading more in general). Therefore, I thought it might be nice to share 10 of my favorite books that I read (or re-read) in 2018 in order to give some ideas for those of you who are looking for recommendations. Fair warning, these are all non-fiction (my personal favorite) and related in some way to psychology. I hope you find them as impactful and inspiring as I have!
1. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D.
Written by a renowned primatologist at Stanford University, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers combines cutting-edge research with poignant insights and beautiful descriptions of the mind-body connection in regard to stress. He demonstrates the differences between humans compared to the rest of the animal kingdom in terms of how we relate to stress and the types of physical ailments we develop in response to it. His humorous and accessible writing style help the reader grapple with challenging concepts in a way that feels fun and meaningful. Ultimately, it provides essential guidance in understanding the stress response system and our ability to either intervene in a healthy manner.
There comes a time in every person’s life where things seem to fall apart in ways that feel unmanageable, scary, and stressful. While our instinct is often to avoid or numb-out pain, Pema Chödrön suggests that moving toward painful situations and really experiencing that pain is the only solution for moving through challenging life circumstances. She offers perspectives and strategies that marry spiritual teachings with poignant personal experiences and observations. She guides the reader towards transforming suffering and other negative beliefs and patterns into acceptance of the natural ups and downs of life and the inherent value of appreciating the lessons and potential for joy that stem from fully experiencing life.
Many people erroneously believe that adolescence only spans the teenage years and is a period of intense hormonal changes. Neuropsychologist Dr. Dan Siegel demonstrates that adolescence is not only a much longer developmental period (age 12 – 24) but that profound changes that take place in the brain during this time (rather than hormones) actually underlies many of the common negative perceptions of adolescents. Throughout the book, he presents compelling scientific information about this tremendous period of transformation and the consequential behavioral and emotional impacts associated with these changes. In doing so, he helps cultivate compassion and insight for the adolescent experience and offers new ways of connecting to, and appreciating, individuals in this stage of life.
4. Full Catastrophe Living: How to Cope with Stress, Pain, and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and is credited with bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. This book explores how a consistent mindfulness practice can promote emotional and physical well-being by helping individuals be more present, accepting, and open to their moment-to-moment experiences. He discusses the MBSR program, including specific mindfulness strategies, up-to-date statistics, and poignant stories of individuals at various points in their MBSR journey. This book is a helpful guide for anyone who is looking to start or deepen a mindfulness practice, especially those seeking a healthy coping strategy for stress, anxiety, and/or chronic pain.
Outliers challenges the idea that the brightest, most famous, and most successful individuals are simply born with special abilities. Using research from various sub-disciplines of psychology, in particular, social psychology, Malcolm demonstrates the power of contributing factors such as birth dates/years, access to opportunities, hours of practice, culture, family values, etc. impact the process by which some people maximize their potential while others do not. Throughout the book, various real-life examples are discussed at length and will challenge your view that the world’s highest achievers attained success because of who they are rather than due to a product of their traits combined with their upbringing and particular circumstances.
6. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.
Written by one of the preeminent pioneers of trauma research and treatment, The Body Keeps the Score explores the profound impact associated with trauma for individuals and society. While it is a must-read for all therapists, it also holds tremendous value for anyone who enjoys better understanding the factors that impact how people develop in terms of their emotional and physical health. The writing is powerful and engaging and the descriptions of his and other people’s work in the field sheds new light on what is known about trauma and what can be done to help those who have experienced it.
Brené Brown is a research professor who catapulted to fame after her 2010 TED Talk entitled The Power of Vulnerability captured the world’s attention with over 40 million views! Braving the Wilderness explores her personal and professional experiences with concepts such as courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She argues that our society is experiencing an epidemic of disconnection and describes 4 practices that can help guide people towards enhanced connection and true belonging. Her writing is honest, passionate, and inspiring and creates a path for us all to find and present our true selves, even in the face of uncertainty, frustration, and fear.
8. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D.
Dr. Levine is the developer of the Somatic Experiencing method, which is a body-oriented approach that combines traditional psychotherapy techniques with awareness of physiological factors, such as heart rate, body posture, and breathing patterns. In this book, Dr. Levine discusses the culmination of his life’s work as a clinician, scientist, and human being. He shares personal stories as well as case information about various individuals he has worked with throughout the years in order to bring to life the experience of trauma and PTSD. He explores how the physical body is innately wired to handle traumatic encounters and offers a theoretical framework from which to heal trauma and restore balance and well-being.
In this book, Michael Singer explores the concept and practice of being fully conscious and present despite the challenges associated with the human condition. Many books address these ideas, but this book does so in a way that is simplistic and accessible, while also being powerful and profound. It encourages the reader to engage in introspection as non-judgmental and open-minded observers in order to unlock the true compassion, peace, and insight we all have within us. His goal is to help free the reader from the chains of their ego and to discover freedom and liberation from self- and socially-imposed demands and expectations.