Steven Pressfield has done it again. The Artist’s Journey is another touchstone so condensed and powerful that simply looking at the cover can reignite the inspiration it originally sparked.
I got chills as I read this book. Yes, nod, I agree, yeah, OH WAIT, that changes everything! Unable to dispute any of his assertions, I find myself led along by Pressfield until suddenly confronted with some seriously mind-altering concepts about what it means to be a working artist.
If you haven’t read The War of Art yet, what is stopping you? Artist, non-artist, it doesn’t matter. Pressfield does a phenomenal job of describing the Resistance, that inner feeling that stops us from doing anything interesting or important. I find it highly relevant that he breaks through his own lifetime of procrastination and irrelevance by washing a sink full of dirty dishes. Recognizing that feeling when it comes up makes it much easier to take action and break free.
Carrying on from there, what do you do after you’ve learned how to dispel the Resistance most of the time?
The Artist’s Journey carries on from that point, explaining in practical terms how someone can find and draw down that steady stream of creative inspiration. Pressfield assures us that no work is too inconsequential, that everything we make matters, because it is the work itself that makes us.
I’m still very much under the spell of this book and I can’t stop flipping back and forth through it. Like a couple of his others, I know I’ll read it again and refer to it often. This one is a keeper.
We have wasted enough years avoiding our calling.
“I don’t have a spirit raccoon.”
If you have dreams that feel impossible because you’re just too busy, then this is the book for you. The authors of Make Time, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, found time to write this book in the midst of working demanding professional jobs and parenting small children. They focus on research-based and personally tested ways to gain energy and focus. A fun feature of the book is that the two writing partners sometimes have totally different approaches to a similar problem. It’s illustrated, so their cartoon heads debate back and forth.
Highlights are the most valuable and important things we should be doing, and according to Make Time, if we plan each day around a highlight, then everything starts to come together. Highlights should be prioritized by urgency, satisfaction, and joy.
Noticing highlights is a really excellent way to elevate simple things and make them into a bigger part of daily life. For instance, when my husband joined my kickboxing gym, we coincidentally started riding our bikes home together along the beach at sunset. Nothing in either of our schedules said “ROMANTIC SUNSET BIKE RIDE.” It just happened. That part of our route only lasts about ten minutes. Technically it’s a commute. Still a highlight, though, a part of our day that seems somehow much more significant than much of the rest of the day. Someone who was driving home at sunset might not think “saw beautiful sunset every day this week,” though, because driving sucks.
A technique from Make Time that I really liked was to write out a plan for the day, add a column for the “actual” or how it really turned out, and another column for the revised plan. This is a huge help in accounting for the reality of daily interruptions. As an example, I record a podcast five days a week, and I learned through experience when the building landscaper comes by with the weed whacker.
Make Time is such an excellent book. It could easily be shared with a partner or coworker, or maybe even a whole office. It’s full of the kinds of notions that appeal to everyone, yet still feel so productive and business-oriented that there aren’t really any arguments against them. Read it and ask yourself, what are the highlights that you wish you had the time to do, if only you weren’t so tired?
What better way to start the New Year than by reading The Perfection Detox? In fact, I’m going to tell you now that you should plan to start it, dip into it a chapter at a time, and give yourself permission not to finish it until, like, March. The whole point of this exercise is to practice self-forgiveness and to focus more on learning and growing than on a stale, useless perfectionism.
This book places perfection on the opposite end of the spectrum from ambition. I love this formulation because it really speaks to a tightly wound, Type A personality such as myself. The only way to really loosen the grasp of perfectionism is to learn to hold it in disdain, as something inferior to a more desirable quality. Petra Kolber reminds us that our perfectionism may have become entangled with other attributes such as a strong work ethic, reliability, and organizational skills. It’s harder to eliminate when we perceive any kind of moral hazard in reevaluating this trait.
Another useful concept of The Perfection Detox is that there is more than one type of perfectionist. A self-oriented perfectionist has high internal standards, a socially oriented perfectionist is concerned about impressing other people, and an other-oriented perfectionist tries to control other people’s behavior when she thinks it reflects on her reputation. I hear the self-oriented perfectionist in myself when I think how painful and distracting it must be for the socially oriented perfectionist - “just quit caring and you can get so much more done!”
This is an excellent, thought-provoking book based on quite a bit of research. I learned a lot about rumination, for example, and that the brain perceives negative words as a physical threat. Kolber advocates replacing the negative self-talk and rigid thinking of perfectionism with self-forgiveness and a paradigm shift to wonder, curiosity, and the flow state. The book has a compelling argument in favor of imagination and upgraded goals rather than unrealistic expectations. The discussion of positivity in general is rich and nuanced, aimed at the skeptic rather than the enthusiast. Don’t simply force yourself into socially mandated “positivity” but instead learn to be a “benefit seeker.” It’s more of a neutral cognitive skill than an emotional state.
I enjoyed the exercises in The Perfection Detox, especially the exercises about procrastination and goal-setting. I particularly enjoyed learning the Diamond Rule: speak to yourself as you speak to others. Ooh, a tough one! But then how do we deal with the self-conscious emotions of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and pride? We accept and revel in our imperfection, because it means we’re alive, we’re human, and we’re growing.
Would you feel comfortable with others seeing how you talk to yourself?
The all-or-nothing mindset can lead to nothing.
I stopped striving to be perfect and concentrated instead on being effective.
When you learn to live bravely you give other women permission to do the same.
Read this book even if you have no particular curiosity around the practice of bullet journaling. Read The Bullet Journal Method, because it happens to be one of the greatest productivity books ever written. Ryder Carroll makes a truly compelling case for why Getting Organized can be so transformative for so many people, whether their struggles are with attention deficit, PTSD, or, memorably, talking to emergency medical responders while a child is having a seizure. This book has so much to offer that the artistic aspects are really just a side bonus.
I use a paper day planner with bullet journal techniques even though I also use a tablet and a smartphone. Writing longhand really does work to help focus, think clearly, and remember details. Another benefit that Carroll describes is differentiating between our memories of what happened and what actually happened; we may have positive memories of something negative and vice versa. Writing down accurate details can help us see the truth that a job or relationship isn’t going quite the way we thought it was. This is why a written journal is so instrumental in spotting patterns and deciphering mysterious health problems.
Part of the practice of bullet journaling is the daily reflection. Carroll points out that it’s better to spend even one minute a day on this, as long as it’s done every day, because that is more valuable than longer but more sporadic sessions. He says he usually spends 5-15 minutes per daily session, and I can back this up. With a clear system in place, it takes very little time to maintain. More, it becomes a pleasure, even a stolen thrill, rather than a chore. This is where the beautiful artwork and hand-lettering of so many BuJo aficionados begins, because it’s a treat we give ourselves.
Productivity is all about gamification, or how we choose the metrics that will measure our success. Carroll includes some very interesting ways to gamify goals, including the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. (Set some goals for five years, four months, three weeks, two days, and one hour). He also teaches Agile methods, Sprints, and the Five Whys, which transfer readily between the home and the workplace: my husband relies on this system as an aerospace engineer, and we use it in our marriage as well.
The examples of problem-solving that come up in The Bullet Journal Method say everything about how universally useful it is. Everything from how to plan a vacation to I CAN’T PAY RENT is in here somewhere. Carroll writes lucidly about self-compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and all those catchphrases that seem so abstract, until we see how directly they apply to daily life. This is a remarkable book that far exceeds its remit, turning “productivity” into pure poetry about how to live life well, even amid the massive jumble of it all.
Few things are more distracting than the cruel stories we tell ourselves.
Often all it takes to live intentionally is to pause before you proceed.
If everything is a priority, nothing is.
Yes means work, it means sacrifice, it means investing time into one thing that you can no longer invest into another.
Productivity is about getting more done by working on fewer things.
This is the time of year when, like many people, I do the majority of my goal-setting and strategic planning. Your Best Year Ever is a great companion for this process. Michael Hyatt starts by asking why fewer than ten percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them, and what might be wrong with that process if it generally fails. A healthy mix of skepticism and optimism provide for the ideal planning mindset.
Your Best Year Ever puts its own spin on some standard goal-setting tools. Many people are familiar with the ‘life wheel,’ which usually divides areas of life into eight categories. This book offers a chart with ten Life Domains, providing more nuance. Another upgrade is the familiar acronym SMART, for “specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.” This book asks us to make our goals SMARTER, for “specific, measurable, actionable, risky, time-keyed, exciting, and relevant.” That alone might make a difference for those of us who tend to get stuck on commonplace goals like “lose ten pounds” or “get organized.” Choose risk and excitement if you’re looking for that hidden motivation!
A strong feature of the book is the structured review process. For the previous year, go over what went well and what didn’t, and think about both what you have to regret and where you can feel grateful. Where are limiting beliefs and scarcity thinking holding you back? During the coming year, pause each quarter and review your goals. Use the five R’s: Rejoice, Recommit, Revise, Remove, or Replace. It’s hard to express how important this is in strategic planning, the flexibility to adjust goals in the face of reality. For instance, the year I started running, my goal was to run 2.25 miles, but I reached it in six weeks rather than twelve months. That goal became both a Rejoice and a Revise.
Choosing appropriate goals can be trickier than it looks. This is partly because many of us feel like we have to choose from a set list of boringly ordinary goals, like “clean the garage.” Ugh. Your Best Year Ever recommends that we stay out of the Comfort Zone, choose goals in the Discomfort Zone, and also stay out of the Delusional Zone. For me that might be going camping for a weekend, planning a week-long backpacking expedition, and climbing Mt. Everest. Thinking about that Discomfort Zone in the middle makes me excited, and it makes me want to upgrade my workout, organize my gear, save money, clear my schedule, and start calling my friends, which are all great supporting goals. Uh oh, I think I just talked myself into a little discomfort!
Young people are more likely to reach their goals. Why is that? I would have guessed that young people would be too busy and too broke to make goals, while older people would use their experience, skills, earning power, and planning ability to get things done. The sad truth is that as time goes by, we disappoint ourselves by not achieving everything we set out to do, and we lose faith in ourselves. We give up. This can only be because we don’t understand how to use the goal-setting and review process to actually make our dreams come true. Also, we give in to the Law of Diminishing Intent, which says that the longer we wait, the less likely we are to do something. This is one of the reasons I use December and January for strategic planning; without a deadline, I’d never have any momentum and nothing I ever dreamed would find its way into the time dimension.
If you only read one planning book, this is a very strong contender. What if all you were ever missing was a little more structure to your process? Take a look at it, and hopefully you’ll make 2019 Your Best Year Ever.
Doubt is a goal toxin.
...if you already have everything you need to achieve your goal, then your goal’s probably too small.
Regret is a powerful indicator of future opportunity.
Agency sees an obstacle and says, “I can overcome this,” while entitlement complains about not being done yet.
Many people feel stuck or fail to make progress because they can’t make the connection between their yearly goals and their daily tasks.
I never met the goal police, but I’m certain they don’t show up when you strike a goal off your list.
NEVER LEAVE THE SCENE OF CLARITY
WITHOUT TAKING DECISIVE ACTION.
Can a book change your life? Does it matter whether you believe that a book can change your life or not? There is some serious magic going on in Jen Sincero’s books, and most likely in the lady herself. I pre-ordered You are a Badass Every Day and read it as soon as it came out. Let me share a couple of moments of magic involved in that relatively mundane event.
Kismet! Kismet, I tell you!
Also, I found a $20 bill a few feet outside my front door earlier today, just as I was thinking, “I’m finally going to upgrade my computer the first week of January.”
The thing about manifesting is that you can only really believe it works after you’ve experienced it in action. Otherwise it sounds kinda dumb. For those who know, this will be a delightful and very useful book to keep handy. For those who don’t know, um, it might be better to start with one of her other books. Which, I mean, you’re going to want to read them all anyway, obviously. There’s a reason why you keep seeing so many cool-looking people reading You are a Badass everywhere you go.
I loved this book. I loved it so much that it actually occurred to me to make some cross-stitch samplers out of some of my favorite quotes. As with her previous books, You are a Badass Every Day has sections that feel like they were written specifically for me, directed at my exact issues. I bookmarked the heck out of it. This is magnificent to do with a digital copy, because you can look at just your notes and bookmarks, and it’s like a custom manifesto!
There is so much in this book, so much in each of Jen Sincero’s books, that I feel all fluttery and wound up when I think about what I want to say. Maybe I’ll write a concordance, 800 pages that will finally organize my commentary. Until then, just read the book. You know you want to.
An excuse is simply a challenge that you’ve decided has power over you.
When you succumb to fear, you are under the illusion that you can predict the future.
If you keep waiting for the right time, you’ll keep living the wrong life.
This is a book about how to bring ideas into reality. Those of us who are great at coming up with inspired new ideas aren’t always quite so great at doing anything with them. We’re hooked on the fun part. Everything after ideation feels like work! Then we look up and find that we’re surrounded by unfinished projects, maybe with piles of notecards or materials or art supplies, and little else to show for the incredible gift of creativity. We need to ask ourselves, Good Idea. Now What?
Charles T. Lee is an entrepreneur, so this comes across as a business book. This might be off-putting to some artistic types, until we realize that once we start finishing larger-scale projects, they do start to intersect with the world of business. How do you show or publish your work? How do you get your projects into the hands of their natural audience? I happen to think that it is the duty of any artist to channel the work in a form that reaches people. It is selfish and unfair to hog our talents to ourselves. We don’t have to do it for money (although why is that wrong?), but what good is the work if it remains hidden and locked away?
Good Idea. Now What? covers everything. It covers everything from how to collaborate and handle criticism to how to structure your schedule and make time for your family. The book includes examples of people who have built businesses and philanthropic organizations; it could easily have included musicians, sculptors, writers, actors, cartoonists, and all the rest of us. Even poets. I’d love to see what happens when more artists and creatives start reading it and putting its ideas into practice.
Destiny is found in the collective result of the small, intentional decisions you make in life.
Too much is at stake to exert energy toward criticism.
If you’re going to fail, fail forward!
Don’t just settle for being a lover of inspirational ideas.
Our world needs you and will be a better place when your ideas come to life!
I kept meaning to read this book, because I like the subtitle: An Overdue History of Procrastination, from Leonardo and Darwin to You and Me. Somehow, though, my stack kept getting longer and this title kept getting pushed farther down. It wasn’t until I had an urgent need for a book I knew I’d want to review that I dug around and found it. I read it in one sitting. That’s probably because I am procrastinating on a major project. What an ideal situation for reading a book like Soon! Paradoxically, it celebrates the motives behind procrastination, while also offering insight and inspiration for completing projects.
This book is tricky. It profiles some very famous procrastinators, people whose work has stood the test of time for centuries. On the one hand, we’re treated to descriptions of all the many ways they procrastinated and how they explained themselves. On the other hand, we see how they have become legends and how important their work was. What we don’t see are any profiles of garden-variety procrastinators who never did anything important or valuable. Those of us who recognize ourselves in these tales of dithering will be forced to wonder, do we have this level of legendary work buried somewhere inside ourselves?
Darwin had his great insight about evolution all the way back in 1838. He put off writing it up for over twenty years, and only got to work when he heard that someone else was closing in on similar research. This makes me wonder about two things. First, would Charles Darwin have published more work if he’d had more external pressure? Second, how different would the modern world be if the theory of evolution had entered pop culture two decades sooner?
Would Jonathan Franzen have written less if he hadn’t worn earplugs, earmuffs, and an actual blindfold while typing?
It’s easy to wonder whether modern technology causes more procrastination. Is it just the existence of clocks and calendars and to-do lists and the Puritan work ethic? But then Santella makes a convincing case that The Odyssey is all about procrastination. This is just part of how humans get through life.
Why do people procrastinate? Santella spends almost all of Soon referring to his own delays in researching and writing the very book that we are reading. Yet he methodically gets through it all, with the existence of the book somehow both proving and refuting his hypotheses. Is procrastination due to perfectionism, rebellion, overwhelm, mood regulation, or lack of identification with Future Self? Procrastination, how much does it overlap with free will?
I enjoyed reading this book. It helped me to put my procrastinated project into new context. In the face of all these legendary historical figures, who completed major, influential projects despite their habits, who am I to resist my own creative force? Let’s all think of our efforts in the context of our life story and legacy, or especially let’s do that when we’re putting off doing something else.
Procrastinators can keep admirably busy even while they’re avoiding their work.
Are we ethically required to make the most of the time allotted to us?
Optimism is the quality most often overlooked in procrastinators.
Can I really afford to spend my day doing mere work?
When you are free to set your own schedule, you are also free to disregard it completely.
The Index Card is an idea that needs to catch on. Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack believe that personal finance should be simple enough to explain on an index card. The same could or should be true about other things, like parenting, nutrition, fitness, or staying married. Why? Because when these things seem complicated and difficult to understand, they set us up for pain and heartbreak. When they seem simple and approachable, we’re able to handle them well, and life is so much easier. Let’s see how we can use this index card method to simplify our finances.
The authors of The Index Card are highly skeptical of the finance industry. They lead with the example of a man who asked how to invest a chunk of money, and every professional he spoke to gave him completely different advice. (Would that have been true of a series of car mechanics or construction contractors?) How is an average person supposed to make sense out of that?
The authors met because Helaine wrote a book about the finance industry, and Harold asked to interview her for his blog. His family had serious financial issues to overcome after his wife’s disabled brother came to live with them. Thus, The Index Card is based on both industry knowledge and practical personal experience.
According to the book, and validating our suspicions, most people have money problems. A third of households have a bill turned over to collections every year. Almost half of Americans keep a balance on their credit cards. The majority of retirees leave the workforce earlier than they planned. Most people aren’t set up to handle an emergency. Certainly a bit more financial knowledge would be helpful in this area that so many find stressful, confusing, and disappointing.
The Index Card points out that older generations may have claimed to have stronger values about frugality and money management, when in reality they had virtually no access to credit. The financial industry of their time bore almost no resemblance to what exists today. We’re able to get into all new kinds of financial trouble. This book has straightforward advice on navigating investment products and interviewing financial advisors. It also has some basic advice on saving money on food and various other services.
Personally, I follow some of the advice on this legendary index card, but not all of it. For instance, it says to save 20% of your income, and my husband and I save 40%. There are people in the FIRE community who save significantly more; a lot of couples both work full-time and bank one entire income plus part of the other. I’ll admit as well that I own several individual securities, that it has worked quite well for me so far, that I have occasionally beat the market, and that I broke even in 2008. Listen to Olen and Pollack, though; most people don’t have the time or inclination to do the amount of research that I did. Also, the game ain’t over yet. I may be crying in my tea by the time I officially retire.
We feel as if we are falling behind because, frankly, we are, often through no fault of our own.
If we all need to be wary of the financial services industry, and yet we also need to be proactive about our finances, what do we do?
Don’t count on working forever.
I’ve been following James Clear for about five years, so I was thrilled when I heard he had a book coming out. I pre-ordered it and read it as fast as I could! Atomic Habits is everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Learning about habit formation from James Clear has changed my life. New readers can pick up in one handy volume what the rest of us have had to learn in small bits over the last few years.
Pop culture has a lot to say about habits, and most of it is wrong. For instance, we think it takes 21 days to form a habit and we usually believe that successful people have unusual amounts of passion, motivation, and willpower. No wonder it’s so hard to make changes!
Atomic Habits is based on extensive research. One of Clear’s major strengths is that he will chase down a reference until he can either document it or... well... not. An example would be the oft-mentioned Seinfeld rule “don’t break the chain,” from a conversation with a fan of his standup comedy. I read recently that Seinfeld himself said he couldn’t figure out where that anecdote came from. Then James Clear references a documentary. He remains the only writer, among at least a dozen I’ve read, who has cited a specific reference to back up that particular claim. If he uses an example or a quote, he has found the citation. That’s his standard.
Another strength of Clear’s work that appears in Atomic Habits is the beautiful simplicity of his illustrations. I particularly love the DECISIVE MOMENTS diagram showing how small choices can add up to make the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Although I have been reading James Clear’s newsletter and taking his webinars for several years, I still received some surprising and valuable new insights from Atomic Habits. One of these is the concept of the “decision journal,” something that I am going to implement immediately. Another is the habit contract; I’ve seen this idea before, but Clear’s example suddenly made it relatable. I also glommed onto the concept of “resetting the room,” and I’m going to steal it and use it all the time.
If you have tried and failed to change your habits, don’t despair. Atomic Habits is here to help. This research-based book will entertain, inform, and probably surprise you as much as it did me. James Clear is changing habits, and if he keeps it up he’s going to change the world.
Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits.
Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real.
The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least.
...I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.
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.
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