The future is first an idea | 4 books to read this holiday season

December 8, 2016

Researcher and RRCA certified long-distance running coach Emilia Lahti shares four books to read this holiday season.

Late astronomer, scientist and prolific writer himself, Carl Sagan, once said, “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” (Cosmos, Part 11, 1980).

Books have the ability to inspire new ideas and better thinking. They can be invaluable in cultivating a more thoughtful way of inhabiting this world. Here are four books that have been transformational to me and it’s my hope that some of them may be useful to you as well. As always, there’s no one-size fits all guarantee with ideas. Not all books work for everyone – it’s about reading enough to find the right ones. Wishing everyone an inspirational holiday season!

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Scribner, 2016

Emilia reading

The book sums up ten years of research on grit and perseverance. It can be a powerful tool for outlining the building blocks of your next successful training season. Angela Duckworth’s prime motivation in life is to create research-based tools that enable people to thrive (especially children who are underserved). She’s a former math teacher from New York, a MacArthur Fellow and currently a psychology research professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I have much love and respect for her (full disclosure: she is my former thesis advisor) for vigilantly pursuing the answers to some of modern psychology’s most pressing questions.

Grit is for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of what we currently know about the science of grit.

Who is this book for?

For anyone who is interested in something beyond mere anecdotes about perseverance and how humans exceed themselves (of which there are plenty). It’s for anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of what we currently know about the science of grit. This book is Angela’s way of holding a space for us to marvel and explore some of the most defining features of being human: our ability to lace up again and again, dig deep into our passion and keep on going – especially after a bad race.

The Happiness Track by Emma Seppälä
HarperOne, 2016

There’s a disturbing and deep-seated myth that comes up frequently when discussing wellbeing and success. It’s that to know you are working hard enough for your goals, you must more or less suffer. A slogan like ‘no pain, no gain’ highlights this mindset and as Emma points out in her book, we have accepted overextension as a way of life.

After all, life is an ultra marathon, not a sprint.

While getting outside the so-called ‘comfort zone’ is needed for growth, we should also stop to ask ourselves what kind of habits are sustainable in the long run. After all, life is an ultra marathon, not a sprint. There’s a cost to chronic stress and it can impact not only our bodies and minds, but also our relationships. The book proposes a different path – one that is rooted in compassion and based on recent research on wellbeing. In its core is the idea to work in harmony with your body, instead of using it to achieve things.

Who is this book for?

For a person who is driven, hard-working and perhaps stressed out. The good news is that you don’t need to change yourself (after all, being ambitious is what makes you who you are, right?). By familiarizing yourself with  the ideas in this book, you can establish a way of life that is more balanced and therefore sustainable.

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To best serve the world with your unique talents, you have to take good care yourself. The book is a research-backed love note from a recovering overachiever to all current overachievers out there. For me, it gave the invaluable gift of teaching me how to say ‘no’ and because of that, do less but with higher quality. Paradoxically, the lesson of slowing down has led me to a place where I’m engaged in one of the potentially most stressful projects – Sisu not Silence – of my life so far and yet, I’m feeling more balanced and calmer than perhaps ever.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
1922

The novel, written originally in German and published 1922, is an unassuming little gem that leads you on a journey into the most riveting questions of the human existence, such as: “Who am I?”, “What is my potential and how may I reach it?” and the big one: “What is the purpose of life?” You can download the book as a free pdf.

I recommend reading Siddhartha before New Year’s to prime your mind for some thoughtful goal setting that is also about adding value to the world. Perhaps next year can be about opening doors for one another and building safe, inviting spaces. Not walls. In the words of the main character of the book: “And here is a doctrine at which you will laugh. It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world.”

Who is this book for?

For a person who is in the process of asking the deep questions and who likes to read small books about big topics. The name of the book derives from two Sanskrit words which roughly translate to: “[s]he who has found meaning (of existence).” People who need to read this… you know who you are. Go get a copy, read the free pdf (link attached) or search online for the free 5-hour long audio version and listen to it while working out.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
1959

This late Austrian psychiatrist is an epitome of what the Finns have for centuries called sisu. It’s an ancient word, which has no direct translation but it denotes extraordinary courage and endurance in the face of adversity. Frankl survived the concentration camps during WWII but lost his entire family. What kept him alive was his sense of purpose and the calling to stay alive in order to serve humanity. He went on to reflect his experience in Man’s Search for Meaning (and a women’s too), which is now called one of the most read and influential books of our time (it has over 160.000 ratings on Goodreads!).

It’s a short but powerful inquiry into the topics of purpose, meaning and the magical stuff that keeps us going when the road takes a steep turn uphill. You can get this book as a free pdf as well.

Who is this book for?

For people who are looking to improve themselves, or are healing from some tough experiences. The book could be described as the heavyweight nonfiction version of Siddhartha. Well… both the books are a little on the heavy side, but so is life sometimes, isn’t it? Explore this piece to marvel and be awed by the vastness and strength of the human spirit, and use its wisdom to find your mental edge as you get ready to welcome your best year yet.

In the spotlight

Emilia Lahti

Emilia Lahti

Polar ambassador Emilia Lahti is a researcher and RRCA certified long-distance running coach whose life mission is to be a catalyst for human connection, compassion and nonviolence. In her current PhD, Emilia is exploring the Finnish construct of sisu, which means endurance in the face of extreme adversity. Find out more about Emilia and her campaign called Sisu not Silence.