Tiny Habits – BJ Fogg

tiny habits cover

“Change can be easy (and fun).”

Have your New Year’s Resolutions fallen by the wayside already? Or, are you gritting your teeth and battling on, quietly unsure that the goal is bringing any benefits? I’ve been in both places; I’ve learned what doesn’t really work for me: grand goals, constant need for willpower, all the advice about joining a group, and many many other things. I’m guessing a few of you might well be in the same boat.

Step forward Tiny Habits. I cannot begin to tell you the ‘yes!’ I had when I started reading about this approach: if I could have condensed my own thoughts about life improving habits I could only have hoped to have written this book!

The author, a researcher at Stanford University, has developed the Fogg Behavior Model, where Behavior (or, the habit you want to develop) = motivation + ability + prompt. BMAP. Fogg Behaviour Model graph of ability against motivation

Simply put, the harder you find something to do, the more motivation you’re going to need, and conversely you won’t need to find as much motivation to do a task you find easy. To get a habit to form, you need the behaviour to be above that ‘action line’.

I can’t do the idea justice, but the book walks you through it wonderfully. Motivation isn’t going to work long-term, so finding ways to make the behaviour easier is key – and making the habit ‘tiny’ is an excellent approach. For instance, do just 2 push ups. That will most likely grow, but as long as you do 2 the habit will form – far more likely than if you set the bar as, say, 50, and watch as you make excuses to get out of it.

The book opens with some great insight into why we find it hard to do things, what drives our behaviour in general. It then breaks down the elements of the BMAP – motivation and matching, ability, using different kinds of prompts to remind yourself to carry out the habit.

As well as loads of useful, chatty case studies, there are several exercises such as the ‘Swarm of B(ehaviour)s’ designed to help you set up your own experiment in behaviour design. And that mindset of ‘experimentation’ is pushed strongly: no beating yourself up when something doesn’t work, you just have to modify the experiment design. It’s refreshingly helpful and kind.

Later chapters cover growing or multiplying your habits, changing with others – family, colleagues, groups (whether overtly or in a more ninja-style ;)), and for me an important chapter on reversing some of the approaches to tackle bad habits.

Overall, I loved this book. I tried not to rush through it, and already want to read it again taking notes (tough to do on the bus!) and rather than just trying bits and pieces (working so far!) absolutely give the entire process a go to see how far it can take me in improving my habits! I have very high hopes – it’s my kind of book!

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 8 sections
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 5th January – 7th February 2020

My rating: 9/10

The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care – Suzanne Falter

extremely busy womans guide to self care cover

“Do less, achieve more, and live the life you want.”

Happy 2020! Have you made some New Year resolutions? What if, instead of punishing yourself to spend more time in the gym, or giving up the foods you love, you instead approached life with a mindset of first of all taking care of yourself? What if doing so wasn’t selfish, or self-indulgent? What if you could prioritise being nice to yourself and not only still achieve what you needed to, but actually get far, far more out of life?

As I started reading this book, I felt like a great big ‘yes’ was settling in. It makes so much sense. Life shouldn’t be a constant struggle – and yup, I can see that if I’d just breath and go with the flow, things would be easier, and I could be happier. That’s not to say I’d spend my life meditating while the dishes piled up – but I’ve already had the ‘revelation’ that housework isn’t so bad, as it gets me something I want: a lovely clean living space. I’m still working on the idea that exercise is also a form of self care 😉

I’d love to say that the book continued to inspire me, but to be honest it fell into fairly well-worn paths. Like so many self-help authors, the changes that led to the writing of the book came after a crisis: the death of her daughter. It’s harsh to say, but tbh I’m fed up of the twinge of discomfort I get every time self-help is accompanied by the author’s grief or self-therapy.

Still, there’s a lot to get out of the book. Each chapter comes with exercises to journal about, and obviously you’ll get the most from the process by spending the time to do these properly.

My favourite chapter was near the beginning, “The big illusion about getting stuff done”. This spoke to me: pointing out the crazy treadmill we get ourselves on, pushing to do more more more. Whereas, contrary as it seems when you’re in that headspace, stopping and resting, and breathing, you can get far more done and with far less internal push-back. Like I said, doing the dishes = clean house = happier me. Odd, but true!

The book goes on to cover many good, if not unexpected topics, from setting boundaries, eschewing perfectionism, asking for help, etc. The second section gives all of the self-care areas, including sleep, vacations, love, nutrition and exercise, fun. I did have a little red flag when she started on about adrenal fatigue – as far as I’m aware that’s still not a recognised ‘thing’, and I wasn’t too impressed with the level of authority with which the topic was presented. It’s a reminder that self-help books are 99.9% personal opinion, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

My the last section, about getting more self-care habits into your life, I was slogging a bit as everything became fairly familiar. And again harsh but to be honest: the constant quotes from her dead daughter’s diary felt a bit creepy rather than motivational. Ymmv.

There’s plenty to like in this book, and it’s well enough written, but with just those few bits I wasn’t comfortable with. Still, I absolutely love the message: look after yourself – why wouldn’t you?!

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages / 37 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 13th November – 28th December 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Art of Watercolor Lettering – Kelly Klapstein

art of watercolor lettering cover

“A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Painting Modern Calligraphy and Lettered Art”

Being more creative is one of my constant goals, but it can be intimidating for a beginner to get started. Calligraphy, for example, has a huge appeal to me, to the point where I’ve bought pens and inks and started practicing – and always been too disappointed to go on. And don’t get me started on watercolour – looks gorgeous, but not the easiest!

Combining the two forms intrigued me – surely it would just make for ‘difficult squared’?

This book starts off, as with most art books, with a list of equipment and some discussion about the various options – of brushes, papers, paints, and sundries. There’s a brief explanation of colour mixing theory, and then some simple warm up exercises to get you used to holding the brush and working with the paint.

As you can see, this is all very non-threatening, and perfect for total beginners as well as those who need a bit of a confidence boost!

The third chapter introduces the lettering, talking about the basic and some more complex styles. This is the ‘calligraphy’ part, if you like. Then we move on to the ‘watercolour’ part (yes, the whole book is that, but most intensely here!) and – oooh! The techniques (rainbows!) and hints (wet on wet effects) and use of colour is just making me want to go grab a paintbrush and start right now! I mean, look at this:

galaxy lettering example

Gorgeous!

The author also briefly covers other things like watercolour pencils and water-based brush markers, before suggesting how to use what you’ve learned to make ‘dreamy designs’.

Overall, I really like this book. It combines two art forms I hadn’t really thought to try together, and is presented in clear, easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions that will get just about anyone started and on their way to a fun, pretty hobby with all sorts of uses.

NetGalley eARC: 146 pages / 7 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read November 2019

My rating: 9/10

Creative Journaling – Renee Day

creative journaling cover

“A guide to over 100 techniques and ideas”

It’s been a few years since I stumbled across the concept of Bullet Journaling, and it grabbed me from the start: a mix of organisation and creativity sounds absolutely my thing! However, I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with my ‘spreads’ (page designs) over the past year, never really got as creative with it all as I wanted, and am actually taking a bit of a break right now. My intention is to start a new journal with new enthusiasm for the new year.

So, when I spotted this book on NetGalley, it felt like a bit of a sign! 😉

Renee Day is behind the instagram account @theDIYday, and if you’re familiar with it you might know what to expect from this book. It covers four different kinds of journalling – dot grid (what I’d call bullet journaling), junk (aka altered book), mixed media, and travel. There are also section at the start and end on choosing materials and supplies, types of lettering, and making your own ‘extras’.

The first section was of most interest to me. If you’re a long-time ‘BuJo’er’ then you might find this a bit basic, or like me you might be glad of the different ideas – all fairly simple and ‘doable’, thank goodness! In fact, the idea of a reusable layout page struck me as genius! There are different styles, different techniques or embellishments, all presented in a step-by-step form with added hints and tips.

The ideas do get progressively more complex, so as a beginner you could follow each in turn and build your confidence – and your craft stash, if you want to try them all! I’d never thought about using my card-making kit (stamps, punches, etc) for my journal, but what a great way to try stuff out.

Up to this point, Ms Day is on the side of stamps and tapes rather than a lot of artistic skill, which is something of a relief. She gets a bit more crafty with the ‘junk journaling’, something new to me but which is quite intriguing, and more again with the mixed media. This feels aspirational for me right now – maybe after some confidence building with my bujo I’ll feel more capable of creating a ‘hot glue layout’, or something this pretty:

stitched galaxy layout from book

After the fairly self-explanatory travel journalling section, I really loved the section on ‘DIY accessories’ – make your own tabs looks fab, and I would never have thought of making my own washi tape or decorated paperclips.

Overall, this is a lovely book full of ideas for beginners and more experienced journallers alike. The step-by-step instructions makes it a lot more accessible than the equivalent blog/social-media offering, too. Recommended – and might just spark a good New Year’s Resolution for me 😉

NetGalley eARC: 211 pages
First published: 14th January 2020
Series: none
Read November 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Lure of the Ring – Alan James Strachan

lure of the ring cover

“Tom Bombadil is the prevailing mystery in Tolkien’s work.”

This is an odd little book. It’s basically a treatise on spirituality, using The Lord of the Rings as an example. Not entirely what I thought I was getting, and probably not going to find a wide audience – Tolkien fans will be disappointed that it’s not really about LotR, and if you’re looking for the spiritual stuff the fantasy-source might seem flippant.

Still, I started off rather enjoying it – someone talking about LotR can’t be all bad, after all! But, after a while, the tone really started to grate on me. I would have preferred an approach of “I think”, “my translation is”, “to me, this suggests…” rather than the quasi-academic sense of certainty. Writers rarely ‘mean’ what future studies try to pin on their stories; indeed, at the end of this the author even admits that Tolkien’s letters reveal the multi-layers of allegory and meaning didn’t appear until years later.

The lecturing tone can be a little patronising, I found – or, perhaps that’s the increasing density of the subject. From easy-to-grasp concepts – what Galadriel’s refusal of the Ring says about her character, for example – by the end he’s quoting quasi-religious texts, talking about the Self that is no-Self, and at times my head was just spinning!

If this is your cup of tea, by all means give it a go. Personally, I don’t think I was fully expecting the build up to full-on ‘nondual spirituality’ and self-actualisation, and while it might have been interesting getting there I didn’t wholly appreciate the feeling of being preached at, even if the author does back away from that by the end again.

The message, though, is nice enough, and it is interesting seeing ‘just a fantasy story for kids’ (hah!) providing such rich source material.

NetGalley eARC: 87 pages / 18 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 23rd-28th September 2019

My rating: 5/10

Elements of Fiction – Walter Mosley

elements of fiction cover

“This monograph is concerned with the hope of writing a novel that transcends story in such a way as to allow the writer to plumb the depths of meaning while, at the same time, telling a good yarn.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a ‘monograph’, but this is a rather lovely, personal meander through the ‘feeling’ of writing a book. It’s not a how-to, it’s not got a set of directives, but it gets into some of the deeper, wider arching thoughts behind writing a book. It’s like a conversation with a subject matter expert, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Walter Mosley previously published This Year You Write Your Novel, so I suppose this is a companion piece. Not having reader the former, I can’t comment. But having read plenty of writing advice (if not taken so much of it ;)) I very much liked the approach here. You are a writer, you are writing, but this is the sort of thing that is/should be/might be going on at a deeper level.

Sections have titles such as ‘Revelation’, ‘The Novel is Bigger than Your Head’, as well as the more obvious Structure, Character, Narrative Voice, etc.

What I particularly liked was the way the author almost starts telling stories, little ‘what if’ beginnings of ideas, that he then picks apart or spins around, or in one case backs off and says ‘or I’d go this completely other way’ – but, he’s learned something about his story and his characters along the way.

“The purpose of this book has been to show by example and intention how deeply you can go into your mind, excavating a world worth the struggle, the man thousands of hours, and just the right words.”

Lovely, thought-provoking little book. Recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages
First published: 2019
Series: could be seen as a follow up to This Year You Write Your Novel
Read from 2rd-11th September 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Art of Jin Shin – Alexis Brink

art of jin shin cover

“The book you are holding in your hands is meant to provide a basic introduction to the foundation and principles of the Art of Jin Shin.”

Subtitled, ‘The Japanese Practice of Healing with Your Fingertips’, this book gives a brief history of this ‘energy medicine’, followed by several long lists of different holds for different conditions.

The basic premise is something along the lines of: by holding two points on the body, we can ‘release’ the energy flow within ourselves (or others), thus aiding all manner of afflictions, from insomnia to headaches, stress to digestive issues.

I was very impressed with the attitude here: it’s not given as an alternative to seeing your doctor, merely an additional process that may prove helpful. And to be honest, while I’m relatively open to such ideas, my hunch is that the usefulness of Jin Shin is less about which finger you’re holding and more that the breathing and focus is actually meditation. Still, any meditation practice can benefit from a focus, and this is a pretty interesting one.

The other message that I agree with wholeheartedly is that nothing here can hurt you – well, unless you twist something trying to hold on to your ankle, of course 😉 So yes, I was more than up for giving this a go. I’m not sure any of my attempts particularly solved the issue in question, except perhaps holding the back of my neck for an ache – but, the warmth of my hand probably didn’t hurt. As I say, I think the meditation effect was beneficial. Still, I see more likelihood of finding this useful than its more famous cousin, Reiki.

My main complaint here would be that the book in e-format wasn’t the easiest to navigate. If I have a specific problem I’d like to try to address, figuring out where to go is awkward. So, if you fancy giving it a go, the physical book is probably better.

Overall: an interesting concept, and as there’s no harm in trying it out than why not? If nothing else, you’ll benefit from a quiet moment of breathing and relaxation, and a little time spent with your own body is never a bad idea.

NetGalley eARC: 240 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 16th-26th June 2019

My rating: 7/10