Books That Change Your Thinking: 15 Books on 15 Different Topics

See if you can’t find some books that change your thinking among this list of “sledgehammer books” that completely tore-down and rebuilt my beliefs on various topics.

Sledgehammer Books

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

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

But some books give you no choice but to whip out the sledgehammer and go Extreme Makeover: Belief Edition. When 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.

Share Your Sledgehammers

If you have any books that change your thinking to recommend, please share it with me and fellow readers in the comments.

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

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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.

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

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman


Topic: Relationships

Blurb

“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.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie


Topic: Social Skills

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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.

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


Topic: Psychology

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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 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 steps down my own unconventional route. 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, 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

Blurb

“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)

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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

Blurb

“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, 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.

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

Blurb

“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.

Eating on the Wild Side, by Jo Robinson


Topic: Nutrition

Blurb

“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 bookshelfs.

Time For More Renovations

Coming up with this list of books that changed my thinking was surprisingly difficult. I read most of them years, if not decades ago, so I had gotten so used to the beliefs they helped me rebuild that I barely remember what was there before.

It also made me realized I was long overdue for a touch-up. Or maybe even a whole new renovation.

Are You Willing to Change Your Thinking?

For ideas that will change your thinking and give you better things to do than read emails, subscribe to our weekly newsletter, Consider This:

Read This Next:

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we recommend. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to. Read our affiliate policy here.

Chris and Kim

Kim and Chris started The Unconventional Route in 2018 to share their experiences exploring extraordinary places, things, and ideas. Now, over 150,000 people a month read their questionable advice. Every week, they share a new complacency-challenging and curiosity-tickling idea in their newsletter, Consider This.