Want to be more mindful or empathetic or both? Consider reading these 5 new books.

For several Decembers now, my list of the year’s best business books is intentionally short. My hope is that you will receive something of value without feeling overwhelmed. For example, you’ll either get some book recommendations or justification that others (or at least one person) likes your taste in books.

As usual, all five books are based on science with actionable ideas. And by chance, they all share a theme – helping you be more mindful about your behavior as well as more empathetic. Granted, the themes are more pronounced in some books than others. However, they can help you act more intentionally as well as more compassionately.

In no particular order, the five books are:

1.Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals by Susan Fowler. In this this refreshing, practical and illuminating book, Susan explains that motivation is a skill that we all can learn and even better master. Mastery comes when we recognize whether we’re responding to sub-optimal triggers or creating situations in which we are optimizing how we think, feel and act. Besides being aware of our values, we need to pay attention to our choices, connections and competence to help us optimize our motivation and performance. This is a great book for individual self-improvement as well as leaders who want to help motivate others in a high-quality manner.

2.Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD. The author who’s a Stanford University psychology professor and a recipient of a 2014 MacArthur “genius” grant describes the science behind racial bias while sharing relevant personal stories from all stages of her life. This combination makes the book thought-provoking as well as simultaneously unsettling and encouraging. Even though I’ve studied the neuroscience of bias, I learned so much. For example, Dr. Eberhardt described research that she and others have undertaken in which they added a racial twist to famous psychology studies. Even though the study participants had no conscious awareness of the racial implications now in the studies, they were still influenced by them and demonstrated bias.

3.The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki, PhD. This author is also a Stanford University psychology professor. He’s also the director the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory and one of the leading researchers on empathy. I’ve had the good fortune to hear him speak to one of my classes as well as at a couple of NeuroLeadership Summits. At the 2019 Summit in November, Jamil talked about how empathy is not a single trait or even a fixed trait, but instead is a suite of skills and habits that we can learn, practice, and strengthen through effort. In the book, he explains these skills in detail and also pushes readers to cultivate thinking for the longer term. While empathy is generally a skill you use in the present, Jamil encourages us to act empathetically for future generations to overcome the toxic cultural divisions that are growing in today’s society.

4.Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. If you bristle at the idea of becoming (or staying) a hyperspecialized guru who shouldn’t take time to follow all of your passions, this book is for you. The author encourages us to embrace all our inner Renaissance man/woman desires to spread our wings, learn many new things across different disciplines, and experiment. The stories he shares show how generalists who can connect random dots play important roles in all aspects of society. (For more about this book, check out my blog post Why and how to be a generalist in a wicked VUCA world.)

5.Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg, PhD. BJ’s long-awaited book is out December 31, 2019. I had the honor of reading the proofs this summer, thanks to my role as of one of BJ’s first graduates of his Tiny Habits Coaching Program and my work in the neuroscience of habits. Even if you’ve read one of the recent books on habits (such as James Clear’s Atomic Habits, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, or Wendy Wood’s Good Habits, Bad Habits), you owe it to yourself to read BJ’s Tiny Habits This assumes you want to build and sustain good, strong habits that will help you live a better life.

Tiny Habits is a how-to manual in which BJ concisely explains his recipe for learning the skill of building habits, jumpstarting behavior change, and sustaining good habits. The book also serves as a practical resource guide to BJ’s free five-day online program Tiny Habits for building small habits. (And his recipe for habits dovetails nicely with Susan Fowler’s book on motivation.)

In the eight years BJ has offered Tiny Habits, more than 60,000 individuals around the world have taken it. And many of us, including me, have found the experience life changing. (Check out my Forbes article from last year at this time, Don’t make resolutions; build habits instead.)

BJ, like Wendy Wood, is a scientist who writes well. As background, Wood’s new book explains the science of habit formations. (I wish she had written her book when I was researching the science of habits back in 2014. Instead, I labored through her scientific papers.)

By contrast, the authors Duhigg and Clear, who also learned about habits from BJ, and Duhigg are professional writers without deep knowledge about habits. Reading their books is like eating cotton candy; you’ll have a good time and get a sugar high but you won’t build understanding to guide you in your actions.

Besides being highly informative, all five of these books are engaging and entertaining. Just as impressive, the authors are grounded in reality yet hopeful for the future, which is inspiring.

Now let’s turn to you. What are you reading these days that you want to recommend?

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