A few times, during a dark hour or a confusing time, a book came along just when I needed it and changed my perspective.
Books can be incredibly powerful. They can point us in a different direction, teach us a lesson, help us articulate our emotions, take us on a new adventure, and change the way we think. They inform us, give us a new perspective and help shape us.
The most powerful ones change our lives forever.
If it weren’t for the books I’ve read, I’d be a different person today.
Books, especially the great ones, have that power. At least three books have fundamentally changed me as a human being, and I bet you can think of at least one that changed you for the better.
A few comments on my recent article, The Seven Books That Will Change Your Life surprised me; their gist, books can’t change your life.
But I believe where you put attention, energy goes.
If you focus your attention on ideas in a book, it’s insights can change your thinking and behavior for the long-term. Your thoughts and actions can change from reading a book once.
One month I read only investment books and books devoted to money matters.
Guess what I start thinking about more?
Not only making more money but saving and investing the money I had.
That same month I tried an experiment while reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. It is a dense book. Because I was spending more time reading, I was surfing the internet and spending less time on social media platforms. The experiment came from an idea from a book I read a decade earlier, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.
I forget the idea verbatim, but he essentially said, be careful what you pay attention to; it seeps into your thoughts and subconsciously changes your behavior. Tolle is intentional about what he reads, watches on TV, and who he spends time with; these things permeate your thoughts, whether you know it or not. And whether you believe it or not.
It’s the same concept as motivational speaker Jim Rohn once expressed, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
While reading The Intelligent Investor, I made a decision to spend less and save more. So, à la Eckhart Tolle, I intentionally curated my life to fit my goals — save money. I changed what I was paying attention to and got rid of all the sales emails from favorite clothing stores that flood my email box every week. I put Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Zappos, Garnet Hill, Terrain, and The Company Store into my junk email folder.
Guess what happened?
Instead of being tempted by their monthly 15% off sales, I started spending less money on things I don’t need. My investment portfolio increased, as did my savings account.
If that isn’t a life change, I’m not sure what constitutes one.
Instead of surfing the internet, my thoughts were on my money because of what I was feeding my mind each night before bed. Tolle’s words I read a decade earlier, coupled with what I was currently reading, gave me the idea to hide emails that weren’t serving my goal.
My savings grew as a direct result.
Energy flows where attention goes means what you put your mind on, and what you focus on, you get more. What you don’t focus on — shopping, drama, overeating, gossip — you get less of.
That is what reading does. It is the law of attraction in action. Be careful what you read.
Energy flows where attention goes
There are many books you will read and never think of again. I can think of a few off-hand right now.
There are books I’ve raced though that didn’t give me much insight, or as I was reading decided not to waste my time finishing and only got through the first few chapters.
But many books have stood the test of time for a reason — they are brilliant.
The author came up with a revolutionary concept or reimagined a revolutionary idea from another thinker and explained it to more thoroughly, so more people could easily digest it.
These are books that stay with you for a lifetime, especially if you revisit them.
Books that are so good each generation receives them from an elder or by word of mouth.
Books that have dramatically impacted me are usually books that have been around longer than a decade.
Most books you won’t remember anything about except for the feeling they left you with after you read the last page and closed the cover. But the advice in some books carries you, informs your life, and makes you better in some way, gives you information you previously didn’t have, empowering you to make better life decisions.
I wouldn’t have purchased and renovated three properties if not for Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki. I haven’t read Rich Dad, Poor Dad in two decades, but I still remember when the author’s son asked why the family didn’t have a pool. Rich Dad replied: “because I want a savings account and to be able to pay for your college.”
It taught me the value of money and not to give much thought to status.
I wouldn’t have saved 20% of my income if it hadn’t been for The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman. Or thought about each time I charged something on a credit card I couldn’t afford. I wouldn’t have known that leasing a car isn’t the best use of my money; it is the same as renting, you aren’t getting anything in return, without reading Suze Orman’s book. I wasn’t taught any of these financial skills in high school, college, or my parents.
I wouldn’t have gotten through my divorce without carrying The New Earth to every court appearance I was summonsed to each month.
It’s scary walking into a Los Angeles Courthouse, downtown, by yourself. Especially when you are the “respondent” and have no idea what you’re doing.
My practice was randomly turning to a page in The New Earth while sitting on a cold hard bench in a grand hall flooded with fluorescent lights. At the same time, men in dark suits loomed around me next to their nervous clients waiting to be called into an even more impending room so a judge could determine their fates.
I was calm. I had Tolle’s words.
I went to court alone (not counting my lawyer, who was like a friend except for the fact I was paying his mortgage each month). My family is located on the East Coast, the only friend I had with me in court was Eckhart Tolle, and boy, did he come through with the wisdom I needed at that moment.
The single best piece of advice I received from a “self-help” book is something I think about nearly weekly, if not daily. Don’t take anything personally from The Four Agreements.
The hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars I’ve spent on therapy didn’t do as much for me as, “Don’t take anything personally.”
It has saved me time, energy, and bolstered my mental health.
Since internalizing this advice, I rarely give in to people’s drama, even when directed at me, even when going through a nasty divorce.
Both Tolle and Don Miguel Ruiz talk about the other person and how what they think about you has nothing to do with you. It has to do with their own perspective, their own inner turmoil, and their own sickness. You can choose not to react to another person’s internal drama even when it comes at you.
It may sound simple, but sometimes we need to be reminded of things we innately know to be true. Not to give in, not to respond, not to react.
Not to take anything personally.
During my divorce, at first, I did react — most every person who goes through a divorce will react, it’s human nature.
Eventually, reacting made me tired, powerless, and exhausted.
Once I realized what I was being accused of had little to do with me, a huge weight lifted.
I didn’t just stop reacting one day; I think, at first, I practiced conscious denial — I blocked what was happening to cope and get through the day with a small child — but then I was able to hear and read declarations of falsehoods in legalese, and I choose not to take it personally.
It didn’t matter why my ex was accusing me of things that never happened; it just mattered what I thought; having the gift of not taking things personally was priceless. I decided not to play, not to respond to anything.
Because in the end, my reaction didn’t matter anyway.
Reading both The New Earth and The Four Agreements helped me do this. The words in both books had a direct impact on me and my sanity.
Some people are down on self-help.
It is my religion.
The author of a book I love isn’t my demagogue, my leader, nor my priest, but his ideas I’ll take and make my own. I take what works and leave the rest.
I take what speaks to me and apply it to my own life.
I’ve gotten a few comments like, “why not fiction. Fiction has way more of an impact.”
Yes, books of fiction can change your life. And I’m working on a list of them right now. They have a less direct impact on me but impact nonetheless.
For some, it’s the Bible — clearly a work of fiction. Snakes don’t talk. And I’m not the descendant of a man’s rib, but it’s a good story.
For me, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck changed my life in seventh grade, it turned me into a lifelong reader, so it’s probably the most impactful book of my life.
I hated reading before I was made to read The Good Earth for school. I couldn’t put it down; that had never happened to me before. It made me love to read, and that is a lifelong gift. Thank you, Peral S. Buck.
Through Pearl S. Buck’s words, I empathized with people I’d never imagined before through a story I had no experience with. The same could be said of another favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
Stories can change one’s life; they can make you more empathetic and see a different perspective you had previously not been exposed to. You don’t have to experience a situation to empathize with another person’s plight. Story helps me understand it. I’m capable of empathy without the experience.
That’s what fiction gives the reader — a look into someone else’s life through story.
Reading fiction also informs how to tell a good story. Telling a good story is an art, so reading can make you a better storyteller.
I understand better the plight of an immigrant hearing Francie’s story in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I can empathize with the struggle of living under China’s conditions during the turn-of-the-century in The Good Earth and what it must be like in an arranged marriage.
If you read a book and never think about it again, yes, it most likely won’t change your life.
But some books stay with you.
Some books have stayed with me. I read every word, I think about the story or what the author seeks to impart in a non-fiction book from what she learned through her experiences. I take notes. I carry an abridged version of The Four Agreements in my purse and refer to it often.
To say it changed my life is an understatement.
One more thing a book can do
I’m a better writer after I spend a weekend with Joan Didion; she pens mostly non-fiction. I’m a better writer after I spend time reading better writers than me. I’m a better writer after reading Vanity Fair from cover to cover or The New Yorker or The New York Times’ Modern Love section, also non-fiction. I’m a better writer after reading the first two chapters of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Reading the second chapter once impacted me and my editing process; I could tell the next thing I wrote was better just from having read those two pages in his book where he gives an example of his editing process.
Books have directly changed my life for the better.
More inspiration from books…
Jessica is a writer, an online entrepreneur, and a recovered Type A personality. She lives in Los Angeles with her extrovert daughter, two dogs, and two cats.