Can reading a book make you more resilient? Tim Ferriss says it can, and during this past year of social distancing, economic turmoil, and social unrest, he turned to three of his favorite books to help him handle unpredictable times. He says they can do the same for you.
Ferriss says the biggest lesson he's learned from the pandemic is how little control any of us have over our lives or the world around us. "I think because of experiences in childhood, where I felt like I couldn't control my circumstances, I've become very good at trying to exert control," he told Arianna Huffington when he appeared on her new podcast What I've Learned.
Ferriss has lost some friends to the pandemic and seen others suffer long-term complications. The disease has also affected his family, he told Huffington. "This year was a reminder of how unhelpful it can be to strive for complete control since it's an illusion," he said. "Trying to cultivate some type of psychological and emotional safety net for when things outside of your control don't go the way you would like--or perhaps they go precisely the way you would not want them to go--has been very important."
Where does Ferriss find that emotional safety net? First and foremost, in some of his favorite books. These are the books he said have helped him cope with the past year.
1. Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
"Sometimes I wrestle with my demons and sometimes we just snuggle." Ferriss picked up this phrase from a pin his mother gave him. It's a useful reminder that sometimes struggling against the difficult things in your life might be the wrong approach.
For those who want to explore this concept further, he said, "there are a lot of books that touch on this, but Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach is an excellent book." The book draws on Buddhist teachings, but Brach is a clinical psychologist as well as a mindfulness meditation teacher. Ferriss said Radical Acceptance was recommended to him by a PhD in neuroscience who normally wouldn't recommend a book based on Buddhism. "I've recommended it to many, many people," he added.
2. Awareness by Anthony de Mello
"Anthony de Mello, who has long since passed, was a Jesuit priest and also a psychotherapist, which is very complementary," Ferriss explained. Awareness draws on many traditions, including Buddhist parables and Hindu breathing exercises, as well as psychology and Christian spirituality. The book asks readers to step back from our frenetic lives and become aware--which you can only do by recognizing the needs and potentials of other people.
3. Letters From a Stoic by Lucius Seneca
Both Ferriss and Huffington love the Stoic philosophy, which teaches that since we cannot control external events, we must control how we react to them. One Amazon reviewer called Letters From a Stoic "the original self-help book."
There's a thread running through Seneca and de Mello's books, and also the work of Krishnamurti, which Ferriss has been reading lately. "We very often say we want to improve, but don't actually want to improve," he said. "In the sense that we don't put in the necessary work to develop the habits of mind to provide us with the peace we claim we so want."
With this in mind, Ferriss said he's spent a lot of time this past year trying to put in that necessary work. And, he says, there are a few other things that have helped. Among them: journaling, and doing "The Work," a spiritual practice taught by author and speaker Byron Katie. "Using Byron Katie's The Work honestly has been very helpful, to see more clearly how my beliefs are driving my reality, and to try to stress-test those, which I think also comes back to the Stoics in a very big way," Ferriss explained.
It goes back to what Ferriss calls "fear-setting," an exercise in which you examine your fears closely and think about how you can reduce the likelihood of something bad happening and how to recover from it if it does. "Examining your fears--scrutinizing them--helps to defuse them," he said.