For me, the new year represents an ending and a beginning. After celebrating the accomplishments of the previous year, I turn my attention to what I want out of the year to come. While I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, I do see the beginning of a year as a great time to refocus my energy and take some deliberate action toward creating the life I want for myself. Whenever something is important to me and I want to do my best, I turn to books.

Books: Something About Everything

As my good friend Abraham Lincoln says, “A capacity, and taste, for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.” Reading is like tapping into the universe’s collective knowledge. People have written about virtually every topic known to man.

Every year, I discover new books and gain deeper understanding of old concepts as well as fresh nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes I find books that are so enlightening that I return to them again and again.

For anyone looking for a few solid reads to kick off the new year, here are the books I recommend. Make sure to have highlighters and notebooks on hand!

1. Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals

This book is perfect for anyone who appreciates step-by-step instruction, worksheets and self-assessment.

It addresses underlying mental conditions that can prevent us from achieving our goals, such as self-limiting beliefs. It also teaches science and research-backed systems for setting, sticking to and achieving goals. I love that the author emphasizes 10 critical domains of life that we should always be nourishing to be most fulfilled. You can even take a test online to find out how you’re currently scoring.

The reviews of this book are glowing, and I feel a clear sense of direction and purpose when I’m following the program. Even if you don’t follow all the steps, you’ll still get a lot out of the book. The only criticism I’ve seen in reviews is the fact that the author puts a Christian spin on things. This may be a bonus for some. As a non-Christian, though, it certainly didn’t bother me.

2. The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

If you had a visceral, “Oh my god, YES!” reaction to the title of this book, read it, it’s for you.

The book combines wisdom from Stoicism and Buddhism and suggests that trying to be positive and self-affirming all the time causes us more anxiety. The author backs this up with scientific research. In the end, though, he doesn’t bash positive thinking. He offers that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all happiness formula.

While positive thinking may be beneficial to an extent, there is much to gain by embracing negativity. When we can learn to tolerate life’s existential givens – restlessness, failure, insecurity, uncertainty, and even death – we can find happiness despite them.

3. Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

This is a great book to revisit after Christmas and at the beginning of a new year.

The author is a family therapist as well as a parent, which gives him double credibility. The approach is a simple less-is-more style of parenting, focused on children’s environment, rhythm, schedules and access to the adult world.

Each time I read this book, I feel validated about the things I am doing well. I also contend with some stark realizations that there are things I should be doing better.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the busyness and constant stimuli available to us in the modern world. The process of simplifying at home gives kids the freedom to explore and the security of knowing what to expect. The author suggests simplifying to a degree that I will probably never achieve. If you can, more power to you.

The underlying message is powerful, though, and one that rings true for me: Fewer distractions make room for connection, contemplation and play, which are essential to the development of healthy children.

4. This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol: Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life

This is the most recent addition to my new year reading list. I read this a few months ago after coming across mentions and references to it again and again.

It’s an interesting book that challenges you to consider the role of alcohol in our culture. Early in the book the author asks you to spend the next week noticing references to alcohol that come up in day-to-day life. It surprised me, the prevalence of references made to alcohol as a way to cope with stress, deal with work or kids, or enhance any activity.

After the author awakens us to our implicit belief that alcohol consumption as normal, if not desirable, she dives into examining those beliefs.

Does alcohol loosen me up and make me more sociable? Does it make me less stressed? Isn’t red wine healthy because of the antioxidants? These questions and many more are answered, backed by science.

The book makes a hefty promise in the beginning: What if you didn’t have to ‘quit’ drinking because you simply wouldn’t want to drink anymore and you’d happily pass on the booze? I wouldn’t say it was that revolutionary for me yet.

I am sure I’ll be reading it again, though. As of now, I’m much more thoughtful about alcohol consumption and I have a whole new perspective that will serve me well in the long run.

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Emily is a Colorado Springs native who is passionate about volunteering and community engagement. She currently serves on the board of Teen Court and works for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center. Her pre-teen daughter, Amelia, keeps her busy, challenged and entertained. Emily is a self-proclaimed nerd and spends time reading, going to shows, playing games and exploring Colorado. She is obsessed with otters and soft pretzels and is a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. She hopes to inspire and inform other young, single mothers and to be a resource for any parent in a non-traditional family. Emily is a brand new aunt and you better believe she’s going by “Auntie Em.”