Unbeatable Mind by Mark Divine

I first heard of the book Unbeatable Mind when Mark Divine, the author, was interviewed on Ben Greenfield’s podcast.  Since then, I have followed his work on his blog and interviews.  He started his career in public accounting.  After realizing that the corporate world wasn’t the path for him, he took a leap and entered the Navy Seal, which he served for 9 years.  Since then, he has become a successful entrepreneur, founding Navyseals.com and launching US Tactical. He is also the author of three books.

I tend to be drawn to books that are about strengthening your mind because I think it is the largest component of success in every aspect of life.  Unbeatable Mind is about developing your personal power so you can enjoy success in your life.  This book touches on all aspects from challenging your physical body to meditation practices to character building. While this book is filled with a lot of really good information, I have summarized a few of my key takeaways below:

  • Starve Fear, Feed Courage –  in order to win, you must win in your mind first. This includes starving out negative thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts. The mind has a negative bias so we must be very proactive in witnessing your negative thoughts.  In practice, once you witness a negative thought, you must stop that negative thought with a power statement (words as simple as like “Stop” or “No” work) and redirect your mind with self-talk to something positive and productive to your current goal.  Further, you can maintain your new mental state with a jingle or mantra (e.g., “You got this”).  This sounds cheesy but this process has helped me to be much more aware of how many negative thoughts enter my mind and how to get them out.
  • Goal Setting – goals should be simple and measured consistently. Additionally, you should have an underlying why to why you want to achieve this goal.  They should be specific and fall within a certain timeline.  When the goal is lofty and times get rough, break them up into micro goals which allow for a series of mini victories.  I’ve started to write down goals and make them simple, yet specific. This is also new for me but the process of writing down and reviewing has kept me on track thus far.
  • Visualize for Success – while I have heard about visualization techniques for a while now, I have never put it into practice.  Divine dives deep into different visualization techniques including mental projection, where you are visualizing a personal future state or victory, and mental rehearsal, where you practice a skill or prepare for an event in your mind.  These sessions should be practiced regularly and include as much detail as possible.  I have a dodgeball tournament coming up (don’t laugh) so I have been using mental rehearsal techniques to build confidence and “win” prior to playing.
  • Always Challenge Yourself – push yourself to the 20x factor and test your grit on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.  Never shy away from challenge and set audacious goals for yourself and knock them down, one step at a time.  While I tend to take on a lot of challenges, my mindset is usually negative.  After reading this book, it has taught me to attack a challenge versus dread it.

The points above are only a sliver of the content in the book.  Unbeatable Mind is chalk full of great information and I recommend it for anyone who is interested in bettering yourself.


The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The reason I read the The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is because Ben Franklin is Charlie Munger’s personal hero and he recommends reading anything by or about Franklin.  Charlie Munger is Warren Buffet’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway.  While he is the lesser known of the two, he is just as successful.

Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston.  He first entered the printing industry as an apprentice for his brother in 1718.  He eventually opened his own printing house in Philadelphia in 1728 and became the owner and editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729.  Through the years, he published multiple pamphlets including the famous, Poor Richard’s Almanac.  He became more and more involved in public efforts and helped open a public library, a firehouse and the University of Pennsylvania.  He also was very involved in politics, being appointed to key roles, as well as conducted numerous scientific experiments.   He died on April 17, 1790.

While the above paragraph gives him zero justice, Franklin lived a very successful and busy life.  Here are a few things I got out of the book:

  • Franklin was constantly learning – Franklin was a voracious reader. He would frequently skip out on dinner so that he can use that time to study.   Additionally, he made it a point to make friends with smart people.  In 1927, the founded the Junto, a club for mutual improvement where the members debated questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy, and exchanged knowledge of business affairs.  He owes much of his success from his reading and from this, his ability to write.
  • Franklin operated with integrity –Throughout his life, he recognized his errors and looked to fix whenever he could. Even in situations where he could have benefited from being less than ethical, he always took the high road.  Franklin believed in truth, sincerity and integrity when dealing with man.
  • Constantly tried to better himself – Franklin made it a point to improve himself. One way he did this was by coming up with twelve virtues he wanted to improve.  He focused on each of these, one by one, in specific order.  At the end of the day, he would self-examine and write down his findings.  While in the beginning, he noted, there were lots of faults, he gradually improved and the faults became less and less.

Reading books written in the 1700s is hard.  The writing is fancy (weird) and it takes some imagination to picture what you are reading.  However, I found Franklin’s life interesting mainly because his success came not only through learning and hardwork, but through his strong character.


Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

This book is a departure from my usual reads.  Why I decided to read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, I do not really know.  Maybe because the newest season of Top Chef is on? Or it was free on Kindle Unlimited? Whatever the reason, I was instantly hooked by this book and thoroughly enjoyed his blunt attitude and crude stories.

This book, which was released in 2000, is about Bourdain’s career and the behind-the-scenes of restaurant kitchens.  Bourdain describes his not-so-straight path to becoming a successful chef, his personal bouts and weaknesses, including years of drug abuse, and many stories of what goes on in kitchen restaurants. He also provides some industry insight which is useful and entertaining for any restaurant-goer.  Here is what I learned:

  • Kitchens are not for the faint of heart – expect crude stories, filthy language and ridiculous practical jokes. Also, this is very much a job where you have to work your way up – you are nothing when you start and have to earn your colleague’s respect.  Even when you earn their respect, expect to be called an [insert phallic name here] on a daily basis.  You need to have some thick skin and a sense of humor to be able to survive this business.
  • Do not order fish on Mondays – Bourdain goes into the do’s and don’ts as a restaurant goer. Some of his tips are: don’t order fish on Mondays as fish is usually ordered the week prior so you are getting the old stuff.  Also, I never do this but don’t order your meat well-done as you may get an old piece of meat or your piece may get the microwave treatment.  Also, unless it is a fine dining restaurant or you know exactly how they are treated, don’t order mussels – they are super dirty.
  • You need to be hungry to make it in the restaurant business – Being a cook is tiring. You work 6-7 days a week, 14 hour days, on your feet all day.  While it may seem glamorous to the outside world, you are spending your hours prepping (think peeling 200+ potatoes) and when you are in service, you are focused on your same station, making the same food quickly and consistently, through the entire dinner service.  To add to that, you definitely aren’t getting paid the big bucks unless you rise up to star chefdom.  In order to make it in the business, on top of being a good cook, you need to be resilient and love food.

This book was a very enjoyable read.  I am fascinated by the industry.  However, after reading this book, any dream of a second career in cooking has been thrown out the window.

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

I, just like most people, am not a morning person.  However, if you ask almost any successful person what their secret to success is, part of the answer will be attributed to waking up early and having a morning routine.  Because of this, I have been focusing on on getting up earlier and toying with my morning routine to optimize life.

I stumbled upon Hal Elrod on one of the podcasts I listen to where he was a guest speaker.  His book The Miracle Morning piqued my interest.  His story was very inspirational, and so I picked up his book.

Hal hit rock bottom twice in his life: once was when he got into a terrible car accident where he was actually pronounced clinically dead and the second was during the recession in 2007, when his income was cut in half and was under loads of debt.  While the first event seems worse, the second was his real rock bottom.  He fell into a deep depression, which drove him to experiment with and finally create his miracle morning.  By 2008, his life began to turn around and 2009 was his best year ever.  He attributes this turnaround to his miracle morning.

The purpose of this book is to utilize the miracle morning to create a level 10 life in all aspects of your life.  The majority of Americans live a life of mediocrity and end up settling whether it be financially, physically, mentally and emotionally or relationally (I know this is not a word).  Some of the reasons he attributes to living in mediocrity are:

  • Rearview mirror syndrome – we put limitations on ourselves and our future based on our past. Rather than viewing ourselves as having limitless possibilities, we tend to box ourselves in based on how we think of ourselves or how others think of ourselves
  • Lack of purpose – we don’t have a compelling “why” that drives us to wake up every day and do whatever your we are set her to do
  • Isolating incidents – we assume that each choice we make only affects that particular moment. However, every choice, action and thought we make is extremely important because it determines who we are becoming.  For example, choosing to sleep in versus wake up an exercise doesn’t just affect that day, it affects your identity – it shapes you into a person who picks doing the easy thing instead of the “right” thing

So what is Hal’s miracle morning?  It is essentially a compilation of the most common things successful people do in the morning.  He calls it his life S.A.V.E.R.S.

  • Silence – could be meditation, reflection, prayer, deep breathing, etc.
  • Affirmations – write down and repeat to yourself what you want to accomplish, who you want to be, how you will accomplish. With enough repetition, your subconscious mind will begin to believe what you tell it
  • Visualization – visualize what you really want (no holds barred; get rid of logic and limits) and what you need and who you need to be to accomplish it
  • Exercise – can be as little as 60 seconds but great way to boost energy in the morning and enhance physical and mental health
  • Reading – aim for at least 10 pages.
  • Scribing – writing enables you to document insights, ideas, breakthroughs, realizations, successes, lessons learned, as well as areas of opportunties, personal growth and improvement

The book goes through different strategies on how to develop and implement each S.A.V.E.R.

I have been experimenting with this in my mornings.  Personally, it feels overwhelming to incorporate all these things into my routine.  However, I will continue to experiment with it and likely narrow down the routine to focus on the items that have the largest benefit for me.

This book is a quick and inspiring read.  Even if you don’t walk away with the exact same framework in the book, there are plenty of tips to help optimize your morning.


Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Now that I am a world famous blogger (20 total followers…), I decided to read a book to up my writing game.  Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a book I purchased a few years back on a whim (probably to feed my bi-weekly Amazon purchasing addiction) but, once again, never got to reading.  Anne Lamott is a writer by trade.  She has had eight books published, been a past recipient of a Guggenheim and has been the book review columnist for Mademoiselle and restaurant critic for California magazine.  She has also taught writing at UC Davis and many other conferences throughout the state.

In this book, Lamott imparts the writing wisdom and advice that she has collected through her own experiences.  The book is filled with anecdotes and funny one-liners which makes it fun to read while still informative.  The book is moreso geared towards those who want to make writing a career.  There are a few chapters on subjects such as character development, scene development, etc that I glossed over since it is less than applicable to my once a week blogging.  However, I did find this book useful and want to apply some of her tips and instructions in my writing.  Here are my favorites:

  • Short Assignments – writing is daunting, especially if it is a long assignment (or book or blog post, etc). By breaking down the assignment, into smaller short assignments, it is a lot easier to get started.  The name of the book actually came from this concept.  When Lamott’s brother was ten, he had a report on birds due the next day, which he had three months to write and had yet to start.  While on the edge of despair, their father, who was also an author, sat by him and told him, “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.”  Lamott quotes E.L. Doctorow who parallels writing to driving:  “You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”
  • Shitty First Drafts – the way you end up with a terrific third draft is by starting with a shitty fist draft. Oftentimes perfectionism gets in the way (in writing and other aspects of life).  We need to quiet those voices and start somewhere.  We need to just get everything down on paper.  Then you start refining and fixing up, trying to say what you want to say more accurately – the second draft.  Finally, you make the final touches – the third draft.  This concept really has helped me in getting started.  It doesn’t have to be perfect at first but it will get there.

In addition to these tips, Lamott shed some interesting light on the benefits that writing can bring:

  • Writing gets you to pay more attention and be present because in order to be a writer you need to be able to really see your environment and communicate what is going on. The author states that in order to this, you have to be in awe of the present, almost like looking through the eyes of a child.
  • Writing makes you a better reader. It creates a deeper appreciation and concentration since you know how hard it is to write and to make it seem effortless.  You appreciate what the writer has gone through.

While I am not likely the target audience for this book, I found it very useful and entertaining.  Writing can be very daunting but if you find subjects to write about that you are passionate about, you will engage yourself in satisfying work.


Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life by Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield is one of my favorite fitness, health and wellness coaches.  I am a frequent reader and listener of his website and podcast.  He is a wealth of knowledge and his content is unconventional, but all backed by science and self-experimentation.  In 2013, he was nominated as one of the top 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness.

Greenfield’s book, Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life, is about achieving peak performance efficiently while still maintaining your health and not destroying your body.  The book is broken up into five sections: (i) fitness; (ii) recovery; (iii) nutrition; (iv) lifestyle and (iv) the brain.  He delves a lot into the science backing his findings and recommendations, but I tend to just gloss over those parts since I understand 0% of it.

Personally, I bought the book to learn ways to (i) build endurance; (ii) get stronger, faster and more flexible; (iii) recover better and (iv) achieve overall better health.  I also obviously want to keep it tight in a bathing suit.  While this book is packed with good information, what I found most interesting was the following:

  • Self-quantification – one of the reasons I really like Ben Greenfield is that he is always experimenting on himself then measuring results. In the book, Ben outlines different ways / biomarkers to measure your health (e.g., Heart Rate Variability monitor to measure stress / recovery; different blood tests to identify health issues).  Measuring ourselves beyond just the scale allows us to conduct self-experiments and measure results against the desired outcomes.
  • Importance of Recovery – more exercise is not better. Efficient exercise is better.  Greenfield stresses the importance of recovering in order to improve performance as well as see better physical results.  When we are consistently beating up our bodies, it puts our hormones in disarray and often produces the opposite of what we are working so hard to achieve. He also goes into ways to know if you are overtraining and many different recovery techniques ranging from acupuncture to stem cell therapy to trigger point therapy.
  • Holistic health – Health is not just about exercise and food; it is about our environment. There are many things that affect our health that we don’t even realize such as electromagnetic field radiation, mold, the stuff in our personal care products and plastics, and the list goes on.  Pretty scary stuff but reading this book has gotten me more aware of the hidden threats around me.  While I am not going to live in a bubble, I will make small changes to help me get healthier.
  • Greasing the Groove – this one is my favorite concept. It is based on the simple equation by Pavel Tsatsouline (top strength and conditioning coach): specificity + frequent practice = success.  Just like any other skill, the skill of strength can be practiced.  It involves doing an extremely submaximal number of repetitions for exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, body weight squats, etc, frequently (i.e., doing 5 push-ups 4 – 6x a day).  By performing a movement more frequently, your body becomes better at performing that movement efficiently.  Additionally, given that the number of reps are not excessive, it is easier to make this a habit throughout the day.

These are a few of my favorite points from the book.  However, this book is full of very useful and new (to me) information and it will definitely serve as a reference for me in health and fitness.


The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene is number two on Tai Lopez’s book recommendation list.   The book was first published in 1976 and is still relevant today, having sold over a million copies worldwide.

Science is not exactly my forte.   I never really liked biology class so I was a little weary of picking up this book.  Fortunately, Dawkins is able to explain many of his concepts and theories in lay terms and with many real-life examples, making it easier to read and understand.

Dawkins argues a gene-centered view of evolution versus being focused on the organism and species.  Dawkins argues that the predominant quality expected in a successful gene is selfishness.  Since all individuals and animals (which he calls “survival machines”) are created by genes, the genes will give rise to selfishness in individual behavior.

When Dawkins describes genes as being selfish, he moreso means that the genes that survive and get passed on are those that serve their own interest to continue to be replicated.   By bringing evolutionary dynamics down to the single gene, Dawkin rejects the idea that evolution is based on the social species.  Even in situations when a given organism seems altruistic, particularly amongst kin, it is acting in the interest of the genes.

Natural selection favors genes that control their survival machines in such a way that they make best use of their environment.  As such, populations will trend towards an evolutionary stable strategy.  An evolutionarily stable strategy is a strategy which, if adopted by a population in a given environment, cannot be invaded by any alternative strategy that is initially rare.

Dawkins also delves into topics such as why there is still gene selfishness amongst kin; how survival machines decide on whether to bring children into the world; why there is conflict of interest amongst family generations and between sexes, and more.  He also introduces the concept of “memes” (which he coined) which are units, similar to genes, used to describe cultural evolution.

Dawkins clearly states that this book is not meant to be about morality.  Since, based on his theory, we are all born with selfish genes, we should try to teach generosity and altruism.  By knowing we are made up of selfish genes, we may have the chance to change their design.