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 set aside the entire month of October to enjoy Halloween as much as possible. I’ve read some really great stuff that I thought I would share. What I’ve found has been that a lot of “scary” books are actually dark comedies, or humor written along horror themes. Still, the imagery can be too much for someone who is genuinely frightened by this material. For instance, someone might be fine with zombies, but get nightmares from a movie preview that includes a ghost, or afraid of werewolves but able to tolerate scenes about serial killers. My taste for necromancy, skulls, giant spiders, and the like might not be for everyone. Be forewarned. You know who you are.
Without further ado, here is my list, in no particular order.
The Dresden Files. There are fifteen of these, written by Jim Butcher. I’m eking them out because I couldn’t bear burning through them all in a month and then having none left to read. Reader, I’m in love. HARRY DRESDEN! You thought one wizard named Harry would be enough for you, but you’re wrong. Contemporary fantasy meets detective noir.
Johannes Cabal. Jonathan L. Howard has put out five of these, plus some short stories. I will not lie; these are the books I’m listening to when you hear me going around the house chortling to myself. Cabal SLAYS.
John Dies at the End. This is a trilogy by David Wong, who also writes for the Cracked website. The second book is called This Book is Full of Spiders, and the third is What the Hell Did I Just Read. This guy is an absolutely brilliant writer and I continue to be super blown away by how hilarious he is.
Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go. Dale E. Basye. This is a kid’s series, and it’s a total panic. Chock-full of egregious puns and gross-out imagery that will bring out your inner child. If you have kids, consider reading these books aloud with them.
The Gates by John Connolly. This is a trilogy, another kid’s series about Hell that is funny, gross, with surprisingly deep moral moments.
Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow. If you can find it, read it. It’s a long poem about urban werewolves and it’s freaking great. Barlow also wrote a novel, Baba Yaga, about witches in mid-twentieth-century Paris.
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. The first two books of this trilogy are two of my favorites OF ALL TIME. I’ve read like four thousand books and I’m not joking. Hubby and I are huge fans, and we also dig the TV show, although it is like a parallel universe version of the books.
Ghostly, by Audrey Niffenegger. Amazing. You may recall her from The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt. I wish I had written this.
Basically anything by Grady Hendrix (too clever by half and actually scary) or Paul Tremblay, who does it right.
Joe Hill, did I need to say Joe Hill? He’s Stephen King’s son and I think he *might* be the better writer of the two.
All right, that’s enough for this year. I have a big stack of Halloween novels and movies to get through this week. Did... did you hear something just now?
Volcanic Momentum is the sort of motivational book that you don’t put back on the shelf when you’re done. You leave it out where you can see the cover, because just reading the words VOLCANIC MOMENTUM puts you in the right frame of mind. Jordan Ring has ‘it,’ ‘it’ being the mysterious factor that can transform a self-described overweight, broke gamer into a veritable productivity machine.
A lot of motivation and productivity books speak in the abstract. An example would be a single person giving parenting advice, or someone who has always been athletic offering diet advice. We believe Jordan when he talks about the “sugar dragon” or procrastination or wasting time because it’s clear he’s been there. He is us.
The heart of Volcanic Momentum is its deep focus on meaning and purpose. Why are we doing what we are doing, and who are we doing it for? This is part of what makes the book stand out. That, and it somehow feels lived-in. Some of the productivity advice is a little quirky, like having whiteboards in the living room, but we can believe that it actually works. It would make a particularly great companion for an active journal-keeper, as it provides pages of excellent journal prompts.
This book busted me up. There were several points where I snorted, laughed out loud, and at one point couldn’t stop giggling through two pages. Something to do with eating a pizza over the sink like a rat. Jordan Ring has a gift for highly relatable and somehow stealthy humor. Volcanic Momentum is approachable, surprisingly comprehensive for its length, and, best of all, really fun to read.
What we do in this life really matters.
There’s no harm in asking, other than hurt pride and a few wasted minutes.
Admit that you are probably not living out your maximum potential right now.
Everyone is called to do more than they already are.
Just thought I’d put that out there. I’m so inspired by the idea that There are No Overachievers that I just want to sing it right out. WOO!
WOO stands for ‘windows of opportunity.’ Brian D. Biro teaches how to recognize WOO and create more. This type of possibility thinking is uncommon, something that most people aren’t taught and do not naturally revert to. As a default state, it makes a massive difference between one person’s results and another’s. Why do some people seem to have it so easy? Because they understand the WOO.
There are a million things to love about this book. One that stood out to me is the concept of the ‘eager meter.’ What if, rather than being willing to do things, we actually felt eager to do them? I’m writing this one on my hand so I can see it all day.
Another concept that clicked with me was that Biro refers to ‘breakthrough targets’ where most of us would say ‘problems’ or ‘issues’ or ‘obstacles’ or ‘personal failings.’ One of mine is failing to respond to social connections. This has been making me feel like a bad person and a bad friend. When I thought of it in the sense of a breakthrough target, it was like the sun burst through the clouds. This could be a goal rather than a flaw! Goals I know how to handle, my personal failings not so much.
The premise that There are No Overachievers is that we’re all actually underachievers, that we have so much more potential within us. It’s only that we’re so tired and uninspired and conditioned to look for the risks and reasons to avoid things, that we don’t realize we could be living out our dreams. It’s terrifically motivating, a very upbeat book, and I won’t hesitate to say that I loved it.
You never know if the next idea that pops into your head or the next choice you make may change your life.
...Look for the WOO instead of the woe.
Be easy to impress and hard to offend.
“Are you an underearner?” The opening sentence of Earn What You Deserve should give you a strong hint as to whether you need this book. The rest of the first page should confirm it. For the right person, it could be galvanizing.
Jerrold Mundis is relatable, at least to broke people. He describes digging through his couch cushions for enough change to buy food for himself and his son. After years of recovery, and even years of being completely debt-free, Mundis keeps finding himself on the financial brink. He describes his condition as self-created lack.
Underearning, in this formulation, is something you do, rather than something that happens to you. It can apply to people from every field, every socioeconomic level, every educational level. It comes in three types: Compulsive, Problematic, and Minor. It can also be active or passive. The key is understanding that money alone can’t solve the problem of underearning. Pattern recognition comes first. What is it that we do that is different from what other people do?
Earn What You Deserve has enough practical financial advice in it to help even a complete novice figure out where to start. How do you set up accounts, categorize your expenses, pay off debt, negotiate a higher income? There are also some really excellent and even quirky ideas for negotiating with a partner. Apparently one of the chief signs of underearning is that we blame it on our mate rather than taking responsibility for our own end.
There’s no harm in exploring a book like this, even out of curiosity and skepticism. As Mundis explains, you don’t have to do anything or change anything. You can always go back. Why, though, go back to underearning? If you earn “too much” you could always slough it off and give it away, right?
No matter who you are or what your living conditions, this is precisely how difficult your own situation is—more difficult than some, less difficult than others.
Money is a highly charged subject. And most of the emotions people feel around it are negative: fear, shame, embarrassment, anger.
Worry and fret never swayed a single decision in your favor, paid off a penny of your debt, or brought in a dollar’s worth of income.
There are roughly a hundred days until the New Year, and I stumbled across this book while making my year-end plans. What a great idea! Let’s find out. Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?
Dmitry Golubnichy designed this book as a challenge. It includes a hundred perfectly valid, often unexpected ideas. They should be regarded as a jumping-off place, with plenty of room to revamp and customize.
The happiness prompts in the book are occasionally weather-related, meaning that they might be challenging to do in order, depending on when someone started the book. It’s definitely worth skimming through it first to see what’s coming up in the schedule.
I just posted my own list of things to do for the last hundred days of the year. Mine included quite a lot of organizing tasks and ordinary household chores, as well as meal plans that we rarely cook. As such, my personal list could probably use less planning and more fun.
What do we mean by happiness, though? This is another area of customization, I think, because what will lead one person to happiness may be a bit more of one thing than another. Domestic contentment is where I put much of my focus, because without it, it can be very hard to maintain any other type of happiness. Joy, celebration, companionship, anticipation, awe, curiosity, adventure, tranquility, wonder, delight, and laughter can be attained as well. Notice that different types of happy feelings may arise from totally different types of activities, often without much overlap. The happy feelings that come from doing something kind are different, for example, than the happy feelings that come from learning something new.
Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row? Yep! It takes a little planning and remembrance that there can still be happy moments, even when most of life is totally routine and ordinary.
Karla Starr set out to learn “Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others.” In her position, I believe I would have done the same thing: Her research was spurred by a series of epic bad luck, including serious injury and financial ruin. Can You Learn to Be Lucky? Before reading the book, I would have said yes, and I would have said that that attitude of trying to turn disaster into a learning opportunity is fundamental to the process. Now that I’ve read the book, it’s nice to know that research backs that up. Others might appreciate that the book focuses on hard data and neuroscience more than it does on pop psychology.
From my perspective as an extreme, off-the-charts optimist, the majority of this book would seem to resonate with a more pessimistic viewpoint. Guess what? Humans are subject to many layers of profound bias of varying types, and certain rare specimens benefit from that, leading lucky lives without hardly trying. A fixed mindset would skim through this material, sigh heavily, and resign itself to mediocrity. It would take a highlighter pen or call-out boxes to turn this book into a motivational handbook, but it could be done.
(There’s room in this world for Karla Starr calendars, t-shirts, and mugs!)
There are always at least two ways to tell the same person’s life story and have it still be true. You can make bullet points of all the person’s worst moments, crises, disappointments, tragedies, losses, and rejection, also calling forth this sad individual’s character flaws, blunders, and failings. Then, you can highlight the same person’s good fortune, privilege, support network, gifts, merits, charms, good deeds, and serendipitous connections, meticulously detailing the benefits of having this person around. It takes imagination to find that thread, but it’s there for everyone. The trouble is that we as humans despise being reminded of our privilege and resent having to cough up a little bit of gratitude for how great our lives really are.
[Here I note that I looked the author up on Twitter, and almost every mention of her book that popped up was snarky, sarcastic, and exactly the kind of attitude that would personally cause me to write off that individual from my favors-and-references list. Sarcastic people cannot possibly have any idea how many opportunities they lose through their mean remarks].
Can You Learn to Be Lucky? It depends on how you define ‘luck,’ doesn’t it? Are lottery winners lucky if they declare bankruptcy, get divorced, and can no longer trust their relatives or friends? Are celebrities lucky if they wind up in rehab or if their supposed friends betray all their secrets to the paparazzi? Just asking. But then there’s a difference between luck and good fortune.
This book is full of truly fascinating research. Two things I learned: There are two different types of dopamine receptors, explaining why some people are more motivated by rewards and others by avoiding punishment; there is a thing called ‘allostatic load’ that represents cumulative stress and trauma. With the way neuroscience is growing as a field, maybe one day we’ll simply be able to put on a brain-scanning helmet that will show us the seats of our pessimism and intellectual laziness, lighting up to demonstrate when a mental shift is moving in a more effective direction. A lucky one.
Can You Learn to Be Lucky? is a tour de force. It’s a book that deserves to be taught in schools. We can only hope that Karla Starr feels as lucky to have found her agent, her editor, and her publisher as we do, having found her book.
Cultures set the stage for our beliefs about how much we can control life.
Our brains are lazy and our time limited, so as we get more options, we become more superficial—about everything.
Confidence... makes it infinitely easier to be lucky.
Being lucky depends on saying yes to life.
Why not assume good things about others and your future? That things will turn out well? That someone has your back? Isn’t it more illogical to deny yourself the benefits of simply shifting your attitude?
I failed the first time I tried to read this book. I had this idea that it would be soothing and deep and that I’d listen to it on audio before I went to sleep at night. Whoops. Dan Harris is so funny that I kept shaking with laughter. That’s neither meditative nor conducive to one’s spouse getting any sleep. It was too late, though, to switch to a text copy, because I was hooked on Harris’s delivery as much as his wisecracks and insights. I just had to settle for having him entertain me throughout the day. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is also approved for Restless Comedy Fans.
Harris does a pretty convincing job of casting himself as the last person to ever consider meditating. He is open about his personal foibles, including heavy drug use and workaholism. This makes it easy to hear him out about the benefits of mindfulness practice. If it worked for someone like him, then surely...?
Meditation is one of those things on the Obvious list, unfortunately; it’s right up there with “eat healthy” and “get plenty of sleep,” which means a lot of us automatically will want to rule it out. I find that when I try to sit silently, it opens the floodgates of creativity, and the result is that I wind up speed-writing a very lengthy list of ideas and tasks. Something I liked about Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is that it offers various practices, not all of which are of the classic “sit still and empty your mind” variety.
Incidentally, there are a few things that can really help those of us who feel simultaneously drawn toward and repelled by meditation. (My draw is that I have a high resting heart rate, and I’m on a Fact-Finding Mission to do something about it). If you’re as fidgety as me - ADHD leaning, hyperkinetic and born restless - start with a vigorous and very strenuous exercise practice first. Dump all those excess yayas. Watch your caffeine consumption. Capture your mental lint first; I recommend GTD as a practice. Then experiment with time of day and just do little five-minute increments. Or one minute. My mantra here is “okay,” as in, “okay, let me think for a minute.”
Harris arranges Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics into a list of objections to meditation as a practice, and responses to those objections, both from himself and others. One such chapter is “Meditation is Self-Indulgent.” I’d like to focus on this because I think so many people (ahem, or I really mean to say WOMEN) feel this way about everything. Meditation is self-indulgent, and so is getting enough sleep, working out, eating a hot breakfast, peeing alone with the door closed... It’s a really weird idea that every single other person of the seven billion has to come first before a lady can spend so much as five minutes simply breathing. How can you possibly give anyone your best when you’re stretched so thin?
There is a real Dan Harris presence out there for those who can’t get enough. He has two books, a podcast, and even a meditation app. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics is certainly a great place to start.
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.