Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, MD

I intentionally got this book for vacation thanks to the recommendation by Kristen Lisanti, a mindful coach and agent for change. As a certified workplace mindfulness facilitator, I know the benefit of mindfulness – “having good control over your attention” or put another way, “when your attention is steady, so is your mind.” This book offers simple content, scientific validation, and personal practices to change your brain because “what flows through your mind sculpts your brain.”

With the continued frenetic pace of corporate America, I think it’s important for leaders (anyone at any level) to understand the science of the brain and how you can work to adjust how it works in your favor. Basically, “attention is like a spotlight, and what it illuminates streams into your mind and shapes your brain.” Rick does a great job breaking down how the brain works at various levels to show just how much of our perception, thinking, and responses are literally hardwired through evolution and brain wiring. Our brains control us through:

  • Its built in “negativity bias” that primes you for avoidance
  • How it processes stress to set  you up for fear and anger
  • Its need to chase, understand, and control the past to avoid manage change in the future
  • Its preference to find, register, store, recall and react to unpleasant experiences, even if there are more positive ones

Thinking about Maya Angelou’s quote, “when you know better, you do better,” this book will help readers move from automation to intention through a few practices (all free!) that improves the function of our three pound brain muscle.

A jarring concept for me was “nothing left out” and how when we frame someone as “us” or “they” – our brain automatically devalues anyone who is not “us.” That it takes significant attention to focus on how we are alike to override the brain. Just think about this from the lens of organization culture, system development, DEIA initiatives, politics, religion, and community development.

The science in the book also showed how simple brain improvement can be. “Oxygen is to the nervous system what gasoline is to your car.” You see, while your brain is just 2% of your body weight, it uses roughly 20% of your oxygen. So, simply taking several deep breathes you increase oxygen in your blood which revs up your brain. So, with this in mind, take a deep breath and start working on your brain.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Everyone should read this book. Better yet, every family should read this book together and talk about it. As a preacher’s kid and preacher’s sister, I am keenly aware of death – anticipated and tragic. Add to that my experience of working with the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs division with families of the fallen during the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Death comes. This book – read wonderfully and personally by the author – is an intimate look at how medicine, doctors, retirement living, and hospice look at and address dying. This is not about the moment of death but the slow demise of our body and mind as we age, and ways to think about living in that state for a longer period of time as more folks live into and beyond 80. The author shares some compelling data but it’s largely a book of family stories through his work and research as a physician. Each story gives the reader an opportunity to reflect on what they might want for themselves (have you told your loved ones or put it in writing?) or how they might need to rethink their parent’s or loved one’s aging is being handled now. While any book on dying has hard moments, the book focuses on compassion and has hope… and offers empowering choices for a critical time in all of our lives.

Adversity for Sale (Ya Gotta Believe) by Jay “Jeezy” Jenkins

I love listening to people read their autobiography. Hearing their voice share their story adds a texture and connection — and makes it more personal. The gravel and grit in Jeezy‘s (Jay Jenkins) voice adds a whole other dimension as he told his story. I had no clue about Jeezy’s drug dealer days or music when I downloaded the book. He – and “trap music” – were a total unknown. Listening to the book opened up a whole other world, to say the least. In between movie like situations as a drug dealer in Atlanta spending $60,000 or more a night in cash at a favorite strip club with endless Cristal champagne, he shared great nuggets such as “my word is my bond,” following your own path, value of loyalty, stepping away to check in with yourself before you make a rash decision, the power of a network, and how personal health impacts your success. He shared a life of juxtaposition – from the hustle, guns, and “auntie moms” to the purpose we all share to “love and learn” and please to reach out for help to prevent suicide. What’s also impressive to think about, as he mentioned at the start, is he’s the third generation from slaves. Three generations from slavery to life in the “hood” to a net worth of $15M as a multi-platinum selling musician.

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emly Habeck

This was a spontaneous grab at the local bookstore at Sunset Beach, NC, Pelican Books. It is a small but mighty bookstore with a little bit of everything. Everyone in my family can find something anytime we go. This book was showcased as an independent pick, and how can you not grab a love story to read on the beach about newlyweds… especially when the husband transforms into a great white shark? I wasn’t sure if this was a literal or figurative transformation which enticed me even more. It’s a creative book that drew me in and kept me captivated. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot or book structure so you can experience it as I did – diving in fresh. I will share it’s about transformation at every level… and the magnitude of it all kind of sneaks up on you at the end.

The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Practice to Success that Feeds – Not Crushes – Your Soul by Brad Stulberg

I listened to this book while walking on the beach. The sensation of sand between my toes and the powerful waves crashing nearby added to the concept of groundedness. Brad uses stories, data, and practices to offer ways to be more mindful about how you show up as a person and leader.

He covers the principles of groundedness and how to bring them to life:  accept where you are to get where you want to go; be present so you can own your attention and energy; be patient and you’ll get there faster; embrace vulnerability to develop genuine strength and confidence; build deep community; and move your body to ground your mind.

I found his principles – and how to embody them – practical. I’ll also add that practical is anything but simple as I’ve worked on many of these over the years. I do know, however, that trying and retrying each one is well worth the benefit.

A few phrases I took away from this book:

  • If you’re lonely at the top you’re doing it wrong
  • Separate signal from noise
  • The goal is to give an honest effort
  • Productive activity not productivity
  • Habit energy
  • You don’t become what you think, you become what you do
  • You’ll be pulling weeds and planting flowers in the garden of your mind
  • Sacred practices
  • Less candy; more nourishment
  • Touching bliss
  • Don’t just do something, stand there
  • Seeing and letting go

And, I leave you with this data point:  Research shows a 10% drop in IQ due to multitasking. So “quality of your attention” matters.

Happy reading.

Books – September 2023

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