The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for 2021

November 23, 2021
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

High performance is 90% mental. And most of that mental edge comes from being able to control your thoughts.”

Dr Michael Gervais

Welcome to my fourth annual holiday gift guide! Each year, I share the items that have made the biggest impact on my life throughout the year, and I know they’ll do the same for you or for someone else if you’re giving it as a gift.

If you’re new to the holiday gift guide, it always revolves around books. 


Because there’s a massive surplus of cheap crappy gifts that are forgotten shortly after they’ve been received, and a massive deficit of people accessing things that are truly going to change their life forever.

Aside from allowing us to delve into the minds of the most inspiring and innovative people who ever lived, books are a great gift because they sit there staring back at us: providing gentle prompts, imaginative thought, and unprecedented motivation when we need it most.

In fact, many of the people I interviewed for Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy noted that, in times of distress, just staring at the cover of Napoleon Hill’s original classic made them feel better about themselves.

In last year’s gift guide I mentioned how often I’m opting for audiobooks, but this year I reached somewhat of an audio plateau and found myself going back to physical books a little more. Audiobooks are great if you’re racing against the clock because you can increase the speed to 1.5x or more. And, for me, I often need to consume a large volume of information quickly; for example, it might be ahead of someone appearing on the podcast.

So, in addition to the speed, you can also listen to audiobooks while you’re driving, exercising, and doing any number of other things.

However, there’s something pure about a physical book — I think it’s the complete absence of a digital component, meaning it's far less likely to get distracted. That presence in the moment is enormously valuable, especially when we consider how often we’re pulled between multiple tasks throughout the day.

When my wife and I had our first ever weekend away from our daughter, I loved relaxing by the pool with a book, and it would have been far less relaxing if I was tempted by the dozens of apps and notifications on my phone. 

The key is that to take notes, which reinforces the learning — and I take a heap of notes when I read any non-fiction book — a device is a very handy way to do that.

For tips on improving your reading specifically, check out this interview with Read to Lead author, Jeff Brown. We cover speed reading, finding the best book for you, and the best way to read for maximum absorption.

For people who struggle with traditional books, I highly recommend audiobooks. The most important thing is that you keep up your learning.

If you’re looking at a gift for someone other than yourself, a hardcover book is probably better.

Even though I love audiobooks, anytime I find a book that really speaks to me, I am sure to grab a copy of the hardcover version too so I can use it as a quick reference point whenever I need it. And the #1 book I’ve read this year is actually an audiobook, as you’ll see below.

Filling your mind with the knowledge you need is the best way to transcend your circumstances so you can achieve whatever you want in life, regardless of what’s happened in your past. Every book I have read has changed my life in one way or another, so that hunger for learning should hopefully be a priority for you too.

Without further ado, here are the books that I think would make the best gifts this holiday season, for you, a friend or a loved one. I’ve even expanded it into a few other categories too. 

Note: If you're new to the Win the Day show, welcome! You can subscribe to the podcast or on YouTube.

Before we dive into the good stuff, let’s touch on today’s quote which comes from elite psychologist, Dr Michael Gervais: 

“High performance is 90% mental. And most of that mental edge comes from being able to control your thoughts.”

Powerful stuff.

And the best way to control your thoughts is through books and podcasts like Win the Day.

Let’s get into our ultimate holiday gift guide for 2021!

Best book overall:

Compete to Create by Dr Michael Gervais and Pete Carroll 

This is the best book I read in 2021. So much of my professional life has been about studying the happiest and most successful people who ever lived to find clues in their journey.

And one of the biggest commonalities is how they are able to attach meaning to almost all their actions. This enables them to push through the suck during tough times, while reaching for loftier heights during good times. 

In Compete to Create, Gervais shares some incredible quotes such as:

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes.” Dr Carl Jung

But it’s the specific framework around self-mastery that makes the most impact. 

I have thousands of words in notes from this book alone and, rather than me paraphrase it for you, I’d rather you simply go and grab a copy (or gift it to someone else) so they can experience it firsthand. 

You will learn a ton of research-driven information about how to find your passion, the optimal morning routine, and the proven steps to self-mastery. There’s even some valuable steps on how to achieve harmony in the home that I found useful (for example, taking a partner’s feedback as information rather than an attack.)

Grab a copy of Compete to Create now, and check out our Win the Day interview with Dr Michael Gervais (Episode 61).

[Note: it’s only available in audiobook but is personally narrated by both Gervais and Carroll.]

Best book for the mental battle during COVID:

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr Carol Dweck

This year, the Win the Day show has interviewed numerous individuals who have built businesses that are doing USD $100M+ in annual revenue, and in almost every case they recommend Mindset by Dr Carol Dweck. It’s not just a mental primer for the founders; it becomes required reading for their entire team.

If you want to know how to cultivate a growth mindset (rather than a fixed mindset) and thrive in adversity, this is the book for you.

On a sidenote, I believe that literally 100% of people have either experienced a significant moment of soul searching, depression, or both during this time, so it’s a good reminder for us to be conscious of what steps we can take to perform at our best and also how our energy affects the meaning we attach to any given situation.

Best book for peak performance:

The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler is one of the top peak performance researchers in the world. His new book, The Art of Impossible, is designed to help us understand how capable we are, and then presents a framework to unleash that peak performance.

It’s got some incredible examples of real life people like Elon Musk, Laird Hamilton, Kristen Ulmer, and Tim Ferriss, and so many practical steps on how to perform at your best. 

There are many gems in this book on peak performance, and I highly recommend it.

Best book for kids:

We're Not So Different After All by Lissette Lent

I wish I had included childrens’ books on here previously! Having a two year old (with another on the way in January) means our family has spent a LOT of time reading childrens’ books this year. 

We love all the books by Julia Donaldson (e.g. Room on the Broom) and Alison Lester (e.g. Magic Beach), but the one we most enjoyed was written by a lesser known author, Lissette Lent. 

I first met Lent on audio social app, Clubhouse, earlier in the year and she mentioned her book, We're Not So Different After All.

Now, the idea of anyone being treated differently — especially for something outside of their control — is tough for any parent to swallow, and this book is exactly what I wanted our daughter, Sophie, to read. Fortunately, it quickly became her favorite book!

Lent wrote it to share the real-life experiences of her daughter, Maggie, who was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. The book does a great job of raising awareness for children living with special needs and disabilities, and teaches the importance of treating others with kindness and compassion.

As Lent says, “Diversity is a beautiful thing and this book helps children of all ages understand that just because someone may look or act differently, our similarities outweigh our differences.”

Best film for kids:

Luca on Disney+

Okay, in our household we’re not reading all the time! We do watch the occasional movie as a family, and the one that captured our hearts was Disney movie, Luca.

It’s enjoyable for all ages, and has a constant stream of lessons (both obvious and subliminal) to help us think differently. The first 10 minutes are a bit slow, but it’s super entertaining after that.

Best mobile app:

The Day One Journal

One thing I’ve always struggled with is negative self-talk. I’ve always found it easy to be empathetic and compassionate to others, but when it comes to my inner voice it was very direct, strong, and harsh.

After interviewing Ziva founder, Emily Fletcher (Episode 29), I made the decision to do 70 consecutive meditations and put it on my 2021 Success Plan. And I’m a horrible meditator and I’ve never been able to stick with it consistently before.

But, as many of you know, the Success Plan Template — which has been used now by people in more than 20 countries — is devastatingly effective for goal achievement.

After 70 meditations, I noticed that the negative self-talk had completely disappeared. Like magic.

That was eight months ago and it hasn’t returned, so I stopped meditating because the mission was complete. 

Yet, something was missing from my morning routine.

A previous guest on the Win the Day podcast had mentioned a journaling app called The Day One Journal -- which you can imagine had my attention because it’s the same name as The Day Won Mastermind that I run.

So I gave it a shot, but with one condition: I would do 100 consecutive days of journaling.

To give myself the best chance of success, I stacked the activity of journaling with another essential task that I love to do: drink my morning coffee. As of right now, I’ve done 110 days of consecutive journaling and found it immensely valuable to start the day right.

Because I do it with my morning coffee, I’ve never worried about missing it, and the app allows me to upload photos so I can reflect on memories at a later date.

To make it more performance-based, in every entry I also add in three things that will make today a ‘win.’ Super simple but life-changing.

Best Gift (or Accompaniment) for Everyone:

The final recommendation on this list, which is the best gift (or gift accompaniment) for everyone, is a letter or card – handwritten if your legibility allows – to acknowledge the recipient for all the loving and selfless actions they have taken to brighten your world and illuminate your spirit.

Expressing our gratitude to one another in the long form written medium has become a lost art, but that just means your opportunity to make an impression will be even more powerful.

You've heard me say many times before that the best way to get is to give first. This holiday season, give someone a piece of your heart, and watch the way your life changes as a result.

I hope you enjoyed our fourth holiday gift guide! Remember, giving someone the ability to help themselves can be the best gift.

Share a comment on the YouTube version of this episode with your favorite out of all these options or if any of these already hold a place in your heart.

Applications are closing VERY soon for The Day Won Mastermind! If you own a business, or are thinking about starting a business, and want me and some special friends in your corner for 3-months, this might just be the best decision you ever make. But hurry – it’s strictly limited to 12 people and applications are closing soon. What are you waiting for? 

Finally, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one out there who needs to hear this episode – or could use some help to Win the Day – share it with them right now. 

As we approach the end of 2021, I want to thank each and every one of you for your continued support. We’ve still got a few more eps to finish out the year so keep an eye out for those.

Until then, get out there and win the day — perhaps by helping someone else win their day.

Onwards and upwards always,
James Whittaker

Resources / links mentioned:

📈 The #1 Habit to Boost Your Intelligence with Jeff Brown.

🔥 ‘Compete to Create’ by Dr Michael Gervais and Pete Carroll.

🚀 ‘The Art of Impossible’ by Steven Kotler.

🧭 ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ by Dr Carol Dweck.

👨‍👨‍👧‍👧 ‘We're Not So Different After All’ by Lissette Lent.

💚 ‘Luca’ (movie) on Disney+.

✍️ The Day One Journal (mobile app).

🎬 Subscribe to exclusive Win the Day videos on our YouTube channel.

🗝️ Apply now for The Day Won Mastermind (strictly limited to 12 people).

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