I first diagnosed myself as an undergraduate psychology student as having, “overactive dendrites,” which essentially meant that I was highly sensitive but I didn’t know that term at the time. There were a lot of things I connect with about being highly sensitive, but some of it didn’t quite fit as I am also a high sensation seeker and an extrovert. As I researched more about my own son’s intensity I realized that I was highly excitable, which means I both perceive and respond to the world more intensely than others, not just in my senses as described by high sensitivity, but also in my mind, imagination, feelings and body.
Over the last few years, I’ve read all kinds of personal development in order to explore the best ways to harness the power of excitability. These are a few that have had the most impact on myself and my work (Amazon affiliate links included):
The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius(tm) by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. Jacobsen describes a gifted adult as intense, complex and driven. She doesn’t so much focus on intellect so much as the personal characteristics they share. This book is a great start to help understand your own gifts and intensities and use them in a positive way.
Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope by James T. Webb. I’ve found quite a few books aimed at bright or intellectually gifted adults to be either extremely academic, overly self-admiring, or focused more on problems than solutions. Webb’s book does an amazing job of describing the existential dilemmas that more intense people face and describes both negative and positive coping skills for those facing disillusionment.
Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults edited by Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski. This is literally THE book on excitability. I appreciate that it looks at intensity at all stages of life. Some of the essays are more academic in nature, but others are more personal and compelling.
The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. This was by far the most entertaining personal development book I’ve ever read! Chris Hardwick was a “has been” MTV V-jay turned highly successful blogger and podcaster. He shares how he transformed his life by approaching it like a roleplaying game.
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. Nonviolent communication is a tool I use throughout my work. When I first learned about it, it appealed to me right away because it was close to my own natural style of communication, and I believe why I’ve had a skills with communicating in difficult situations. While the actual “language” of NVC can feel a little awkward, the spirit of understanding the underlying needs we are trying to meet with our actions is invaluable. It also gives tools for making objective, unbiased, observations and understanding our feelings better.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. This was one of the first personal development books that had a profound affect on me. Such simple concepts that really made sense to me. The four agreements are: Be impeccable with your word; Don’t take anything personally; Don’t make assumptions; and Always do your best. Easy to understand, but sometimes difficult to implement. It’s helpful for me to revisit these concepts every now and then.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. I kind of blew off The 7 Habits for a long time as too mainstream and cliche. When I finally got around to reading it though, I realized that these were inarguable truths. The 7 habits include: Be proactive, Begin with an end in mind; Put first things first; Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; Synergize; and Sharpen the saw.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown. I pretty much love anything written by Brene Brown. Her TED talk on Vulnerability was the first TED talk I ever saw and set the bar for all future talks. In Daring Greatly, she takes her research and gives practical applications. I especially appreciated her chapter on wholehearted parenting. The Gifts of Imperfection is another great book!
How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo. I got this book to “save” my marriage, but it also helped me to let go. The five keys include attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. He also talks about stages of relationships and how to choose a suitable partner. His book How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration is also a great one, but sometimes it’s hard to hand someone a book called “How to Be an Adult” without extensive explanation. It addresses tools to move on from your past and take ownership of your life. My favorite chapter is on how to be assertive in getting your needs met rather than passive or aggressive. It’s a great companion to NVC concepts.
Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit. You might ask what this has to do with intensity or personal development, but I’ve found I’m not the only one who has experienced persistent fatigue from experiencing the world more intensely. I’ve picked up so many chronic pain and fatigue books over the years and nothing ever really clicked. I love Montpetit’s approach because she looks at energy balance not just from a health perspective but from a psychological or spiritual perspective. I share some of her most useful tools for balancing your energy in my post What’s Your Energy Balance.
There are a lot more amazing books out there, but I thought I’d cap it off at 10. I’d love it if you’d share below what books have had a positive influence on using your own intensity for good!
I loved the description of The Nerdist Way. I may have to add it to my collection. We need more humor on this topic!! Thanks Aurora.
Thanks Paula! I’m certain that your upcoming book would go on this list since the style of your blog is approachable and not at all dry and academic. If you check out the Nerdist Way, it’s worth listening to the audio because it’s read by the author/comedian himself.
I’ve read a lot of these already – and NVC thanks to you. The ones I might have to check out at some point are The Four Agreements and the Richo ones. I have procrastinated reading Covey’s book too for the same reasons you listed – but that helps me to know you thought the same thing but then also appreciated the book when you did read it.
Richo is definitely one of my favorites – I think because he has a really easy style of writing. Even as an educational psychologist, I get bogged down by overly psychological or academic language, and I tend to be a bullet point kinda gal. He writes very concisely without too much unneeded detail. Also makes them quick reads!
There are so many great titles! Can’t wait to get started! I read and reread “Non-violent Communication” but could not get out of my “I’m the adult and what I say goes” pattern…
I here you there! I struggle with that sometimes as a parent. There are definitely times when we need to use “the protective use of force” as Rosenberg calls it. When I look back at my own childhood, while my parents were far from perfect, it was the fact that they did listen to and validate my feelings most of the time that I feel good about it. Brene Brown’s book has a great perspective on that.
Thank you for such a great list, Aurora! Living with Intensity is one we always recommend, along with “Mellow Out,” They Say. If I Only Could by Michael Piechowski; it’s fairly academic but still relatable and helpful in many ways. Disclaimer: Michael Piechowski is an IEA Senior Fellow and very close to our hearts, but he is so knowledgeable on the subject of overexcitabilities. I’ve heard great things about Daring Greatly and look forward to reading it soon, thanks to your recommendation!
Thanks! I’ve wanted to check that one out, but I believe it was out of print last I checked.
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