9 Mindful Books to Cultivate Calm and Stay On Task

From calming mindfulness practices to a deep dive on the science of dopamine addiction, here are nine books and three podcasts the Mindful editors recommend.

Adobe Stock/nadia_snopek

1. Set Boundaries, Find Peace

A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself

Nedra Glover Tawwab • TarcherPerigee

“‘Boundaries’ can be such a broad and intimidating term,” therapist, author, and relationship expert Nedra Glover Tawwab writes in the first few pages of Set Boundaries, Find Peace. And it is true. Moving through the world while setting and respecting boundaries is no easy feat. Similar in sentiment to the title of Chapter 1, you may even be wondering: What the Heck Are Boundaries? Through a series of relatable stories and scenarios, Glover Tawwab shows us how different types of boundaries and boundary violations can show up in real life. However, Glover Tawwab doesn’t stop at recognizing what this may look like in our lives: She offers thoughtful responses we can use in similar situations, exercises comprised of prompts geared toward self-reflection, questions formed to uncover what boundaries we may need to explore, and guidance on how to meet resistance to the boundaries we’d like to hold. She also explores how past trauma can impact our ability to maintain healthy boundaries.

In her writing, Glover Tawwab always comes back to the truth that boundaries “can be such a broad term.” She’s apt to acknowledge that everyone’s expectations and needs to feel safe in a relationship are different—and boundaries are valid in a variety of settings that involve family, friends, romance, work, and technology. She presents easy steps to set boundaries (and notes that they’re “maybe not so easy, but doable”) and gives everyone a foundation to start doing the work of setting boundaries with a smart and painless self-assessment quiz “to see which type of boundaries show up for you the most.” – KR

2. Breathe in Calm

Yogic Breathing & Mindfulness Tools for Instant Anxiety Relief

Domonick Wegesin, PhD • New Harbinger

For those of us grappling with anxiety, the first step toward calm can be a kind reframing: “Most anxious folks cannot pinpoint exactly why they are anxious. That’s OK. There’s a simpler way,” writes Wegesin. To wit, shifting from the why to the what. What are your symptoms, your triggers? What calms your anxiety? And what will help you shift your relationship to it? He presents a collection of tools, or skills, in a sequence to help you learn to navigate anxiety. The chapters—from The Observer Tool, all the way to The Choose Your Story Tool and The Kindness Tool—are broken down into easily digestible chunks, each with a brief practice to explore. – AT

3. Dopamine Nation

Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence

Anna Lembke • Dutton

In Dopamine Nation, psychiatrist Dr. Anna Lembke unpacks the neuroscience of dopamine with a lens of compassion rarely offered to the topic of addiction. Meanwhile, her matter-of-fact tone offers a realness that drives home the importance of paying attention to balance when we’re like “cacti in a rainforest.” Almost all of us will experience a feeling so good that we can’t stop wanting more, and understanding the “why” can help us hold one another accountable without holding each other back. With compelling anecdotes from both clients and Lembke herself, the author illustrates what the science looks like in real life and helps us understand the dopamine-saturated world we live in. – AWC

4. Drawn on the Way

A Guide to Capturing the Moment through Live Sketching

Open Drawn On the Way and you’ll swear you’re getting a secret glimpse into an art- ist’s sketchbook. Each page is embellished with sweet sketches and handwritten notes from author Sarah Nisbett and as a bonus, is rich with tips to start your own sketchbook. Nisbett offers wisdom from her sketching practice and gently encourages us to begin by centering curiosity, empathy, and wonder—qualities that will also serve our daily lives. She reminds us to follow joy, be kind to ourselves, and stay curious about the world and our place in it. The book is an invitation to learn how to see the world “as a place filled with stories; how to see the people around you differently, as works of art; and how to see yourself differently, as someone whose voice has a place, even if it’s just in the private pages of your own sketchbook.” –KR

5. Mindfulness Meditations for ADHD

Improve Focus. Strengthen Self- Awareness, and Live More Fully

Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT • Rockridge Press

This handy book delivers exactly what its title promises: mindfulness exercises specifically designed to address some of the frustrations a person with Attention Deficit Disorder may face. Even without an official diagnosis, those who struggle with focus and follow-through—and who doesn’t, in this never-ending pandemic—will find practices here that may help smooth the way. Sarcia Saunders introduces basic meditation techniques and exercises for focusing on a task, getting things done, and managing habits, along with self-compassion, acceptance, and more. Her practices address restlessness, stimming, executive function struggles, and emotional regulation (difficulty recognizing or naming emotions can be a hallmark of ADHD). She includes movement practices, short practices for on-the-go, and practical exercises for morning and night—including mindful approaches to showering, eating, and coming home from work—with the compassion and expertise of a fellow ADHD traveler. – SD

6. The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction, 2nd Ed.

Rebecca E. Williams and Julie S. Kraft • New Harbinger

Current research shows that mindfulness can help to heal many forms of addiction. This guidebook presents evidence-based strategies with a down-to-earth voice, ideal for readers to use either on their own or with therapy. Williams is a psychologist, specializing in recovery from mental illness and addictions, while Kraft is a licensed therapist specializing in recovery from addiction, anxiety, depression, and challenging relationships.

The Workbook provides a start-where-you- are approach, welcoming readers still in active addiction, and uses a gradual skill-building model. Uncovering the roots of our compulsions, the authors write, is how mindfulness supports recovery: “We have the ability to dream, to imagine, to contemplate, to create. Memories and imagination are wonderful gifts.” At times, however, these gifts “pull us from the present moment and send us time traveling,” thus fueling stress, anxiety, and desire to escape. This is human, not unique to those who struggle with addiction—and we can make different choices by nonjudgmentally getting to know our minds.

In Part 1, Williams and Kraft explore the interplay between emotions, thoughts, and behavior change, patterns that keep us in addiction (avoiding feelings, self-blaming, withdraw- ing…), and mindful strategies to support more balanced ways of thinking and acting. Part 2 delves into loss, and how addictions are developed and maintained. The final part concerns grief; healthy relationships and support systems; a second chapter on mindfulness practices, added for this new edition; and other mental health challenges. Throughout, readers also engage with case studies, journaling prompts, and exercise worksheets, which are also available online. – AT

7. Wired for Love

A Neuroscientist’s Journey Through Romance, Loss, and the Essence of Human Connection

Stephanie Cacioppo • Macmillan

Many artists and scientists have tried to capture what love is. However, few have married both approaches
in the way Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo has in this book. Laying out the science behind why and how we fall in love beside her human experience of love and loss, she gives readers an intimate look into her relationship with fellow neuroscientist Dr. John Cacioppo, and Stephanie’s journey to healing after losing him to cancer. The author explains the science of love in a way that’s easy to understand and shares her experience with grief in a way that makes you feel a little less alone. Filled with a little something for everyone, Wired for Love is a unique take on a memoir that will take you on a journey of grief and healing with a reminder to keep your heart open to all the beauty and pain that life might bring. – OL

8. Stress-Free Productivity

A Personalized Toolkit to Become Your Most Efficient and Creative Self

Alice Boyes • TarcherPerigee

Initially, one may wonder as I did how an already-written book could be a truly “personalized” toolkit, but the answer becomes clear not long after the first page of Stress-Free Productivity. Alice Boyes marries the psychology of productivity and priority with anecdotal examples and a choose-your-own-adventure structure that helps the reader guide themselves through this information-rich book. Quizzes help you determine what information in the book will be most helpful to you personally.

“Experiments” show you how to put the advice and science into practice, gather insight into your own personality and preferences, and choose how to move forward.

Boyes expands the commonly held definition of productivity, writing that “focus isn’t the full story of how to get things done.” She advocates for a balance between discipline and having the courage to wander astray. What that balance should be for you is the question she helps the reader answer. – AWC

9. Stolen Focus

Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again

Johann Hari • Crown

It may seem like a disconnect to present readers with a 500-plus-page book on the personal and systemic problem of focus degradation, but Johann Hari’s deep investigation of the ways our individual and collective attention has been shattered is highly compelling—and in fairness, almost 200 pages are extensive endnotes and resources. Hari, who resigned from The Independent in disgrace a decade ago, after plagiarizing quotes and smearing his journalistic rivals online, presents a thoroughly articulated, exhaustively reported, and meticulously documented exploration of the change in our ability to resist distraction. He goes deeply into, and then beyond, the obvious culprits: We are exposed to more information than ever before, which has a tendency to exhaust our attention resources more rapidly; the technology we use, especially smartphones and social media apps, which is designed to keep us coming back for more by keeping us outraged. He explores the effects systemic issues like surveillance capitalism, pollution, and work culture have on our attention, along with childhood trauma, diet, and the dearth of childhood free play. Hari interviews scientists, sociologists, professors, authors, psychologists, tech engineers. He weaves in his own personal journey with focus, and makes a compelling case for what he calls an Attention Rebellion, likening the need for collective social change to earlier struggles for gay rights or women’s liberation. He harkens back to the Industrial Revolution, and the way workers continued to fight, together, for more humane working conditions, which led to the 40-hour workweek, and weekends. Hari points out that we are faced with massive challenges, like the climate crisis—and we’re going to need to be able to pay sustained attention to solving it. One question he doesn’t address: Will the Attention Rebellion be planned on social media? If you’re feeling that your lack of focus is your fault, let yourself go deep with this book. – SD

3 Mindfulness Podcasts to Listen to Right Now

1. Leading with Genuine Care

Episode: “Nate Klemp on Applying Mindfulness in Everyday Life

With 10 years of philosophical training, it’s clear that Nate Klemp was always searching for something more, though he didn’t exactly know what. In this episode of Leading with Genuine Care, the coauthor of The 80/80 Marriage sits down with host Rob Dube to discuss how a biking accident and the constraints of academia led him to mindfulness and meditation. Klemp discusses how he uses these “inner technologies of the mind” to change his inner habits. With wisdom from Nate’s grandmother Hilda, the duo discusses the role our physical health plays in our mental state, what an 80/80 marriage looks like, and why daily gratitude is essential. – OL

2. I’m Curious with Ashley Asti

Episode: “A Practice for the Tired & Weary with Rashid Hughes

In this grounding conversation, meditation teacher and creator of the R.E.S.T. practice Rashid Hughes and host Ashley Asti dig deep into the four pillars of the practice: Relax your attention. Release. Exhale all striving. Empty. Sense the silence. Surrender. Tune in to awareness. Trust. It’s a practice that invites us to be with ourselves—something Hughes notes isn’t honored in society. “There’s an inherent worthiness in who we are that doesn’t have to be worked for or earned,” Hughes says. With practice, “we’re reprogramming our systems, our bodies, to begin to trust that it’s safe to stop.” – KR

3. NPR Short Wave

Episode: “What Happens in the Brain When We Grieve

In this brief but poignant conversation, psychologist Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor and host Emily Kwong waste no time diving headfirst into a topic we so often avoid. They get real about the current pervasiveness of grief, why the privileged are also privileged in the grieving process, and how recognizing the suffering of those who have lost loved ones in the COVID-19 pandemic can help us move forward. “I really think of grieving as a form of learning,” says O’Connor. In this episode, she unpacks how the terrible process of adapting to the loss of a loved one can lead to post-traumatic growth. – AWC