As many times as we may have let ourselves down, something compels us, year after year, to come up with a list of New Year’s resolutions. The reasons are sound: It’s good to learn, change and excel, and we all have areas in which we can improve. But there’s always a looming chance we’ll fail to realize our aspirations. This time, try tackling your pledges, or help your friends and family do the same, with the help of books. 2012 saw a host of nuanced and layered takes on building courage, embracing your uniqueness, mastering skills and boosting brainpower. Here are eight resolutions to consider for 2013 and the books that’ll help you achieve them.
The struggle for perfection has an outspoken opponent in Brené Brown. The Texas-born social researcher has written numerous books and given two legendary TED talks championing the idea that being vulnerable—owning up to our weaknesses, fears and sources of shame—is the only authentic path to self-compassion, confidence and love. The bestselling “Daring Greatly” focuses on the relationship between vulnerability and courage, with Brown’s hard-won wisdom on stepping up at work and cultivating honesty in our relationships.
If it’s true that you’re only as wise as your experiences, Augusten Burroughs must be a veritable sage. The former memoirist has exposed his own darkest demons in books such as “Running With Scissors” and “Dry,” managing to buffer his family dysfunction and his own subsequent alcoholism with unflinching honesty and his signature dark humor. Now, in “This His How,” he’s taken the lessons he’s learned and turned them into a searing self-help book that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and filled with tough love. Wallowers beware: In Burroughs’ view, happiness and confidence aren’t birthrights accessible to all, but rather prizes awaiting those who have managed to survive and learn from life’s grisly twists. “The truth is,” he writes, “it is not going to help to stand in front of the mirror, look into your own eyes, and lie to yourself. Especially when you are the one person you are supposed to believe you can count on.”
Embrace your uniqueness
At least one third of Americans are classifiable introverts, and yet our world has increasingly become the domain of the extroverted. Introversion and shyness researcher Susan Cain shows how schools and businesses prioritize social ease and charisma above intelligence and creativity and how this bias is bad not just for introverts, but for society in general. “We make a grave mistake when we embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly,” she writes. “Some of our greatest ideas, art and inventions…came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune into their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.” “Quiet” graced numerous year-end best-book lists and introduced thousands of readers to the phenomenon of introversion, dismantling misperceptions and suggesting a path forward for the vast number of introverts who struggle to share their talents with the world.
Break bad habits
We all know that habits are an integral part of our everyday life; just how integral they are is the subject of New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg‘s book, “The Power of Habit,” which blew up across bestseller lists in 2012. Drawing upon research and case studies, as well as profiles of business leaders and athletes, Duhigg shows how habits are created, how they evolve into personal character and lifestyle and how they can be manipulated and broken. He argues that habits play or have played central roles in the career of Michael Phelps, the expansion of Starbucks, the rise of Febreze and the enduring success of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Perhaps most empowering is Duhigg’s analysis of what he calls the “habit loop,” a psychological map of habit formation that, if used correctly, can help readers to break bad habits.
Channel your competitive streak
Psychopaths—deranged and remorseless though they may be—may have something to teach us about success: That’s the thrust of Cambridge psychology researcher’s Kevin Dutton‘s book, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths,” among the sexier and more contentious psychology titles of the year. Dutton points out that the “benefits” of psychopathy—charisma, fearlessness, the ability to detach from one’s emotions—are strikingly similar to the traits we see in highly successful and intelligent people, and lays out an argument that everyone can benefit from incorporating a smidgen of Hannibal Lecter into their own lives. “Deep within the corridors of the brain,” he writes, “psychopathy and sainthood share secret neural office space.”
Discover your passion
Robert Greene‘s books on power and influence—“The 48 Laws of Power” and “The Art of Seduction” among them—have made him popular among business types seeking to sharpen their Machiavellian edge, as well as among rap stars, most notably 50 Cent. (Greenee and 50 Cent even co-authoreda book entitled “The 50th Law.”) Greene’s latest, “Mastery,” shifts focus from exerting power to finding and cultivating one’s personal passion. Complete mastery of a skill, Greene writes, is “form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential.” Steeped in both historical examples and contemporary insights, his guide lays out a path for choosing a pursuit and owning it.
You may already be familiar with Gretchen Rubin‘s pursuit of joy: “The Happiness Project” was one of the bestselling titles of 2011 and book club favorite, drawing media coverage and spawning a website and spin-off journal. Her latest, “Happier at Home,” is a more focused, but no less relatable, chronicle of her year of finding more peace and joy in her domestic life specifically. The book is filled with musings and advice on organizing, decorating, parenting and marriage, and the voice is Rubin to the core—spunky, offbeat and inviting.
Sharpen your mind
The notion that that our thinking affects our physical health, for better or worse, is an increasingly trenchant one. Now, two authorities on the matter—neuroscientist Rudolph Tanzi and alternative healing guru Deepak Chopra—have joined forces to pen a comprehensive guide to making your brain work for you. “Super Brain” shows how to maximize cognitive abilities and overcome various ills—memory loss, depression, anxiety among them—by harnessing the power of thought.