By this time of year, almost nobody is talking about New Year's Resolutions anymore. We still have more than half the year left, but usually we've already given up on ourselves. Caroline Arnold has a better idea in Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently. We can make the changes we really want to make by focusing on tinier, faster, easier steps.
It isn't always obvious how to go about breaking a big project or life change into smaller, more manageable pieces. If we had the idea, we'd be doing it, right? Small Move, Big Change has countless examples of microresolutions that real people have used. Simply reading them has a tendency to spark connections and clicks that make these changes seem easy and manageable. Because they are personal, they're memorable in a way that boilerplate advice often is not. The book covers such a huge range of topics that there is bound to be at least something transformative for everyone.
Arnold starts with sleep as the best area to start making microresolutions. I couldn't agree more. Most of our failure to have perfect "willpower" (a fantasy creature that only exists in storybooks) is due to tiredness. Too tired to even get ready for bed! As she picks apart her own issue with sleep procrastination, we can't help but compare her routine with our own. A busy, married working mom with a young child, Arnold's struggles are totally relatable.
Small Move, Big Change can help us get more sleep, save money, be on time, get organized, get fit, lose weight, and get better performance reviews at work. Best of all, there are ideas for how to transform relationships with our romantic partners, family, friends, bosses, and colleagues. We start to feel like maybe we can handle this pesky old Resolution thing after all. Small Move, Big Change is definitely a path in the direction of greater happiness.
I wish I wrote this book.
Rachel Hoffman is for real. She's going to say what she means, plainly, as we can tell straight from the title. Unf*ck Your Habitat: You're Better Than Your Mess. It's the uncensored speech that lets us know this is not a pretentious book about impressing people or following rules. You want to clean up your house for yourself, because it feels like time and because you deserve more from your life. This is a very approachable, comforting, and motivating book with enough actual instructional details for the novice.
I work with hoarding, squalor, and chronic disorganization. It turns out that most people are never formally taught how to clean house or cook, just like most of us aren't taught much about personal finance, automotive maintenance, or animal husbandry. Arcane rituals! While we probably wouldn't judge ourselves for not knowing how to rebuild a transmission or adjust our own brakes, we do judge ourselves for our domestic skills (or lack thereof). It's when we moralize on ourselves that we bring in guilt and shame, which not only doesn't solve our problems, but makes them worse. This is why we need Rachel Hoffman.
I have taught many of the techniques and attitudes in Unf*ck Your Habitat and I know they work. Take 'before' photos. Work with a timer and take frequent breaks. Figure out a place for everything. My people have gotten rid of countless truckloads of excess stuff with these methods, and learned to keep clean homes for the first time. There is real pride and satisfaction to be found in doing this for yourself, your own way, on your own time.
One of the best parts of Unf*ck Your Habitat concerns negotiating with housemates. Whether you're the clean one or the messy one, whether cleaning up was your idea or not, these ideas obviously come from hard-won experience. There is also a section on Emergency Unf*cking that will stand the test of time.
Unf*ck Your Habitat should be taught in school. Maybe not elementary school, but certainly by freshman year of college. What a great, smart, and truly enjoyable read, a book whose time has come.
The Compound Effect is the kind of book that is incredibly motivating and inspiring for people who are already motivated and inspired, yet intimidating for people who are not. I say this as someone who probably would not have bought into it in my younger days, while knowing, through later experience, that everything in it is true. Believing is seeing.
Darren Hardy begins with his origin story. He had a tough dad who drilled discipline into him from a young age. These few opening pages could be off-putting to the majority of us, who would find such tough-love parenting tactics a bit scary and depressing. Just keep reading. I can attest that reaching your goals does not require drill-instructor parents or early success. You can build positive habits even if you're a late bloomer like me.
The Compound Effect refers to the way that our habits take us in different directions over time. Hardy offers the example of three imaginary dudes. One just keeps doing what comes naturally. One cuts 125 calories a day out of his diet, and the third starts cooking more recipes from the Food Network. Not quite three years later, Dude Two has lost over 30 pounds while Dude Three has gained over 30 pounds and the first dude is just the same as he ever was. I can scroll through my Facebook feed and point out several real-life examples of this phenomenon. In one case, I sincerely didn't recognize an old friend in a photo and thought she had been tagged incorrectly. I had seen her in person 2-3 years previously and she had somehow nearly doubled her body weight in that time. Meanwhile, another friend who had started in that weight range is now doing triathlon and is likewise nearly unrecognizable. Comparing the habit changes of my two friends would be instructive, although the first person would find that kind of question very hurtful and the second would be proud and flattered. This is what habits can do.
Hardy shares examples of various people he has coached, usually his employees. "Beverly" was overweight and lost her breath climbing one flight of stairs. Through his coaching, she lost 40 pounds and ran a marathon. Yeah, right, you might say. That story could have been about me! I only lost 35 pounds, but I not only got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs (at age 29), I would see black spots. I did wind up running a marathon, just like Beverly. I kept the weight off and I haven't been at my top weight in 12 years. I started just by walking 2 miles per hour on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a time a few days a week. Little habits really, really do add up. I didn't know that I would become a marathon runner when I started. I just knew that I was too young to have that much trouble climbing stairs, and there were people in their 60s with more energy than I had, and I wanted more for myself. Little by little, my efforts compounded. It works.
An idea I loved from The Compound Effect was to use your snooze button time positively. Hardy says his snooze lasts 8 minutes. In those 8 minutes, he does gratitude practice and then sends love to someone. I found this enchanting! What a lovely way to start the day. A variation on using your snooze time could be to record a video of yourself talking about how exhausted you are and how you want Future You to stop sleep procrastinating and go to bed half an hour earlier.
Ask yourself where you were five years ago, Hardy suggests. Compare where you were then with where you are now. Are you where 2012 You would have hoped you would be? Do you have the same negative habits you wanted to get rid of then? Have you built the positive habits you wished you had then? This is sobering. I found that I had indeed built some positive habits, but that I had slipped on others, and that some things I still don't seem to have figured out.
Only when you experience the compound effects of a habit do you start to feel and believe the power. It's delightful and addictive. You can change anything with just the tiniest increments over time! Hardy offers real-life examples, such as how he wrote down at least one thing he appreciated about his wife every day and then gave her a book full of the observations. I wouldn't have thought metrics could be applied to marriage until I read that. The Compound Effect is an eye-opener, with the kind of insights that can put everything in your life into new perspective.
Some questions from Chapter 5 to ask your friends:
"How do I show up to you? What do you think my strengths are? In what areas do you think I can improve? Where do you think I sabotage myself? What's one thing I can stop doing that would benefit me the most? What's the one thing I should start doing?"
Why is it that, as soon as the technology became available, so many of us started working around the clock? Between email and cell phones, 'evening' and 'weekend' barely exist anymore. Carson Tate wants to help us to Work Simply and reclaim our free time.
The first chapter introduces us to "The Myth of Time Management." It really isn't about doing everything more efficiently; we've all tried that by now. This is strategy. For instance, one of the most helpful ideas I found in the book was to get your manager to define what constitutes an 'emergency.' So much of "time management" is really about "manager management."
Tate provides a quiz that distinguishes four different types of organizers, and offers custom tips that will appeal to each type. This includes software, physical changes, and negotiating tips for the other types. I found myself identifying various people I know as one type or another. I'm a Visualizer and my husband is a Prioritizer. I suspect that a good chunk of chronically disorganized people like my clients are Arrangers, who have a greater need for social connection. Understanding the type of your boss is perhaps even more useful than understanding your own type.
Work Simply offers the suggestion to think of time as money. Calculate your hourly rate and then figure out how much fifteen minutes of your time is worth. In many situations, we would never give someone cash outright but we will squander our time, paying for it later with long days and late nights.
This book is a product of the modern corporate workplace. It deals frankly with problems like working so much your kids prefer the other parent, having a boss with no sense of priorities, or being too busy to use the restroom. Mastering these issues is the only way we can reclaim our time and mental bandwidth and find room to breathe again. In the words of Carson Tate, "Work simply to live fully."
Out of all the books I've ever reviewed, A Guide to the Good Life is the one I highlighted and bookmarked the most. In fact, it looks like I marked a full 20% of the pages! Who knew Stoic philosophy had so much to say? William B. Irvine subtitles this book: "The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy." I knew a bit about the Stoics going in, but this book is a true marvel. A prudent person would consider reading it.
An approach I found interesting was that Irvine sets out to compare Zen Buddhism to Stoic philosophy. He discovers that they have a lot in common and that Stoicism is more appealing to his questioning nature. I have to say that I agree with him. Quieting the mind is a serious challenge for most people, whereas Stoicism provides the means to grapple with life's most complicated dilemmas. At the very least, while we are sitting meditation and the monkey mind keeps acting up, we can use Stoicism to resolve some of these questions.
How do we respond to insults?
How do we deal with annoying people?
What do we do with regrets about the past?
How do we avoid hedonic adaptation, or, what do we do when our latest tech upgrade fails to satisfy?
How do we handle grief?
"...a life plagued with negative emotions - including anger, anxiety, fear, grief, and envy - will not be a good life." - William Irvine
A philosophical tool I had not seen anywhere else had to do with the desire to commit suicide. Suicide is wrong if our living "is helpful to many." Anyone who thinks philosophy is too abstract can surely see how a thought like this might change a life, or many lives. If you don't value your life, then you have an excellent opportunity to use it in service of a greater good, since nothing else is going to distract you or seem like a better use of your time. Social duty was a preoccupation of the Stoic philosophers, and we can probably use more of that line of thinking in our own time.
"Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man." - Epicurus.
One page of this book may well have changed my life. It has to do with receiving criticism. I have held back from writing on certain topics, publishing or hosting certain things, or posting on certain sites because I did not want to deal with moderating trolls. Irvine references the philosopher Seneca saying that "if you are going to publish, you must be willing to tolerate criticism." The fact that he formed this opinion two millennia ago, not only before the Internet but before the printing press, was the kick in the pants that I needed. If I have something to say, then perhaps it is my social duty to say it publicly.
Irvine presents a picture of active philosophy during antiquity. This includes philosophers walking into people's homes uninvited to harangue them about philosophy, or accosting people about philosophy on the street to the point that their interlocutors beat them up. He wishes at one point that philosophy would become so relevant to modern society that someone gets arrested for it. We don't have to go that far; Irvine also tells us that Stoicism is risk-free because we can practice it in secret and test it out for ourselves. There is little to lose and potentially much to gain. Reading A Guide to the Good Life is even easier than that.
This book is now going on my list of top three book recommendations of all time. It can change your life. Stuart Diamond is going to teach you all about Getting More, only not quite in the way that you might think. While the title may have been designed to attract readers for somewhat selfish reasons, the hidden secret is that using negotiation techniques allows everyone involved to get more.
Getting More is full of hundreds of stories from Diamond's students who had varying rates of success in negotiating anything from kids' bedtimes to apartment repair to discounts on high-end jewelry. It is eye-popping. Reading through all of these anecdotes from other people's daily lives is like discovering an entire new universe. It explains so much about why some people are "lucky" or get everything, while "this always happens" to others.
Most people who have worked in customer service or retail for even a single day will have vivid recollections of how pointlessly nasty and unreasonable customers can be. This will either make us unusually patient and cheerful in business transactions, or more critical. I would present the position that being friendly and kind to people gets more. In fact, it wasn't really until I read Getting More that I started to understand why I get freebies so often.
I have had planes held for me. I have gotten free drinks and appetizers. I have had double room upgrades. I have had charges waived. I have gotten free merchandise. I have gotten major discounts. None of this stuff did I ever think to ask for! As I read this book, I started to see that I had done the right thing over and over again, just by being easy to please and complimenting people on their work. There really is something to be said for possibly being the only pleasant customer interaction of someone's hour, day, week, or career.
If only everyone would read Getting More. Then more people would begin interactions from a place of mutual regard, rather than defensiveness, hostility, belligerence, or rudeness. Negotiating from a place of respect and trust will get better results from everyone, for everyone.
I had the good fortune to hear Jonathan Fields speak at World Domination Summit 2016. I love his podcast, The Good Life Project, and the more I get to know his work, the more I want. How to Live a Good Life is an excellent book, one that arises from many years of exploration of that topic. I think we can safely say that if there is a textbook for such a thing, this is the one. How to Live a Good Life is for people who are looking for something more, and are starting to feel skeptical or disappointed because they haven't figured out their "passion" or "purpose" or what happiness means to them.
The core of the book is that there are three metaphorical buckets in life, and we can only be happy if we distribute our energy between them. The buckets are Vitality, Connection, and Contribution. This translates to physical health and well-being, social relationships, and work, which I always use in the sense of both vocation and avocation.
How to Live a Good Life is designed to be read and worked through in brief sections. It's the ideal kind of book to dip into, doing one "day" at a time. Some of the exercises may feel obvious to one person, while creating a real epiphany in someone else, and that will undoubtedly vary from one reader to another. One of the three buckets will likely stand out as having the lowest level. I really liked this image, and the sense that all of my buckets could be filled, or that maybe I could even get bigger buckets!
One of the stand-out moments for me in How to Live a Good Life was Jonathan's discussion of The Five Love Languages with his wife. They came to realize that they were both wrong about her primary love language. My husband and I also loved reading that book together, and this inspired me to revisit the concept, wondering if either of us had changed over the years, too. I really enjoyed this book and found it very approachable, inspiring, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
The Unsettlers explores the lives and choices of several people who are in search of what used to be known as the simple life. As it turns out, from the starting point of modern urbanites, it really isn't so simple. Defining the parameters of simple living, learning primitive skills, and adjusting to a different style of social relations are complicated. Mark Sundeen makes a fascinating study of how different people approach these challenges.
How do you negotiate with your partner when you want to make a radical change in your lifestyle?
What rules do you have for your kids?
What stuff do you own, and how much?
Do you use electricity or not?
Do you have a car or not?
Where do you live?
What do you do for money, and what do you spend it on?
What it seems to come down to is that a lot of people are dissatisfied with the tech-heavy consumerist lifestyles in which they were brought up. They want something with more purpose and direction. How interesting, that people wind up adding constraints while striving for simplicity! This points to the different emphasis between voluntary simplicity and minimalism. Simple, in the sense of living close to nature and doing things at the pace of human, plant, and animal. Not necessarily simple in any other way.
The Unsettlers was a great read. I found it highly entertaining as well as thought-provoking. Anyone who is intrigued with simple living will undoubtedly come away from this book with a new perspective and a list of new ideas. Mark Sundeen also wrote The Man Who Quit Money, an extremely compelling book, and I am now keenly awaiting anything else that comes out with his name on it.
This story might sound familiar. A broken-hearted Australian man puts his entire life up for sale on eBay. Do you remember? I saw it in the news when it was going on. What an amazing idea! I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to read A Life Sold: What Ever Happened to That Guy Who Sold His Whole Life... on eBay?. Spoiler alert: Ian Usher went out and did what most of us don't even dare to dream, which was to make a "bucket list" and then go out and try to accomplish all his goals.
One of the most interesting things about this book is that Usher shares the whole picture, not just the cute-selfie parts. He can't stop thinking about his ex. He's sad and lonely sometimes, even as he makes tons of new friends. Some of his goals don't work out. He gets lost, swindled, injured, stuck in bad weather, and disappointed in various ways. Somehow, it all serves to make his achievements more remarkable. Almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and yet, he still pulls off some truly amazing goals. At the outset, he's in his mid-forties, and it is instructive to compare his plans with other people we might know in that age group.
It's also very interesting that Usher made the money to fund his travels and outrageous goals by working a dangerous, physically demanding job with specialized training, selling his house, and spending years saving money at an unusually high rate. Three out of three of those actions are actions that average people are not willing to take.
What I can't stop thinking about is the highly personal nature of the 100 goals. I read through the list, and I had done ten of them myself, including riding on a dog sled. Pretty good goals! But most of the others I would not be brave enough to do. It's a very Australian list, full of derring-do and physical challenges. This makes the book rather special. It's impossible not to start wondering what 100 items you would put on your own list, while clearly seeing that someone else's list is too idiosyncratic and personal to just... copy. It also raises questions of why certain goals that might seem obvious to someone else weren't on Usher's list. Why go to six continents when you could also go to Antarctica, for instance? Why isn't that goal on the list? Well, because it just wasn't, that's why. We're all fully entitled to have our own crazy quests and wild dreams.
A lesson from the book is that goals aren't fun when they feel like checking something off a list. They must be personally meaningful, or what's the point? The magic comes with the feeling that "I can't believe I'm finally getting a chance to do this!" The world could certainly use more of this. What would happen if more people realized that the only things holding them back from living their wildest dreams were their personal possessions and uninspiring jobs?
Possibility thinking works for any age or situation in life, and Lynne Martin proves it. She and her husband decided, at age 70, to become senior nomads. Home Sweet Anywhere is the story of how they got rid of all their stuff, sold their house, and used the money to travel the world. Anyone who is thinking of serious travel will get a lot out of this book.
A 2,000-square-foot house full of a lifetime's accumulation of antiques, family heirlooms, books, and photo albums. Just at the point when most people decide they are old and nestle into their recliners, the Martins realized they wanted to travel more and got rid of it all. Their house sold within a day of putting it on the market, and inspiration turned into action at a much faster pace than they had anticipated. BOOM! Nomads!
The rest of the book describes their travels to various countries in replicable detail. How did they decide where to go? How did they get there? Where did they sleep? How did they figure out what to pack? Where did they buy groceries? Was it dangerous? Any avid traveler will take notes on the meticulous details about air conditioning, locks, light switches, and all that stuff they never tell you in the brochures. Come "home" for a month or so every year and batch all your medical appointments, swap things out of storage, and visit family all at once. I learned a lot from Home Sweet Anywhere, and it's changed the way I think about our travel strategies.
One decision follows another, and it can lead to some interesting circumstances. Immediately after the Martins decided to sell their house and travel the world, they found a buyer, and they were off. They hadn't been on the road all that long before an opportunity came to pitch an article about this alternative retirement plan. That turned into a book proposal, which obviously turned into a book. If you commit to living the bigger life, anything can happen.
Martin has a saying to "postpone nothing." This is sage advice, and it's emphasized in shocking manner right at the end. No spoilers! If I were ever to get a tattoo, the one thing I will postpone, this saying is a good candidate.
I am so intrigued with this book that I had to find out more. Where are they now? According to their blog, the Martins traveled for about five years, then came back to California to build a house that they will rent out when they're on the road. Right now they are RVing. I'm a generation younger, and their life is a lot more interesting than mine! I am looking forward to the sequel.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.