Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

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Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily & Amelia Nagoski

burnout cover

“This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing ‘enough’.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this book has made me a better person (maybe a bit?) but I do think it’s made me a better feminist. I am so guilty of proudly feeling that I can ‘play with the boys’ at their own game, swearing and telling bawdy jokes, that being faced with a book about stressors faced by women, and how we marginalise ourselves, was something of an eye opener.

I shouldn’t feel so happy about someone pointing out how much more stress there is in my life than I knew about, but actually, the sense of relief, the nodding along – yes! Yes, it does stress me that (insert ton of stuff here). And that it isn’t acknowledged, and that I’m ‘delusional’ or hormonal or whatever if I try to point it out. There’s a whole chapter called ‘the Game is Rigged’ which summed up so much of what I feel, but hadn’t articulated. The underlying premise that boys are taught to be human ‘beings’, and girls more often expected to be human ‘givers’ – wow.

That said, the book is not just a long rant. It points out that we’re all holding on to a lot of stress without realising it, and that’s just never going to end well.

On a practical level, the opening chapter talks us through the difference between stressors – like the jerk in the BMW on the drive home, or the late request for a report at work – and stress. Often we deal with or at least move away from the stressor but we’re not actually dealing with the stress. The authors talk about ‘completing the cycle’ – letting our primitive brain acknowledge that we’re now safe. I want to reread this part already: I’m getting ‘dance around the living room’, but think there are other subtleties to pick up on here.

The rest of the book covers a lot of familiar ground with a fresh eye. The ‘Bikini Industrial Complex’, for instance, questions why we allow ourselves to be *so* obsessed with looks (even over health). There is some interesting discussion about the falseness of the fat/unhealthy message – did you know that it’s worse for your health to be slightly underweight than quite a bit overweight? Mind blown.

The only bit I didn’t really like was the whole ‘smash the patriarchy’. Not that I disagree (especially the way it’s described here – definitely not ‘anti man’ in any way, just pointing out how, yup – the game is rigged!) but just that I felt weary even thinking about it. Is life not hard enough without me having to be so proactive on this, too?! o_O

I’m hardly scratching the surface of just how much YES there was for me in this book. I said it’s almost certainly made me a better feminist – for myself and for others. But as it points out, if I’m nodding along with this for me, it’s an excellent way to see how much more the game is rigged if you’re not just female, but of colour, or not CIS/hetero-normative, or ‘able’ in the way that’s taken for granted. I hope I’ll do better for all of these categories now, not just stand up for myself more as a woman.

All of which is fine, but am I less stressed? It did help, really. I’ve spent my life pushing back on the role society seems to want for me – and yes, in little ways that includes ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (it is not, for instance, my role in life to get out of a man’s way on a pavement. I’m not talking politeness, just standing up to that inbred sense of entitlement that no one ever seems to realise they own. I don’t automatically tidy in the office any more, either, even when it’s my default). To get a bit of a ‘yes, that’s right’ was something of a relief. The caveman brain stress stuff makes a lot of sense, too. I have a ways to go, and I do think I’ll be rereading this before too long.

Recommended for women everywhere – and any man who has the balls to accept that the playing field is not, in fact, as level as we’d all like to think.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 11th-26th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Outer Order Inner Calm – Gretchen Rubin

outer order cover

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since The Happiness Diary, and so her take on the current mania for decluttering – something I’m in need of doing rather a lot of post-move! – was always going to intrigue me.

There’s no overt backlash against The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Marie Kondo (indeed, the book is mentioned near the end), rather this is a gentle “Some things work for some people, but what you want is what will make YOU happy.” This is unsurprising: her last book was The Four Tendencies, all about different personality types reacting to things very differently.

There is some good advice to be had in these pages, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed by the presentation. It’s not a narrative, just a collection of snippets and quotes that I felt like I’d read most of it already on her blog. And while the advice is perfectly fine, indeed very good in some instances, the brevity and style just made me feel like this was a low-effort money spinner, which was unexpected.

I’m not sure what else I wanted from the topic. It’s actually good that the subject matter isn’t drawn out just to make a bigger book. And yet… I dunno. Perhaps if anything had felt like more of a useful tip rather than a random musing on organisation?

As a collection of tips and a few motivational quotes, it’s fine. In terms of actually being inspired to go declutter – meh.

Hardback: 208 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 24th-30th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

How I Motivated Myself to Succeed – Shelley Wilson

how i motivated myself to succeed cover

Shelley Wilson previously wrote a book called How I Changed My Life in a Year, in which she set herself 52 challenges and did what it says on the cover. With this new book she tries to look behind the challenges and cover some of the methods she used to make those changes – so, rather than a memoir that may have had some self-help value, this one sets out to be self-help from the get-go.

I’ve not read the first book, which maybe would have helped, although this is meant to be readable as a standalone. And the advice in it is pretty good. The tone is also quite accessible, with a few stories in the ilk of “I’m not perfect, I have such difficulties too, but look – if I can do it so can you” which are fine.

And yet… I dunno. I’d hoped a couple of days thinking about this book would help me formulate my review, but instead I find very little from the read has stuck in my brain other than the author’s obsession with vision boards. I know as I as reading it I nodded a few times, thinking, yup that’d be useful, very sensible (planning, self-care, etc), but… obviously not inspiring enough for me to actually have started with any of the advice!

So. Nice. Good, practical advice. Wouldn’t not recommend, but didn’t quite click for me.

NetGalley eARC: 193 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 2nd February – 6th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

Flip the Single Switch – Bonny Albo

flip the single switch cover

I requested this book from NetGalley on something of a whim, thinking it was vaguely appropriate with Valentine’s day approaching, and hey – who knows, right? 😉

I’m almost certainly not the target audience for this. Yes, I’m single, but pretty happy to be so, for the time being at least. I think this was aimed more at people who aren’t happy alone but who have been choosing disappointing possible mates. I’m not sure the advice works well for those of us more likely to be accused of being too picky (hah).

Interestingly, I think some of the process could be quite valid for other situations in life. If I take a step back and look at this as a book about building confidence and breaking bad habits in general, there are useful little nuggets. However, the focus on dating and particularly the last chapter (sit in a coffee shop and filter out anyone who looks appealing; your soulmate is in the leftovers? Hmm) left me a little more baffled.

On the plus side, this is kept nicely short so very little unnecessary waffle. If you are trying to break a bad dating habit, this might just work. Personally, I’m thinking of seeing if I can apply some of the techniques to snacking, vegging in front of the laptop, or generally boosting my life confidence.

NetGalley eARC: 50 pages / 6 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 14th-17th February 2019

My rating: 6/10

Brain Chatter Declutters – Leonid Altshuler

brain chatter declutters cover

“All I know today about different meditation techniques I learned in Nepal, where years ago I spent some time living in a monastery where I had a teacher, Master Bishal.”

As stated in an earlier post, I’ve been practising meditating for several years now, but I always like reading books that can perhaps bring a fresh insight into the whole thing, or just remind me why I enjoy it. This is not that book.

It starts off in a very forced, chatty style that instantly got on my nerves. The author was so desperate to attend a retreat to ‘fix’ himself, he then gets there and doesn’t even give it a chance before he’s announcing it as a waste of time – I smell “Let’s pretend to raise doubts my audience might have!” Of course, the whole thing turns out to be a magic cure, for the author and then in the second part for his ‘case study’ whose tale is told in exactly the same irritating tone.

All of which would be fine, if not for the quasi-medical tone. “It is well known” and “several studies have shown” is not actual scientific research, even if backed up by a handful of random links at the end. Either do science properly, or – even if what is being said is true – it comes across as wishy washy faux pseudo-science.

Mercifully short, this still manages to repeat a whole block of information – despite the author also giving over a few paragraphs on why he’s keeping the book so short – as if putting it in twice somehow legitimises the medical premise.

The thing is, the information could well be true. The author might indeed be a doctor. And there’s nothing new or controversial in claiming that meditation can help with all sorts of health issues – in fact, the link between mindfulness and stress really is ‘well-known’ and scientifically backed. The link to ‘metabolic syndrome’ and insulin resistance might well be too, but the way this book is written makes it all feel very flaky and doubtable, or that to really benefit you, too, would have to go spend months at an exotic retreat.

Not recommended, although meditation is well worth doing regardless of such books.

NetGalley eARC: 45 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th-27th January 2019

My rating: 3/10

You Are Not Your Thoughts – Frances Trussell

you are not your thoughts cover

“There’s a quiet revolution going on, people everywhere are beginning to wake up from the daydream of their thoughts.”

I’ve been meditating, to a certain extent, for several years now, but there’s always space for another refresher on some of the whys and wherefores. Step forward You Are Not Your Thoughts.

I don’t think there was anything ‘new’ for me in this book, but it was very well put together, reminding me why I meditate and some of the different approaches I could think about revisiting (my practice has probably fallen into a rut). For newcomers to mindfulness and meditation, everything is laid out very straightforwardly to get you started, and the quick introduction to different forms will let you figure out if one type of meditation suits you better.

I loved the tone of the writing. Mindfulness books can so often either go towards total ‘mystical’ airy-fairy-ness, or try too hard to go the other way and end up being almost insultingly dumbed down in a chatty, pop-culture “Oh, it’s just so cool, yah?”. YANYT straddles the line perfectly, leaning a little towards the more spiritual but in a very accessible, down to earth fashion.

This is definitely one of the better meditation books I’ve read. I used my bus journey home from work to read it, slowly, and I can genuinely tell you that I’ve never found traffic jams so relaxing!

NetGalley eARC: 105 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 20th December – 20th January 2018

My rating: 8/10