Books: Can reading change your life?

Books. We read them for information, for research, for entertainment – or simply to lose ourselves in the story. But did you ever stop to think how books and words shape your life?

There is no doubt that books – fiction or non-fiction – influence us. They can inspire and inform, enrage and frustrate; they can leave us feeling warm and fuzzy, or thoughtful and introspective. And deep down, those words we read, the stories that are told, settle into our minds, challenging our perceptions and guiding the decisions we make.

Our relationship with books

We asked a group of experts, all of whom are in the business of giving us practical advice and information – be it health, fitness, nutrition or wellness –to share the one book that has given their lives meaning. Here’s what they said:

Name: Melissa Kelly
Occupation: Registered dietician
Book: The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris

For me, it’s not just the book, but a fable that I read within that book. It’s a lovely story, which changed my outlook on so many things.

The fable is about an American businessman who goes on vacation to a small Mexican village. There he meets a fisherman with a small boat and several large yellow-fin tuna. The businessman compliments him and asks him how long it took for him to bring in his catch. The fisherman responds: only a short while, and that he catches what he needs to support his family and friends, and then is able to enjoy his life – he sleeps late, fishes a little, plays with his kids, spends time with his wife, socializes with his friends. He has a full and busy life.

reading | Longevity LIVE

The businessman, with his Harvard MBA, scoffs, says that he should spend more time fishing, buy a bigger boat, create a fishing empire, move to a bigger city and spend the next 25 years working and making money. And then, when the time is right, he could retire to a small coastal village, sleep late, fish a little, socialize with his friends….

This story changed my own life and focus, and drives my passion to help my patients to change their own focus. I have seen many a patient who started dieting in their late 20s (as they thought they were overweight, weighing 66kg), have been dieting for 25 years, and now at around the age of 45, weigh around 90kg. They would be so pleased if they could come close to that 66kg – if only they hadn’t started dieting.

Name:Dorian Cabral
Occupation: Fitness expert
Book: The Astonishing Power of Story by Justin Cohen

I have always been a person who believes that you are what you think, and what you think you speak, and this is what ultimately is in your heart.

This principle can shape your life and determine the success of your friendships, marriage and any goal you wish to achieve in life; the way you take on the world and how you are perceived by the world is determined by the story you tell. The Astonishing Power of Story has to be my life-changer.

Not only did it give me confidence in my own thinking, but it inspired me to consistently tell a good story about myself and others. I also realized that you are the story you tell and no other person can take this from you – only you. If you believe you are a good father and you act and tell the story of a good father, you are. Or if you speak and conduct yourself in business with integrity and tell a story of integrity, you will display integrity. If you tell the story of how you love your wife, people will hear it, and you will love her.

Name:Dr Ela Manga
Occupation:Integrative Medical practitioner
Book: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

I first read Siddhartha about eight years ago. It was a time when my head and heart were playing tug- of-war and nothing made sense. I was questioning the choices that came from old, stuck, conditioned thinking. I was breaking free. The simple and profound story about a seeker, living at the time of the Buddha, is of a man searching for meaning and understanding in a world of duality.

reading | Longevity LIVE

The poetry and simple depth of this book touched something deep, and put into words what I have always suspected to be true. Now, whether I’m going through something tumultuous or enjoying calm waters, I can pick up the book, open at any page and something still strikes me. I’m reminded that every experience is relevant, whether simple or complicated, devilish or divine. I’m reminded that we arrive at a wisdom not through a book, dogma or anyone else’s teaching, but from a deep awareness, understanding and acceptance of our unique and personal story.

Name: Nikki Bush
Occupation: Creative parenting expert
Book: A Woman of Substance by Barbra Taylor Bradford

When I was 13 years old I read Barbra Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance.

Although I was an avid and fairly accomplished reader for my age, this was probably the longest, thickest novel I had ever read. I was completely spellbound by the story and the heroine, Emma Harte. It was a perfect rags-to-riches tale about determination, drive and Harte’s indomitable spirit in the face of all the storms and challenges she faced in her less- than-perfect, but also remarkably successful, life. She was a woman who came from nothing and turned her life around by pulling herself up by her bootstraps, sticking to her principles and never taking no for an answer.

She was a trailblazer, breaking new ground for women, and while she “had it all”, she never had everything at the same time – a good reflection of real life. I would say she was my first “role model” of a woman in business with the desire to succeed where no woman had gone before. This novel was an inspiration then, and I am sure it became a bit of a blueprint for me as I dreamed of my success in life one day. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, can strike a chord, provoke a feeling and activate something within. That’s what A Woman of Substance did for me, in a similar way to Marcus Buckingham’s Find Your Strongest Life.

Name: Claire Moore
Occupation: Counseling psychologist in private practice
Book: Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter

The seeds of my understanding of psychology were sewn by the book Pollyanna. Pollyanna’s father teaches her the glad-game, in which they search for the positive in every situation, and this optimistic thinking becomes a way of life for Pollyanna.

beach read

This book sparked my realisation that situations do not dictate our feelings, but rather it is the way in which we choose to think about our reality that shapes our emotions. However, the glad-game is a superficial strategy for changing emotions, and can lead to denial and bottling of feelings. Pollyanna eventually becomes depressed after an accident, but the people around her return the care she has shown them, and ultimately she realises that she is loved. This deeper shift in thinking allows her to achieve a more real and stable optimism about life.

Seeing Pollyanna make this shift helped me to realise that changing the way you feel is not about playing the glad-game or denying the negative emotions you have about a situation. Rather it is about identifying and changing the negative beliefs that you may hold about yourself and the world, in order to create a more positive framework of beliefs through which to view your reality.

Name: Dina Marais
Occupation: Life coach
Book: NLP in 21 Days by Harry Alder and Beryl Heather

I heard about NLP – neuro- linguistic programming – in 2002, and immediately went on a treasure hunt to find more information on the topic. The only book I could find was NLP in 21 Days by Harry Alder and Beryl Heather. It changed my life.

For the first time I knew how my brain works. I applied everything to myself, and made huge shifts that changed the way I connected, understood and communicated with my partner, children, family, friends and strangers.
There was no turning back. I quit my career in information and communication technology, and started my journey as a life coach. This was something so profound and life-changing, I had to share it with others. I went on my first course a few months later and have not stopped since. I am still learning. From NLP I progressed to neuro-semantics for further qualifications in coaching and training. I am passionate about people creating better lives for themselves.

We want to hear from you…

Is there a book or story that changed your life? Share your experience with us and we will publish the best comments in our next Issue. Please email kim@ with the subject line “the book that changed my life”.