All my life I’ve been obsessed with self-growth. Self-improvement. Self-help. Whatever you want to call it.
It always blew me away that I could upgrade my entire way of experiencing life just by opening a book.
Why wasn’t everyone devouring this shit?
I’ve read many books over the years that have had a huge impact on all areas of my life, such as health, productivity, business, and more.
But there are three books that rose above all others for me.
That have completely changed the course of my life.
And that I’m embarrassed to admit they did.
So without further ado, here are the three books, in chronological order. I’ll explain their impact, why I’m embarrassed of them, and my updated recommendations:
1) The Game by Neil Strauss
Ugh. I know, I know.
But picture this: 2nd year of college, I was that nice guy who was constantly being friend-zoned while everyone around me was dating with ease.
It may sound trivial, but I assure you, the resulting depression and pain was anything but.
I felt hopeless. Trapped. It felt like the problem was just ME. And there was nothing I could do about that.
I remember spending many nights that summer on the outskirts of campus, lying on the cold concrete, wondering why life had to be so fucking hard.
And then I found the unlikeliest savior in “The Game”: a book about a culture of nerdy guys who learn techniques and strategies to attract women.
It was borderline manipulative. And creepy.
But that cheesy book gave me hope that there was a way out of this hell.
It was the first time I realized that self-growth could even apply to things like social skills and undesirable personality traits. Things I thought were fixed and unchangeable.
I spent that summer experimenting and exploring a new me. I upgraded my style. Worked on my body language. How I carried myself. How I connected with others.
Basically, I learned how to stop acting like such a supplicating, needy guy. And I definitely over-compensated a bit, but it worked.
It actually worked.
For the first time in my life, I was getting noticed at parties. I began to have a very active dating life. Women stopped seeing me as “just a friend” – and guys actually wanted to be my friend.
The impact to my self-esteem and confidence was tremendous. The change opened up a world of experiences and relationships that I never had access to – and always assumed were for “other” guys, not me.
And instead of turning me into a fake asshole, it helped me realize that my “nice guy” act was actually the fake persona itself. A way of making myself small to gain approval from others.
Dropping that was one of the healthiest things I ever did.
But this change had a dark side to it as well.
The culture of picking up women felt inherently unhealthy to me. It trains you to become obsessed with social hierarchy. To completely base your self-worth on how others respond to you.
To view every human interaction as a game to win or gain from, rather then a goalless, present-moment exploration.
And yes, it does change how you view women. You begin to see them as status symbols, notches for your ego, stories you can use to impress others – and not as living, breathing human beings to relate with.
It helped me drop this fake “nice guy” persona, but also made me put on a fake “cool guy” persona that was built around puffing up my chest and impressing others.
And over the years, I learned that a lot of the flirting habits I had picked up were superficial. Shallow. And most definitely not authentic.
It led to a lot of superficial, shallow, and non-authentic dates and hook-ups. You reap what you sow, huh?
- Models by Mark Manson
This is the only book I’d recommend now to guys who want to become more attractive. It focuses on authenticity, honest communication, and self-growth instead of manipulation and shallow tricks.
It’s less about women and more about you – how to be your best self possible. A healthy and emotionally mature approach to dating.
- No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover
If you’ve ever complained about being the friend-zoned “nice guy”, you need to read this book.
It’s a psychological exploration of so-called “nice guys” and how their behavior is actually anything but nice. It’s self-serving, codependent behavior that is dishonest at it’s core. And this toxic behavior ends up repelling EVERYONE around you, not just women.
2) The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
I was 23. Fresh out of college. Freelancing as a filmmaker for non-profits.
Sure, I was my own boss, doing creative work, and making money.
But I was miserable.
I was working from home, editing videos all night and day. Completely isolated and stressed. Work, work, work. Sleep. Wake. Meet for drinks. Complain about work. Rinse. Repeat.
Good lord. Is this the working life? Is this how it’s gonna be for the rest of my days?
And then entered Tim Ferriss.
Now let me be clear, I think the guy can be a bit of a smug douche at times. At least he was in his first book.
But he also had a fresh, unique point of view that really struck a chord with me.
He flipped our culture’s entire obsession with work on it’s head. Why wait ’til retirement to live your dreams? Why glorify making money over freedom of time (the one truly precious resource that we can’t get back)? Why brag over who worked longer and harder?
Work smarter, not harder.
After reading The 4 Hour Workweek, it became dead clear to me that the traditional “work your ass off, ascend the corporate ladder, become a slave to money” path was not for me.
From that point on, I began evolving my business to meet this new vision.
I fully transitioned to animation so that my work could be location independent, allowing me to live and work from anywhere in the world.
And I changed my role to become more of a creative director – hiring freelancers and managing them rather then doing all the damn work myself, which freed up tons of time.
These changes allowed me to live a life that was completely on my own terms. I was free to follow my gut wherever it led, whether that was living in Kauai for a year, spending hours a day exploring spirituality, or moving into a 30-person mansion in SF.
What an amazing gift. And one I have to thank Tim Ferriss for.
As much as The 4 Hour Workweek has given me, it’s also caused a lot of issues.
Most people who idolize this book (and Tim Ferriss) are usually people I can’t stand being around now. Left-brained types who are only obsessed with efficiency, maximizing, and doing doing doing. Who see everything in life as a system that can be tweaked and taken advantage of.
That was definitely me when I was deep into this. And it left me feeling empty. Mechanical. All head, no heart.
Worse, this book breeds a lot of selfishness.
It encourages a mindset of cutting corners and doing whatever necessary to make your work as efficient as possible for YOU.
I became solely focused on myself – maximizing my profit, minimizing my free time – and not on contributing to others. Creating something I was proud of. Making the world a better place.
It also made me view work as only a hindrance, a drain on my time.
When you try to make something as maximally efficient as possible, you strip it of it’s heart and soul. You miss out on the beauty it can offer you if you slowed down and appreciated the process.
Ultimately, with the 4 Hour Workweek mentality, work still became a means to an end – but in this case, for more time rather than money – and I stopped finding the enjoyment in the work itself.
And worse still, the philosophy just swapped one mistaken, cookie-cutter dream (“work hard, ascend the ladder, retire and enjoy life”) for another (“travel the world, work from the beach, take salsa lessons”).
Neither was a true recipe for happiness and fulfillment. But both are sold as such. And as a result, both were ultimately misguided and unfulfilling.
- Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of a healthier, more balanced alternative to the Four Hour Workweek. If you find yourself interested in breaking out of your “80 hours a week to make money and do little else” prison, this is still the best book to inspire you.
But I recommend you read it with a dose of caution. Yes, it IS possible to create your own location independent business. And it IS possible to have a life that revolves around more time and freedom.
But having those things won’t ultimately make you happy or fulfilled. And leaning too hard into this mindset can actually do the opposite – make your life more self-serving, less meaningful, less connected.
There are no quick fixes for deeper fulfillment in life. No simple hacks. Not even from Tim Ferriss.
3) The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
I first opened this book in 2008. And immediately closed it.
It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Felt like gobbledygook bullshit to me.
And then 4 years later, at the lowest and most confusing point in my life, I picked it up again.
And it was like an entirely different book.
Every single word spoke deeply to me. I was highlighting line after line after line.
I had never read a book in this way before: half of the sentences I read didn’t make sense to me intellectually…but at the same time, I could feel it’s truth resonating deeply within me.
It was the first experience I’d had that my mind couldn’t grasp but my entire being could. It was the first time the word “spiritual” made sense to me.
From that point on, my journey completely changed. It turned inward. It became spiritual. And a whole new world opened up for me.
Life as I experience it now feels almost unrecognizable from how it was 5 years ago.
My existential angst has completely disappeared. My confusion has been replaced by an unshakeable trust in life. My mind has become quieter and quieter. 90% of my suffering has melted away. There’s a deep peace that’s constantly in the background, even during great pain and sadness.
I live less and less in an imagined future or past and more in the present. In reality. Here. Now.
And life becomes increasingly more peaceful, more joyous, and less dependent on external outcomes.
Honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing that the #1 most influential book I’ve ever read is recommended by frickin’ Oprah. It’s sold over 3 million copies and you’ll find it on nearly every “spiritual” person’s bookshelf.
I guess the hipster in me is annoyed at how mainstream it is.
But I’m also embarrassed because the book itself feels like a caricature of spirituality.
The author speaks in a nearly inaccessible, almost alien way that’s difficult to relate to. And if you listen to the audiobook, it’s even worse. Eckhart Tolle talks…like…this…and nearly comes across as inhuman.
Just try introducing this to someone who’s never dabbled in spirituality. Good luck.
But my real issue is not with the book or author – it’s with it’s readers (myself included).
The Power of Now points at a deep truth that many ancient wisdoms have been pointing towards for centuries. And a real state of peace that’s achievable by ordinary, everyday humans – not just reserved for The Buddha. It’s what I’ve spent the past 5 years doggedly exploring.
But most of us who read this book misinterpret what it’s saying. Our mind takes concepts like, “be present” or, “there is no past or future” and turns them into new tenets to live by. Another set of rules. Another religion.
Instead of becoming more free, we end up just reinforcing our ego-identity (but doing so in a way that FEELS more spiritual).
Technically, that’s not this book’s fault. This is an incredibly difficult topic to write about – using conceptual thinking to explain an experience that’s BEYOND conceptual thinking. It’s really, really difficult.
Basically, this book is an EXCELLENT introduction to the subject. But a poor guide to actually getting there.
And unfortunately, too many of us us put this book, and the author, on a pedestal. It’s as if it were the only word on “enlightenment”. As if it were a bible.
And as a result, many of us get stuck there. Instead of moving forward, going deeper, and getting closer to freedom…we end up spinning around in circles, thinking we’re making progress.
Honestly, I still haven’t come across a book that introduces this subject better than The Power of Now.
The way it’s written – to speak to a part of you that’s beyond the mind – can feel strange at first, but is an incredibly effective way to draw you into the water.
Just make sure this becomes the BEGINNING of your exploration, not the endpoint.
This book is not the be-all-end-all of this subject. It’s one of many books about non-duality – a subject that many great sages and ancient traditions have been exploring for a millennia. And one that neuroscience is now starting to corroborate and push forward.
After you read this book, I recommend you keep going. Keep exploring. But make sure you trust your intuition, your gut, and let that guide you – not your mind. Not what you THINK you should be exploring, or who SEEMS like the ultimate teacher. Those are just mind games.
Move towards the books, practices, and teachers that resonate with you. And move away from those that don’t. Rinse, repeat, keep going.
And if you want a neuroscientist’s exploration of this subject, check out Sam Harris’ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
Whatever you decide to explore, just know that this “spiritual awakening” that Eckhart Tolle talks about is real. It IS attainable by normal humans (although often much slower than one would like). And it’s very much worth pursuing.
But the path to get there will look different for every person. So listen to your inner intuition and keep going. Keep exploring.
Don’t get stuck.
So upon writing this, it’s becoming clear that a lot of my embarrassment stems from the fact that all 3 books are so mainstream. On everyone’s bookshelves. And kinda cheesy.
But MOST of my embarrassment has less to do with the books themselves, and more with how they affected my behavior.
Each of these books helped me pave entire new pathways. But upon looking back, they also had their pitfalls. Ones I wish I had been warned about.
But in some way, that’s just the path of growth.
If you’re truly growing, evolving and constantly going further, than you’ll always look back and be slightly embarrassed about where you used to be.
So with that in mind, I look back on these books with fondness. They’re reminders of my growth process. And reminders to stay humble, as there’s always more to learn. Further to go.
I’ll always be indebted and grateful to them.
Just don’t be surprised if they’re not proudly showcased on my bookshelf anytime soon.