• James Woodfall

Five books I’ve read in the last year that improved my mental resilience

1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

2. Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

3. Essentialism by Gregg McKeown

4. The Chimp Paradox by Prof. Steve Peters

5. The Gratitude Principle by Dan Sullivan

Mediations provide the classic stoic advice, that while there are events in your life, you may not be able to control; you can control how you think about them. Marcus Aurelius wrote the Meditations, never intending them to be published. The contents of the book are his private thoughts and are now nearly 2000 years old. The wisdom contained within gives an insight into the way the Roman emperor view life. It is a book that leads the reader into introspection, and to get the best out of it; I'd recommend reading it in a beautiful quiet place where you can't be distracted. I read it in a snow-covered cabin in Finnish Lapland, sat next to a window looking out at the horizon. I found myself reading a few paragraphs and then needing time for contemplation. There are several lessons in the book that are as true today as they were when Marcus Aurelius was alive. At one point, the author comments about life being shorter than we realise when you consider that there is a time later in life where we are unable to live it to the fullness of our younger years. Life is short, and from time to time, we need a reminder. The lesson I took from that is not to leave things that you want to do with your life until it is too late.

Man's Search For Meaning is an extension of this idea, in that the worst possible scenario imaginable our attitude can make a real difference. Viktor Frankl survived the horrors of the concentration camps in WWII and wrote his observations on what it took for those who survive to do so. I found the book a difficult read, as it is still horrific to think that it happened and what it must have been like for those who experienced it. The message is powerful. The second half of the book covers the influence on the author's practice as a psychiatrist.

Essentialism provided an excellent reminder to "keep the main thing, the main thing" and we can be easily distracted (I need that reminder from time to time!). One of the main messages in this book is that less is sometimes more.

The Chimp Paradox is excellent for helping me appreciate that in some cases, there is an initial emotional reaction (the chimp) that we don't have much control over. Acknowledge it, let it pass and move on when logical thinking takes over. When you are driving your car and someone cuts in front of you, you may have experienced "the chimp". After the swearing and gesturing stops, doesn't it seem an illogical reaction to something so trivial? Improving the way you handle problems comes from being aware of and managing your chimp effectively. The book breaks down how our brains work in a simple and easy to understand way.

Finally, a small book by Dan Sullivan about Gratitude: I learned from that if you are happy with where you are and what you have, your resilience increases dramatically. The book encourages you to think about different things and people in your life that you appreciate and make a note of them daily. When I started doing this, I noticed within a few days that I felt greater satisfaction with my life overall. I felt more resourceful when dealing with problems and my optimism about the future increased. Sometimes our frustrations with life stem from having goals and finding that there are barriers in the way to achieving them. We focus on problems instead of solutions; our attention is toward what we lack rather than what we have. Being grateful for what you can entirely change your mindset and improves your ability to handle and solve problems.

I'd love to hear what books you have read that improved your mental resilience, or if you have read any of the books on this list. Please send me an email at and let me know what you think.

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