Need ideas for your summer reading list? Enjoy five of my favorite non-fiction reads.

It is almost summertime, and your local bookstore is sure to be promoting a fresh batch of new beach reads to toss into your pool bag or take on vacation. I hope you will consider popping into your local bookstore to see what’s new this summer. There is nothing like browsing through actual physical books. Wandering between the store shelves, taking in the rainbow of colors and pulling out book after book to leaf through their pages is a feast for all the senses.

My family has been fortunate enough to live down the street from a former librarian and current children’s/young adult specialist from Blue Willow Bookshop, who has nurtured the love of reading in my kids. She would bring down piles of advanced reader copies (called ARC’s) for my kids to plough through each summer, and I am certain it was this encouragement that turned my daughter’s love of reading into a career as a published author. Her first book, The Monstrous Kind, debuts this September.

Like my children, I have always enjoyed reading, but have found my interests most often lie in the non-fiction section. Seeking to understand myself and the world better, I have sought refuge in books from ancient philosophy to modern thinkers. Along the way I have filled my bookshelves with many titles that have brought knowledge, pleasure and even personal transformation.

So I thought that for this blog, I would take my turn at suggesting some alternative beach reads. I have chosen five that I consider classics in my library, and that I often recommend to friends and clients, for their simple power and deep inspiration. I would love to hear from you if you have a favorite non-fiction that touched your heart or transformed your way of thinking about yourself or the world.

What do these books have to do with performance?

As a Mental Performance Coach, it may seem unusual that these books are not geared specifically to performance. However, I believe that we reach our greatest potential when we focus on providing an internal environment that supports emotional resilience and psychological flexibility. That environment is founded on our deeply-held beliefs and the internal messages we tell ourselves about who we are and what we can do. While much of it may be formed by the environment of our upbringing, over which we have no control, we have an amazing ability to reflect on our thoughts and perceptions and change them if we so choose.

Five Inspirational Reads That Should Be on Your Shelf.

These titles are shared in the order that I read them over the years. 

1. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha (2003), by Tara Brach, Ph.D. – A teacher of meditation and Buddhism and a psychotherapist, Tara Brach helps us understand that it is possible to embrace all parts of ourselves with a wise and tender heart. She brings the idea of compassion and forgiveness to life in this book and inspires each of us to awaken to our true nature, which she describes as a state of happiness and freedom that is the birthright of every human being. 

I have struggled with strong emotions throughout my life. I felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I felt different and separate, even isolated. Brach calls this the trance of unworthiness that delimits our life experience. Rather than trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, she invites us to welcome all thoughts and emotions as waves on the internal ocean of our experience. By staying with the thoughts rather than resisting them, we can learn to value our whole selves. 

Whether you are an elite athlete or simply trying to manage daily stress, this lesson in self-compassion is an essential one. In fact, as the stakes get higher in terms of our goals, it is even more essential to lean into self-compassion to build the emotional resilience needed for the journey. Learning to embrace what shows up (thoughts, feelings and emotions) with compassion allows us to develop an authentic confidence that can support us through our greatest endeavors.

2. I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) (2007), by Brene Brown, Ph.D. – While Radical Acceptance is based on ancient dharma teachings, this book brings us more recent, evidence-based research on the effects of shame on women’s lives. Brown explores how society’s messages of “you are not enough” can manifest itself in variations of addiction, perfectionism, negative body image, fear and blame. Through real stories of women, it is easy to relate to the struggles of trying to find authenticity and joy in our lives.

Having worked with many young athletes struggling with self-acceptance and body image, this book is a revelation in turning our vulnerability as humans into a superpower. As an athlete, every time you step out to compete, you make yourself vulnerable to public evaluation and comparison to others. As you reach for higher goals, you are sure to encounter loss and setbacks that can rock your confidence.

This book provides insight on how to sustain confidence amidst loss and embrace the vulnerability that comes with pushing boundaries and taking risks in a public domain. I think this book is essential to anyone who struggles with self-doubt and perfectionism.

3. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (1997), by Pema Chödrön – Chödrön brings us another profound teaching on dealing with pain, suffering, anxiety and fear, all of which are rampant in our society today. Every client to whom I have recommended this book, has shared with me how much they have resonated with its messages.

It is human nature to avoid pain and suffering by trying to get away from it or get rid of it. It is our body’s way of protecting itself. We seek to cover up our fears with a multitude of distractions, from eating or binge-watching, to more destructive distractions like alcohol or drugs. We might even use work or our sport to distract us from the uncomfortable feelings, extolling mental toughness as a means of pushing past our feelings.

This simple, yet powerful book encourages the reader to awaken to the bravery that is inherent in each of us, which we can do through regular training. Just like an athlete must train the body to be prepared for competition, so too must we train the mind to be ready for challenges. Practicing mindfulness is a way to train yourself to stay present in the moment and be with the feelings that come and go in a non-threatening way.

4. Man’s Search For Meaning (1959), by Viktor E. Frankl – In this classic book, Frankl shares his deeply personal encounter with life and death in the Nazi death camps, where he vows to bring honesty and integrity to all that he does during this horrific experience. Through the stories of his own experiences and those of his patients, Frankl inspires readers to look for meaning in their own suffering and to seek growth in their lives.

Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy that asserts our primary drive in life is not pleasure but a desire for meaning. For those seeking big goals, it is essential to find a way to sustain motivation through the long journey to the top. By rooting our efforts in our WHY and seeking long-term growth rather than relying on short-term boosts from wins, we can find more success, joy and satisfaction in our journey.

5. Tuesdays with Morrie (1997), by Mitch Albom – I made the mistake of bringing this book with me on the plane to read. Only a few chapters in, I found myself tearing up from its deeply-felt message of love and kindness. But rather than put it away, I could not stop reading the inspiration messages between the covers.

A college professor, Morrie Schwartz was dying from ALS, or motor neuron disease, when his former student, Mitch Albom, returned to visit him. Like most of us, Mitch was unsure just how to be with age, illness and the fast-approaching death of a dear mentor. But Morrie did not let his withering body stop him from making the most of the time he had left and giving one last lesson to Mitch. .

Morrie records these words of wisdom in these pages and inspires each of us to love harder and live more fully with each day that we have. It is a course in life that should be required for each of us. Just remember – if you decide to read it on the plane or poolside, be sure to pack the tissues!

Self-awareness is the foundation of mental performance.

It is my passion to blend ancient wisdom, science and practical knowledge to help others cultivate an authentic confidence and joy in their journey. If you would like to understand yourself better and how to support optimum performance, reach out to me for a complimentary consultation.