Books to Bring You Beginner's Mind in 2007

What is beginner’s mind? “The mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices.” That’s the kind of mind we web workers often need, as we confront ways of working and communicating that are radically different from what we experienced before.

January’s the month that people think of making changes to their lives. If you’re considering a career change–maybe moving into independent web work from traditional employment, convincing your manager you can be more productive by telecommuting, or maxing out your credit cards to fund your own web 2.0 startup–you may need to do some psychological work to get ready. You may need beginner’s mind.

These five books can help. These are not your typical career advice books. They will not tell you how to write a resume or stand out in an interview or negotiate your salary. What they will do is bring you a fresh perspective, a few new ideas, and a willingness to question conventional wisdom: that’s beginner’s mind.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. When you find your life changing, either by design or happenstance, Bridges’ description of the stages you will go through can make you feel less like you’ve lost your mind. Most comforting is his description of the “neutral zone”–that time between endings and startings when you feel disengaged, disoriented, distracted, and detached. Bridges emphasizes the organic, unfolding nature of transitions over a mechanical view that says you just need to do X, Y, and Z to make your new life happen.

Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. If you’re interested in Buddhism but don’t want a religious or overly fluffy treatment, Hagen’s spare writing might be for you. Hagen cuts through all the psychological garbage of modern life and makes you want to see clearly, without frozen ideas and without being captive to the desires that can divert you from your true purpose.

The Ethics of Authenticity by Charles Taylor. There’s a pervasive idea in modern day Western society that valuing authenticity leads inexorably towards narcissism and crude vulgarity. Taylor disputes this and begins the recovery project of showing the value and morality of authenticity. Though this book contains heavy-going stuff from an academic philosopher, it provides an antidote to the constant criticism of web activities as primarily crude and selfish.

Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life: A Workbook of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, and Martha Davis. If you’re prone to depression or negative thinking, you might be able to help yourself without drugs or professional therapy. The exercises in this book will teach you to dispute the pessimistic thoughts that dominate your mind, break you out of the ruts that mild depression can lead you into, and help you relax. Though major depression is probably best treated with the help of a psychiatrist or other mental health specialist, minor neuroses and negative thought patterns can be changed with some hard work and the right guide.

On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity by Ellen Langer. Despite the title, this is not just a book for artists. Academic psychologist Langer combines personal stories about her journey learning to paint with findings from her own and others’ research on the psychology of mindfulness. To Langer, mindfulness combines nonjudgment, present-moment awareness, and attention to subtleties of meaning and perception rather than looking at things the same old way. You’ll find practical and inspiring advice for making positive headway in your career in this book, especially if you want to express yourself creatively through your work.

Are you hoping to make any new beginnings in 2007?

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