Coach Tony's Top 10 Books of 2020

I love putting out this Top Books list each year because it’s a time for reflection. This year was a unique one, and probably the most positive spin I’ve heard it called has been “the great pause.” This year forced us to hit the pause button and reflect on what’s important in our lives. 

This past year, I’ve spent more time in my Bible than any other book. “The great pause” for me meant getting away from the opinions of today for the wisdom of yesterday and tomorrow. There’s timeless wisdom in books just waiting to be consumed, but many are too busy reading news headlines and social media updates.

No social injustice social media post can even share the same stage as a book like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”  The messaging on the mainstream news channels are designed to instill fear and break you down, as opposed to the words of author John C. Maxwell who’s writing purpose is to build you up.

Many have created false idols in our politicians, movie stars, or professional athletes, discarding all there is to learn in religion, philosophy, and history. Compared to the hypocritical garbage casted out by these so-called leaders, you can dive into ANY of the three topics mentioned and you will be ENLIGHTENED.

top books 2020

My wife and I decided this summer that she was going to homeschool our son who was entering first grade. There was a moment during the summer that helped me realize homeschooling was a path my son could handle even with all the learning difficulties he had. He showed me he was eager to learn without any prompting from mom and dad.

We were on the couch one night and I got curious when I looked over and saw pages of words on the tablet my son Dylan was using. He took his finger across the words to highlight a paragraph, which got me even more curious. Side note: At this time he only recognized some 2 and 3-letter words so he wasn’t actually reading.

But he says to me, “I’m just reading my book. Like daddy does.”

I took in the proud dad moment, even though I knew I was getting highlights I didn’t want, and saying goodbye to my place in that book.

I explained to Dylan what a gift learning to read is. What a powerful tool it can become when you learn to read and learn to read well. I told him how it opens up your world beyond anything your mind could ever conceive on its own...translated for a 6-year-old of course.

He probably thinks dad is a little crazy, and that’s ok, because one day he’ll understand why I appreciate books so much.

I believe reading is a key to personal growth and creating a life you truly desire. If there’s something you want, most likely someone has gotten it before and written about it. There are mistakes others have made so you don’t have to make those same ones, and they’ve openly written about it.

Jim Rohn said, “Don't wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”

With good books you no longer have to wish for skills or wisdom. It’s all there waiting for you.

I could go on and on about the value of books, but it’s about time I got to the reason you came here today, my Top Books List for 2020.

Creating a favorite booklist has been a tradition I’ve done for the past three years. You can revisit past ones here, Top 7 Books of 2017, Top 6 Books of 2018, Top 10 Books of 2019. 

Also, if you’re not a big reader like I am, simply start by listening to the podcasts featuring these authors promoting their books. That is how I learned about the majority of the books on my list.

Here are my Top 10 Books of 2020

10. “Change Maker: Turn Your Passion for Health and Fitness into a Powerful Purpose and a Wildly Successful Career” by Dr. John Berardi

I consider my professional purpose in life to be a coach to others, hence these posts I write. I’ve noticed there aren’t a ton of great coaching books out there. There are great coaches who have written books, but they’re more memoirs than “how to coach” books.

I loved this book because of the “how to” Dr. Berardi brings to the table. This coaching on how to become a great coach is also what has made his Precision Nutrition certifications so valuable and respected in the field. I’ve accomplished my PN Level 1 certification, and was amazed by the extensive content.

If I felt this book applied to more people it would be way higher on my list, possibly number 1! It was that good! But it really is a book for coaches. Truly one of the best books for coaches EVER!

9. “How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results” By Esther Wojcicki

This book was recommended to me by a friend after she read my 2018 Top Books list. I bought the book right away but didn’t read it for over a year. I’m so glad I did because I’m only getting older as a parent and didn’t realize what I was missing in my parenting skills until I read this.

The author wrote this book because she clearly has educator blood in her veins, and many asked her to write a book when they saw she had raised three super successful daughters. One is now the CEO of Youtube, another is the co-founder of 23andme, and the third a college professor. Another claim to fame of hers is that she taught movie star James Franco and professional athlete Jeremy Lin in high school.

More important than who she taught is what she teaches in this book. In a nutshell, she distills her teaching/parenting style down to what she calls TRICK, which stands for trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness. She encourages parents to let their children have freedom and fail. She constantly empowered her girls with freedom of choice, which clearly made them good decision makers in their life. It’s a skill that I’m definitely learning to use with my own kids and seeing positive results thus far.

8. “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success” By Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp

Soooo there’s a deep deep rabbit hole of Concious Leadership information you can get into, and yea, I’m pretty far in. "Rabbit hole" sometimes has a negative connotation so I don’t want that to be the case, but since reading this book I’m reading several more related to this topic.

To help you with the first baby step onto this leadership train, I’d recommend listening to Jim Dethmer on The Tim Ferris Show, Ep. 434 May 2020. Then, this book is step 2 if you like what you hear. You don’t have to go as far as hiring a Concious Leadership coach you meet with every two weeks as my brother and I have, but if you have further questions after the first two steps I’m more than happy to help.

Conscious leaders create awareness around their go-to reactions and possibly destructive patterns. Destructive patterns aren’t always negative either. Playing the “hero” in your business is a destructive pattern. I’ve become aware of this pattern in myself and also learned from researching the Enneagram and finding out my “type”, that there are habitual states that I go to that don’t help me as a leader. Being aware of our habitual patterns, our insecurities, go-to mental states; are all really valuable in the quest to stay curious and creative with our team.

7. “Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace” by John C. Maxwell

This was the first year I’ve read a John Maxwell book and I enjoyed it so much I read two. The other was “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential” by John C. Maxwell, and I’d say that one was #11 on my list.

Some authors are really good storytellers while others are really good curators. While John is both, he certainly shines brightest as a curator. He says he makes it a daily practice of learning new information and stores it for later in specific folders. I really admire this practice and it’s something I’ve started for my own writing.

Similarly to my learnings in Concious Leadership, John encourages leaders to become the conductor rather than the soloist, in CL speak it’s the creator instead of the hero. Being a great leader is not about what you can do, but rather what you can help pull out of others. This only happens when a leader truly understands the people they are working with.

6. “Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen” by Dan Heath

You may have seen my most recent post on Upstream Thinking and why I believe we need it more than ever. This book NEEDS to be read by a lot of people, especially those currently working in any type of health & fitness category.

The timeliness of this book in a year riddled with problems and challenges couldn’t have been better. Because instead of putting out the fires every day, we need to be focused on looking upstream to solve problems before they become problems.

If you haven’t read a Heath-authored book before, you must!!! “Switch”, “The Power of Moments”, “Decisive”, and “Made to Stick” are their other titles. I say they because they were written by two brothers, but “Upstream” was solely written by Dan. And not to knock Dan, but this book was missing a little something, I think it got too academic/boring at times. It would have made my Top 2-3 if not for that.

5. “Where Do We Go From Here - Chaos or Community?” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Race related books got a ton of press this year, but instead of opting for a book written by someone born decades after the civil rights movement, I chose an author that has stood the test of time. This ended up being far from a book simply on race relations, but more of a book on LEADERSHIP and how to create change when it seems impossible.

I was inspired by MLK’s strength to stick to his values. When others wanted to use violence or aggression, or even combative language which he saw in the words “black power”, he refused to march alongside certain groups if they couldn’t agree to share in his values of PEACE. He was a man that was criticized from 360 degrees around him, but continued to press forward.

There were definitely times during the height of our troubles as a country this year that I felt like no matter what I said, I was going to rub someone the wrong way. It was comforting to know that one of my idols went through this very same thing (granted on a scale a thousand times larger). MLK’s words truly brought a sense of peace to my life when I needed it.

This book was written in 1967 and it feels like it could have been written today. Our world changes, people change, cities change, but values can live a really long time if we let them. He was truly a master of words and this book is an example of the eloquence and balance he spoke with. He truly was a great man trying to further the growth of great men and women. I listened to this one on audiobook and felt the narrator made it an engaging listen.

4. “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey

Next to “Never Split The Difference” by Chris Voss, my #2 book from last year, this was the most engaging audiobook I’ve ever listened to. Matthew is a born storyteller and it was almost as if he was chatting with me at a party vs. reading a book. He constantly had me laughing and thinking deeply about life’s lessons.

This book is filled with words of wisdom and “bumper stickers” as Matthew calls them. And don’t call him “Matt”, his mama didn’t name him after the thing you wipe your feet on at the door. It was cool to learn about his humble beginnings, and how certain movies and parts came to be.

Sometimes we assume we know all about movie stars or famous athletes in the spotlight, but as Matthew proves, there is so much more that you don’t know. I appreciate that he really used this book to teach and not just write a biography about his life. I’m sure we will continue to see this one top the Top Books lists for months to come because of that fact.

3. “Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day” By Jay Shetty

You can tell there’s a theme to my favorite books this year, LEADERSHIP and AWARENESS. I’m a big believer that self-awareness is one of the most important skills one can learn and master. Here are a few tips on awareness from Jay’s book. “In 1902, the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley wrote: ‘I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.’ Our identity is wrapped up in what others think of us—or, more accurately, what we think others think of us. We make life choices using this twice-reflected image of who we might be, without really thinking it through. We live in a perception of a perception of ourselves, and we’ve lost our real selves as a result.”

Jay is a great storyteller, and really that’s how he became famous by telling touching stories on social media. I loved this next story Jay told so I had to re-share it here.

“A few decades ago, scientists conducted an experiment in the Arizona desert where they built “Biosphere 2”—a huge steel-and-glass enclosure with air that had been purified, clean water, nutrient-rich soil, and lots of natural light. It was meant to provide ideal living conditions for the flora and fauna within. And while it was successful in some ways, in one it was an absolute failure. Over and over, when trees inside the Biosphere grew to a certain height, they would simply fall over. At first, the phenomenon confused scientists. Finally, they realized that the Biosphere lacked a key element necessary to the trees’ health: wind. In a natural environment, trees are buffeted by wind. They respond to that pressure and agitation by growing stronger bark and deeper roots to increase their stability. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to stay in the comfortable bubble of our self-made biospheres. We fear the stresses and challenges of change, but those stresses and challenges are the wind that makes us stronger.”

I thought this message was very pertinent to today’s world and how the message of strengthening your immune system is absent from the mainstream health advice. "Stay in your safe bubble until your ideal world returns" seemed to be the louder message of this year. 

I’m a big fan of planning your morning routine in order to have a great day and Jay offered great advice in his book. I loved that he spent time the night before writing down his three most important things to accomplish first, and he also spent time programming his mind to wake up with energy and conviction. He says, “The emotion you fall asleep with at night is most likely the emotion you’ll wake up with in the morning.”

2. “The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“Extreme Ownership” was the first book that put Jocko and Leif (former U.S. Navy SEALS) on the map and made them super successful consultants in the business world. This follow up book gives a lot of clarity to their first book, but you don’t need to read the first to get a ton out of this one. This book was so well done. I was expecting a sequel that was only put out to further profit off the popularity of the first. I could not have been more wrong!  This book gives LIFE to the first book. It’s like the color to a previously black and white film.

They said they wrote it to clear up any misconceptions birthed by their first book. They accomplished this and much more. Leaders often find themselves in dichotomies trying to balance different goals, agendas, and wants from their team or customers. No decision is made in a vacuum and Jocko and Leif address this head-on to help leaders make hard decisions.

Here are some dichotomies they helped me with. Be humble, but don’t be passive. Hold people accountable, but don’t smother. Be in the mix, but also be detached enough to see the big picture. Only spend your leadership capital on things that really matter.

1. “Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life”
by Jim Kwik

I love brain and mindset books. Anything that helps us use our most powerful asset, our brain, more effectively is a worthy use of our time. The author, Jim Kwik has a philosophy, knowledge is only potential power, but if we learn HOW TO LEARN better. We can use that tool as a superpower to grow ourselves way beyond what we previously thought.

Jim writes, “What I have come to find over my years of working with people is that most everyone limits and shrinks their dreams to fit their current reality. We convince ourselves that the circumstances we are in, the beliefs we’ve accepted, and the path we are on is who we are and who we will always be. But there is another choice. You can learn to un-limit and expand your mindset, your motivation, and your methods to create a limitless life.”

This may sound like frothy content, but Jim does a great job making his tips very practical and useful. He coaches some of the biggest stars on mindset, and shares some cool stories in his book like working with Will Smith.

Jim says many have been asking him to write a book for years and I think he chose the perfect time to publish this one. I admire that he had patience to put out something I believe should have some staying power on top book lists.

Jim suffered a head injury as a boy and was actually called “the boy with the broken brain”. He had mentors and teachers along the way that wouldn’t let him let this title become his reality. One teacher told him, “Don’t let school interfere with your education,” and turned him onto the most well respected personal growth books of that time. Books you wouldn’t find in school.

If you’ve read this far into my post it’s likely you have a hunger for learning that Jim talks about. He says, “I want you to temporarily suspend what you already know or think you know about the topic and approach it with what Zen philosophy calls ‘a beginner’s mind.’ Remember that your mind is like a parachute—it only works when it’s open.”

Keep an open mind and keep growing that mind.
Keep reading, keep growing.

If you have any book recommendations for 2021 I’d love to hear them.

-Coach Tony


Here is the full list of books I’ve read this past year, 35 books in all. 

Kindle Books (19):
“Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life”
by Jim Kwik

“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”, Second Edition
by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

“Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David J. Epstein

“Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day” by Jay Shetty

“How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results” by Esther Wojcicki

“The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level” by Gay Hendricks

“The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success” By Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp

“Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World” by Admiral William H. McRaven

“The Wisdom of Walt: Leadership Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland): Success Strategies for Everyone (from Walt Disney and Disneyland)”
By Jeffrey Barnes, Garner Holt, and Bill Butler

“Beyond the Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons from the Most Magical Place on Earth” By Jeffrey Barnes and Lee Cockerell

“The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential” by John C. Maxwell

“Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain’s Hidden Power” by John Assaraf

“It Takes What It Takes: How to Think Neutrally and Gain Control of Your Life” By Trevor Moawad and Any Staples

“Brand New Name: A Proven, Step-by-Step Process to Create an Unforgettable Brand Name”
By Jeremy Miller

“Primalbranding: Create Belief Systems that Attract Communities” By Patrick Hanlon

“Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers & Grow an Incredible Brand”
By Jeremy Miller

“An Economist Walks into a Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk”
By Allison Schrager

“Tax-Free Wealth: How to Build Massive Wealth by Permanently Lowering Your Taxes”
By Tom Wheelwright

“How to Write Funny: Your Serious, Step-By-Step Blueprint For Creating Incredibly, Irresistibly, Successfully Hilarious Writing” By Scott Dikkers

Audible Books (10):
“Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen” by Dan Heath

“Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Leadershift: The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace” by John C. Maxwell

“Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey

“Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" by Seth Godin

“Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture” by Jon Gordon

“Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less” by Michael Hyatt

“The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness” by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

“The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company” by Robert Iger

“The Dichotomy of Leadership: Balancing the Challenges of Extreme Ownership to Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Physical books (6):
“Change Maker: Turn Your Passion for Health and Fitness into a Powerful Purpose and a Wildly Successful Career” by Dr. John Berardi

“Finish First: Winning Changes Everything” by Scott Hamilton and Donald Miller

“High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way” by Brendon Buchard

“Focal Point: A Proven System to Simplify Your Life, Double Your Productivity, and Achieve All Your Goals” by Brian Tracy

“Coach Wooden: The 7 Principles That Shaped His Life And Will Change Yours” by Pat Williams and James Denney

“How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life” by Pat Williams and James Denney