First of all, let me tell you a secret:
If you're not constantly changing your life, then you're probably getting stagnant. I don't do New Year's Resolutions so much as I try to constantly improve myself. They say that if you start out walking in a straight line, you'll eventually veer off course, whether because the terrain gets bumpy or you have one leg that's longer than the other. Your brain is like that, too. If you're not constantly checking your goal and your path, you're going to end up in a different place than you're aiming for. Or, worse, you won't move at all. You'll just walk in circles and never get anywhere.
So although, over the years, many books have changed my life for the better, these are the three from 2014 that made the most difference:
1. The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
I own and love all of Tim's books, which center on hacking your life and body to live the life you want. Although a lot of this book isn't applicable-- I won't be starting my own business or hiring assistants from India-- there are some true gems in there about how to discover what's truly important to you, identify what's holding you back, and moving forward with agency instead of making excuses.
Another great takeaway: Deadlines affect how you see the work on your plate. A deadline that gives too much time exerts enormous pressure and makes the task expand to fill the available time. That's why having 9 days to write 25k for Follow Me Boy felt doable and energizing but 4 months to write STRIKE feels like a huge undertaking. Once you recognize that deadlines are kind of stupid and just start doing the work, the panic disintegrates.
If you're unhappy with your body and want to be healthier, try his The 4-Hour Body. If you want to learn how to cook some cool stuff, try The 4-Hour Chef. These are books that you need to own in hardcover form, dog-ear, write in, underline, and put on the table whenever you start to veer off course.
2. Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists
What if everything you wanted isn't actually what you want? That's the central question of this quick, lightbulb-moment read. Thing is, in 2014, my husband and I realized that we weren't happy in our big, suburban house in our busy suburban neighborhood. We felt trapped under a mountain of things, and yet we kept acquiring *more* things. We ended up donating or giving away half of what we owned and moving to the mountains. And six months later, stuff started piling up again, so I picked up this book for a reminder.
The current climate of America is that things will make you happy. Online shopping, a bigger TV, a nicer car, a bigger house. And yet no one is particularly happy, and the high of each new possession wears off quicker and quicker. Most people spend 40 years of their life working 8 hours a day just to keep up with the parade of things we think we want, and yet we all dream of more money, bigger houses, grander vacations... that still won't make us happy. If you're sick of stuff and a messy house and never feeling satisfied, this book can help you sort through why you think you want what you think you want... and how to find what will really make you happy.
Here's a hint: Experiences are worth more than stuff.
3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Okay, so you decide to get rid of a bunch of stuff. How do you decide what to get rid of, and how do you arrange what's left so that you don't accumulate more crap? This book seems deceptively simple, and there's a lot of page-filling fluff, but some of the major points are literally life-changing. When I read a self-help book, I often enjoy the "high" of wanting to make a difference and seeing what the general ideas are... and then fail to follow through. With this book, I took several of her action items, put them into action, and saw immediate results.
As a writer working from home, I spend a lot of my time dealing with other peoples' junk. And this book made me realize that there were certain areas of my house that feel like Bogs of Eternal Sadness. Places where junk accumulates, and no one claims it, and every time I walked by them, they made me feel crappy and snarled up. The day I started this book, I tackled two of these places and saw a huge change in my energy and attitude. As a writer, the space where I work affects my writing, and I really appreciate how decluttering my area helped give me the momentum and agency to attack my writing to-do list and deadlines.
Do you see a common thread here?
Less clutter, more quality.
Mentally, physically, emotionally.
One of my biggest pieces of writing advice is GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY. And it's kind of amazing when you pan back and realize that almost all of your problems are... you. You want to travel more? Figure out why your brain is making excuses for why you can't travel. Hate your job? Figure out why your brain is so scared to try something else. Your house is a mess? Ask your brain why it's holding on to so much unnecessary crap.
I'll never forget that day I whined to my husband that all I'd ever wanted in life was to ride horses, and he asked me why I wasn't riding horses. I mouth-vomited a ton of excuses--money, time away from the kids, too far to drive, I didn't have boots or a helmet. And he said, "If not now, when?"
It's become my rallying cry for things I want to do.
If you want to change your life in 2015, don't join a gym or promise to throw out one bag of trash from your junk room. Go all in. Do something drastic. Read these books and figure out how you're getting in your own way.
And then get out of your damn way.