15 Books That Changed My Thinking on 15 Important Topics

Books that change your thinking are sledgehammers that tear down old beliefs and help you build new ones. Here are 15 that did so for me.


Bring Out the Sledgehammers

Imagine your beliefs form a house.

Starting with your foundational beliefs, you build different rooms on top to accommodate your interests—a family room, study, lab, kitchen, gym, prayer room, or whatever. Then you fine-tune your beliefs by furnishing, designing, and decorating those rooms as you see fit.

It’s costly to completely renovate, so you stick to moving things around and making minor interior design changes. Most books help you with this.

But some books give you no choice but to whip out the sledgehammer and go Extreme Makeover: Belief Edition. By the time you’ve finished the book and the dust has settled, your beliefs look completely different.

These are the books that had that effect on me.

Maybe one or two of them might change your thinking, too.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years changed my thinking about consciously pushing myself to live a meaningful and memorable story.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller

Topic: Life


“A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s rare opportunity to edit his life into a great story, to reinvent himself so nobody shrugs their shoulders when the credits roll. Through heart-wrenching honesty and hilarious self-inspection, Donald Miller takes readers through the life that emerges when it turns from boring reality into meaningful narrative.”

What I Thought Before

I didn’t have a philosophy on how I lived my life.

It wasn’t as if I was looking for one or anything. I just didn’t have one and didn’t think about it.

What I Thought After

I want to live a meaningful story.

I look to create memorable scenes, find memorable characters, ride the plot twists, and listen to those occasional urges to do something “crazy.” If I don’t consciously do this, I risk living a plotless life and wondering what the point was at the end.

Me hitting a shot properly.
The Inner Game of Tennis has made learning everything faster and more fun.

The Inner Game of Tennis, by Tim Gallwey

Topic: Learning


“‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ is a revolutionary program for overcoming the self-doubt, nervousness, and lapses of concentration that can keep a player from winning.”

What I Thought Before

Being hard on myself helped me improve.

I was my own harshest demotivational speaker, and proud of it. Whenever I screwed up in sports or otherwise, I wouldn’t hold back in saying to myself, “You suck” or “You have to do better.” And like a Tiger Mom drilling her poor kid in piano, I’d nag myself on the step-by-steps I needed to do better next time.

Since I got pretty good at whatever it was I wanted to get better at, I figured it was the best approach.

What I Thought After

Learning doesn’t have to be so hard.

I can learn quicker if I distract my nagging mind, stop trying so hard, and refrain from judging. Observe without judgment and seek to find and replicate the feeling instead.

Yes, it sounds hippy-dippy. (The Inner Game of Tennis was initially published in 1974, after all.) But it works.

As I summarized in The Inner Game of Tennis’ Strategies for Playing Out of Your Mind, it’s helped me get better at beach volleyball so fast that even my friends noticed. It’s made the game more fun, too.

And not only volleyball. The Inner Game strategies have made all learning more pleasurable.

Richer, Wiser, Happier by William Green

Topic: Investing


“A fresh and unexpectedly profound book that draws on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with many of the world’s super-investors to demonstrate that the keys for building wealth hold other life lessons as well.”

What I Thought Before

My weird personality destined me to be an un-rich weirdo.

I’m happy with my unconventional wiring because:

  1. It keeps me from competing over hot commodities or comparing myself with others.
  2. There’s no sense in moaning and groaning about it.

I also used to believe my natural independent-mindedness could help me identify business opportunities. But I found that it also makes it hard for me to identify with customers. And the latter turns out to be way more important. So all my ventures flopped and I resigned myself to a life as a Walmart-cheddar-cheese-eating content creator.

What I Thought After

My weird personality could make me very rich.

Let me strongly emphasize the could in the previous sentence. But however slight the chance may be, it’s something I never considered until reading Richer, Wiser, Happier.

Call it hubris if you want, but I couldn’t help but notice tons of similarities between my idiosyncrasies and those of the mega-rich investors Green profiles in his book. No doubt their IQs are way further down the normal curve than mine, but those same investors claim smarts aren’t nearly as important as temperament for successful investing.

So while I have no plans to quit my day job, I have branched it out to consider how what makes me bad at the money-making game might make me unusually good at the money-allocating one.

I made a video about this thinking here:

YouTube video

Now this is a place for some solitude, which Quiet taught me is not a bad thing to want.

Quiet, by Susan Cain

Topic: Personality


“Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.”

What I Thought Before

I’m shy and that’s was not a good thing.

Because of my shyness, I thought I was less popular and less respected than I could be. I would never achieve everything I wanted if I didn’t teach myself to become more outgoing.

What I Thought After

I’m more introverted than I am shy and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The effect Quiet had on me was like a cat who’d been raised by dogs meeting a wild tiger and learning from it. I finally understood why I’d always felt and acted differently.

Now, I’m proud of my personality and have a good idea of how to best take advantage of it rather than try to be something I’m not.

Chasing the Scream, by Johann Hari

Topic: Addiction


“Johann Hari set off on an epic three-year, thirty-thousand-mile journey into the war on drugs. What he found is that more and more people all over the world have begun to recognize three startling truths: Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war has very different motives to the ones we have seen on our TV screens for so long.”

What I Thought Before

I felt disdain for drug addicts.

The city I grew up in, Vancouver, Canada, is a haven for addicts. I was lucky enough to grow up away from the epicenter of the madness, but I had my fair share of negative experiences with them. Addicts stole my bikes, disrupted my soccer games by leaving needles on the field, caused discomfort by acting crazy on the bus, and generally made living in an otherwise amazing city slightly uncomfortable.

What I Thought After

I feel sympathy for addicts.

The stories from Chasing the Scream humanized addicts, showed me that addiction is not entirely their fault, and made me realize that I could very well be an addict if I were put in the same situations as them.

Every time I see an addict on the street now, I think of the book.

I’m still pissed when an addict steals my bike, though.

Millionaire Teacher, by Andrew Hallam

Topic: Personal Finance


“With lively humor and the simple clarity you’d expect from a gifted educator, Hallam demonstrates how average people can build wealth in the stock market by shunning the investment products peddled by most financial advisors and avoiding the get-rich-quicker products concocted by an ever-widening, self-serving industry.”

What I Thought Before

I was going to get rich working in the stock market.

I was a highly rational numbers geek, my parents had taught me how to manage my money and demystified the stock market for me, and I took Finance and Investment Management courses at university. A lucrative career in investment management was my calling.

What I Thought After

I’m going to get rich from the stock market, but working on something else.

No matter my education or skills, I’m not smarter or savvier than the rest of the market. So rather than try to be the next Warren Buffet, I’ll follow his passive investment advice and focus my energy on something more productive than moving other people’s money around at their expense.

Maybe I’m not making as much money as I would have had I continued down a career in investing, but I’m living a richer life. And my investments are doing fine without my incessant interference.

A toast to The Five Love Languages, and a proposal for a sixth one: wine.

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman

Topic: Relationships


“Dr. Gary Chapman identifies five basic languages of love and then guides couples towards a better understanding of their unique languages of love. Learn to speak and understand your mate’s love language, and in no time you will be able to effectively love and truly feel loved in return. Skillful communication is within your grasp!”

What I Thought Before

Kim, like all women, is impossible to understand.

Even though I said nice things to her all the time (exchanging daily gratefuls was a game-changer), spent tons of quality time with her, and regularly showed my affection with hugs and kisses, she still got upset with me sometimes. It was hopeless.

What I Thought After

If I speak Kim’s “love languages,” she makes a bit more sense.

It turns out I was using the wrong “love languages.” (I prefer to think of them as strategies.) Kim doesn’t respond to the three strategies I’d been using: saying nice things, doing nice things, and getting physical. She needs the other two, getting gifts and having nice things done for her if I want to prevent her inner bitchy beast from being unleashed on me.

I won’t say this new approach has completely unraveled the mysteries of Kim, but it’s helped.

Kim’s Pick: For another book that changes the way you think about relationships, try Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Kim says reading it changed her understanding of my mysterious behavior.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

Topic: Social Skills


“Learn the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, and the nine ways to change people without arousing resentment.”

What I Thought Before

The best way to win friends and influence people is to be myself.

I interacted with people the way I felt I wanted them to interact with me:

  • No wasting time with small talk and frivolous niceties like, “How’s it going?”
  • Arguing with facts and logic to change someone’s mind.
  • Keeping compliments to a minimum and providing constructive criticism instead.

What I Thought After

The best way to win friends and influence people is to act more like people who are way better at it than me.

This pretty much means taking the opposite approach as I once had. It’s not easy and feels unnatural to put into practice, and I have to regularly reread the book to remind myself, but I think I’m improving.

Chris exercising in nature
Born to Run changed my thinking on exercise and even got me running a bit.

Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall

Topic: Fitness


“Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.”

What I Thought Before

Fitness is doing some hi-tech routine on hi-tech gym equipment with hi-tech gear.

I had air bubbles in my shoes and followed strict workout routines that used complex gym equipment. And I hated running.

What I Thought After

Fitness is basic, natural, and fun.

Born to Run inspired me to ditch the gym and go outside barefoot and run around in nature instead. Now I focus on natural fitness and have fun inventing unorthodox ways to challenge my body. I even enjoy going on runs from time to time.

Chris sleeping on the floor with sleeping mask on in Valencia.
Since reading Why We Sleep, I’ve been trying all sorts of things to sleep better, even sleeping on the floor. (Which is overrated.)

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker

Topic: Sleep


Someone commented on my video on sleeping on the floor that much of the “science” Walker claims in his book is exaggerated, fudged, and otherwise problematic.

Here’s the article that tears apart Walker’s claims: https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/. The author, Alexey Guzey, found so many issues that he only managed to make through one chapter in many hours of research. That was enough.

So Why We Sleep was a double sledgehammer for me! First, it challenged me to prioritize sleep. Then it challenged me to be more careful with what I believe.


“The first sleep book by a leading scientific expert—Professor Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab—reveals his groundbreaking exploration of sleep, explaining how we can harness its transformative power to change our lives for the better. […] Clear-eyed, fascinating, and immensely accessible, Why We Sleep is the crucial account on sleep that will forever change listeners’ minds on the subject.”

What I Thought Before

I didn’t think much about sleep.

Falling and staying asleep was easy for me, so I figured I didn’t need to concern myself with it. And while I acknowledged that sleep was good for me, I also felt that I wouldn’t get ahead in life by lying in bed, so I kept my sleep to a minimum.

What I Thought After

I take sleep very seriously.

Why We Sleep woke me up to the reality that sleep is way more powerful than I thought. It enhances my creativity, mood, memory, appearance, longevity, and health more than any supplement, doodad, or life hack.

I got an Oura Ring to track my sleep quality, stopped thinking I could get ahead by setting an alarm, and have made my sleep a priority.

(I’ve even moved to sleeping on the floor.)

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), by Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson

Topic: Psychology


“When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right – a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.”

What I Thought Before

I’m pretty rational.

What I Thought After

I’m not rational at all.

Basically, I’m living in a self-justified illusion created by my brain. My memories are mostly figments of my imagination and I’m hopelessly biased.

Everyone’s just as screwed up as me and there’s no way to fix it. The best I can do is try to stay open-minded by reminding myself of all the tricks my brain is trying to pull on me that I learned about in this book.

Tuesdays With Morrie loosened up my thinking about life.

Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom

Topic: Life


“Mitch Albom rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying of ALS – or motor neuron disease – Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final ‘class’: lessons in how to live.”

What I Thought Before

I’m a pretty reserved guy.

I was a focused high school student who didn’t act out because I cared a lot about what other people thought. And I didn’t like to dance.

What I Thought After

Morrie spiked my punch bowl.

Reading about his free-spirited, principled, and life-loving ways inspired me to take my first zags off the conventional path. I’m still a serious, focused guy and I still don’t like to dance, but I try to live life as if I’m dancing to my own beat rather than march along with the masses.

Tuesdays With Morrie

Tuesdays With Morrie, by Mitch Albom

Chris sprinting up a hill in Medellin
The One-Minute Workout inspired me to do more SHIIT workouts instead of crappy cardio.

The One-Minute Workout, by Martin Gibala

Topic: Fitness


“His work demonstrates that very short, intense bursts of exercise may be the most potent form of workout available. Gibala busts myths (“it’s only for really fit people”), explains astonishing science (“intensity trumps duration”), lays out time-saving life hacks (“exercise snacking”), and describes the fascinating health-promoting value of HIIT (for preventing and reversing disease).”

What I Thought Before

Cardio training is a dreary, time-consuming necessity.

I forced myself to squeeze one or two boring cardio workouts a week into my fitness routine. Sometimes I couldn’t be bothered.

What I Thought After

Cardio doesn’t have to be so time-consuming and dreary.

I could get the same cardiovascular benefits of a long boring jog in as little as 5 percent of the time with interval training. The catch is it can’t be regular high-intensity interval training (HIIT). It has to be super high-intensity interval training (SHIIT).

That was music to my ears. I’m a SHIIT-y type of guy. These days, I’m happy to suffer through a couple of super intense but short(-er) cardio workouts a week.

Chris holding box of vegetables at a farm
I’m not ready to grow my own veggies yet, but The One-Straw Revolution inspired me to have more down-to-earth thinking.

The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka

Topic: Farming (But Really Philosophy)


“Call it “Zen and the Art of Farming” or a “Little Green Book”, Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge presents a radical challenge to the global systems we rely on for our food. At the same time, it is a spiritual memoir of a man whose innovative system of cultivating the earth reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world.”

What I Thought Before

I have to work hard to optimize and outperform.

What I Thought After

I should stop always trying so hard.

Chill out, pay more attention, and find ways to let things de-complicate themselves rather than create complex solutions.

This book also inspired me to eat more with the seasons and to one day have a garden of my own. And it really made me want to return to Japan.

Chris blogging in Rwanda
Escaping all distractions* to do some Deep Work. (*Aside from the view and photo op.)

Deep Work, by Cal Newport

Topic: Productivity


“In Deep Work, author and professor Cal Newport flips the narrative on impact in a connected age. Instead of arguing distraction is bad, he instead celebrates the power of its opposite. Dividing this book into two parts, he first makes the case that in almost any profession, cultivating a deep work ethic will produce massive benefits. He then presents a rigorous training regimen, presented as a series of four “rules,” for transforming your mind and habits to support this skill.”

What I Thought Before

I thought I was productive.

In a given workweek, I could come in on Monday with a long to-do list, a full inbox, and a bunch of meetings, and somehow leave on Friday having gotten it all done.

What I Thought After

I have a new definition of productivity.

Completing to-do lists, emptying inboxes, and contributing to meetings is not productive. At least not as productive as I can be.

I probably intuited this before reading Deep Work, but reading the book sledgehammered it home for me.

I’ve been more focused a lot more on focusing since. The more I replace quick and easy tasks with sustained, undistracted hard work that pushes me to the limits of my capabilities, the more I actually accomplish.

Chris taking photos on grass
Mindset taught me that even though I’m not a “natural” at things like photography, I can become pretty good at it.

Mindset, by Carol Dweck

Topic: Self-Improvement


“After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, PhD, discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mind-set. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.”

What I Thought Before

I thought I was a natural.

I thought I was born smart, hard-working, and athletic. On the flip side, I was born hopeless at a lot of other things, especially artsy stuff like art, music, and dancing.

Other people are born with different strengths and weaknesses. That’s just the way it is.

What I Thought After

My nature’s only a small part of who I can be.

This book’s concepts of growth and fixed mindsets reframed the way I looked at ability. More important than whatever abilities I’m born with are the learned abilities to continuously challenge myself, hold myself accountable, stay curious, and keep an open mind.

Since reading Mindset, I’ve challenged my fixed identity and even gotten into “artsy” things like writing and photography. I also appreciate that most people who are better than me at anything weren’t born that way; they just worked at it more or better than I have.

And to remind myself of this and keep progressing toward a mythical fully growth mindset, I wrote a summary, How to Fix a False Growth Mindset.

Eating on the Wild Side, by Jo Robinson

Topic: Nutrition


“Based on years of scientific research and filled with food history and practical advice, Eating on the Wild Side will forever change the way we think about food. The next stage in the food revolution: a radical way to select fruits and vegetables and reclaim the flavor and nutrients we’ve lost.”

What I Thought Before

Fruits and vegetables are simply good for you.

An apple’s an apple and all fruit and vegetables are more or less equally healthy in different ways, however you eat them.

What I Thought After

Fruits and vegetables aren’t so simple.

Some fruits and vegetables have way more bang for your bite (and buck) than others, some fruits are closer to candy, and how you cook produce makes a big difference in their nutrition levels.

Among many other changes this book has compelled me to make, I eat a lot more broccoli and berries now, chop my garlic in advance, have pretty much banished bananas, and have a newfound respect for romaine.

Library of books
However you build your house of beliefs, remember to include some bookshelves.

More Ways to Change Your Thinking

And for an every-two-week source of books, ideas and challenges that have changed my life in some way, subscribe to my every-two-week newsletter, Consider This.

About the author

đź‘‹ I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

12 responses to “15 Books That Changed My Thinking on 15 Important Topics”

  1. Ted Wagner Avatar
    Ted Wagner

    Read “Breath” by James Nestor and Lifespan by David Sinclair.

    I arrived at your site because I was looking into real reviews of the Oura ring. Thank you for writing yours. It hleped me.

    If you want some honest feedback, I’ll probably never comeback to your site because the format of the advertising made the actual content difficult to read. The paragraphs constantly moved up and down while I was reading them to make room for another ad and I would have to find reorient myself. It was annoying enough to negate the benefit I got from what you wrote.

    1. Chris Avatar

      Thanks, Ted, for the best comment I’ve got in ages.

      Both those books are atop my to-read list. I’m looking forward to getting sledgehammered!

      And thanks for the feedback. I’ll look into it with the company that does our ads. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to make a living from this blog without them. Meanwhile, consider getting an ad blocker?

  2. Pradeep Avatar

    Wonderful post,keep up your good work!

    1. Chris Avatar

      Thanks, Pradeep.

  3. Micah Schrotenboer Avatar
    Micah Schrotenboer

    Enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

    1. Chris Avatar

      Glad to hear it, Micah. I hope you enjoy reading some of these books even more.

  4. H. Lundstrom Avatar
    H. Lundstrom

    Thanks for the excellent summary and overview. Have never seen a more sensible way to present so many books in so few words. Will give some of those a read (or rather, a listen, as these days I like to listen to audiobooks while on the bus, walking, cooking, you name it).

    Can definitely also recommend Lost Connections by Johann Hari, The World’s Fittest Book by Ross Edgley, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

    1. Chris Avatar

      Thanks for the recommendations, H. L. It seems Lost Connections builds on what Hari concluded from Chasing the Scream, right? I’ll have to check it out.

  5. Brad Van Horn Avatar
    Brad Van Horn

    Your list is motivating! So, I made my own list from your list, will get them all downloaded on Kindle, and will read one book per week. I will then select the best of the best and will purchase hard copies of them to give to others. I’m sure it will feel doubly good to share the benefit.

    1. Chris Avatar

      One per week! Whoa. Sounds like you’re hungry. Hopefully something hits the spot!

  6. Kayla Avatar

    Hi Chris! First, I want to say that I NEVER leave comments on blogs but I feel compelled to because I love this blog so much! Seriously, I stumbled across this blog a couple days ago and I love the information, and the videos and the topics. It’s truly wonderful. I so look forward to reading ALL of the books on this list. Thank you so much for putting this list together. It’s thoughtful and thought provoking and I can’t wait to elevate and change my way of thinking. I look forward to exploring more of your blog and keeping up with your posts. I wish you and your wife all the best, I truly enjoy your content!

    1. Chris Avatar

      Wow, thanks, Kayla for such an uplifting comment! By the way, for custom book recommendations and others’ probably better ideas than I have on this blog, feel free to email me. Or maybe you have ideas or recommendations to share, too? All the best!

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