Trying to be the best person and Dad I can be whilst helping others along the way. Lifestyle optimisation is about re-engineering your workouts, diet, finances, career and wardrobe to get maximum results with minimum effort - leaving you plenty of time to be a better husband and father.
Life hacking, once considered hip, new and cool has now been relegated to something far less quixotic and interesting.
These days it feels as though we’re all living in what is bascially survival mode, and what used to be a funky trick to give us a lift or advantage is now necessary to live a MVE (minimal viable existence).
Tim Ferriss is the high priest of hacking and, whilst I’d never say a bad word about him – considering him (as I do) my first ever Guru and general human compass – it feels like hacking for quick wins has been somewhat superceded by the need for longer term, deeper, fixes.
Which, ironically, is the crux of his message, citing the fact that of the “top performers” he interviews on his podcast, 80% have some kind of meditation or spiritual practise.
Given all of this, it might seem counter-intuitive that I now present a list of some of the current ‘hacks’ or fixes I’m deploying to keep me on an even keel, but I view these as life-enhancing habits rather than quick hacks or fixes.
1. Forest Bathing (aka walks in nature)
Forest bathing, or Shinrin Yoko, to give its proper name basically involves going for a walk in the woods.
It’s very soothing and if you look hard enough you see something new every time. #notsofitmutt and I walk the Enchanted Forest near my house most mornings and it’s one of the things I most look forward to each day.
2. News & Booze Detox
I’m trying to get off the phone so I’ve deleted my news apps in an attempt to minimize the potential distractions.
So far it’s not working but I’m in this for the long haul.
April is going to be a booze-free month on the back of the 50 days I miraculously managed last year. No more whiskey tastings, no more sundowner beers. No more wine…
Kirtan is a form of meditation that involves chanting various mantras in Sanskrit and a call-and-response type of fashion. I first did it on a family yoga retreat a couple of years ago, and I’ll be damned if it’s not fun, uplifting, euphoric and calming all at the same time.
To start with Kirtan can be a bit daunting so I’ve found it easier to fly solo rather than go with friends or, heaven forbid, on a date. If you can leave your ego at the door, though, and get into it, it will reward you.
4. Sound Baths / Meditation
If I’m not truly in a woo-woo mindset and aren’t in the form for Kirtan, gong sound baths are by no means a poor substitute. Same goes for a more “normal” meditation class or even a yin-yoga session with some mediation at the end.
You essentially lie on the floor on a yoga mat, cover your eyes with an eye-mask and your body with a blanket whilst the practitioner/s create an eclectic soundscape – ranging from ambient tranquility to whirling cacophany and everything in between – using various instruments and tools, usually gongs, Tibetan bowls, handpan drums.
Being able to switch of the phone and lie in stillness for an hour or two feels like the ultimate luxury these days.
Soundbath set-up – after the Pimp-My-Ride-style makeover
5. Trading Outside My Comfort Zone
For me, and I suspect I’m not alone, I generally spend most of my life playing it safe. To counter this, I’m making an effort to say yes to more ‘stuff’, especially if it challenges me.
Even better if it’s some kind of new skill development that makes my brain work. I’m trying to utilize my neuroplasticity, you see.
Last week I did a three-hour handstand workshop, for example. I was by far the worst hand-balancer in the room.
Did it matter? Not at all.
Did I improve? Of course I did.
Was it hard work? Yep, it was brutal on my wispy shoulders.
Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely.
6. Climbing Movies
Ever since I watched Valley Rising on Netflix I’ve become a little obsessed with climbing documentaries.
Then there’s Meru about Conrad Anker’s obsession with climbing the Shark’s Tooth route of Meru Fin in the Indian Himalayas. This was filmed by Jimmy Chin, who is no slouch himself when it comes to climbing, except he’s also filming and carrying all of his camera gear.
Next is The Dawn Wall which features Tommy Caldwell’s obsession with climbing not simply El Capitan in the Yosimate National Park, but the ‘Nose’ of El Capitan, something previously thought un-climb-able as a free-climb.
Tommy Caldwell on the Dawn Wall
And now there’s Free Solo in which Jimmy Chin (again) captures Alex Honnold’s gravity and death-defying climb up El Capitan, this time with no ropes whatsoever.
What these docos seem to be able to do (and this is largely governed by the material i.e. the climbers themselves) is weave together a story of the person and the climb.
They are at once inspiring, tense and deeply meditative.
Free Solo snagged the award for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars.
7. Reading Fiction
Listening to a ton of non-fiction in podcasts and audio books is great for learning new ideas and developing new skill-sets but it gets a bit much, especially if I’ve been in the car a while and am dosed up on the personal development / growth material.
What I crave in those situations is a story, a good ole fashioned yarn.
So, before bed I read anywhere between a few pages and good half an hour of a novel, whatever my energy levels dictate.
It’s a nice way to wind down and sometimes I barely finish a page before my eyes start drooping and I’m ready for lights out.
This is a highly personalised list and it’s certainly not exhaustive.
I could easily have added: being in the ocean; playing tennis; a glass of red wine; a few squares of dark chocolate (and not the entire block, nope, never…) to the list.
What makes these hacks so beneficial for me is that they: a) seem to work, b) are relatively low cost, and c) they all serve to make me feel better about myself.
It’s like a having a bespoke little Dr’s Briefcase of medicines that are proven to help me out when the going gets tough.
Definition: A startup incubator is a collaborative program designed to help new startups succeed. Incubators help entrepreneurs solve some of the problems commonly associated with running a startup by providing workspace, seed funding, mentoring, and training. The sole purpose of a startup incubator is to help entrepreneurs grow their business.
I recently spent some time sitting in on a start-up incubator for technology firms in the San Francisco Bay area.
This particular cohort of nine companies covered a range of financially related products and services, with the common thread being a requisite to use data as a tool to disrupt an area of financial services.
Here are some of the key messages I brought home with me.
1. No Fear Founders
I always think that if I had my own start-up, I’d constantly be in fear of getting found out. Which is why I’m not an entrepreneur.
If these guys are scared, they’re not showing it.
This can’t totally be an American thing, as I’d previously thought, because not everyone on the program was an American. There was European representation but, sadly, no Australian input in this group.
But where I’d be surely displaying nerves and jitters, there’s nothing but stone-cold focus and assuredness here.
It’s not really a question of ‘if’ the business will take off, but ‘when’.
2. Code Is King. Mostly.
During breaks or even during some of presentations, if a laptop flipped open, then there was an above average chance somebody was writing code.
Or, at least, I assume that was what they were doing because I CAN’T WRITE CODE and therefore assumed that was what they were up to.
It’s a view I’ve had for a while but has been reinforced during the week. Coding should be taught in the same way that arithmetic or reading is taught.
And yep, sure, I’ve done some basic coding in HTML or CSS for the blog, but, really, who can’t drop a Stripe line into a website? They basically do it for you.
Nope, it’s back-end coding that’s really needed, and it’s fair to say that if you’ve got this skill in your talent-stack your future suddenly looks a lot brighter. Like, infinitely brighter.
3. VC Gorillas
Presenters and experts came from start-ups, consulting firms, law firms, recruiters, but the one that both scared and excited me in equal measure was the venture capitalist (VC).
There’s probably some bias in this given that VCs have probably disposed consultants as the ‘Masters Of The Universe’ and I’m widely exposed to them in multiple areas of my life.
Maybe it’s the unsettling mix of being extremely personable (and often funny) blended with somebody who could be casually ruthless in dissecting your business or idea. It’s a strange and beguiling combo but one that leaves you in little doubt as to who the boss is.
Regardless, VC backing is the only real end-game in town and the mix of VCs at the cap table is critical. One founder revealed that he kicked out an investor at the eleventh-hour to make way for one of the bog VC fish. It’s that ruthless.
4. Thinking Big
The start-ups in this cohort are shooting for the stars and looking to solve massive problems.
The number of people without enough money in their bank account to cover the cost of a medical emergency, should it arise? No problem – let’s try and fix that.
The number of people hitting retirement age with insufficient funds to provide retirement income? Let’s see what we can do there.
These are just two examples and it’s emblematic that these are not new societal problems (these two examples are age-old), but that technology provides a conduit to fix them quickly and from a standing start through rapid scaling.
5. San Francisco And The Valley
San Francisco is perhaps the perfect modern city.
The buildings evoke an old-school air with the laddered fire -escapes and brownstones, a distinctly American grandeur somehow pervading on every corner. And yet, the sense of hurry driven by the digital landscape is impossible to ignore.
Salesforce.com, with its shiny new tower and takeover of an entire block & subway station leads the way in the city, and this stretches all the way down into the Valley where employees of Google and Apple are ferried to and from work in their fun-buses.
It’s a crazy and intoxicating blend.
6. Be A Sponge
The start-ups present were exactly that: present.
These were long days (and nights) and yet the attention and intensity remained consistent throughout the week.
More importantly, despite the huge amounts of information being imparted the questions never let up as more and more information was sought. What worked, what failed, how to scale and retain a culture…the list goes on. These guys weren’t going to die wondering, put it that way.
This was a hectic week, full of insights and inspiration.
I came away with a galvanised sense of respect, envy and admiration for these founders. Allied to this, my hitherto superficial understanding of the Silicon Valley eco-system, which was largely formed from listening to Tim Ferriss podcasts, now has a much more acute frame of reference.
All that’s left is to work out which one of these is going to be the next unicorn and chuck some investment dollars their way.
A recent post detailed the tactics I was going to employ in an attempt to shed a little extra timber that I’d accrued post-shoulder-surgery in August.
It was my own little ‘6 Week Challenge,’ tracking what I’d optimistically described as a journey from ‘Super Fat’ to ‘Super Fit,’ both terms being fairly relative.
Well, employ them I did, and here, somewhat belatedly, are the fruits of that labour.
Please do bear in mind, however, that fruit can be rotten to the core as well as sweet and juicy and delicious. The results were by no means a foregone conclusion.
A little reminder, if you will.
Post-surgery, my bodyweight had risen to 87kg, which for a skinny, hard-gainer like myself whose bodily ambitions as a boy were no grander than to fill out the sleeves of a ‘schmedium’ t-shirt, was pretty chunky.
Worse was the accumulation of rubber around the middle, the onset of little love-handles that hitherto had been totally absent.
I knew the time had come to act.
Super Fit Kid looking great. Super Fit Dad not looking quite so fit.
The prescription was pretty basic. No meal-plans, no expensive gym memberships.
Use HiiT workouts to improve ‘General Physical Preparedness’ to a reasonable level
Attend weekly sprint class
Teach a few bootcamp sessions to “ease back” into more training volume
Weighted hill walks for additional fat-burning (wearing my 10kg Aldi weight-vest)
Quit alcohol for 50 days
Get back to Crossfit*
*CrossFit isn’t particularly cheap but, having tested a lot of training modalities, it is probably the best bang-for-buck workout around. Here’s the post detailing my attempt at 3 CrossFit sessions in one day.
Whilst not as accurate as a Dexa scan, the Evolt 360 ‘Intelligent Bioscan’ seemed to give an good enough picture of where I was at the start and, importantly, would at least give the same integrity of measurements at the end.
In short, I’d be comparing my progress using the same machine which should, at least, give a fair measurement.
So…how did we go?
Bodyweight (kg) before: 87.3 after: 84.9
Body fat % before: 15.1 after: 11.6
Skeletal muscle mass (kg) before: 41.4 after: 42.8
Visceral fat level* before: 9 after: 6
*this is the deep abdominal fat that surrounds your organs. Too much of this can lead to diabetes, heart disease, insulin resistance and inflammation. In short, it is NOT your friend.
The results don’t lie.
This experiment was largely successful. All major metrics tracked as I’d hoped.
I leaned up, maintained size & overhauled my fitness to a pretty hectic level.
The biggest victory, though, was learning that I could take a fairly chunky amount of time off the booze. 50 days during the run-up to Christmas, the so-called Silly Season, was not without its challenges but felt pretty good.
What it really enabled me to do, and I’ve never really experimented with this before, was ‘bounce back’ every day to the extent that I could perform multiple workouts per day without becoming overly fatigued or fried, which has happened often in the past.
I put this singularly down to abstaining from alcohol, and not withstanding the other benefits from laying of the turps (detailed here), the ability to recovery for multiple daily workouts is a good enough reason to remain abstemious.
Onto the next experiment.
Note: the guy in the main photo is not me post-challenge. It’s Steve Cook, a fitness model and vlogger from the US, who is not only jacked as hell but seems a pretty decent chap. Let’s hope he doesn’t sue me for using this image.
This might not seem like much but for me, as a borderline professional wine drinker, this was a stretch.
You see, the ole fermented grape-juice has been a part of my adult life for a long as I remember.
First as a poor, aspiring writer returning to an empty apartment in Nottingham (after a year in Australia) with no friends and plenty of time on my hands, I leant on the wine as I poured my soul and creative heft into the first draft of a vaguely autobiographical novel. I made 90,000 words before realising that my meagre skills lay elsewhere.
Moving back to Australia in 2010, I quickly found good company in wine, women and song, some of which ended up in marriage and fatherhood, neither of which being particularly terrible, although not without their challenges.
I think there’s a reasonable conversation to be had around wine being the modern-day ‘Mother’s Ruin’ (which is the name given to gin and the five o’clock tipple that used to be a daily occurrence in many households) – a low-level sedative that keeps us all in check. But now’s not the time, my friends.
Which brings me back to today.
A fairly indulgent period, out of which not much good came, I decided to ditch the drink for a while and see how I went.
The outcome of this experiment? Not as bad as you’d think. Here’s what I learnt.
During my sans-grog period I trained like a demon, at one point doing three CrossFit classes in one day.
That I was able to do this and actually pull up reasonably well with minimal soreness the next day must be, in some way, attributed to the lack of booze. I simply don’t think I could have done this otherwise.
As the years advance, the hangovers become more punishing and bounce-backability is crucial so, for me, a drastic reduction in consumption or possibly total abstinence is the way ahead.
No Bad Decisions
Alcohol lowers your inhibitions. Which means that if you’re a total seed you can get into some scrapes.
Personal, professional, romantic, domestic…the list goes on. Being off the the grog removes this dilemma and paves the way for more consistent behaviour (see below).
A Clear Head
Linked to #1, this is a major benefit.
No moments of regret. No waking up wondering where you are or what mischief you got up to last night.
Also, better all-round decision-making leads, somewhat miraculously, to better all-round decisions. If you’re in the midst of a tumultuous time, this becomes a key weapon in your arsenal.
There’s no doubt about it. Not drinking makes you feel quite smug, especially if you can hold a hard line while others are getting mortal.
My sobriety period included the Melbourne Cup and the Silly (Christmas) Season which was challenging, but actually gave a stern test and strengthened my resolve in certain circumstances.
Multiple Christmas parties in a single evening, where most other participants are oscillating between fine merryment and downright obnoxiousness, brings your sobriety into later-focus quicker than you can say “kiss under mistletoe.”
Driving Miss Daisy
One of the main benefits I found with being stone-cold sober was that I could drive everywhere. Bars, restaurants, dinners, parties…I was the designated driver par excellence.
Whilst this could be frustrating at times in terms of a little SOMO (sadness at missing out), it was great to be able to arrange things on a dime, offer up a little extra service to those I like hanging out with and remove (temporarily) an issues with Uber drivers getting lost. It is also a fairly cheap way to travel.
This worked for me, mostly.
I could get used to the constant clear head, the ability to recover quickly & train hard, and the all-round benefits in terms of weight-loss, vitality and fresh-facedness.
On the flip-side, one of my greatest pleasures / weaknesses is fine-dining and I don’t know if I have the fortitude to do it without the wine, which is, for me at least, such a fundamental component of the whole experience.
Standing on the scales, the signs were ominous. 87, 88, 89kg…the numbers were rising by the week.
Normally this could be considered progress of the positive kind. These were the kind of numbers I’ve been straining for since I first laid eyes on a dumbbell. The sort of numbers that I’d only dreamed of as a skinny teenager when my only life goals were to fill the arms of a medium t-shirt.
But now, Houston, we have a problem. A flipping, great big problem.
The problem was not so much the weight but my shape.
Instead of being a jacked-and-juicy 89kg – you know, the sort of shape a back-row rugby union player is, or, perhaps, possessing the wiry musculature of a race-horse-fit Aussie-rules player – I was now in altogether more terrifying territory.
Additionally, some seedy kids I’d been knocking around with had taking to calling me ‘Super Fat Dad’, a crime for which they were severely disciplined (no more ice cream for 20 minutes).
To be clear, it wasn’t a complete disaster.
It was simply that there were now lumps & curves where previously there’d been none. A little extra visceral fat on the hips, spilling over the waistband of my newly-tight jeans. Hitherto, visible abdominals were now hidden behind a modest paunch.
All fairly standard Dadbod stuff, the accoutrements of age and an expense-account diet.
In short, I looked like ‘before’ photo of an 8-Week Challenge winner – the one in which you try to look as bad as possible to ensure that the transformation has maximum visual effect.
I’ve nothing against this practice, by the way. It’s the standard within the ‘Challenge’ industry and, in fact, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures are usually just one metric that determines the winner, and is one that provides enormous incentive along the journey for the participant.
But it was new to me and I hadn’t seen it coming.
Perhaps I should’ve done. A confluence of events led to this point but when life blurs into an amorphous mess (as it tends to, from time to time) sometimes it’s hard to see what’s really going on.
Specifically, in my case, it was:
broken hand in June
shoulder surgery in August (but injured badly from March until August)
rehab through September / October
work conference season in October / November = eating and drinking. A lot.
Realising I needed to take some action to get back into fighting-weight range, here’s what I did.
1. Gave Up Alcohol
A bizarre choice and something I’ve never truly considered or attempted before, but the timing was right on so many levels. The aim was to get to a month or the end of the challenge.
2. Taught Some Bootcamp
Covering some classes for a friend did a couple of things.
It got me back in the habit of getting up at 5am which serves a few different purposes, not least making you very tired by 9pm.
It’s also really hard to teach bootcamp classes without doing at least a smidgen of work yourself, either during the demos or partnering up with someone in the class. I’d generally do around 40% of the work which would serve as a handy early morning fat-burner and a decent little warm-up for my own training later on.
3. Weighted Walks
Whenever my motivation waned and I didn’t fancy a full-bore workout, or even as a morning ‘tonic’ before I’d fully woken up, I’d grab my 10kg weight-vest, stick on some Audible or a podcast and get out the door for a 30-40 minute walk around the neighbourhood, sometimes affectionately known as the ‘Coogee Rollercoaster’.
I’d like to say that such a walk is a breeze and you barely notice you’re working hard…but I can’t.
The hills and the steps wake you right up…but…you do feel pretty good about yourself when the ‘walk’ is over.
4. Sprint Classes
Instead of church on a Sunday morning, I started attending Brian’s sprint classes down at the local cricket oval.
It’s a family affair and Brian is something of a local legend. He’s also pretty adept at putting together a savage speed session, complete with a warm-up that gets you hotter than a pig on a spit.
After 5 x 250m and 3 x 80m, you’re turned into a fat-burning furnace for the rest of the day.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you want the best results with the lowest dose of work as an aging guy, then sprinting and lifting heavy is what you need.
5. HIIT Classes – F45 and Titan
I was in the gym a lot, post-surgery.
Trying to rebuild the engine, burn off some a little extra padding that I’d accrued and generally get back in shape.
But the workouts weren’t having the desired effect. They were too short, not intense enough to counteract what else was happening in my life (a lot of work events and associated socialising).
In short, I needed a push.
So I jumped into fairly regular HIIT classes, either at my local gym or at the F45 I used to teach at.
I really rate HIIT sessions and these were humbling to begin with. In fact, they remained humbling as my fitness levels increased and a began to push myself harder. I generally hate every single minute of every single HIIT class.
But that’s the rub, right. You’re secretly loving it at the same time.
Anyhow, at 4pm on Melbourne Cup day I was in a HIIT class, wishing I was anywhere but there. And yet secretly delighted that I was there and not anywhere else.
When the fitness was getting back to reasonable levels but other things were going awry, I decided it was time to call in the heavy artillery.
CrossFit has saved my bacon a few times before and this was truly no exception.
The first session back hit me like a baseball bat around the head (and body). But slowly, with each passing day, I was getting stronger and more resilient, the workouts seeming slightly more like old friends rather than hateful foes whose sole purpose seemed to be to break my spirit.
I still can’t do some of the movements, and my shoulder surgery meant that ‘handstand push-ups’ became ‘on the knee push-ups’, much to the mirth of coach and my fellow ‘victims’ in the class.
But CrossFit really pushes me in a way that other classes don’t and I’m keen to see the progress continue.
With this protocol locked down it was time to put in the work and trust the process.
The results are now in so I’ll dive into them in a post or two.
I went to the early morning class knowing that I had a big work day ahead, including a work Christmas luncheon. It was Thursday.
I’d done a double-session on Monday, a single Tuesday and Wednesday, and every weekday the preceding week.
Prior to this I’d done precisely zero CrossFit classes in the past year, possibly two years. Yet I was feeling good and really enjoying the training. And the beatdowns.
Here’s how it panned out.
It was a steamy day and the stretching had me beading up with perspiration. By the end of of the 6 minute core workout I was dotting the floor with sweat – always a good sign.
The strength component of the workout was a really fun mix of stuff I like. I used the first couple of sets to tune up my back, which has been super-gippy of late. The belt was on standby but I muddled through without it and kept a ‘normal’ grip throughout.
The WOD (workout of the day) was done with a partner and, again, was pretty enjoyable. My post-surgery shoulder made the pull-ups extremely slow and ugly. By the end I was doing doubles or triples to get through them.
Sweaty high-fives and cuddles all around, but only because I picked the best partner.
6 minute core warm-up
10 x deadlifts @ 90kg
10 x KB row @ 24kg
10 x bicep curls @ 10kg
x 4 rounds for 16 mins
30 hurdle hops
x 5 rounds
Having remained abstinent throughout a boozy business lunch, as my associates enjoyed a silky bottle of Cotes Du Rhone and a between-courses palate-cleanser called “Le Colonel”, I stayed true to course and hit the early evening class.
I was due to meet my pal, Skinny Roche, for the class but he got delayed and couldn’t make it.
Again, the core warm-up got the better of me and made me realise just how underdeveloped I am here. Probably need to get back to yoga, even just once a week.
I varied the exercises in the strength workout and chucked in some hang-power-cleans, another old favourite, although they could probably be more accurately classed as reverse-bicep-power-curls. Whatever the name, they were pretty gassy at the higher numbers on each round.
For the WOD I mixed in some double-unders and some ring-rows. Double-unders are awesome but work you over. The ring-rows simply replaced pull-ups because I knew I was done on them.
A little fatigue crept in but the row and double-unders give you a chance to really grind it out so this was a blast.
This time I varied some of the exercises.
6 minute core warm-up
10 x hang power cleans @ 60kg
10 x dumbbell row @ 25kg
10 x bicep curls @ 12.5kg
x 4 rounds for 16 mins
x 5 rounds
Skinny Roche finally turned up for the next session and so instead of grabbing my bag and sloping out the door, I joined in the warm-up for a stretch and carried on, as much for the chat as anything else.
Skinny’s one of those chaps whose normal conversation sounds like a hilarious story so it was fairly easy. We goofed around with the core stuff as my back was firing up a little.
For the work, I went back to the deadlift but dialled in the weight a bit. Actually, I did the same with the rows and the bicep curls but tried to keep focused on solid form, especially the DLs.
In the WOD, I stuck to ring rows and went back to the hurdle hops. After 13 minutes it was over and I felt ever so slightly smashed. Still plenty of energy for a photo with coach who had given me a nudge to get me over the line.
6 minute core warm-up
10 x deadlift @ 80kg
10 x KB rows @ 16 kg
10 x bicep curls @ 10 kg
x 4 rounds for 16 mins
15 ring row
30 hurdle hops
x 5 rounds
To be honest, I’d never even considered a double-Crossfit session until this week.
I’d previously done some pretty solid running sessions at lunchtimes and then gone to Crossfit in the evening, but, from memory, that didn’t usually end well.
But, like anything, it’s the starting and head-talk that’s the biggest obstacle. Once you overcome these and begin the workout (which, let’s face it, isn’t really work, it’s more like play) it becomes easier to keep going than it does to stop.
Once the third session started, and the ego and adrenalin kicks in, it’s just another 50 minutes of work / play to complete. Easy days.
Last week’s list of My Top 10 Books Of The Year or, more appropriately: ‘books I’ve read & enjoyed this year that that may enhance your life, too’ covered many of the big hits of the year and some old classics. Very few surprises.
The one that virtually everyone seems to have read (or ‘consumed’, for the digital-only natives out there) is 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson. This strikes me as both surprising and unsurprising. Unsurprising because it’s a book that will resonate deeply with people who look at the world in a little more detail, especially in today’s social & political washing-machine. Surprising because it’s a challenging book and does, indeed, look at the world in a deeper way.
In some ways Peterson is a modern day messiah: I’ve never heard him say anything (in interviews, podcasts etc) that doesn’t make perfect sense. He’s bringing his speaking tour to Sydney in 2019 – it’s been sold out for a while.
Anyhow, my original list stretched beyond a mere ‘Top 10 Books Of The Year’ so I had to write about my other big hits of the year, those that are, perhaps, a little further to the left of center.
As before there is a mix of fiction, business, personal development & social-psychology to keep things varied. Equally, as before, it’s business & growth during the day and fiction before bed.
Here’s the rest of the list.
11. Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? – Louis Gerstner
The turnaround presided over by Lou Gerstner at IBM is one of the most compelling stories in American, or world, for that matter, business.
When he took over as CEO in 1993, the company posted an $8 billion loss, and IBM shares that had sold for $43 in 1987 could be had for $12.
IBM’s “prospects for survival are very bleak,” wrote the authors of the book Computer Wars. The Economist doubted whether “a company of IBM’s size, however organized, can ever react quickly enough to compete.” And Larry Ellison of Oracle commented: “IBM? We don’t even think about those guys anymore. They’re not dead, but they’re irrelevant.”
Of course, Gerstner steadied the ship and turned it back into a powerhouse, in large part due to changing the prevailing culture that was, in equal parts, entitled, complacent and based heavily on tenure as opposed to performance.
12. Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
This is essentially a heart-warming novel about loneliness.
The fact that it is the debut novel from Gail Honeyman which is astonishing. In a very good way. The protagonist is cut from the same complex cloth as Don in The Rosie Project, an equally heart-warming fable about “uniqueness”, friendship and love.
It is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and hilariously funny. And quite dark in parts, too. Reese Witherspoon has bought the film rights to the book and debates rage within my pseudo-literary circles about who will play our heroine.
13. Breathe – Dan Brule
Breathing is, like, so hot right now.
Wim Hof (aka The Iceman) is responsible for much of this; his death-defying exploits in the cold, his beyond-charismatic persona, and his sold-out breathwork events around the world are increasing awareness to a massive degree.
And there are plenty of other methods and teachers with tons to share about the benefits of something so innate and readily available. [Those benefits, by the way, include reduced stress, less depression, greater productivity, better sleep, the list goes on].
Dan Brule is at the forefront of this and with this book he gives a whistle-stop tour of the various modalities and exercises that can be practically applied to your everyday life, as well as some cracking stories about his teachers and inspirations.
If you need to be more calm and present, there’s a good chance that you can achieve something towards this by breathing with intention.
14. The Righteous Mind – Why Good People Are Divided By Politics & Religion – Jonathan Haidt
Want to know why normally rational and semi-intelligent people act like such idiots on social media sometimes?
Or curious as to why Donald Trump won the Presidential election in the US.
Or why someone asks for opinions or makes a statement on Facebook, yet abuses anyone who has the temerity to disagree with them?
This book will explain it all with absolute clarity and demonstrate how the findings are backed up by the data.
15. Coming Alive – Barry Michels & Phil Stutz
Psychiatrists to the stars in Hollywood, I stumbled across Barry Michels on a James Altucher podcast, thought he made a lot of sense and, on a whim, ordered this book on Audible.
Their approach to breaking down amorphous issues into manageable chunks and proffering insights and tools to work through them makes great sense and are fairly easy to apply.
16. How To Stop Time – Matt Haig
Matt Haig wrote a book about his battle with depression called ‘How To Stay Alive’ which I’ve written about previously.
He’s written plenty of books before and since, but this one caught my eye at an airport and within a few minutes of the plane taking off I was hooked.
Without providing too much spoiler, we join Tom Hazard as he zips through different time periods, from the late 1500s to the present day, doing his best to hide a tragic secret. The quality of the historical writing is exceptional, each period feels completely authentic. It might be mostly made up, of course, but there’s something in the writing that makes that seem unlikely. To me, anyway.
17. The 48 Laws Of Human Nature – Robert Green
Robert Green is an interesting cat.
His first book ‘The 48 Laws Of Power’ was published at the age of 39 and has sold over 1m copies. Featuring various strategies to gain power & advantage and win negotiations, each illustrated with detailed examples from history, it has become widely used, if not widely regarded.
This book follows a similar pattern, except the theme is more about better understanding the inner workings of our psyche to better ourselves, rather than create unfair advantages.
As with Sex At Dawn from last week’s post #7 this book will provide countless ‘aha’ moments whereupon things you always thought about yourself, but couldn’t quite define, are revealed to be perfectly explainable and fairly common.
As with a couple of others on the list, there’s a reasonable argument for making books such as this mandatory life-reading.
So there we have it my 17 top reads of the year. Plenty of laughs, plenty of sadness and plenty of learning. And still a few weeks to go.
It doesn’t especially feel that way, but when I review the list and then consider those books that either weren’t finished or didn’t make the cut, it seems I was mistaken. It’s all relative, of course.
The other thing worth noting is the admission that I haven’t actually, technically ‘read’ all of these books. Some (a good chunk of them, actually) have been – and please don’t hate me for this – ‘consumed’. By that, I mean listened to in talking-book format on Audible, which is easily the best $15 I spend per month.
Talking about ‘consuming’ books will, doubtless, become a thing, if it’s not already. But, shoot me now if I ever go down that route to w*nkerism (if it’s not already too late), so for the purposes of this post we’ll be talking about good old-fashioned ‘reading’, like your Grandpa used to do. Unless he was illiterate. In which case, he did something else instead.
As a practice, though, ‘reading’ on the move gives me between forty minutes and two hours per day of book-time that I’d otherwise miss out on. Even if only half of that information goes into my tiny brain, I’m still in credit to the tune of an hour a day.
It tends to be non-fiction during these times and fiction at night before bed, when the brain is at capacity and just wants a little story to close out the day.
Anyhow, enough of the jibber-jabber. You know how to read, I presume, so onto the books.
1. The Hero With A Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
This is a dense, heavy tome that requires some serious concentration. Yet, for those that persevere, a whole new understanding of the order of history and beliefs will emerge.
The central tenet of the book is that, irrespective of religion or belief system, the historical stories that provide the fabric and foundation of our beliefs today all run along a similar (or identical) narrative arc.
And this singular plotline weaves itself into our own lives, too.
2. Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari
Follow up to the wildly successful, Sapiens, this time Harari is not so much concerned with where we came from but where we are going.
It’s essentially an extremely thorough, yet still accessible, dissection of the ongoing humans versus AI debate; will humans be rendered obsolete by algorithms and data-rich robots.
The answer may surprise you.
These are big topics being chewed up and spat out for our perusal by, probably, one of the brightest minds around. It’s definitely worth jumping on board this train now.
3. 10% Happier – Dan Harris
Dan Harris is a newsreader who had a panic attack live on air in the US.
At the time he was a gung-ho, hard-charging, hard-partying buck. This is his story of redemption, his own hero’s journey, if you will.
His unlikely saviour is meditation, and along the way we’re introduced to luminaries of the scene such as Joseph Goldman, Sharon Saltzberg, Tara Brach and the much-vaunted Spirit Rock retreat, where Harris goes to complete his first 10-day silent meditation.
What makes this book great is that, by his own admission, Harris is the original fidgety sceptic. He’s judgmental and generally thinks anything vaguely woo-woo is a load of bollocks.
His shifts as he learns to open up and embrace the benefits are honest and refreshing, and by making this part self-help guide and part autobiography, he deftly avoids ending up in the wrong section of the book shop
4. The Course Of Love – Alain De Botton
I read this book and immediately thought: this guys is talking about me, so strongly does it resonate and touch the very core of your heart.
Never mind that De Botton is quite possibly the world’s poshest person and certainly the world’s poshest philosopher, and he and I have (at surface level) absolutely nothing in common.
With several philosophy best-sellers and one fiction novel under his belt, this isn’t his first rodeo, and yet this book somehow tunes into everything that someone of my vintage and experience seems likely to have felt before. All with the accuracy of a homing missile directed at your heart.
5. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos – Jordan B. Petersen
On reflection, this book strikes me almost as an almalgamation of #1 & #2, tying in high-brow complexity with a mythological narrative, woven together in a (vaguely) simple wrapper that even a layman like me can grasp.
Make no mistake, there is some seriously intellectual heft behind this and the central themes could be deemed confronting in today’s hyper-positive society. But it’s this grit and realness that make it such a tour de force.
Books like this should be made compulsory reading in schools but I don’t think they’d allow it.
6. Own The Day – Aubrey Marcus
Aubrey Marcus has a supplements company called Onnit. He also has a podcast that I’ve dipped into quite a lot this year.
Through this podcast, I’ve learned that he is a spiritual guy, he’s very experienced in plant-based psychedelic drugs and their medical benefits (which is all the rage right now anyway) and he’s in an open relationship with his girlfriend (which is probably the holy grail for most chaps yet only, as he points out, if the door is only actually open in one direction).
He seems to be a divisive character with even my most bio-hacking leaning mates not dead-set on his authenticity, which I think is harsh but sort of get where they’re coming from. I can’t explain it, so I won’t try to.
Anyhow, this book which grandly purports to be about “human optimization” essentially provides bio-hacking tips for every hour of the day, your perfect 24 hours of physical, mental, spiritual and sexual health.
It’s nothing new, especially if you’re familiar with The 4 Hour Body. But as a refreshed refresher course with some decent science tossed in, it’s a solid addition to the library. If you’re just getting into the bio-hacking and health stuff, it will provide a lot of new information.
7. Sex At Dawn – Cacilda Jetha & Christopher Ryan
This book will BLOW your mind.
It will tell you stuff you always sort of knew about regarding sex, relationships and why you are the way you are, but didn’t exactly realise it.
Or, more to the point, you couldn’t quite explain it. Or were simply too scared to try.
In much the same vein, I can’t quite seem to do it justice here. Suffice to say, if you only read one book on this list, there’s a compelling case to make it this one.
8. Maestre – L.S. Hilton
This is an x-rated thriller featuring yachts, high-end art and a bad-ass femme fatale. What’s not to love?
I’m sure literary critics hate it, but for a mindless page-turning romp with plenty a kinky action, I thought it was great. There’s a movie in the offing, too.
9. Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
That Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry have both written their own incantations of the mythical realm is more than a coincidence. That they each focused on a different strand is lucky, for both us and them.
You can almost imagine them flipping a coin to see who got what.
As it is, Gaiman reads his interpretation of tales of Nordic Vikings and elves in his usual mischievous, impish way. Many of the stories are new to me, others I may have heard before.
10. Mythos – Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry reads his versions of the stories of the Greek Gods with so much relish, it’s clearly not work to him. As is his want, he piles on the pomposity, especially as the Gods get more feisty, rambunctious and downright frisky.
It’s a right old hoot, like sneaking into a history lesson with the teacher you always wish you had but never did (sorry Mr Denham).
A solid line-up delivered by a world-class cast, I’m sure you’ll agree. Apart from the trashy sex / murder / art novel that (just about) takes the fiction tally to two.
Although I’m reasonably sure The Course Of Love is actually more autobiographical that fiction.