8 brain books for you

′So many books. So little time...' - Frank Zappa


Thank you for joining me for blog 41, highlighting decision-making and the brain. This is my public exploration of what drives decision-making and how we can use that information to make better decisions, resulting in better outcomes.


I prefer books to articles


I love books. The right book can absorb you in a way that an article cannot. A good book can leave you a changed person, arming you with new perspectives.


In the same way people are selective about what they eat because of the way it might impact their physical health, it is my view that your information diet is food for your mental health. I know I certainly felt uplifted from reading the books below. My gift to you is a curated set of 8 book recommendations (and a link to my last book recommendations blog).



8 brain books for you


1) Finding flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


What the heck are people talking about when they refer to being in their 'flow' state. This book is a non-fluffy and real explanation of flow. Flow is that feeling of time distortion because you are so immersed in your activity. Whether playing sport, music or enjoying a kick around you lose all thought of yourself and focus on the task at hand. Some people find flow in their work (for me it is putting down a really tricky problem on paper and trying to distill it). If you want to understand what the opposite of shallow work and multitasking might feel like, read this book.

2) Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman


Emotional intelligence or EQ as it is often referred to is a crucial skill at all levels, but particular when in a leadership role. This book is the bible of EQ. It has been a huge revelation for me how much science there is around how we conduct ourselves. Our big brains have evolved partly to manage social interactions, and whether it is emotional sensitivity or emotional control our approach and temperament has impacts on other people. This is a topic I plan to cover in depth shortly.

3) Thinking in bets - Annie Dukes


Annie Dukes was a professional poker player, and she brings to bear the discipline of having actually been in the arena of real-life decision-making. Her writing is so conversational and easy to read, that I flew through this book and retained a lot of the information. In there she covers the feedback loops between beliefs and outcomes. If you do not test your beliefs by experimenting with them (for example betting on things that align with your beliefs) you will never know if they are right or not. Her advice on constructing teams, and creating environments for honest and open debate helped inform a lot of my work on group dynamics. (Group dynamics - 4 things you need to know (hartejsingh.com))



4) The art of learning by Josh Waitzkin


This book should have been titled 'competing at the top level'. It is truly fascinating how a chess prodigy turned martial arts champion went about learning. The intensity and variety of his preparation was all-encompassing. He describes in the book how he could visualise a chess board and all the moves or how in martial arts how micro-changes in his techniques had hugely leveraged impacts. There are vivid descriptions of the politics in sports and when stakes are high, opponents can play dirtily. A thoroughly enjoyable book.


5) Think Twice by Michael Malboussin


There are some books which overlap with others, but this is a very well written easy to follow primer on some of the cognitive bias work out there (less involved than Thinking Fast and Slow, for example). It is well structured and leaves you with very digestible messages. I really enjoyed his explanation of luck and skill and the value in getting feedback and checklists. This book and the next one are really easy ways to get well-informed about cognitive biases.

6) The art of thinking clearly - Rolf Dobelli


Many people have bought 'Thinking fast and slow' and never finished it. It is quite dense. This book is almost the opposite. It's 100 examples of cognitive biases in pithy 2 to 3-page summaries. You do not need to read this book cover to cover. I picked out some of the more interesting biases before reading it cover to cover. It is definitely a breadth not depth book, but sometimes that has its place when you are new to a subject.

7) Seeking Wisdom - Peter Bevelin


This is an incredible treasure trove of information. The early chapters on systems thinking and how the human mind is bamboozled by scales and limits is really well put. The 12-step framework towards the end is what justifies the hefty price of this book.


8) Intrinsic - Sharath Jeevan


What drives and motivates us? How should we think about the decisions we cannot put off? I found this book armed me with a much deeper language around the simple question of 'why do I want to do this?'. His description of Extrinsic versus Intrinsic motivation is truly perspective altering. When people are deciding about which role to take, it is easy to compare to pay and perks, but tougher to think through how this role aligns with your motivation. If there is one book that helped me understand 'quiet quitting' better it is this one.



As always, I remain grateful for comments and other book recommendations and wish you some great reading.


The next blog is on Meditation and why I practice it. Don't forget to sign up to the mailing list!

My previous book recommendations: 10 brain books (hartejsingh.com)