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Bringing important books to your attention in an accessible way. These personal development books are best sellers that give a unique and helpful perspective on life as we know it.
For a while I’ve been able to work on one thing whilst having several other things floating around my head. We’ve all tried multi-tasking but perhaps I’ve stretched that to my limit. It no longer works for me.
There are too many incomplete tasks and they are beginning to distract me so that my focus is never fully on the thing I’m doing. There is a real risk of doing several things to a lower standard rather than giving focused attention to each.
I tend to have several different lists for different parts of my life and then I often fall back on memory to help steer me forward. I recognise that I need to make changes for things to be different. I know from my counselling that if we don’t adapt when change is required then we risk making things worse or becoming unwell.
This is why I sought out ‘Free to Focus’ by Michael Hyatt. I know I will always have varied interests that stimulate me and projects at different levels of completion. How do I set limits around quantity and quality of my work? How do I incorporate my wellbeing, client work, creative output and routine tasks in the best way possible?
In his book ‘Free to Focus’ Hyatt brings together several well tested ideas. Some ideas, like making good use of sleep and creativity, I already use. There are other things however that I’ve not made decisions on which I now need to address. I can’t and shouldn’t say “yes” to everything that comes my way. Even if I am very efficient I will not be able to fit in everything, so I need to be able to say “no” to some things.
By not cutting out some things we end up with a list of things that we can never get to. But by being more realistic and making conscious choices about what goes onto our plates then things become achievable. That way things that matter, around values and goals, do not drop to the bottom, overtaken by easy tasks and distractions. The starting point, and a challenge for me, is cutting out some of the easy activities which do not align with stated goals.
But before we can cut out any extras we need to stop, decide what we want and evaluate our course.
As he suggests, big shifts can come from knowing when to automate, designate and delegate. I know that my answer lies in deciding to designate 3-5 hours at a time to big tasks (e.g. Writing or CPD) that require extended periods of focused work. Remembering to switch off notifications (constant disruptions) is another answer.
Routine is also essential, even for those of us who are self-employed creatives and often push against it. He suggests having a ritual for the start and end of each work day which then saves on the need for constant decision making and can be supported through better use of technology.
This book has inspired me to do things differently so that I can reduce overwhelm and maintain wellbeing. What about you, are you overwhelmed by it all or do you have an effective approach that leaves you fulfilled? Please share and comment.
(First published in TODAY Magazine, no longer online)
I approach this review with some ambivalence. Like many of you I am exploring ways to live my best life and fulfil my potential. On the other hand, we can ask too much of ourselves and maybe we’re already doing enough. Read this review of The Miracle Morning with your own life in mind so you can take from it what is helpful and leave what is not.
In the free video on his website the author speaks of how the financial crash of 2008 brought him to rock bottom and made him look at his life anew. In an attempt to study the lives of successful people, he stumbled upon their top habits. The book is essentially different ways of sharing these habits alongside research and case studies.
One of the challenges for me is the linking of these habits to early rising. The idea is that you carry out these 6 habits on rising every day, before breakfast, work or taking children to school! For many of us that requires a big shift in mindset and, getting to bed quite early the night before. Certainly, there are studies that show early rising helps us to be more efficient although late risers point to contradictory evidence.
What then are these six habits that you can do every day to help you achieve your potential? The author has chosen the memorable mnemonic S.A.V.E.R.S. The letters stand for Silence, Affirmations, Visualisation, Exercise, Reading and Scribing. He believes that doing these daily improves discipline, clarity and personal development. He calls these life savers and they can support physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development.
You may already do some of these. Many successful people exercise daily. Some of us may read from a religious text or another book. Reading is not just about reading on social media but choosing content to help steer our day. Silence can include things such as meditation and prayer. The benefits of scribing – or keeping a journal – is overwhelming and I can explore that another time.
Affirmations and visualisations are probably the least known aspects of these 6 habits although we now know that many successful Olympians use both. Affirmations are about replacing fear and worry with more positive thoughts. Visualisations are imagining the positive outcomes you desire. I came across visualisations on my counselling training and sometimes make use of these in individual and group sessions; they can be powerful.
The miracle morning is a simple idea. The author wants us to know that after a 30-day trial it will become a habit. One of my cheats is listening to audiobooks so I can listen on the move or whilst doing tasks. I know that one of my fellow counsellors sprinkles the habits throughout her day. You can also experiment in doing it for one minute each to total 6 minutes. It’s just another way to make small changes in your life. How does this sound to you?
How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead
By Dr. Brené Brown
In this bestselling book Brené uses decades of human research to dispel the myth that vulnerability is a weakness. The blurb on the back of the book puts it like this – “Daring Greatly is the culmination of twelve years of ground-breaking social research …It is an invitation to be courageous; to show up and let ourselves be seen, even when there are no guarantees.” This is about showing up and letting ourselves be seen, imperfect though we are. She says that being vulnerable is not a choice. The choice is only how much we engage with our vulnerability, from courage and clarity of purpose on the one hand to fear and disconnection on the other.
All her research showed that those who dared to engage with their vulnerability lived more wholehearted or full lives. Her 10 guideposts for wholehearted living are:
- Letting go of what people think
- Letting go of perfectionism
- Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
- Cultivating gratitude and joy
- Cultivating intuition and trusting faith
- Letting go of comparison
- Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
- Cultivating calm and stillness
- Cultivating meaningful work
- Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance
The participants’ willingness to be vulnerable could be seen as the catalyst for their courage, compassion and connection. But why do so many of us find it difficult to engage with our vulnerability?
Brené uncovers many of the reasons and discusses these with research evidence, examples and anecdotes. For example, if we have been or expect to be shamed then we won’t risk being seen. If we’re only measured by what we know then we won’t reveal who we are. If we see being ordinary as shameful then we make up a bigger life for ourselves to feel worthy of love and belonging. She spends some time talking about scarcity when we believe we are never – good/perfect/thin/rich/successful/smart – enough! So we’re caught in this space of comparing ourselves to others, feeling ashamed of who we are and then disengaging from meaningful relationships.
In this book Brené goes on to show that “to feel is to be vulnerable.” She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.
During her research she asks participants to share times when they felt vulnerable and these are a few of the responses: Standing up for myself, sharing an unpopular opinion, asking for help, starting my own business, saying “I love you” first, getting fired, falling in love, getting promoted and not knowing if I’m going to succeed, admitting I’m afraid, the first date after my divorce, being accountable and asking for forgiveness. For many it was about letting go of control, scary but liberating.
The book goes on to explore understanding and combating shame so that we are freer to be ourselves and the options become more than hide ourselves, please others or fight them. We are good at keeping busy, avoiding and numbing ourselves – most of the time we don’t know how we feel. She goes on to show how we can increase our feelings of worthiness, connection and belonging whilst combating feelings of shame. These are applied to men and women, couples, families and the workplace. I recommend this book if you would like to dare greatly and live a wholehearted life.
FACEBOOK’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has received a lot of criticism for her book ‘LEAN IN’. It offers advice for working women who are expecting to have children, whether they return to work or not. In many ways it is about having choices. She is also keen on fathers having a choice so that each set of parents make career/home decisions based on their desires and resources.
Whilst running the online sales and operations groups at Google in 2004 Sandberg became pregnant. With continuous nausea she wanted to be able to move swiftly from the car park to the office but would find herself at the far end of the car park. As a senior woman at Google it never occurred to her that pregnant women might need designated parking but now it had and she could use her power to improve it for herself and those who come after.
She shares another memory of a residential team meeting where a colleague, who had recently become a mother, was continuously staring at her phone. The colleague said nothing but she was obviously distracted. On enquiry they found out that her mother and baby were accompanying her on trip and she was needed to settle her child. Once she shared this she was immediately released from the meeting. Part of the book is about communicating important information to the right people. Unfortunately, not all leaders or organisations know how to work with expectant or new mothers.
Sandberg quotes various studies where the men are much more ambitious and expectant of success than the women. In her experience women tend to have more self-doubt and need encouragement to ‘lean in’. A 2003 Colombia Business School study looked at the likeability of successful women. They found that for the same person description, when the successful person was called Heidi she was not liked or trusted but when he was named Howard all was fine. The participants’ gender bias meant it was acceptable for a man, Howard, to be decisive and driven but not for a woman (Heidi). Women are expected to be caregiving and sensitive.
The central advice is for women to not mentally exit the workplace before they physically leave. She refers to women not taking opportunities in the present because they hope to be a mother in the future. In her mind this is the time to ‘lean in’ and make progress. This leads her to talk about partnerships in parenting. She quotes various studies showing the benefits for all when fathers are involved in even basic childcare. On the theme of partnership she quotes a Fortune 500 study on CEO’s; of 28 women, 26 were married, 1 divorced and 1 never married.
Sandberg is honest about ‘the myth of having it all’ as she shares her parental failings and the guilt she feels when travelling for work and missing her family. Lean In seeks to advise women seeking career success and those with the power to make the workplace more flexible. In her opinion it’s not a career ladder but a “jungle gym”. Eventually she hopes that by “using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will be more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow stereotypes”.
When Malcolm Gladwell’s book first came out it had a massive impact on those trying to understand cultural changes.The premise of this book is a desire to explain sudden massive changes in human behaviour. It’s not that one big thing changes but lots of people make a small change which results in a change of epidemic proportions.
In order to define this Gladwell comes up with the 3 rules of epidemics. He looks at the American shoe brand Hush Puppies which went from 30 000 sales to 430, 000 in the space of a year. The brand’s attractiveness spread like an epidemic and the turning (tipping point) from falling to rising sales came between 1994 and 1995. The change seemed to be the result of some key trendsetters making it cool and then the brand was being picked up by the fashion media, taking it to the masses.
When he explores crime figures in poor parts of New York the figures show that within a 5-year period in the 1990’s murders dropped 64% and total crimes by almost 50%. Although many economists and criminologists would say the fall was down to rising economic conditions, decline of the drug trade and an ageing population, none of these changes are enough to explain the dramatic change in crime. He asserts that lots of small changes eventually made a huge difference. These little things involved cleaning up the city physically and making it clear that previously ignored low level crimes (on subways, street corners,) would not be tolerated. Eventually people felt safer and less vulnerable to crime which made them more confident and more likely to report criminal activity as they now believed someone would take it seriously. It’s an explanation that sees crime influenced more by the environment than the individual. There are cultural thinkers who disagree with Gladwell’s analysis of that time.
Gladwell sees epidemic changes as being:
(ii) little changes can have a big effort
(iii) change happens dramatically not gradually
This third point is what he calls ‘the tipping point’ which tries to explain how a trend can change direction quite suddenly
So what 3 rules govern this tipping point? Gladwell’s research has led him to believe that these are:
1 the law of the few (connectors, mavens and salesmen)
2.the stickiness factor
3.the power of context.
Gladwell uses Stanley Milgram’s 1960’s experiment to illustrate. In the experiment Milgram recruited 160 strangers to get a package to one particular man in Boston he found that most people achieved this in around 6 steps (through six people). This led to the idea of 6 degrees of separation. Surprisingly 50% of these random strangers were sent their package via 3 individuals. These 3 people are what Gladwell calls connectors, they know a wide range of people, belong to many niches and bring different people together.
So whilst connectors help to spread the message Gladwell turns his attention to the message itself. For these he uses the Yiddish word maven: mavens are people who accumulate knowledge. They absorb information about different places, prices and products and want to share it with others.
Finally he identifies salesmen as those who persuade us of the importance of the message. Through various examples he shows how we can be persuaded through nonverbal cues.
His third rule is the stickiness factor. He uses this to explain that the message needs to stick to persuade us to do something differently.
Gladwell makes use of Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment which showed how assigning regular people to the roles of prisoners and guards had a massive impact on their behaviour and their feelings. Changing ones situation can have a dramatic impact. This is how context relates to epidemics.
Think of how you decided on the last place you visited or the last thing you bought, whose words encouraged you to make that choice?
The Power of Now has received rave reviews from many people in the personal development and spiritual sectors. One of Eckhart’s biggest fans is Oprah Winfrey and he has been in conversation with her over the years. This book is more about spirituality than religion. He mainly speaks from his personal experience and from his understandings of the great texts. Underpinning all this is a belief in a deep spiritual place within each of us that connects us to the divine.
Eckhart encourages the reader to look within and find peace and joy in being. It is about recognising that our incessant mental noises prevent us from a stillness that can connect us to God. This helps us to be more fully present to ourselves and in the world. If we are always thinking then we live in a world with continuous problems and conflicts that need solutions. He believes that this incessant thinking separates us from ourselves, each other and God. Instead of us using our mind – it uses us. If we can never switch off our mind then we are slaves to it. Strong words when we’ve been educated to believe that thinking is good and the more we think the better. It is a reminder too that “beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise beyond the mind”.
Eckhart points out that through our constant thinking we are always judging, commenting, speculating, worrying, comparing, whether about the past or an imagined future. Does this sound familiar? We live in the present with continuous commentary of voices from the past. He invites the reader to listen to the incessant thinking in our head – not to judge or condemn – but simply to observe with impartiality. He calls it “watching the thinker” and this separation helps us to realise that we are not our thoughts but more than that. We are now conscious of more of who we are and our thoughts no longer dominate us. It is in this conscious space that we can find stillness and peace within.
It is about being aware of the present moment and not being lost in our thoughts. Meditation, mindfulness and prayer can help us to let go and be present. Eckhart also suggests becoming more aware of all the everyday tasks we do and allowing that to slow us down and stay in the present. This is better than starting our day with worry and fear. How might it be to really pay attention to our morning routines of washing, dressing and eating? The challenge for many of us is that we are identified with our thinking and believe we would cease to exist if we stopped. He refers to this identifying with the mind as the ego – identifying with achievements of the past and projections into the future. On a serious note he believes that if we don’t move beyond how we use our mind or how our mind uses us, we will destroy our mental health. For him a quieter mind allows us to experience inner stillness. It gives us more opportunity to listen to our emotions and allowing them rather than controlling them. As a counsellor and having recently done a mindfulness course I can see how this makes some sense. But I am not sure how many people can make the changes without support. Our thoughts and emotions have been built up over a lifetime and it may take a therapist to help us separate who we are from our constant thinking. When this book came out in 1999 it was certainly ground breaking. However I found it to be quite long: it felt like I was being told the same thing over and over in slightly different ways. Also I do believe in balance, so there are times when it is healthy to be reminiscing and times when we should be planning for the future. However the constant distraction of our thoughts means that we may not be sufficiently present in our lives. Being fully present in our lives, in our relationships can be quite powerful. Let me know what you think.