Coach Sam Smith's Top 12 Books of 2020

30 Dec


The beauty in taking time to look back at the previous year and picking out 12 books that left an impact is identifying the various aims I was seeking in reading those books. Each one tells a different story. Looking at the 12 books on the whole creates a broader story on what I was searching for this past year. Based on the selection, it won’t come as much of a surprise that human behavior, value systems, and self-discovery were the core drivers for my learning this past year. The main reason as to why I’ve been pulled in that direction is due to the nature of my work. The deeper I dive into my coaching career the more I’m recognizing how central a sound understanding, and appreciation, for human behavior is needed. And, how devalued it continually becomes as our world moves further away from relationships towards technology. As a coach, being able to marry the utility of technology and the intrinsic relational aspect of a coach and client is where success, how I define it, and fulfillment in the coaching career can be attained.

As I mention each year due to the sobering nature of numbers and simple arithmetic, aim to read a book each month for a full year. If you average 10 pages per day, you’ll get through a 300 page book each month. That’s 3600 pages in a year. If you do that for the next 5 years you will accumulate 60 books and 18,000 pages read. Big outcomes always start with small steps.

Sam Smith's Top 12 Books for 2020 (in no particular order)

#1 Ego is the enemy - Ryan Holiday



Stay humble, patient, and persistent. Easy to say, but very hard to do.

“When you are just starting out, we can be sure of a few fundamental realities: 1) You’re not nearly as good or as important as you think you are, 2) You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted; 3) Most of what you think you know or most what you have learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.”



#2 The War of Art - Steven Pressfield

Complacency kills. Similar theme to Ego is the enemy with a slightly different perspective and tone. 

“We have a right to our labor, but not the fruits of our labor.” (Still one of my favorite quotes of all time)



#3 Eleven Rings - Phil Jackson

Success leaves clues. Principles transcend all things. When the foundation is strong the outcomes are not too surprising.

“It’s all about being present and taking responsibility for how you relate to yourself and others…and that means being willing to adjust so that you can meet people where they are. Instead of expecting them to be somewhere else and getting angry and trying to will them to that place, you try to meet them where they are and lead them where you want them to go.” 

“The wise leader is of service: receptive, yielding, following.”



#4 The Ultimate Sales Machine - Chet Holmes

My initial dive into sales and behavior.

“People will even pay more if they perceive there is a greater value or a deeper reason for buying from one provider over another.” 



#5 The Coddling of the American Mind - Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

Sobering and sad. The responsibility of parents is becoming more important as each year passes.

“Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

#6 The Oxygen Advantage - Patrick Mckeown

Breathing in fitness is an undervalued tool. And, it’s starting to become the next “hot” thing in the fitness world. So, I wanted to learn a bit more from an outside perspective. This was informative and reinforced the importance of  improved connection to the breath and utilizing it more consciously within training.

“If breathing rate and volume can have such an immediate and significant effect on the heart, we need to ask what repercussions poor breathing habits might have on the long-term health of our hearts.” 



#7 The Undoing Project - Michael Lewis

I always appreciate a good story. I only wish I was able to sit and listen, or watch and listen, to Amos Tverksy lecture. Thankfully, Daniel Kahneman is still prolific and continually challenging our understanding of human behavior.

When discussing the Muller-Lyer optical illusion: “If perception had the power to overwhelm reality in such a simple case, how much power might it have in a more complicated one?”



#8 Lost Connections - Johann Hari

Confronting the areas inside that you don’t want to look at and providing solutions to adjust your perspective and move you in the right direction.

“It is only when we listen to our pain that we can follow it back to its source - and only there, when we can see its true causes, can we begin to overcome it.”

#9 12 Rules for Life - Jordan Peterson

The first book I’ve reread in awhile. It’s amazing how much you can take away, or that you didn’t see the first time, when you reread a book. There’s a reason a lot of people dislike Peterson’s work: he makes each of us uncomfortable and we don’t like being uncomfortable. In my experience, those who continue to lean into discomfort seem to find more fulfillment and purpose in what they are doing.

“We can not navigate, without something to aim at and, while we are in this world, we must always navigate…What you aim at determines what you see…seeing is very difficult, so you must choose what to see, and let the rest go.”



#10 Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

This was the second book I reread this year. I read this one a little over 3 years ago. At the time, I didn’t have the cognitive resources to extract from the endless well that is Kahneman and Tverksy’s work. I’d also add reading “The Undoing Project” prompted me to return to this book to dive deeper into the research and findings from these intellectual giants. 

“The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.” 



#11 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky

I haven’t read REAL literature in a long time. There’s a reason this book is argued as the greatest novel ever written. When you read great prose it’s unbelievable how many doors it opens in your mind. Taking a break from reality and entering the mind of Dostoevksy was a breath of fresh air. 

“Of course, I blamed it all on my fate, pretended to hunger and thirst for light, and finally set in motion the greatest and most certain means of conquering a woman’s heart, a means that never deceives anyone and that acts decisively on every woman, without exception. That means is well known- it’s flattery. There’s nothing more difficult in the world than straightforwardness, and there’s nothing easier than flattery. If in straightforwardness there’s only one-hundredth part of a false note, then dissonance results at once, followed by a scandal. If in flattery everything up to the last note is false, it’s received and heard not without enjoyment; even though it’s crude, it’s enjoyment nonetheless. And, however crude the flattery, at least half of it will certainty seem to be true.”



#12 Affective Neuroscience - Jack Panksepp

I haven’t finished this one yet; it’s very dense. In my opinion, you need to read books that are challenging and force you to pay attention and focus. It’s uncomfortable at times but necessary. This book is fantastic at forcing a high level of focus to extract great insight and understanding around human behavior and emotions.

“Decartes’ faith in his assertion ‘I think, therefore I am’ may be superseded by a more primitive affirmation that is part of the genetic makeup of all mammals: ‘I feel, therefore I am.’”


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