3 Books That Made Me a Better and Braver Human

Here are the lessons that stuck and got me unstuck

Margie Reece
On My Best Behavior

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Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

I read more nonfiction than fiction last year. When I think about all the beautiful stories I missed, I can’t decide if I am happy about that.

I do think it’s telling about my state of mind though — it was a seeking year for me rather than escaping.

What was I seeking?

I was looking for hope, inspiration, guidance and real strategies to improve my life and move myself forward. I love a good novel, but it’s more likely to keep me on the couch than make me the hero of my own story.

I wasn’t looking for mentors, per se, but I found three in these books. In fact, the first two authors got me to the point that I hit “Publish” on a website that I built myself around ideas that I am excited to share.

I was trembling all over in that moment, but thanks to Tommy and Jon, I didn’t feel crazy or alone.

1. The 1% Rule by Tommy Baker

The full title, “The 1% Rule: How to Fall in Love with the Process and Achieve Your Wildest Dreams,” gave me a touch of hyperbole flu. I wondered if it would be just another self-help book that grabbed my interest briefly but didn’t deliver on the promise, or more accurately, didn’t inspire me enough to actually act on the advice.

But once I got into Tommy’s book, I found that while the subtitle is pie-in-the-sky, his techniques are all grounded in practical and steady progress. It felt realistic and relevant to my life.

There were times I felt like he was coaching me specifically — addressing my deep insecurities and dilemmas. Like an eager student, I took notes — something I rarely do while reading, but I didn’t want to forget these lessons. Even more important, I started to act on them daily.

Here are a few highlights from my notes. Some are Tommy’s words. Some are my interpretation.

· The 1% rule is about persistent and consistent progress. Execute — no matter how you feel!

· Take relentless action. · Ask: “What can I execute on right now?”

· The journey is the win. If you earn it through effort and hard work, it will be more highly valued.

· Find the meaning in what you’re doing.

· Do you want it bad enough? Truly. Deeply. Authentically.

· Practice [consistency] + Persistence [focus] + Endurance [time] = success.

· Be hyper-specific. Be intentional. Connect to your vision. Create momentum.

· Go from wishing → planning → executing.

· Be OK with, even embrace, the pain, suck, rejection and struggle. Lean into it. Laugh at it. Smile at it. See it as a sign of growth.

· Your pain contains a gift. Use it to eliminate distraction, to bring clarity and to be fully present.

· Avoid comparison. Let others’ success be a reflection of what you’re capable of — living proof.

2. Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

Let me start by saying, I know Jon. Well, not like I know him in real life, but I follow him on Instagram, which means I know a weirdly vast amount of info about him from his food preferences to how much his family’s pet lovebird weighs. I am not a stalker — and if I were, I wouldn’t pick Jon. He’s witty and smart, but he’s also a Patriots fan. Enough said.

Now to his book and how it helped me. In “Finish,” Jon touches on some of the same themes as Tommy — and because I thought the notes were so valuable for “The 1% Rule,” I used that technique again.

Now months later, I am happy that I can see, in my own scribbly hand, the messages from “Finish” that resonated with me. Overall, it was Jon’s relentless plea to abandon perfection that moved me forward the most — and is probably why I am writing this today. I work as an editor, but I’d never written a personal blog post before I read this book.

Here’s more on what spoke to me. Again, some are my buddy Jon’s words and some are me paraphrasing.

· Let go of perfect. The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you’ll accomplish your goal.

· Cut your goal in half or double your timeline.

· Decide what to bomb in your life. What’s not serving you? … Like too much time on social media, Margie.

· Make it FUN if you want it done! On a scale of 1–10 how fun is your goal? (This was HUGE for me. When I decided to just have fun writing and not worry about the outcome, it went for intimidating work to joyful play.)

· Ask yourself: Are you hiding in places … with obvious time wasters, doing tasks that don’t contribute to your goal?

· Replace your secret rules. I can’t do it. People will make fun of me.

· Data over denial. Track your progress and habits so you can see how you’re doing.

· Push through the day before done. What are you getting out of not finishing? What are you afraid of? The fear of not being perfect keeps you home. Traps you on the couch.

The day I published my first blog post, I did my own touchdown dance. It wasn’t pretty, and I knew my site and writing weren’t perfect, but I celebrated that I was bold enough to put it into the world. And I wasn’t finished at all — it was the beginning of repeating the process with each new post.

Thanks to these two books, I am enjoying the creative process, happily cohabiting with my imperfection (she’s kind of quirky and fun) and putting myself out there more and more. Just look, here I am now.

3. Atomic Habits by James Clear

On my blog, I often write about habits as they apply to personal productivity around the home, specifically how to make chores more fun. That’s why in the fall of 2018 I was anxious to jump into James’s book. I thought he’d give me blog post ideas — and he did, but more that that his strategies inspired me to hack and improve myself.

Recently, I started using his habit journal to track my daily habits. I love making an X in the little boxes — talk about satisfying. I won’t bore you with the details, but I am moving more, writing more, tidying up more and brainlessly browsing my phone less.

James Clear is clearly a miracle worker!

A number of times, I’ve given James a nod on my blog and on social media. He hasn’t reached out to thank me yet, but when your book is “The Instant Worldwide Bestseller” I imagine you’re pretty busy. (If I had a vision board I’d put that accolade on it, for my future bestseller.)

What I didn’t do is take good notes when I read this book. I think that’s because James does such a great job of summarizing the main points of each chapter and his specific tactics for tackling habit change. There are even downloadable cheat sheets.

But James deserves a highlight reel too, so here it goes. What I took with me from reading his book:

· James is a storyteller. He begins with his own compelling story of the high school head injury that put him in a coma and eventually led to his personal obsession with habits for human performance.

· He illustrates his points with great stories throughout. It’s worth the price of the book just to the read his spin on the British cycling team in the first chapter.

· His tactics are also backed by science. I am geek about evidence-based brain hacks — and James does not disappoint, with the science behind his strategies and why they work.

· Much of the book focuses on his four laws for how to create a good habit: Make it obvious. Make it attractive. Make it easy. Make it satisfying.

· Inversely, he explores four laws for how to break a bad habit: Make it invisible. Make it unattractive. Make it difficult. Make it unsatisfying.

Maybe you’re wondering, why “atomic”? According to James, he’s referring to “a tiny change, a marginal gain, a 1 percent improvement … Just like atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results.”

And in that statement, I see the thread that connects Tommy, Jon and James in my better and braver year.

With their help, I now focus on taking small positive actions and worrying less about how it will work out in the end.

Do I still have bad days? Yep. Do I still care what people think of me? Of course. Do I still get my feelings hurt? For sure.

But I try hard not to let my fears and feelings paralyze me. Instead, I take that next small step.

My life is already immensely richer for it.

Author’s note: I wish there were a female voice in this piece besides my own. In 2019, I am seeking out more women authors. I am currently reading Happier Now by Nataly Kogan and Brain Hacks by Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., and starting work on my own book, one tiny step at a time.

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Margie Reece
On My Best Behavior

Writer, editor, blogger, behavior geek. I love making up games and tricks to hack my life. Why? Because I need all the help I can get and it makes me happier.