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My Favorite Books on Habit and Behavior Change

My Favorite Books on Habit and Behavior Change

brain bookshelf

One of the greatest illusions I’ve had to overcome in my life is that I’m a rational human being. Sure I try to be, and sometimes I might succeed. But the more I’ve studied neuroscience and psychology, the more evidence I’ve seen that a ridiculously small number of human behaviors are a direct result of rational, critical thought.

Instead the vast majority of our behavior is directed by habits and heuristics, mental short cuts that prevent us from having to think too much, a perilously slow process that takes far too much effort to be useful in most everyday situations.

Of course that isn’t the way it seems to us as we go through our day. The conscious part of our brain is tremendously skilled at making meaning and reasons for everything we do and encounter, even if it isn’t privy to all the facts.

We come up with stories that jive with our beliefs and what we’ve experienced in the past. Everything that happens to us we view through this lens. To quote Anais Nin, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”

While our ability think quickly and make predictions is tremendously helpful in our day-to-day lives, it can also make us woefully blind to reality when our expectations are based on erroneous assumptions.

Facts are surprisingly easy for our conscious brains to ignore if they don’t play nicely with the stories our minds generate. The people voting against your favorite candidate are ignorant fools, right? Yet we’re always a little surprised when someone on the other side of the political aisle is actually a nice, thoughtful person.

Reality, especially when it comes to complex issues like another person’s behavior (or even our own behavior), is often more nuanced than our simplistic judgements can see.

Not only does this result in many incongruous situations––sometimes hilarious, sometimes deeply painful––it also makes it difficult for us to change our habits. When we hold on to one story about the world or about ourselves, it can make the path to change virtually invisible.

One thing I try to do here at Summer Tomato is reveal those irrational beliefs and help you change the stories that hold you back from making changes that can improve your life. These faulty beliefs come from many places, from the dieting industry (“No pain, no gain”), to our culture (“Beauty is thin”) to our families (“Food is love”).

I could write until I’m blue in the fingers explaining why restrictive dieting does more harm than good, or why processed foods are dangerous, or the benefits of eating more vegetables. But if you’re interpreting my words through one of the above lenses change will be nearly impossible.

Changing beliefs is hard, because we identify with them so strongly that we usually can’t see them. Over the years I’ve read a number of excellent books that have helped me understand this process and I want to share some of them with you today.

Awareness of how your mind works can help you identify with it less, and is one of the most powerful tools for freeing yourself from the illusion of your beliefs.

These are the books that have influenced my thinking on how our thoughts shape our actions, many of which I’ve read since writing Foodist. I’ve also included some of the classics in case you’re new to the subject.

I’ve grouped these into rough categories around topics such as habits, motivation, and happiness. If you think there’s a great book I’m missing here, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re curious about what else I like to read feel free to follow me on Goodreads (warning: I’m a little obsessed with sci-fi).

Habits

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard  by Chip Heath

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink

Beliefs

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal

Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By by Timothy Wilson

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Kristin Neff

Motivation

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister, John Tierney, Denis O’Hare

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar

Finding Your Way to Change: How the Power of Motivational Interviewing Can Reveal What You Want and Help You Get There by Allan Zuckoff, Bonnie Gorscak

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Super Better: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient -Powered by the Science of Games by Jane McGonigal

Happiness

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life  by Gretchen Rubin

Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Mind & Brain

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Olive Sacks

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy by Carl R. Rogers

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow

What books have influenced your beliefs?

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