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A High School Graduate Reading List for Your Next Steps

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Tyler Lee

PHHS '19, Rutgers University '23

When Zoom school let out, any semblance of a daily routine collapsed, and I was in a rut for a while. My screen time for social media went up 50%. My Switch was getting all of the love. Brain was going to mush. I felt claustrophobic with all of this time and nothing much to do with it. After about a month of straight vibes, I recognized what quarantine is terrific for— a personal upgrade. Without the commutes, the meetups, the errands, I can devote extra time to working on myself. That’s what I’ve been doing, drawing from the books listed below.

I know that NJ is lifting quarantine restrictions as it enters Stage Two of reopening its economy. We’re getting back into the hum and drum of our lives before Coronavirus. Still, if you’re like me and have no summer plans, read the books. I highly recommend that everyone, especially this year’s high school graduates, take a look at these books and use them as you prepare for your next steps. I included some personal takeaways so that you can get a sneak peek and choose the ones most relevant to you.

The thing about these books: do not read them through and do nothing! Be quick to apply what you learn. You can very easily fall into the trap of feeling good about reading these books but not grabbing value from them. Honestly, you don’t have to read them at all if you really really don’t want to. They are so widely referenced that many blogs and YouTube videos, accessible with a quick Google search, already summarized them for you. That said, get the books for more examples and details, which will give you a better idea of how to apply what they teach.

1. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

I say start with habits because they are fundamental to helping you achieve your desired outcomes. Habits run our lives. They are the automatic urges that shape the majority of our actions throughout the day. Clear’s book will give you four laws of habit building (and their inverses, for habit breaking) that will help you start designing your life. This book will get you running every day, reading a book a week, preparing more efficiently for exams, and more. The habits themselves can be anything, but Clear has codified the process for building/breaking them, and his tips work.

If you want to learn more about the theory behind habits, check out The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

2. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel.

You will learn how to learn effectively by actively through self-quizzing, interleaving, and spacing. You’ll also learn how not to learn. Arguably an essential book for students, but it also applies to areas outside academics, like athletics and cooking.

3. The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter

You will get ideas about how to set goals and how to summon incredible amounts of motivation to achieve those goals. Winter lays it out like this: Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay). Expectancy is the confidence of one’s ability to accomplish a goal. Value is the reward of a goal during and after you complete it. Impulsiveness is the number of distractions you have and your susceptibility to being distracted. Delay is the amount of time you have to wait before you can reap the rewards of a goal. He recommends different strategies that will allow you to raise expectancy or value, or lower impulsiveness or delay. This book shares some ideas with Clear’s but packages them differently.

4. Deep Work by Cal Newport

Newport makes a case for deep work, or “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” Being able to enter states of deep work, full one-hour to four-hour sessions of deep concentration on one task, is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare while at the same time becoming increasingly valuable in the economy. Newport gives tips for developing this skill, like getting off all social media that are not directly useful. He also guides you through the process of ritualizing deep work sessions, recommending strategies that some of the books above echo. Developing the level of focus and efficiency outlined in this book is hugely beneficial for everybody, no matter what you are doing after high school.

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