This week marks the completion of the 3,000 hours required for licensure as a psychologist, which also marks the end of my role as the Inner Fökus blogger-in-chief! Thank you to those who have been following my journey and for the immense support, encouragement, and positive feedback shared over the past 2 years. A HUGE thank you to every guest writer who contributed their thoughts, knowledge, experiences, wisdom, and insights with me and our readers; I am forever grateful for your generosity!
As my last blog post, I am going to start 2020 the same way I began 2019, with a review of my 10 favorite books read (or re-read) from the following year. Each of these books inspired me to see a new perspective, to try something new, or to better understand myself and the people around me. As previously warned in my 10 Favorite Books Read in 2018 article, all of the books on this list are non-fiction. Even if that’s not typically your cup of tea, these books are that good…who knows, maybe 2020 is the year to discover your love for non-fiction too?!
1. A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters by Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D.
As the originator of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), Dr. Steven Hayes has a deep appreciation for the roles of goals, values, and psychological flexibility in promoting a life full of meaning and purpose. He poignantly shares about his experiences with panic disorder and takes the reader on a journey through his own self-exploration, growth, and professional contributions to the development of ACT principles and techniques. While many experts struggle to write for a broad audience, Dr. Hayes brilliantly manages to simplify complex concepts into clear and digestible explanations and offers a tremendous array of mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based strategies for anxiety, self-criticism, procrastination, and any other unhelpful traps we encounter throughout life. His compassion, both for himself and for society-at-large, is palpable and helps model true authenticity and caring. For these reasons and more, A Liberated Mind was my #1 favorite book of 2019 (the others are listed in no particular order).
2. The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt by Russ Harris, M.D.
While we’re on the topic of ACT, The Confidence Gap is another helpful text that effectively communicates ACT-related concepts while also providing thoughtful and manageable ACT techniques that are useful for a wide array of personal and professional challenges. Dr. Russ Harris presents a compelling argument for the role of identifying core values and then using those values to support purpose-driven decision-making. A great companion to A Liberated Mind, this book demonstrates that the path towards a meaningful life relies not on confidence, motivation, or safety, but rather a deliberate and mindful commitment to moving towards what matters to us. If insecurity, doubt, fear, etc. feel like they’re stopping you from achieving your goals and living a life that’s aligned with your values, this is the book for you!
3. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D.
Nobel Prize-winning economist, Dr. Daniel Kahneman, weaves together decades of research in a variety of fields to glean insight into human behavior, thinking, and rationality. The core of the book revolves around two systems of thinking; System 1 is intuitive, quick, and emotional, while System 2 is more thoughtful, logical, and deliberate. Both are useful, but the context determines which is best in any given situation. Dr. Kahneman offers insight into when these are useful and when they’re problematic and helps to shed light on the problems we encounter in our personal and professional decision-making when we utilize the wrong type of thinking in certain situations. If you don’t trust my word for it, it may help to know that this book is a New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award (2012), and was selected by the New York Times Book Review, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal as one of the best books of 2011!
4. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
Talking to Strangers is Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent literary triumph that explores the contributing factors and consequences associated with our tendency to misinterpret people we do not know. In a similar vein as Outliers, which made my 2018 Top 10 list, Talking to Strangers communicates through the real-life stories of familiar people; everyone from Sandra Bland, to Sylvia Plath, to Brock Turner, to Bernie Madoff, to Neville Chamberlain. The result is engaging, impactful, and humbling. These stories are familiar, and yet, like the strangers he discusses throughout the book, so much is unknown, and our faulty judgments are largely based on a foundation of poor assumptions. On another note, while I generally prefer reading a hard copy, Talking to Strangers was definitely an exception. As the host of the popular podcast Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell knows how to bring his work to life through the spoken word. The audiobook intermixes the author’s narrative (read himself) with recordings of interviews, court cases, soundbites, etc., either from original sources or through voice re-enactments of written transcripts to create an experience that is immersive and that highlights the profound themes portrayed throughout the book. If you listen to one audiobook this year, this should be it!
5. A. Taking Charge of Adult ADHD and B. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents by Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common and yet poorly understood condition that affects children and adults. While many people incorrectly assume that ADHD is simply an issue of poor focus and difficulty sitting still, Dr. Russell Barkley presents compelling evidence about the wider-reaching impacts of this condition and provides information about the many underlying causes, exacerbating factors, and effective treatment approaches for problematic symptoms. Taking Charge of Adult ADHD focuses on the presentation of ADHD in adults, which differs in important ways from childhood presentations. Whether you’re an adult who struggles with symptoms of ADHD or a loved one, this book will help you to gain insight into certain tendencies and behaviors you might not know to associate with ADHD (e.g., time-blindness, difficulty planning for the future, and emotional reactance) and provides practical solutions that facilitate understanding and overcoming challenges. Taking Charge of ADHD, on the other hand, is written for parents of children with ADHD; while it also offers insights about causes and treatment approaches, it focuses more attention on parenting strategies and tips for maximizing appropriate school-based accommodations.
6. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LCSW
Like Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. Brené Brown also made the favorites list two years in a row (last year for Braving the Wilderness). If you’ve read any of her books and/or viewed either of her powerhouse TedTalk specials, you know she’s the queen of vulnerability. Somehow, she’s managed to transform the prickly and uncomfortable term into a cherished goal and marker of authenticity and strength. By weaving together personal narratives with research-based insights, Daring Greatly challenges the reader to re-define their approach in the world. She inspires the reader to take meaningful risks, to have those hard conversations, to lead from the heart, and to walk with integrity and respect. Arguably my favorite part about this book (and the author overall, for that matter) is that it does not simply tell us how to act, it shows us. She is vulnerable in sharing her perceived flaws and missteps, and in doing so, gives the reader permission and safety in doing the same. Is shame holding you back from the life you want to live? Let Daring Greatly usher in a new era of taking back your life with courage and compassion.
7. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love by Amir Levine, M.D. & Rachel S. F. Heller, M.A.
Attachment theory was introduced in the 1950s but education about this topic has been largely reserved for the psychological community rather than the mainstream public. Attached does a great job of crossing that chasm by presenting the highlights of attachment theory in a user-friendly and accessible manner. The book begins by introducing the reader to the three main attachment styles (secure, anxious, and avoidant) and helps the reader determine not only their own attachment style but also the style of other individuals in their lives (most notably their intimate partners though this information can be easily extrapolated to other important relationships as well). Through an engaging set of vignettes that illustrate the various attachment types and the common dynamics that result from particular combinations of attachment styles, the book offers advice about what to expect in certain relationships and how to best navigate the relationship based on attachment styles. Whether you’ve had a history of good, neutral, or positive relationships, this book helps to cultivate insights into attachment patterns and suggests approaches that help maximize the potential for relational security and fulfillment.
8. Life Will Be the Death of Me:…And You Too! by Chelsea Handler
When I was reflecting on my favorite books of the year, I was surprised when Chelsea Handler’s memoir immediately sprung to mind. While quite different from Brené Brown in many ways, they both share a sense of authenticity and honesty that I admire and aspire to. Life Will Be the Death of Me explores the life-long consequences of Chelsea Handler’s childhood experiences, including the death of her brother when she was 9 and the resulting impact on her family and her personal development. Her no holds barred life story is viewed through the lens of her therapeutic work with Dr. Daniel Seigel (an author who also features on this and last year’s list). Like Talking to Strangers, the audiobook version of this book is read by the author, which adds another layer of depth to the rawness of her emotional exposure. Through humor, storytelling, and advocacy, Chelsea Handler also openly shares about her growing awareness of her own personal privilege and attempts to enact change in her life; in doing so, she also educates the reader about how to identify their own privilege and seek ways of creating a more equitable and loving society.
9. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
In a society that is obsessed with achievement, accolades, and validation, self-compassion is often traded for self-criticism and perfectionism, both of which are faulty tools that are often inappropriately used to motivate productivity and success. Dr. Neff asks the reader to consider why we treat ourselves so differently from those we love. Would you tell your sister or best friend that she’s “stupid” for making a mistake? That she’ll never succeed? That she’s a failure? Rarely is that the case, but when we’re responding to ourselves, the inner critic runs amok. Rather than focusing on self-esteem like many other self-help authors do, Dr. Neff offers perspectives and strategies that blend Buddhist principles with Western psychology. Her goal is to help the reader cultivate a compassionate stance towards themselves and to use that sense of compassion to guide acceptance, courage, and caring. Ultimately, she presents compelling evidence that self-compassion is the key that can unlock transcendence, deep transformation, and unconditional love.
10. The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child by Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. & Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
In The Yes Brain, prolific author Dr. Daniel Siegel teams up with frequent writing partner Dr. Tina Payne Bryson to present a guide for parents to help raise children who are courageous, curious, and resilient. Building upon their previous publications (e.g., The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline; both are excellent by the way!), this book focuses on the dichotomy between “yes” brain (receptive) and “no” brain (reactive) states. The authors integrate informative research findings from clinical psychology, education, and neuroscience with helpful tips for navigating various parenting issues, such as screen time, discipline, peer relationships, and open communication. While this book is focused on children and adolescents, the principles and concepts are easily applied to adults as well. Cultivating a “yes” brain state can help individuals of any age enhance their positivity, openness, and ability to learn, and it’s never too early, or too late, to start!
Special Mention: Armchair Expert podcast.
Ok, it’s not a book, but hosts Dax Shepard and Monica Padman are endearing, honest, and knowledgeable and they interview such an exciting array of writers, academics, psychological theorists, actors, singers, and more, that’s it’s worth noting as a highlight of 2019. Want to check it out? Some favorite 2019 episodes include (in no particular order): Adam Grant, Ph.D. (organizational psychologist and youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), Malcolm Gladwell (journalist and author of Talking to Strangers, Outliers, Blink, and many more), Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. (first and current Surgeon General of California), Chelsea Handler (comedian and author of Life Will Be the Death of Me amongst many others), Johann Hari (author/journalist on topics related to the war on drugs and other subjects), Esther Perel (psychotherapist/author who specializes in infidelity and host of her own podcast, Where Should We Begin), and John Gottman (psychological researcher/clinician who specializes in marital stability and predictors of divorce). When I’m between audiobooks, Armchair Expert is my to-go source for entertainment, inspiration, and grist for the thinking mill.