What to read if you want to be awesome: The 17 best books of 2017 (Part 1 – Performance)

In 2017 I set a goal to read 52 non-fiction books. Although don’t ask me to list all 52 because I didn’t quite make it all the way!

Those who know me know I love to read. But until this year I had never made an effort to read a significant number of non-fiction books – I pretty much stuck exclusively to fiction. But I decided I wanted to learn, and one of the best ways to learn from the smartest people in the world is through books.

How did I choose the books? I didn’t just go to the book store and pick up ones with pretty covers. I searched for the recommended books of those mentors and influencers I follow, made a list, and then picked the ones with the pretty covers!

And now, having read so many incredible ideas, stories, notes and quotes… I’m making you a list. The list is my top 17 recommended books (seemed fitting for 2017). And it’s in three parts. The first part (this post) is books focused on improving your performance. Especially if you are an athlete or any other high performer. The second part is books focused on career and business. The last part are more general books – ones that improve you as a conversationalist, a contributor, and a member of the human race.

Here we go… part one of becoming awesome… books about performance. (These are not ranked, but simply numbered for convenience)


1. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

Who should read it: Anyone looking to become truly elite, the absolute best in the world at what they do. Not just in the top 10%, but the top 0.1%.

Summary: This book goes deep and if you haven’t read many books in the mindset or personal development space probably don’t start with this one. Each chapter takes a while to sink it but when it does it takes your thinking to a whole new level. Josh was a world champion in chess, and then became the world champion in Push Hands (the martial version of Tai Chi) so he knows what he is talking about. He gives the most compelling descriptions I’ve ever come across of what it takes to reach the zone, how to master skill at an unconscious level and how to chunk skills to form the basis of strategy.

Quote: ‘The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest. It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.’


2. Chasing Excellence by Ben Bergeron

Who should read it: Athletes and coaches

Summary: Ben is the coach of both the men’s and women’s CrossFit Games champions. His book is relatively short and easy to read, but still packed with insight. I’ve had a few non-CrossFit athletes read it to ensure that despite lacking knowledge of the sport the messages still come across. Ben uses stories of his athletes from the 2016 CrossFit Games to illustrate the characteristics of what makes a mentally tough athlete, and then goes into his coaching philosophy of how he develops those characteristics in his athletes.

Quote: ‘Most people think mental toughness is something we are born with – like blue eyes or freckles. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can condition our resolve for excellence or weakness, for resiliency or rigidity.’


3. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Who should read it: Everyone interested in learning, whether you are in sport or not. This is one of my favourite books of all time.

Summary: This book focuses on the science of talent – why is it that some people are better than others at things, and why particular parts of the world produce a disproportionate number of talented individuals. There is plenty of science in the book around what happens in your brain as you learn new skills, but it’s written in a friendly and comprehensible way, illustrated with examples of ‘talent hotbeds’ around the world. The book is divided into 3 sections: Skill and how it is developed, motivation – how it is sparked and how it is maintained, and how to be a master coach of talent.

Quote: ‘Character is more like a skill, than an innate personality trait. Character can be ignited by certain signals, and honed with deep practice.’


4. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Who should read it: Human beings – we all have habits, it would be wise to understand them.

Summary: Habits are our brain’s shortcuts. We learn what to do when a certain stimulus occurs, and the resulting action becomes so ingrained that after a while we no longer have to think about it. Habits are of course essential for survival, but it would also be beneficial to have a little more control over how our habits are formed and how to change redundant ones – this book does that. The author covers the science of habits and how to change them, and then goes into how habits manifest in organisations and society. The first section of the book is most relevant for athletes, the later sections more relevant for coaches who can substitute ‘team’ for ‘organisation’.

Quote: ‘Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.’ ~ Tom Dungy, American football coach


5. Relentless – From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover

Who should read it: Those absolutely committed to reaching the top, especially in sport but also in any other field. It will appeal to highly competitive people.

Summary: Tim Grover coached Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and a host of other athletic superstars. In direct contrast to the masses of books and people telling you to ‘find your passion’ and ‘if you love your sport that’s enough to become great’, Grover is very upfront about the work required to be the best. He doesn’t talk about fun, he goes through 13 principles of what it takes to become a ‘cooler’ – someone who controls the game from before the first whistle, and does whatever it takes to secure victory. It’s not only incredibly motivating, but paints a clear picture of what stepping up to the next level entails. Not a long read, but it’s intense.

Quote: ‘You don’t have to love the work, but you are addicted to the results.’


6. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Who should read it: There is something in this for everyone, although it’s likely to be a different something for everyone. I’d suggest picking and choosing what resonates with you rather than reading this cover to cover like I did.

Summary: This is the written summary of The Tim Ferriss Show, a number one podcast where he interviews world-class performers across incredibly diverse arenas. I love the podcast and often think ‘I should write that down’ when I’m listening – Tim’s done the hard yards for us with this epically complete volume of the highlights of over 200 podcast episodes. The premise is essentially that people who are successful aren’t necessarily smarter, more coordinated or luckier than you – they just have better systems, strategies, habits, routines and thought processes. This book goes into these things in plenty of practical detail.

Quotes: (impossible to pick just one from this book)

‘Once you’ve had some success – if it’s not a ‘hell, yes!’ it’s a ‘no’’ ~ Derek Sivers

‘Experience often deeply embeds the assumptions that need to be questioned in the first place.’ ~ Chris Sacca

‘Create yourself, instead of seeking to discover yourself. There is value in the latter, but it’s mostly past tense: It’s a rear-view mirror. Looking out the windshield is how you get where you want to go.’ ~ Tim Ferriss


Thats my top 6 books related to improving performance stay tuned for the second post in this series which includes my top books related to career and business.

December 19, 2017