As a psychologist, I see products all the time that promise miraculous results from fake gurus and snake oil salesmen.
So my bullshit-o-meter is super sensitive.
Here are some of my favorite products to develop deeper insights, build better habits, and improve your productivity as an entrepreneur.
Many are affiliate links, but I’ve been recommending most of these for years for free and I’ll never recommend something to you I don’t believe in. DYOR, but I love these products.
So here are 10 gifts under $35 for entrepreneurs who want to be more intentional with how they live, work, and create.
#1: Self Journal
Journaling is, by far, one of the highest ROI activities you can do.
It helps you clarify your thinking, examine and refine your decision-making processes, and document what’s going on around you in the moment so you have an archive to go back to in the future. Matthew McConaughey wrote his book Greenlights from a collection of old journals, and because he took such vivid notes in the moment, he was able to capture that vitality and energy when he retold them for his book.
In the past, I’ve just used blank journals, and I still love them for “regular” journaling.
But I like the idea of more structure to help me stay on track with my goals.
There are tons of crappy and generic structured journals out there.
Thankfully, there’s one that stands out from the horde of mediocrity.
I’ve wanted one of these for a long time, but I fell out of a regular journaling habit earlier in the year.
I’m ready to get back in the saddle, so I picked up the Self Journal and will do a full review once I finish it—it’s designed as a 13-week roadmap—but so far it looks absolutely amazing.
And I love the product description:
“When it comes to success, goals provide a pathway between the life you have now and the direction you want to move. Goals create opportunities, open doors, and build your confidence to move further out of your comfort zone. The Self Journal is the system that fills the gap between goal setting and goal achievement.”
It’s rooted in solid strategies from positive psychology.
I’ve got big goals for this year, so I’m excited to have a structured journal to keep me on target.
The guidebook included with the journal says, “The difference between goal setting and goal achieving is when you create a roadmap to get there.”
The Self Journal is the roadmap I’ll be using.
#2: Fountain Pen
There’s something seductive about fountain pens. Even the cheaper ones have a tinge of luxury. You can’t help but feel classier when you write with one.
But more importantly, there are some interesting psychological benefits to using them—if you do it right.
Using a fountain pen can combine mastery with meditation.
Writing with a fountain pen feels different than writing with anything else. There’s more feedback. You have more control over how you express yourself—both by adding calligraphic flourishes to your writing and with the inks you use.
It’s also a hobby with a rich history and a lot of nuances, depending how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. Nibs, inks, brands, materials, cleaning, tuning, there’s a ton to explore if you’re looking for a new skill to dive into—and the prices for fountain pens range from less than ten bucks to thousands of dollars.
If you’re a collector, or want to get into collecting, fountain pens are a solid option and make great heirlooms.
Writing mindfully is a great exercise to improve your mental health and clear your mind. It’s a similar psychological effect you tap into when you use those elaborate adult coloring books. Because mindfulness is just about focusing your awareness on the present moment. Writing with a fountain pen pulls in your senses—the feel and sound of the nib scratching the paper, the glistening of the ink as it comes out, especially if you get a color-changing ink.
Plus, you’ll feel sophisticated af carrying one around.
My favorite starter pen is the LAMY Safari Fountain Pen.
Two common issues I’ve seen with the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with are they don’t truly know what they want out of life, and because they don’t know what they want, they struggle to make decisions and focus on what matters most.
There are so many options, so many directions to go, so many opportunities that could work out. How do you decide which path is right for you? How can you tap into intrinsic motivation instead of spending your entire life chasing the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick?
In a nutshell, most people spend their entire lives chasing the wrong things and wandering through the fog of uncertainty. They want to be fulfilled, but they don’t know what fulfillment looks like for them.
I believe the first step toward a fulfilling life and business is clarifying your core value then building around it.
It’s how I approach my own life (my core value is freedom) and the first part of the framework I use in coaching.
So I made a micro-course to help entrepreneurs clarify their core value, so they can put their ideal life into focus.
Check it out here:
#4: Atomic Habits
James Clear knows more about habits and behavior modification than 99% of psychologists, and we’re the ones who specialize in understanding and changing behavior.
It’s the best book on creating sustainable habits—what more do you want me to say?
I know you’ve heard of it, so why haven’t you picked it up yet?
Pick it up for yourself, your friends, whoever—and reread it every year.
Because we can all improve our habits, and this book gives you the best system to make it happen.
#5: The Daily Stoic
Who doesn’t want to develop self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom? This is, by far, my most-gifted and recommended book.
It stays within arm’s reach in my office.
The value I’ve personally gotten out of this book, plus the number of times I’ve used its principles in coaching to help clients overcome obstacles and achieve their goals makes it worth more than 100X its current price.
Entrepreneurs are busy—there’s always a dozen or more things vying for your attention.
You want to read more, but sometimes you feel like you just don’t have the time to read.
This book solves that issue.
It’s designed to be read as one page a day. Every month has a theme, so every day’s lesson includes a quote from an ancient Stoic and a modern interpretation of how it applies to our lives today around that month’s theme. Some of the themes include Clarity, Fortitude and Resilience, Problem Solving, and one of my favorites—Meditations on Mortality.
You can read it in one go, but you’ll get more out of it if you space it out and read the page for today’s date and deeply reflect on its lessons.
Anyone can fit 30-60 seconds-worth of reading into their day.
If you want to delve into the insights leaders throughout history have turned to for guidance, or don’t know where to start when it comes to learning Stoicism, The Daily Stoic is a great start.
The benefits of mindfulness are well documented as far as improved clarity, better decision-making, improved concentration, and overall better mental health and performance.
If you’re curious about mindfulness meditation, but don’t know where to start or are tired of all the fake gurus promising your nirvana for the low low price of an arm and a leg, this book is worth your time.
This book was originally a letter written by Thich Nhat Hanh to a friend and the volunteers trying to rebuild communities during the Vietnam War. In it, Hanh wanted to encourage them to weather the storm (many volunteers were being kidnapped, raped, or murdered just for being Vietnamese) by reminding them of “the essential discipline of following one’s breath to nourish and maintain calm mindfulness, even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.”
He wasn’t writing a letter to wax poetic about Buddhism; he was writing a practical guide with specific, concrete strategies to help people going through real shit cope and exercise the small bit of control they had.
This book was written in the 70s, but it’s still highly relevant. It’s written for regular people who want the simplest most effective strategies to control their thoughts, calm their mind, and find peace in any moment.
One of my favorite ways to teach mindfulness came from this book, one I still use today—washing the dishes.
Think about it. Where is your mind when you wash dishes? On your to-do list, having an imaginary argument, rehashing something that happened months ago, worrying about tomorrow, how much better your life would be if you won the lottery, what you’re going to eat later—your mind is everywhere except in the present moment. For a lot of people, depression lives in the past and anxiety lives in the future. So the present is the only safe haven, and it’s also the only thing we have any control over. You can’t control what happened in the past, and worrying about the future isn’t helpful.
But you can focus your awareness on the present moment: the temperature of the water, the sound of the soap bubbles popping or how it smells, the texture of the dish you’re washing, the pressure of your feet on the floor, your posture, your breath—if you focus on these present things, stress melts away because you’re not giving it attention.
Hanh goes through a bunch of other simple practical exercises to retrain your brain to create peace in every moment by adding mindfulness to activities you already do: eating, drinking, walking, breathing, etc.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to gain clarity and peace in the present moment–to calm your internal storm–regardless of what’s going on around you.
As an entrepreneur, your mind is one of your greatest assets. Why wouldn’t you do everything you can to keep it running smoothly?
The Miracle of Mindfulness is a solid introduction to all things mindfulness and meditation.
This is the last book on the list, I promise. But it deserves its spot.
One of the main things I work with clients on is identifying their core value and building their life and business around it because this makes for a meaningful life.
This book is about the deeply human drive to understand what a meaningful life is and how to build toward it.
It’s also written by a Holocaust survivor and how having meaning can help you weather the storms life throws at you. If anyone is an authority on what it takes to survive heinous shit, it’s a Holocaust survivor.
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”— Viktor Frankl
Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote this book based on his experiences in Nazi concentration camps.
The first half of the book is a memoir about his observations about those who survived life in the camps. Obviously, many people were brutally murdered during these times.
But for the rest of the people in the camps—those who weren’t taken to the gas chambers or murdered in other ways— Frankl noticed an unusual phenomenon: some of them still died while others survived.
What was the difference?
Frankl found that the people who survived were the ones who found meaning in their situation—they found purpose in their suffering or held on to other forms of meaning like finding their family or knowing the tragedy of the Holocaust would one day end and they would be able to build a new life. But those who didn’t create meaning simply died, as if they’d given up on living.
The second half of the book is Frankl’s introduction to logotherapy, a therapy approach he developed to help people create meaning in their lives, despite what tragedies or obstacles may have befallen them.
This concept of meaning-making is empowering for people struggling with obstacles in their lives that seem insurmountable. So when life gives you shit, how do you turn that shit into fertilizer? How do you find meaning in it and use it as a catalyst to live a better life?
We may not always have control over what happens in our lives. But we do have control over finding meaning in it, and there is always meaning to be found to build a better future. As human beings, we’re driven to find meaning.
Man’s Search for Meaning is a solid introduction to helping you find meaning in your own life, written by someone who found meaning in one of the most torturous times and places in history.
The one thing each of these books has in common is they have zero woo-woo bullshit.
- James Clear combed through countless empirically-supported experiments and research articles to develop Atomic Habits.
- Emperors, athletes, artists, and entrepreneurs throughout history have used the tenets of Stoicism to guide their lives, gain clarity, and understand themselves better. These are people with a dangerously low tolerance for bullshit, and they consistently gravitated toward Stoicism.
- Hanh wrote those letters during the Vietnam War when they were getting beaten, raped, kidnapped, and murdered. Mindfulness meditation was what helped them deal with incredible stress.
- Frankl turned insights he gained from surviving concentration camps to help others find meaning despite their circumstances.
Pick up these books. They can change your life—they changed mine.
Modern psychology is rooted in ancient philosophies like Stoicism and Buddhism. Add in some meaning-making and practical strategies to improve your habits, and you’ve got a solid foundation for a great life—and 99% of what you’d find reading a hundred other “self-help” books.
Pair these with a journaling habit and you’re really cooking with gas.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you never “clock out.” So it’s easy to overwork yourself and blur the line between being in “work mode” and relaxing.
And when you work from home, this line is even more blurred.
It’s easy to bring your laptop to the couch so you can get in a little more work while you watch tv with your family. Maybe you want to set better boundaries with yourself, so you know when you need to be in work mode and when it’s okay to relax. Or maybe you want to prime your brain to switch between the “maker vs manager” mindsets popularized by Kevin Kelly.
Thankfully, there’s a super simple strategy to do this.
I figured this out last year when I started working from home. I needed a quick way to mentally switch between “creativity” mode, “work” mode, and “relax” mode.
So I leveraged principles of classical conditioning to do it.
All this means is I taught my brain to associate specific triggers with different mental states.
Specifically, I have “creative” glasses and “on camera” glasses. I only wear my “creative” glasses when I’m doing deep creative work like writing an article, developing a product, or outlining an article/video (like this).
But this frame of mind is different than the one I need to be in when I’m on camera during a coaching call or video podcast.
Getting a separate pair of glasses for being on camera did the trick.
Now, when I wear my “creative” glasses, my brain associates those glasses with creating content, so it kicks into creativity mode. And when I put on my “camera” glasses, I switch out of creative mode and into being “on” for the camera—so more personality and professionalism come out.
I only need glasses for screen time, but if I needed glasses to wear throughout the day, I’d get a third pair for “everyday” wear to help kick out of “work” mode. My girlfriend does this, and it’s helped her improve her productivity for work and preserve her sanity when it’s time to be “off.”
I get all my glasses from Zenni because they’ve got a solid selection and they’re way more affordable than 99% of places you’d go to get glasses.
Check out their selection here and see for yourself.
Entrepreneurs are all about efficiency.
We all know taking care of our physical health is important to living well. It helps us be stronger, leaner, improves our sleep, helps us mentally fire on all cylinders, and helps knock of the rust that accumulates from sitting at a desk all day.
But a lot of entrepreneurs claim they don’t consistently have enough time to work out (again, read Atomic Habits to build better systems).
Home gyms are hella expensive, and going all the way to your local gym can be super inconvenient if you’re tight on time.
I keep a kettlebell around for when I want to get in a solid workout but don’t have the time to go to the gym or if traffic or weather keep me from going. You can get in a great workout with just bodyweight exercises like pushups, lunges, and sit-ups. But when you want more resistance, kettlebells are a great upgrade.
It’s the most efficient piece of gym equipment I’ve found, and you can store it in a closet, under the bed, or tucked away in the corner.
Now you can do weighted squats, Turkish get-ups, kettlebell swings, curls, tricep extensions, the list goes on and on—all from a single weight.
If you don’t know what weight to get, start off with a lighter weight.
I bought this 35lb kettlebell and it’s more than enough to kick my ass.
#10: Book Stand
I take copious notes when I read books, and I prefer physical books to digital ones.
But taking notes when you read a physical book is super cumbersome.
A book stand solves all that.
I bought one in 2019 and use it almost daily. It’s one of my all-time favorite purchases.
Just prop your book up on the stand and type away to your heart’s content.
Bonus (over $50): Headphones
Everything else on this list is under $35, but I can’t make a list of my favorite items without including this one.
I can’t work without music because I have the attention span of a gnat.
I’ve had these headphones for years and they’ve held up better than ones 2-3x the price.
When the ear pads eventually wore out, I picked up these replacement earpads and they’re super comfy. I can easily wear them for 6-8 hours without discomfort.
I hope this list was helpful for gifts to pick up for yourself or an entrepreneur in your life.
I’ve personally used each of these and love them. I’ve gifted them to friends and family. And recommend them to anyone who wants the most bang for their buck when it comes to gaining deeper clarity, improving their mindset, and developing better habits.
If you pick one up, or have already picked them up, let me know how they’ve helped you be more intentional with how you live, work, and create.