You might have experienced the following problem:
There are so many sources throwing interesting content at you all the time (newsletters, articles, books, videos, online courses…), that sometimes you get overwhelmed and / or derailed from what you wanted to be actually learning about.
And if you’re a genuinely curious person interested in many different topics, that’s a recipe for never-ending procrastination disguised as learning. It certainly happens to me (sad trombone).
How to cherry pick what’s most relevant for you right now?
This year, Silvia and I decided to experiment with mindful content consumption and we created our own antilibrary.
Antilibrary is Environment Design
The basic idea behind an antilibrary is to focus on collecting what you want to learn, instead of what you already know. While it was first introduced in The Black Swan (affiliate link) as a collection of unread books, you can apply it to any form of content.
In fact, you can think about an antilibrary as an example of environment design:
Whatever content you surround yourself with (be it books, videos, or conversations with people) will shape the person you become.
And since your time is limited, it’s important to choose wisely.
One of the possible solutions is to carefully examine what you want to be learning and why, and adjust your content consumption environment to become deliberate rather than random.
For example, if your main passions in life are meditation, permaculture, and cycling, you might place your favourite meditation app on the homescreen of your phone (and remove everything else), buy a few books about permaculture and place them where you can see them often, and subscribe to your favourite cycling Youtube channel for a regular motivation boost. And gradually limit your engagement with other content (especially the kind that sends you down rabbit holes you don’t want to explore).
Of course, the example above is an oversimplification for most of us. After all, there are so many enriching things we could learn and it’s hard to know in advance what’s the real value of the content you’re about to engage with.
What seems to work best for me is a balancing act between deliberate learning (“exploiting”) and curiosity (“exploring”).
Note: We created a journaling exercise to help you use the Explore / Exploit Trade-Off. You can find it here.
Let’s put this into practice:
Make it a part of your content consumption routine to ask yourself:
Why do I want to consume this content?
The answers can reveal some uncomfortable truths, such as:
“I never actually read this newsletter, but staying subscribed makes me feel clever.”
“It’s easier to consume whatever Netflix recommends than find a good film to watch.”
“I bought this book because I’m addicted to collecting books, but the truth is that I’ll probably never read it.”
“I don’t even know why I’m reading this…”
These insights are precious. You can use them to optimize your environment for deliberate content consumption, one step at a time.
And if you’re curious about my personal insights and actions from this process, then here they are:
- Switch off auto-play in everything.
- Reach out to people I trust to know about a topics I want to learn about and ask for content recommendations, rather than click on interesting links on social feeds.
- Prioritize long-form text, such as books and essays, over short articles.
- Send all articles and videos I feel like consuming to Instapaper. Ask myself: “what do I want to learn about?” before opening Instapaper.
- Keep unsubscribing from all newsletters that are not relevant for me right now. I can always find the content on the website if I feel like it.
But here’s the hard truth:
Even if you narrow your interests down, there’s still an infinite amount of content you could be consuming.
That’s why I’ve taken another step.
The Minimalist Bookshelf
Imagine that you’re about to spend a month crossing an ocean on a sailboat. What content would you take with you?
After coming across the Pino Bookclub from 100 Rabbits (a couple of creators living on a sailboat), Silvia and I decided to apply a similar tactic and deliberately choose books we want to read this year, order them in print, and place them on a bookshelf in a place where we can see them very often.
Fun fact: I built the bookshelf myself from recycled pallets.
We didn’t set a specific number of books in advance, but tried to keep the selection relatively small — just enough to bring variety and insight, but not too much to trigger overwhelm and getting lost.
We also spent some time choosing the books together, which made it easy to act intentionally, rather than on impulse. And having the two of us became an asset: Silvia chose books that I wouldn’t, and vice-versa, which brings an extra degree of “exploring” into the mix.
Finally, we picked the place for the bookself strategically. We spend a lot of time in the office (which is also our playroom), and having the books at the entrance ensures that we keep seeing them throughout the day, so they stay in our awareness. That’s also one of the reasons why we decided to go for physical books, rather than ebooks.
Here’s the magic formula:
Deliberate content consumption (why?) + radical prioritization (less is more).
And now, to the actual books we picked.
Our Bookshelf for 2021
We divided the books in two categories:
- Manuals: books that provide deep insight into a specific topic/area that we want to be coming back to regularly for reference.
- “Single-read books”: other books, mostly to be read once.
You’ll notice that we didn’t pick many fiction books, and that’s deliberate. We are lucky to have a local library full of amazing literature curated by two book lovers, and we prefer to chose fiction reads based on curiosity, rather than planning.
We also didn’t decide what we’ll do with the single-reads at the end of the year, but that’s a problem for our future-selves. We might donate them to the library, or share them with our friends / community.
Here are the books in no particular order, along with a short explanation of why we picked them.
You can watch the video, or if you prefer, read below.
FYI: All links are affiliate links.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Because inevitably I will die, and I want to be ready when I do. That’s also the only book that doesn’t show on the shelf, because we lent it to our friend.
The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa
Because it’s the most comprehensive step-by-step guide to enlightenment. Enough said.
The Detox Miracle Sourcebook by Robert Morse
I’m aware that diets are extremely touchy subjects for people and I’m not trying to tell you what will work for you. But since I’ve started following nutrition principles advocated by Morse my body transformed so much, that I have no doubt that it’s an optimal diet for me.
Ultralearning by Scott Young
A manual for learning effectively, from a guy who learned four languages in a year, and passed an entire MIT 4-year curriculum in a single year. Everything’s possible.
Draft No. 4 by John McPhee
Both Silvia and I are nonfiction writers, and who’s a better person to learn from than McPhee.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
This is not a manual per se, but it’s the single most impactful book both Silvia and I have ever read. And we both want to keep rereading it every few years.
Dreams of Awakening by Charlie Morley
We spend so much time sleeping, and lucid dreaming is a wonderful practice to turn this time into something both healing and magical. That’s the one book that always lies next to my bed, ready for grabs whenever I wake up at night.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Because learning about and tracking her menstrual cycle made a huge difference to how Silvia feels in her body.
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis
Because after I first came across Nick’s work, I’ve been mesmerised and craving to see more, and on paper.
The Practice by Seth Godin
Because I love Godin’s concise writing, and I’m dedicating this year to deliberate practice.
Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta
Because I’m not happy with how our world functions at the moment, and I have a feeling that this book has important wisdom to share that can help me co-create something better for all beings.
Lead Together by Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield and Travis Marsh
Because I’m curious to read a book written by members of Enspiral (a network both Silvia and I contribute to). Also, here’s what Frederic Laloux (author of Reinventing Organizations) said about this book: “If I were out there trying to build a different kind of organization, I would take this book on my journey and go back to it all the time.”
The Story of B by Daniel Quinn
Because Ishmael by the same author is the most impactful book I’ve ever read.
The School of Life: An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
Because I read The Course of Love a while ago and it had a tremendous positive impact on my relationship. And I really vibe with de Botton’s writing style.
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
I kept hearing from many people I trust (including Silvia) that it’s an absolute must read.
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Because I want to learn more about flow states.
Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
Because the title sounds great and it’s been highly recommended in the sense-making web.
Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg
Because it’s the practice I really need to cultivate more in my life, and Salzberg is its most renowned teacher in the West.
Weapons of Reason compiled by Human After All
I came across this publication a long time ago and I loved the first two issues but I never got the other ones since I’ve been traveling and didn’t feel like carrying physical books with me. But it was a no-brainer for me to support their Kickstarter campaign for the book compiling the best articles from all the issues.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
Because Silvia felt like it’d be fun to read, and I agree.
Bonus: What About Films?
I recently came across Mubi, and I can’t recommend it enough. Instead of pushing you to watch more of the same (like Netflix), the platform focuses on careful curation of world cinema masterpieces. For a cinema lover like myself, who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time searching for the pearls, this is the place.
Find the Perfect Keystone Habit for You
The right keystone habit unlocks everything you want to achieve. Find out what’s yours!
- What is a keystone habit and how it can change your whole life (page 1)
- 3-step exercise to find your perfect keystone habit (page 2)
- 5 different categories of keystone habits for different people (page 3)
- 10 of the most impactful keystone habits you can choose (page 3)