Book Review: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood: who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

Going into this book, I envisioned a stirring call to action like the above quotation which inspired the title.  I was a bit skeptical, too.  Books like that tend to get me in the go getter mindset right after reading them, but the mood rarely lasts long enough to be useful.

The good news was that I was wrong on both counts.  This book came across as a warm hug.  At it’s heart, this book teaches us that we are all worthy and have the  potential of daring greatly.

The book digs in and shows us why we might not have thought we were worthy of being that man in the arena.  We live in a culture of scarcity as the author describes it.  We never have enough.  We are never good enough.  We are always pushed to do more, to have more without being allowed to appreciate the value of what we currently have. We are crippled by perfectionism, afraid to make mistakes.

Society often punishes us with shame rather than guilt.  The difference between these is the difference between thinking we are a bad person rather than we did a bad thing.  There is a cute story of her young daughter correcting her teacher for calling her a mess after a craft project.  He daughter tells her that she might have made a mess but she is not a mess.

I found those words powerful.  As the author points out, it gives a person room to change.   If I am a mess, I am hopeless; but if I have MADE a mess, there is hope.  I just need some soap.

Opening yourself up to this method of change allows you to take the next step to daring greatly: becoming vulnerable.

Being aware of our weaknesses does not make us weak.  It makes us stronger as we learn to achieve our goals.  Other people knowing about our weaknesses also does not make us weak.  No one would call FDR our weakest president just because he used a wheelchair.

Real change, real connection,  and real achievement require vulnerability.  The man in the arena could not fail if he stayed home but he also could not triumph either.   We have to risk failing to succeed.

That is why I think this book is a worthwhile read.  It is not enough to know that I can do great things, I need to find the strength to accept that bad things can happen too.

If you find yourself frustrated with your life goals and filled with a sense of shame and unworthiness, this book is for you.

Book Review: Honor Your Anger: How Transforming Your Anger Style Can Change Your Life

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This is a follow up book from my earlier review of The Nice Girl Syndrome also by Beverly Engel.  I liked Engel’s writing style and was intrigued by the idea that my self criticism, anxiety, tears, and overeating could all be caused by repressed anger.  This book is an expansion on what the destructive nature of passivity and lack of assertiveness can do on your mental health.

Many of us fear anger.  We have seen what explosive anger can be like and seek to never do that ourselves.  Unfortunately, we replace one poor anger coping mechanism with another one by burying the emotion.  We find ourselves frequently upset and having unsatisfactory interactions with other people.  By avoiding one poor behavior, we stumble into a whole new set of hidden ones.

Engel asserts that anger in itself is not a bad emotion.  At its basic level, it is merely our mind’s way of alerting us that some boundary has been crossed.  What we do with that anger is where the problem arises.  When properly dealt with, anger goes away quickly and is replaced by a more productive emotion.  When dealt with poorly, it can fester.

What I like about this book, is that it recognizes the various ways we deal with anger.  The author teaches us to recognize the clues showing what anger style we prefer from completely aggressive to completely passive.  She also recognizes that sometimes we flip to another style.  Some people are passive at work but aggressive at home or aggressive with most people and passive with one specific person.

She gives specialized advice to each anger type, giving an almost personalized approach to dealing with anger.  I also liked reading the chapters that didn’t apply to me because they helped me understand other people in my life.

This books was a breath of fresh air.  I had developed the habit of internalizing unfair criticism and assuming that something must be fundamentally wrong with me.  The book showed me I was refusing to accept I was angry over the criticism and chose self destruction as the way to cope with my emotions.

My unexplained tears, my horrible anxiety,  and my feelings of worthlessness become understandable.  I had an anger problem.  What I needed to learn was that I am allowed to be angry.  Being angry doesn’t make me less of a person.  I am angry because I’m a person.

I know there are many books available on anger, but I would definitely recommend starting with this one if you are upset in your life and don’t understand why.  It is well written, easy to understand, and infused with many personal stories to let you know that you are not alone.

Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Have “go to” Meals

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I used to love watching What Not to Wear. Although most of the clothes bought would be way out of my price range, the tips were very useful.  One of the biggest things they tried to get people to do is create a go to outfit.  The idea was to have outfits available that you know go together and look great so that you can quickly get dressed and out the door.  No muss, no fuss.

I think this concept can be used in other parts of your life.  Especially in the area of weight loss.  In essence, you are changing your habits and learning a new way to feed yourself when you go on a diet.  This means that every meal is going to be new for you and it is going to take you longer than normal to prepare.

This is where being prepared can help.  Sometimes, you don’t have the time or are distracted by something else.  If you don’t have easy options at the ready, you are likely to slip into old bad habits.  After all, you probably already have favorite “go to” foods like cookies, chips, or greasy fast food.  Taking some time now to think of easy food options that fits your lifestyle will go a long way to keeping you on your best footing on the road to weight loss.

For me, I have a healthy cereal, a quick salad, and a large batch of healthy spaghetti, chili, or another healthy leftover to choose from.  I also stock up on some filling snacks like cheese cubes, fruit, and granola bars.  I’ve also scouted out healthy meals at my favorite places to eat

I find that having two of my meals (usually breakfast and lunch) coming from my short list of easy foods lends just enough stability to help me stick with a diet for the long run.

Remember, diet smarter not harder!

Book Review: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

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We are all haunted  by past conversations that did not go the way we wanted.  We keep thinking of things we could of said and remain angry that the other person couldn’t just get what we were trying to express.

Difficult Conversations gives us many of the answers to what went wrong and gives us advice on how to resolve the conflict and repair the damage caused.

The book is less about tricks to manipulate people into getting what you want and more of a textbook on the anatomy of a difficult conversation and how to successfully participate in it.

You are encouraged to look at the conversation as an opportunity to learn so that you can find a solution.  Often, there is much more going on than either person knows.  The book describes conversations as having three levels: the “What Happened?” conversation, the feelings conversation, and the identity conversation.

If the discussion doesn’t also address people’s emotions and sense of self, it is likely to fail in getting to the real issue at hand and therefore a resolution.

A healthy conversation will include a shift from blaming to understanding each party’s contribution, active listening to understand each others’ perspective, and an understanding that there is always room to grow.

After teaching you the makings of a difficult conversation, the book moves on to show how to actually have such a conversation.  It recognizes that the other person will not likely have to read this book and gives suggestions on how to handle such conversations.

Overall, I found the book very helpful.  It is straightforward and provides plenty of example conversations.  The samples are more successful than I suspect my own first difficult conversations will be, however.  The book takes some time to get through, at least for me, because I often found myself dwelling on past conversations that could have helped with this advice and also because some of the new techniques are difficult for me to adjust to.

Specifically what the book calls the “And Stance.”  It’s the idea that you recognize the others’ feelings and your own by something like, “I realize that family time is important AND I’m still going to work late this evening.”  It is just too ingrained to put a but,yet, or however as the link in that sentence.  It is something that I will have to work on.

I borrowed this book from the library but will be buying a copy because it is the sort of book that will be read and reread and bookmarked for future reference.

 

Kicking the Caffeine Habit: Halfway Point

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My first experience with caffeine withdrawal was in my senior year of high school.  One of my clubs did the 30 Hour Famine to raise money for world hunger.  Around 24 hours into the fast, I was miserable.  More miserable than someone who hadn’t eaten for a day.  I was nauseated, lethargic, and had the worst headache in my life.  I felt like I caught the flu and had been hit by a semi in the same afternoon.

I went to an after school pizza party and snuck some pizza and soda.  All of those terrible side effects quickly melted away and that’s when I learned that I was a victim of a first world problem: Caffeine Addiction.

Over the years, I would come to resent the short leash that my caffeine addiction would put on my life.  If I went camping or traveled, I had to make sure that there was a caffeine source available.  Caffeine withdrawal affects everyone differently, and for me, it’s pretty terrible.  I have trouble focusing and can barely function until I get my daily “fix.”

What’s worse is that I hate hot drinks so the bulk of my caffeine comes from soda. That put me between the rock of downing literally pounds of sugar or the hard place of the questionable effects of artificial sweeteners.

I’ve tried many times to quit but it isn’t just that the symptoms are horrible (and believe me they are) but that my whole life now revolves around caffeine.  I don’t drink much or do drugs but caffeine has become a coping mechanism for me to deal with stress. A cool glass of cola can instantly calm me down.  Not to mention, when you go out to eat, there aren’t many diet friendly caffeine free options beyond water.

Sometime ago, I was going through some stressful times and started to rely heavily on caffeine.  I’m not sure how much I consumed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were drinking a gallon of soda in one day.  My sleeping habits were wrecked.  I was swinging from being hyper to exhausted.  My health and my bank account (a gallon of soda a day adds up!) began to suffer.

Six weeks ago, I decided to do something about it.   I decided to start up a gradual wean of caffeine.  I started by having a cut off time.  The first week was 5 P.M.  No caffeine after that.  The following week would be 4, the next week 3.  I’d keep doing that until I’d gone a week with no caffeine after noon.  Then, I averaged the number of cans I drank a day that week then had one less than that for a week.  For me, that meant three cans a day (I told you, I was drinking A LOT of soda).  After that I’d decrease by half a can a week (using the 7.5 oz mini cans) until I was down to half a can a day.   Then, every other day.  Then, a half can only when I felt withdrawal symptoms.

I am about halfway through this program.  Today, I started the decreasing by half a can, so I drank 2 1/2 cans.   My sleep has been amazing over the last week or so.  I’ve fallen asleep quickly and have slept deeply.  I have been experiencing a lot of tiredness.  I’ve taken to drinking a mini can of Sprite in the afternoons as a sugar pick me up.  It’s only 90 calories and I can always drink a second one if needed.

I haven’t really experienced any other withdrawal symptoms.  I did once have to drink a mini can to deal with a slight headache on a step down day.  Apparently, there is a wide difference in caffeine content in different brands of soda.  I had switched from a high caffeine brand to a low one.  I’m now slowing moving from the high caffeine ones to the low ones.

This process has been slow, but the great sleep alone has made it worth it.  Plus, it has given me plenty of time to find non-caffeine beverages and other ways to deal with my stress.

I’m excited to revisit this topic in a few months and share what’s it like to be free from the chains of caffeine.

Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Try a Pedometer

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I’ve never really considered getting a pedometer.  I don’t like the idea of being leashed to a device all day.

You know, except for my cell phone.

Recently, I upgraded to the new Samsung Galaxy S5 from my dinky old phone.  This one came with a pedometer app and heart rate monitor.

“Whoopty-Doo,”  I had thought.

Now, almost a month later, it’s one of the first features I show people when they ask about my phone.  (That and the crazy double charger it uses).

The phone displays my step count on the unlock screen so I’m updated regularly throughout the day.  I find myself taking a few extra steps after checking a text because I’m oh so close to some nice round number or other.

I even started going for extra walks with the dog just so that I can reach the daily goal of 10,000 steps (around 5 miles).

It’s becoming something of a game for me.  What can I do to increase the total and beat my high score?

It’s also an interesting window into my daily habits.  Did you know that a trip to Target can easily be a mile’s worth of walking? Guess who found a new excuse to go shopping!

If you are struggling to find ways to add exercise to your daily regimen, consider a pedometer.  It can be a fun motivator to get yourself moving.  I know there are free apps available to download onto your phone, if you don’t want to commit to buying one.

Try it out for a week.  Try to  increase your daily steps by 100, 500, or even 1000.  Figure out which parking spot at work gives you the most “points.”  Pick a friend and make it a competition.  Every little bit counts.

Oh, and, in case you are wondering, yes, I do love my new phone. But that new charger is something else…

Book Review: Wreck This Journal

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This isn’t your ordinary journal.  Its title is more of a set of marching orders than a description.  Its purpose is to be destroyed.  Each page has a suggestion of ways to do so by staining, licking, chewing, and even selling the pages.  It is chocked full of silly activities like documenting your dinner by smearing the page with the food or dragging the book behind you on a string.

Ok, so I might be stretching the self help book review theme here a bit. (I am currently finishing up the next crop of books, stay tuned!) But, I believe this book is it’s own form of therapy.

As, I’ve written before, we sometimes get trapped by bad habits and destructive assumptions.  We might want to create change in our life, but that change is hard.  We’ve built up a complex world of can’ts and dont’s that becomes a cage, keeping us on the slow path to self destruction.

That’s why I love this book.  It gives you permission to break the rules and have fun while doing it.  Using this book teaches you to question the assumptions about the world around you and frees you to do things differently.

Also, when you are having a frustrating day, you can take it out and do some productive destruction with one of the more intense suggestions in the book like throwing from a very high building.

Like I said before, big changes come in small steps.  Maybe spitting coffee onto the pages of this book can be your first step to the person you always wanted to be.

Choosing Your Spot: Making Small Changes for Big Results

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When I was doing errands yesterday, I did something ground breaking.  I parked by a handicap spot.

Now, for most people, that would not be ground breaking news.  It certainly wouldn’t be something to write a blog about.  But, for me, that is a pretty big deal.

My first car was a jalopy.  I got into an accident less than a month after getting my license.  I would drive that thing for 7 years with only one working door and one side mirror.  Whenever I’d park, I’d always pick a spot far away from everyone else and pull through.  I was always paranoid that someone would park too close to my one working door (which opened wide and needed extra room).  Rightly so, as people still would park next to my door.

I’d replace that car with one that had TWO working doors, but the power steering would not always work right away.  So, I still needed room to get out of my spot.

Last year, I made a move into adulthood and bought myself a new car. It’s shiny, blue, and has FOUR working doors.  Count them, FOUR DOORS!!!  And it has power steering that works ALL THE TIME!

It’s been 13 months now and I’m still parking in tumbleweed territory.  Why?  I certainly don’t need to anymore.

Simple.  It’s habit.

I started parking that way for a reason.  Then, I kept doing that because that’s what I do.  I did even when the reason no longer existed.

How many things do we do simply because that’s what we always do?  For those of us who are seeking change in our lives, it is a fact that our habits aren’t working for us.

Breaking habits is hard.  First, you have to be aware that you are even doing something.  There are a hidden set of rules we have created in our lives by habits.  I naturally ignored spots close to the store because they didn’t fit into the process I had created for picking a spot.

Then, yesterday, I thought “Why don’t I just park here?”  I had no concrete reason to not park there.  Only vague feelings of it not being right.

Trying new things is a skill.  It’s a muscle that you haven’t used much.  It takes practice and it won’t come naturally at first.

One of the reasons creating change in our lives is so difficult is because we haven’t developed this skill.  We haven’t found the map of the hidden rules of habit.

If you are having trouble changing yourself, start smaller.  Question something you have always done.  Why are you doing it?  Do you need to do it that way?

Try doing something small differently.  Park in a different spot. Take a different route to work. Do your morning routine in a different order.

Practice with small changes in your life so that you can be skilled enough to make the big ones.

Achievements come in all sizes and all of them help you to succeed.  Freeing yourself from unnecessary habits can be very liberating. Learning what barriers are of your own creation is a giant step into reaching your goals.

What will you do different today?

Weight Loss Tip of the Day: Stop Calling it Cheating!

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How many times have you cheated on your diet?

How many times have you tortured yourself over eating bad food?

How many times have you stared at that cookie for hours on end like a starving dog?

Do you think that is healthy?

I don’t.

Often, when people start dieting they don’t seem so much to be making better food choices as declaring an all out war on all that they used to eat.

This way of thinking misses the big picture.  One Oreo cookie didn’t make you obese.  One cookie didn’t even make you fat.  10 cookies didn’t do that.  Not even the whole package.  It was days, weeks, months, maybe even years of Oreo cookies and other less than healthy food.

What make us fat wasn’t that we ate junk food, it was that we moved its position in our diet form that of an occasional treat to a majority stakeholder.

I believe that a proper weight loss regime should focus on moving that balance back to a more appropriate level.

The 80/20 rule is a popular concept where one tries to be 80% perfect.  It’s a more realistic way of living in the world where things are rarely perfect.  By settling for 80% perfect, you allow yourself to move forward and achieve your goals despite being unable to perform perfectly.

I think this can easily be applied to your diet.  If 80% of your food is healthy, you are doing a pretty good job.  Go ahead and enjoy the 20% of treats.  Whether it’s 80% of your calories or 80% of your meals, as long as you are consistent, you will see results.

I think it is far better to work unhealthy foods into your diet than to have to resort to cheating.  You’re going to eat them anyway, at least this way there will be a way to work around it without all the stress and guilt.

It isn’t cheating, it’s eating reasonably.

Who wants to spend their days lying to themselves and then punishing themselves with guilt?

Not me!

Book Review: The Last Lecture

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This book has held an almost mythical place on my bookshelf.  I read an article somewhere about how moving and life changing it was and asked for it for Christmas, thinking that it was the answer to my prayers and would bring the change I needed.

Apparently, I wasn’t ready for that change.  I got that book for Christmas and it sat on my shelf.  For years.  I’m not sure what was holding me back, but I’m sure it isn’t a coincidence that I also stagnated in other areas of my life during that time span.

With my new push to better myself, I took down the book, dusted it off, then read it on my tablet. (Hey, there was a deal and I wanted to try out my new toy, so sue me.)

Man, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book and I’ll talk more about it later, but it wasn’t the be all, end all book I was looking for.  That is really my fault; I built it up too much.  To be fair, so does everyone else it seems.  The book is regularly placed on lists of inspirational books and suggested as a gift for graduates.

The book does make a good gift.  It’s short, easy to read, and has an attractive cover.  Add to it the emotional element of being written by a man who knows he only has months to live, and it isn’t hard to see why people buy it for recent graduates.

I just wish it were marketed as a memoir instead of an instructional booklet on how to live your life.  It just sets the reader up for disappointment and, if you are like me, spending a large portion of the book readjusting expectations.

The book is an expansion of a lecture that Randy Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon in 2006 after learning that his pancreatic cancer was terminal.  The lecture quickly became viral on YouTube. Two years later, he would publish this book with most of the same advice in the lecture but with added background stories about himself and the people mentioned in the video.

The book is really an autobiography of someone successful who has fulfilled his dreams, written as a guide for children who will never get to hear those lessons from their father.

He lived a great life and achieved things that people often dream about (floating in zero gravity, working with the Disney Imangineers).  This book is full of advice and and stories to explain how he succeeded.  Some lessons require digging by the reader to learn, others are stated plainly.  My favorite quotation from the book is from Seneca (Roman philosopher): Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.  Be prepared to get teary eyed at times and jealous of the large stuffed animals he won at carnivals.

Not all of the book was for me.  I had a different childhood and my personality and values don’t line up with his.  I do, however, recognize that all of the book is useful to someone. For that reason and the ones stated above, I would definitely recommend this book to other people.

Just do yourself a favor and don’t make the book into a mystical creature.  The author was only human and the story is about his own very human journey.  Read it for the earnest window into how another person lived a successful life.

The ability to see the world from another’s perspective is a gift in itself.  Plus, there’s a rocket ship on the cover!