My Best Reads of 2016

Hello and happy new year!

I’ve always been a reader, but 2016 was the year I committed reading to habit. It went from a passive activity to an active part of my daily routine. It became my nightcap while laying in bed, and my break activity throughout the day. In total, I read 55 nonfiction books, across a range of topics from health to habits to religion to evolution. You can view the entire list here.

Below I’ve compiled that short-list that was the best of the best, and more importantly, ones that I believe others would find benefit in reading.


So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

This is a book about how to be remarkable at your work. The title comes from a quote from comedian Steve Martin – when asked the secret to success he answered “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” This book provides practical application to what that looks like in reality, and leaves the reader motivated (and equipped) to go out and be the best that they can be in their craft. Not through fleeting passion or inspriation, but through being the best you can in your field.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

There have been 5 mass extinction events throughout history, where the vast majority of species on the planet were wiped out from various cataclysmic events. This book explores the path we’re currently on, and the possibility that we’re creating a 6th extinction event in front of our eyes, and at a rate that history has never seen before.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Racism has tainted the United States since its earliest days, and it still runs rampant today. This book is a blunt reality check about what life in poor black America is really like. The author wrote the book as a series of letters to his son, who was growing up in middle class America, but merely one step removed from the reality of life for millions of black men and women across America. This book is important. Please read it.

Faith & Doubt by John Ortberg

Rarely do you see a person of faith, in any religion, talk openly about the doubt that accompanies their faith. This book is an incredibly refreshing read as the author spits his personal inner journey onto paper, asking the questions that many of us have (and will continue to) struggle with.

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is arguably the the best person in the world at deconstructing success. He digs into the “why” of success, and extracts the actual formulas that lead people to being the best in the world in their field. This book is a recap of over 200 interviews with insanely high achievers, and he pulls out the most actionable nuggets from each interview. It’s a mammoth of a read, but should be a staple on a lot of bookshelves.


There were A TON of other incredible books that didn’t make this short list. If you see one on the complete list that sounds interesting just shoot me an email to adam(at)adamgriff(dot)in and I’m happy to let you know my thoughts on it.

In 2017, I’m creating a system of note-taking for the books I read so that the information is committed more to memory and habit than passive reading allows for. I’m excited to share that process with you after I’m comfortable with it.

What books did you read this year that you can’t stop recommending? Shoot me an email and let me know!

Cheers to a health and happy 2017, with continued learning and creating the best version of ourselves possible.

Kill your goals. Do this instead.

Kill your goals. Do this instead.


It’s here. The time of year when new goals replace the failed goals of the previous year. A burst of energy. A shot of inspiration. “Let’s do this new year!” we shout from our notebooks, calendars, and social media pages. Yet the little voice in the back of our head knows it’s likely in vain. A hint of doubt from somewhere in our subconscious whispers,

Why are we doing this again?

We know it’s never worked before, but the energy and inspiration of the new year override our practicality and logic, believing that we’ll somehow surmise the willpower to do it this time around. The problem? Our willpower is really good at failing us.

The good news?

It’s not our fault. We’re all subject to the same faulty willpower.

The even better news?

It’s fixable. If you want to truly change the trajectory of your life, ditch the goals and create systems instead.

You see, creating the best version of ourselves possible actually has nothing to do with the goals we set. Instead, it has everything to do with the systems we put in place to make being at our best as easy and frictionless as possible. This is something high achievers have always known – make succeeding easy, and make failing difficult. If you do that, you don’t have to rely on willpower. You simply rely on functioning within systems that make succeeding in whatever you’re trying to accomplish simpler and easier. I’ll give you a few examples of how to use systems instead of goals over the coming year.

WORK

Let’s say you’re a sales rep. Tradition might tell you to set some high sales goal for the year – maybe it’s to be the top sales rep at your company, or maybe it’s a certain dollar figure. The problem is that this goal tells you nothing about how to achieve it.

Using the systems method, you wouldn’t focus on the end result, and would instead focus on building systems that make being a high achiever attainable. You would create a system that says “I will set a timer for 60 minutes at the beginning and end of each work day, and I will do nothing but make sales calls during that time.” When the timer is up, then you can get back to the other parts of your day. By doing this, you’re giving the action and system priority, not the goal.

Become top sales rep in the company.

Set a timer for 60 minutes at the beginning and end of each work day, and do nothing but make sales calls during that time.

The same goes for any type of work. Whether you’re a doctor, administrative assistant, sales rep, or plumber, ditch the goals and instead build systems that make success inevitable.

HEALTH

A traditional health goal for the new year might be something like losing 10 pounds. Without systems to achieve this goal, the goal itself is meaningless. If we instead focus on building systems, the person wanting to lose weight would set a rule for themselves that they won’t keep any junk food in the house – only meats, fruits, and veggies allowed. When willpower would historically falter as we reach for the bag of chips in our cabinet, our system has set us up for success by making the lack of willpower a moot point.

Lose 10 pounds.

Remove everything but meat, veggies, and fruit from our house, and only buy these items at the grocery store.


Goals, skill attainment, success, progress, and outcomes are all lag measures. At best, they’re rough guesses at the future, and at worst they’re distractions that deter us from making any real progress. By setting up systems for success, our progress is inevitable. We likely will end up achieving what we would have historically set as a goal, without ever even focusing on the outcome.

Creating the best version of ourselves has nothing to do with the goals we set. It has everything to do with the systems we create to make that possible. By aligning our environment (our systems) with our intentions (where we want to go), success goes from being a friction-filled uphill battle to a mostly frictionless stroll. We simply have to show up and do the work.

This year, do yourself a favor. Kill your goals and create systems instead. Your future self will thank you.

Embracing Imperfection

I’ll do it.

This short phrase is my 19 month old daughter’s current rallying cry for freedom. Whether I’m feeding the dog and cat, wiping up a spill, or getting water from the refrigerator, I can rest assured that my daughter will be right behind me trying to do the job for me. And if I don’t involve her, there is a 100% chance that she throws herself on the ground in a fit of frustration and tears for not appeasing to her will.

I’ll get back to this story in a moment.

When it comes to humans and our relationships with others, there is a substantial amount of pain created by people not living up to our expectations. Whether it’s a significant other, a family member, a coworker, or a friend, we oftentimes build beliefs about who that person should and shouldn’t be. The vast majority of the time we do this subconsciously, erecting an image of the ideal version of that person based on our own experiences, circumstances, and understanding of the world. When they don’t live up to it, which they inevitably won’t, we feel pain in the form of anger, frustration, or sadness. We view their imperfections as unacceptable and want them to be fixed.

What we don’t see when this frustration bubbles up is that these imperfections are what create the room necessary for the characteristics that we love in that same person.

The disheveled desk of a coworker is the flip side of a brilliant and creative mind. The intense emotion from a significant other is the flip side of a deep commitment and obsession to greatness. The passive quietness in a family member is the flip side of a reflective and empathetic mind.

The imperfection makes room for the perfection.

Going back to my story about my daughter, “I’ll do it” can cause frequent frustration in my household. The intense will of a Roman Empire leader, bottled up in the 25 pound body of a toddler, makes for what seems to be an endless stream of tantrums and tears. Taken at surface level, this “imperfection” could be perceived as something broken that needs fixing.

When my frustration with a situation begins to rise up, I just have to think about how well this trait will serve Berkley in the future. What leads to a tantrum now will lead to greatness as she grows into the world. That ceaseless independence, curiosity, and desire to contribute will evolve into a force that puts the world in her palm in just a few short years. Much like pain is what makes room for joy, imperfection is what makes room for perfection. As long as we don’t try to fix it for them.

 

The Fingerprint of Success

Fingerprints are utterly unique to each of us.

They represent the entirety of our individuality in a tiny frame of just a few centimeters. No matter how many billions of us continue to be born, we somehow seem to all share characteristics while at the same time remaining our own individual selves. It’s one of the most fascinating parts of being human. Common colors, brushes, and canvases combined together to create billions of unique masterpieces. We share in the components but we differ in the final products. While this may not be news to us, fingerprints represent a great lens to view the pursuit of success through.

Success, like many things in life, follows an existing pattern that we find in nature. Much like we are all unique, yet similar, success is found through piecemeal components found in other successful people, yet combined in only a way that we as individuals could combine them. We utilize this trait combined with that skill combined with these habits. And what we end up with is our own fingerprint for our success that happens to share commonalities with millions of others that have found their own success.

What this means for us in a practical application is that there is no actual roadmap we can follow to achieve success in our own lives. Instead, we need to pursue many interests over our lifetime, build various skills and habits that fit our personality and natural tendencies, and combine them in a coherent fashion over time that creates our own work of art. Much like we can’t replicate the fingerprint of someone else on our own fingers, we also can’t replicate their path and expect the same degree of success. What worked for them worked because it aligned with their specific skills, traits, and makeup. The uniqueness of our own DNA requires that we also uniquely combine our habits, skills, and pursuits in a manner that suits us best.

It can be discouraging at first when we realize there truly is no single roadmap we can follow to find our own success. Instead our journey looks more like trying this road and then that road and then that random road on the other side of the map, learning as we go, eventually putting together a path that leads to our own unique version of success.

Success does not require some unattainably high degree of skill or intelligence. Success is found through curiosity. It’s found by those that scratch their own itch, continually learn, piece together the path as they go, and continually strive to be a little bit better today than they were yesterday. Through that curiosity and intention, we create our own masterpiece – our own fingerprint of success that only we could have done.

What to do at the Bottom

Being at the bottom is inevitable. The reality of being emotion-driven humans is that while we get to experience joy and happiness we also have to endure equal and opposite measures of pain and unhappiness. This is simply the price of admission for the human experience.

So if having bad days, rough weeks, and hard bottoms is guaranteed in our lives, what should we do when we’re there?

Just because hitting the bottom is inevitable, it doesn’t mean we have to hang out there for extended periods.  Whether you’re at the bottom from a significant loss or you’re simply at a point in your life where you need a change, there are intentional actions we can take that shorten our duration spent at the bottom. Here’s the ones I’ve used successfully in my life.

Gratitude Practice

It is nearly impossible to feel pain from what you don’t have when you genuinely appreciate what you do have. Oftentimes our bottom is driven not by circumstance, but by a lack of recognition of all the things we can be grateful for. I know as much as anyone how tough it can be to seek gratitude when all we want to do is the opposite. But if we can find the initial courage to seek gratitude, it can change our situation in an instant. All it takes is a few minutes of focused effort, and our mindset can be shifted entirely. Start small. Take an action you already do every day, like showering, and use that time to focus on things you’re grateful for. It is difficult to stay at the bottom when we show ourselves through a gratitude practice that we’re already on top.

Change Your Scenery

Our environment is critical to optimizing our happiness and success. If we are in a place that drains us, we’re putting ourselves at a handicap to dig ourselves out of the bottom. Sometimes, a change of scenery is the perfect recipe for changing our position in life. Whether that’s a trip to get out of town, or literally changing the place you call home, a change in scenery revives our senses, our spirit, and our hope. Changing our scenery is not running away from whatever ails us. It’s running to something completely new and invigorating, which can be just what we need to climb out of the bottom.

Get to Work

When we hit the bottom in our life, sometimes action is our biggest ally.  There is immense satisfaction in work, contribution, and achievement. Left to wallow in our own thoughts and boredom, we can find ourselves stuck at the bottom simply from a lack of activity and momentum. Whether this is literal work, like our job, or simply effort that gets us focused on a project or goal, working toward the achievement of something aligns our mind with action, and can help keep out the negativity that comes from being at the bottom.

Process Your Thoughts

Our thoughts need to find a way out of our head. Left to our own thoughts we can create incredibly unhealthy states between our ears. When we hit the bottom, we need an outlet to process and flesh out our thoughts. For me, this is writing. Putting pen to paper allows me to organize my thoughts and think logically through them. For some this might be another creative outlet like drawing or music. For some this might be a fitness pursuit that serves as an outlet of aggression. Whatever works for you, do it. As long as it’s helping you take the words floating between your ears, and process them in a way that makes them more coherent, it will help you get out of the bottom quicker. Our mindset can hold us down at the bottom. Processing our thoughts, much like the gratitude practice above, helps us shift our mindset to one that serves us.

I have been at the bottom many times. You have been at the bottom many times. We will both see the bottom countless more times in our future. By knowing this up front, we can put actions to work that will help minimize our time there. By leaning on gratitude, changing our scenery, getting to work, and processing our thoughts in a productive way, we make sure the bottom doesn’t become comfortable. We make sure that our home and place in the world is on top, smiling down on the path behind us. We’ll be down there again, but that destination is temporary. And we have the power to make sure of it.