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.
If you've tried other organizing and decluttering books and been stymied, then you need Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space. While the book is aimed at a more mature audience who are downsizing to smaller homes, the way it addresses the thought processes and emotional work of decluttering would be good for anyone.
The authors, Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker, have been professional organizers for many years. They have obviously heard it ALL. Scaling Down includes many anecdotes of various people who succeeded (or failed) at downsizing in different scenarios. There are cartoons and a lot of humor, although there are some sad moments. For instance, it never ceases to amaze me how grown adults will allow a trivial family trinket to destroy relationships, and there are examples of that here.
The most valuable part of the book is the way it walks through the way to make different kinds of decisions about stuff. Not just physical possessions, but downsizing to a smaller home, clearing out storage units, disconnecting from a career at retirement, setting boundaries in new marriages or with adult kids, and more. There is a chapter on dealing with the possessions of an older relative who has become incapacitated or passed away. For those of us who haven't yet had to confront the types of issues that are common to senior adults, it brings true perspective to the effort of downsizing. Future Self is simply not going to need all this stuff. It's so much easier to make the decisions and do the sorting now, while we're relatively hale and hearty.
I'm currently living in a space slightly less than half the size of the house we moved into as newlyweds. We've had to downsize the kitchen four times in seven years of marriage. We've found that we prefer a cozy, snug, human-sized space, the type that was common in the early 20th century. It feels more homey. It's also easier to clean, easier to find things, and cheaper to heat and cool. With two middle-aged adults and two messy pets, we can attest that everything in Scaling Down is true.
The Slight Edge is a great candidate if you're looking for just one self-improvement book to read this year. It touches on everything I would want to say to someone who is struggling in some area of life and looking for a way out. Jeff Olson's message is that the little things we do every day make more of a difference than larger-scale efforts, whether for good or ill.
Olson starts out by describing his "day of disgust." That's the day he became fed up with himself and knew that he needed to change his behavior. I had a day like this while journaling, and I've known others to have their day of disgust and quit smoking, quit drinking alcohol, and vow to permanently lose the extra body weight. The triggers in those cases were seeing a bunch of smokers standing in the rain by a dumpster, spending a night in jail after a DUI, and being insulted by a friend. I feel fortunate that my day of disgust happened while I was comfortably ensconced in my own bedroom! People often refer to this kind of moment of clarity as "hitting rock bottom" - but one person's rock bottom is another person's starting place. We can let go of the idea that external input needs to bonk us on the head before we make the firm decision to be accountable for our own behavior. We can just decide to change.
The Slight Edge includes some great graphics. The success curve chart made a lot of sense to me. Success is determined by whether a person takes full responsibility or blames something or someone else instead. My clients always blame themselves, among other people. They believe they're lazy and lack willpower. They wallow in shame and guilt many times every day. They constantly insult themselves. Blaming someone else might at least offer the motivation of revenge, of "I'll show YOU! You have no idea who you're dealing with!" Blaming ourselves is a sure-fire way to fall down the well and get stuck down there. Accountability is a route out. Every time we figure out a way to solve a problem, every time we think more of the future instead of the past, every time we work toward something positive rather than sitting and perseverating in negativity, we move upward on the success curve.
The most interesting part of The Slight Edge for me was the idea that "the size of the problem determines the size of the person." The specific example was the way that the type of problems we are solving at work determines our income. The biggest problem I ever had during my old day job was getting a paper cut on my eyelid. If I could have solved larger-scale problems such as program management, I could have been earning three times as much and delegating the paper-cut-getting to someone else.
The Slight Edge, according to Olson, is all about what we do when nobody's looking. Do we make the incremental choices that lead toward our goals, or do we let ourselves off the hook? Can we keep ourselves focused even when we're not seeing results yet? The results of the success curve only become visible 80% of the way along the curve. (I ran a marathon four years after I went out the door and couldn't run around one single block in my neighborhood). Can we hang onto a dream, or do we talk ourselves out of wanting it because we don't trust ourselves to work for it?
Olson suggests a 250-day program, which is one year with 115 days off. That means following through roughly 2/3 of the time. For any goal, whether it's reading more, going to the gym, or brown-bagging your lunch, 250 days is enough to make significant progress. Another suggestion is to do that which 95% of people aren't willing to do. I will vouch for that, also. I've been free of consumer debt for a decade because I'm willing to live in a small house with one bathroom, share a vehicle, and go without cable TV or a storage unit. I went from obese to a size zero because I'm willing to keep a food log, and I ran a marathon because I'm willing to exercise in the rain. I didn't run every day and I didn't meet a strict calorie goal every day; two-thirds of the time sounds like my reality. I fully agree that the Slight Edge is a mental adjustment that can easily solve any problem, and I highly recommend the book.
Leo Babauta knows whereof he speaks. He started out as an overweight smoker with six kids, a house full of clutter, and a bunch of debt. Now he's a minimalist who has run a fifty mile ultra-marathon, and if he can do that with an eight-person household, he's probably a superhero. When he talks about common goals like health and fitness or getting organized, I pay attention. He's done it. He knows what it takes to make massive habit changes and stick to them. It turns out that the secret is The Power of Less.
Peace of mind is the ultimate goal, and Babauta teaches how mindfulness helps make life easier. Only try to make one change at a time, concentrate on just that, and set up your environment around that change. The book includes a 30-day habit change plan, the Power of Less Challenge, which thousands of his readers have completed. It has rules, and one of the most important ones is to choose a small goal. He explains how to break big goals down into segments that an actual ordinary human being can do.
Clutter goes out the door one bag at a time. Debt is paid off one dollar at a time. A marathon becomes possible one sidewalk square at a time - I know, because when I started I couldn't even run around the block, and I wasn't even a smoker! Working on small goals takes self-compassion, both because you want a better life for yourself and because if you really do want it, you have to tackle it in a way that is manageable. No perfectionism, no punishment.
The Power of Less walks its talk. It's a slender book that could easily have expanded into a full shelf of much longer volumes. Whether you want to clean your desk, stop spending your whole day answering email, get more sleep, or start exercising, Babauta has been there first. He's here to show us the way, one small step at a time.
I had the good fortune to see Lewis Howes in person last summer. He gave a workshop at the World Domination Summit, and it changed lives. I know because I stayed in contact with several of the people I met at the workshop, and they couldn't stop discussing it. The School of Greatness includes several exercises that have the potential to be just as transformative as those in the workshop, if you are willing to take them seriously.
This is the ideal time of year to read a book like The School of Greatness. Hopefully, we're still in Resolution Mode and remembering that we want to do impressive things this year. We're hanging on. It's still January! Half of people with New Year's resolutions have quit by June, though, and if we want to fulfill our potential, we have to plan. The more we dive into HOW and WHY, the stronger our commitments. Workbooks can be really helpful in posing questions and presenting examples that we never would have thought of ourselves.
I sat down with my journal and started with the Perfect Day Itinerary. By the time I had finished it, several things had clicked with me about the projects I want to do this year. I wrote out a schedule and started following it before I had even read the next chapter in the book. Suddenly, these huge intimidating goals I had set for myself during a fit of optimism on New Year's Eve seem... fairly straightforward. As I read through the book, the material helped to reinforce why I'm doing what I'm doing.
A chapter that I particularly enjoyed discussed the daily habits of successful people. It turns out that successful people do a lot of the same things every day, even when the areas of their expertise are wildly different. Howes suggests comparing your own daily habits with these keystone habits and seeing where they match and where they don't. I do almost all of these things myself, and can easily remember a time when I didn't! Average people will argue against a habit like making your bed every morning, or argue for a habit like watching hours of TV every night. No, that's not me. That won't work for me. This is how I roll. Then we wonder why it's so easy for all these wealthy, famous people who get everything, and why it's so hard for us. Two of those answers are HUSTLE and SELF-DISCIPLINE.
What makes Lewis Howes great, and he knows it, is that he spends most of his time with fascinating and successful people from all walks of life. He interviews them on his podcast to figure out what makes them great. What do they know that we don't know? What do they do that we don't do? What was it like for them back when they were average? How can we absorb this information and use it to make ourselves better? The School of Greatness is the place where we find out the answers.
Two Awesome Hours goes directly to my list of Where Were These Books Twenty Years Ago? For anyone who struggles with mental bandwidth, chronic disorganization, procrastination, or attention deficit issues, this book contains absolutely vital information. It's concrete, easy to understand, and based on actual research. I highly recommend Josh Davis's brief book. Even a single chapter can turn your day around.
I'm convinced that most chronic procrastinators simply don't know how to shift into the type of concentration required for deep work. We are right in suspecting that other people know how to do something we don't know how to do. Two Awesome Hours offers tangible things we can do to help set us up for this type of concentration, none of which were obvious or intuitive to me. For instance, I was fascinated to learn that background noise may be helpful or distracting depending on decibel level!
Another common issue is scattering attention between multiple tasks, and avoiding work on the highest priority by focusing on lesser tasks. I see this with my chronically disorganized clients. They have a lot of trouble making decisions, partly because they keep switching focus between multiple items. A huge amount of time can be burned in indecision mode, like when you realize you've spent twenty minutes looking at your movie queue instead of watching something. This is another area where Two Awesome Hours offers specific techniques to fight this time-wasting tendency.
What I liked best about Two Awesome Hours, besides all the under-reported research it shares, is the way that Davis ties everything to emotional states. This is why we need to know this information. It's not just about being more efficient or about being expert at time management. It's about feeling better! Two Awesome Hours can make you feel triumphant, relaxed, competent, and all sorts of positive states that don't come from disorganization or distraction.
Year of Yes is a concept that can take over your whole life. It's also a great example of the way that resolutions are so much more powerful than goals. I had no idea who Shonda Rhimes was, but I'm a fan now. In fact I might even think of her as a guru. This book made me laugh out loud, and it also made me pause and recognize my own resistance, fears, and stubbornness. What better time to read it than at the turning of a New Year?
The thing about Shonda Rhimes is that she has what a lot of us think would solve all of our problems. She has a loving family, a fascinating and fun job, money, fame, and the ability to call the shots in most situations. Yet there she is, doing what we all do, which is to manufacture our own problems. As the book begins, her sister calls her out for always saying NO to opportunity. Where the natural reaction would be to get angry and tell the sister to mind her own business, Rhimes lets the criticism filter through. She resolves that for a year, she will say YES to everything. That's when it starts to get crazy.
Resolutions are great because we have no way of knowing how they will turn out. Resolutions can be terrifying for the same reason. We have such a strong desire to control our lives and manage risk that we will say NO to almost everything. We'll even reject many things in advance, on the off chance that they might happen. There's a common pattern of talking about what we DON'T WANT, rather than what we do want. It makes us feel discerning, like we are exerting our great taste and driving the bus of life. Saying yes to things and declaring what we want can get awfully specific. Suddenly we're rocketing past our comfort zones so fast we can't even imagine what comes next.
When the resistance goes, a lot of things go with it. The unintended consequences that follow Shonda Rhimes and her decision to live a Year of Yes make the book that much funnier. Her willingness to examine herself and let go of her desire to stay in the comfort zone ripple outward into areas she never expected. It is impossible to read this book without at least a few moments of rueful agreement. Yep, me too, me too. That's me, right there. Say Yes to a Year of Yes and see what happens.
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.