Did Not Finish, Personal Development

Review: Enough Already!

Cover of "Enough Already!" featuring a picture of the author below red text on a white background
Image from Peter Walsh

Title: Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You

Author: Peter Walsh

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None (that I found)

Back Cover:

Does it seem like everything is moving so fast these days you can barely keep up? Do you sometimes feel that your life is spinning out of control? Most of us are so overwhelmed by the stuff in our daily lives — work, bills, family commitments, demands from our kids’ schools — that we rush from person to person and place to place. For many of us, life feels completely out of balance because we give one area of our lives too much attention and the other areas nowhere near enough. This crazy imbalance and the resulting stress and unhappiness you feel are the clutter that Peter Walsh wants to help you tackle in “Enough Already!: Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You.”

Peter examines the six key areas of your life — Family, Relationships, Work, Health, Money, and Spirituality — and shows how these unique parts of your life are so interrelated that if just one is cluttered, that clutter will creep into the other areas and throw your life off balance. He then offers a step-by-step plan that helps you acknowledge and address the emotional and mental clutter that holds you back from living the richly fulfilling life you deserve.

Read to: CD 2 of 5

Review:

This book just advertised itself as something it wasn’t, that’s the long and short of it.

It’s all about mental clutter, right? I assumed clearing mental clutter would involve tools like mind mapping, stream-of-consciousness writing, meditation, and that sort of stuff applied to different areas of your life to help you calm your mind.

Nope. I got through the section on relationships and part of the section on jobs, and it basically operates on the premise that all bad things are clutter. Communication problems? Clutter. Don’t like your job? Clutter. Negative emotions? Clutter. Which really felt like a major stretch – I always interpret clutter as “too much stuff taking up space,” not as “anything that is bad.”

It felt like Peter Walsh really wanted to write a life advice book, but he’d already branded himself as an organization person, so he decided to reinterpret life problems as clutter so he could write his life advice book without going off brand.

And honestly, it wasn’t even that great of life advice. The relationships section was all about communicating with your partner (not even how, just that you need to) and compromising, and didn’t even touch on friendships, relationships with family, or anything outside romantic relationships. When I stopped at the career section, it was going through the generic advice of “think about what you want your career to be, not just your job” and leave your job if you hate your boss.

This book is utterly unremarkable and, in my opinion, pretty much useless. It’s not really a book about decluttering your mind, it’s a slightly-worse-than-mediocre general life advice book that only gives broad, sweeping overviews of narrowly-defined areas of your life. In short, it’s not helpful and just plain bland.

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Personal Development

Review: Blink

Cover of "Blink," featuring lower-case blue text on a white background
Image from Library Dude

Title: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Police violence, ableism against autism

Back Cover:

Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant – in the blink of an eye – that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work – in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of “blink”: the election of Warren Harding; “New Coke”; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing” – filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology and displaying all of the brilliance that made The Tipping Point a classic, Blink changes the way you understand every decision you make. Never again will you think about thinking the same way.

Review:

This book had some issues.

I was actually moderately excited to read this book. I’m not the biggest Malcolm Gladwell fan, but I love the idea of thin slicing (when your mind comes to a subconscious conclusion from small bits of information) and was excited to learn more about it.

But this book was simultaneously mostly useless, revelatory, and deeply offending.

To start with (the relevatory part), it had the same problem as every Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve read, which I just now identified three books in: he sets up a great idea (“how to make good snap judgments,” “how things become popular“) and then instead of actually talking about how (or even why), he just gives example after example. If you want to get the “how” or “why” from it, you have to tease it out from his examples – if you can.

That’s why I described this book as “mostly useless” earlier – in the beginning, the book said you would learn how to make better snap judgments and when not to trust those initial instincts, and then ends with the conclusion “your first impression is good except when it’s not.”

Once I identified Malcolm’s problem, though, I did manage to tease out the main idea – snap judgments made by someone who has a lot of knowledge and understanding about something (e.g. art experts, marriage psychologists) are usually pretty accurate, and snap judgments made on something you’re not an expert in are informed by biases and prejudices. Which is actually good information. Trust your gut if you know a lot about the topic, examine your biases if you’re not. But you’ll only discover that if you read between the lines.

Now let’s talk about the “deeply offending” part.

Towards the end of the book, Malcolm talks about the shooting of Amadou Diallo (a black man) by four (white) police officers. It’s in the section on reading faces, and his point is that the policemen were not experienced enough in reading faces to make the snap judgment that Diallo was terrified, not dangerous. He completely dismisses race as a factor in the shooting, which annoyed me. But that wasn’t really the offending part. Malcolm called the moments when your body is affected by adrenaline and you can’t think clearly or make good snap judgments as “temporary autism.” Which is ableist and extremely offensive (this is speaking as an autistic person, and my autistic fiance concurred).

The idea of this book was good. And once you manage to read between the lines to what Malcolm is actually trying to say, it has a solid conclusion. But it also has issues. Really big issues. And honestly, you can sum up what you get out of the book in one sentence: “If you’re really knowledgeable in an area, trust your gut; if you’re not knowledgeable about it, examine your first impression for hidden biases.” And honestly, you don’t need to sift through three hundred pages of examples just to get to that sentence.

Work and Business

Review: Creativity, Inc.

Cover of "Creativity, Inc.," featuring the silhouette of Buzz Lightyear holding a conductor's baton on a red background
Image from Ed Catmull

Title: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Author: Ed Catmull

Genre: Work and Business

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover: 

What does it mean to manage well?

Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable—based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
  • If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
  • It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
  • The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
  • A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
  • Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.

Review:

Apparently I only pick up books in the “Work and Business” category by accident.

Well, I didn’t pick up this book on accident. I heard Ed Catmull speak on creativity at the Global Leadership Summit in 2016, which (though it took a back seat to Brené Brown‘s) I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I found this book among the library’s slim audiobook selection, I picked it up without really reading the back cover.

To be clear, this wasn’t a bad book. Not at all. But it wasn’t what I expected.

I was expecting something about personal creativity, maybe about how to get inspired or how to solve problems creativity or just about how to be creative in general. What I would have realized if I’d read the back cover was that it was more about how to manage in a way that inspires creativity in your employees.

Interestingly enough, that management aspect was only about 30% of the book, though. The other 70% was a history of Pixar and how it came to exist and later to become a pioneering animation company. Which, again, was very interesting – I didn’t know really anything about Pixar before, and it was so full of ups and downs that it made for a great story in itself.

The downside of this book is personal – I’m not a manager or in charge of any employees. And that means there isn’t a lot in Creativity, Inc. that applies to me. The applicable part of this book is focused on employees and managers, corporate dynamics, and working teams. I’m sure if I looked really hard, I could find ways to apply some of the principles to me as an individual, but with just an initial read (well, listen), I didn’t see anything.

Like I said earlier, this is actually a good book, and it’s very interesting. It just wasn’t super applicable to me (and you know I’m all about the practical application). If you want to know about the history of Pixar, you’ll get a lot out of this book. If you’re a manager or business leader looking to inspire your employees, this will be helpful. But I’m not really the target market for this book.

Personal Development

Review: Essentialism

Cover of "Essentialism," featuring a scribbled mess of lines on the left side, with an arrow pointing to the right, where the word "essentialism" is surrounded by several shaky circles.
Image from Greg McKeown

Title: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Author: Greg McKeown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

The Way of the Essentialist involves doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution.

The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.

In Essentialism, Greg McKeown draws on experience and insight from working with the leaders of the most innovative companies in the world to show how to achieve the disciplined pursuit of less.

By applying a more selective criteria for what is essential, the pursuit of less allows us to regain control of our own choices so we can channel our time, energy and effort into making the highest possible contribution toward the goals and activities that matter.

Essentialism isn’t one more thing; it is a different way of doing everything. It is a discipline you apply constantly, effortlessly. Essentialism is a mindset; a way of life. It is an idea whose time has come.

Review:

I wanted to love this book. I really did. It came highly recommended by most of the personal development blogs I follow, and essentialism sounded like an extremely valuable mindset. But this was probably the most underwhelming book I’ve read this year. Which is strange to say, because overall, this wasn’t a bad book. In fact, it was rather good. But I personally got nothing out of it.

Michael Hyatt is a leadership/intentional living/productivity/platform-building blogger who I’ve been following since 2010(ish). Essentialism came out in 2014, so I have to believe that Michael Hyatt either knew Greg McKeown or discovered the same principles on his own, because reading Essentialism was like reading Michael Hyatt Condensed.

Almost nothing in this book was new information to me. From focus to prioritizing, doing only the things that let you make your maximum contribution, even the power of sleep – all of it was stuff I’d heard before from Michael Hyatt. Which was disappointing. I’d expected there to be some overlap (after all, I first heard of Essentialism on Michael Hyatt’s podcast episode that had Greg McKeown as a guest), but I didn’t expect that much.

It was good information and valuable insight into living and making your greatest contribution. The idea of cutting everything nonessential out of your life, focusing only on what’s important at the moment, and giving the majority of your energy to what will make the most impact are all good ideas. And I love that the book is practical, with lots of tips and suggestions for how to prune your life down to “less but better” it promotes (and strategies for not saying yes to too many things).

Essentialism is very black-and-white (both figuratively and literally – section introductions are white text on black backgrounds and all the illustrations are bold black lines on empty white sections). You’re either a productive, focused essentialist or an unproductive, unfocused nonessentialist. Which does actually make sense with what the book is talking about, but as someone who has to work hard to avoid black-and-white thinking in real life, it felt a little strange. Again, not a criticism of the book itself, just something that didn’t work for me personally.

This wasn’t a bad book. On the contrary – if you’ve never heard of Michael Hyatt, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a great book on living with less, but better and having an overall more fulfilling life where you can make greater contributions to whatever work you do. But there’s so much overlap between this and Michael Hyatt’s principles that I got nothing out of it. Personally, it wasn’t for me. But it’s still completely worth a read (assuming you’re not as much of a Michael Hyatt fan as I am, that is).

Did Not Finish, Finance/Money

Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Cover of "I Will Teach You To Be Rich," featuring bold black text on an orange and green background
Image from Ramit Sethi

Title: I Will Teach You To Be Rich: No Guilt, No Excuses, No B.S., Just a 6-Week Program That Works

Author: Ramit Sethi

Genre: Finance/Money

Trigger Warnings: Fatphobia, classism

Back Cover:

You don’t have to be perfect to be rich. Or the smartest person in the room. Or a type-A personality. In fact, with Ramit Sethi’s six-week program to financial independence, you can start with any amount of money, do just 85 percent of what he suggests, and succeed brilliantly through good times and bad.

As irreverent and entertaining as he is practical and wise, Sethi explains how to beat banks and credit cards at the fee game, automate your cash flow, negotiate for a raise, manage student loans, and enjoy your lattes and Manolo Blahniks by practicing conscious spending. It’s how to master your money with the least amount of effort – and then get on with your life.

Read to: Page 117

Review:

Ah, a classic financial book. Full body with the usual advice, and the usual note of fatphobia. The flavor of classism is especially strong in this one, and I’m even detecting a unique note of misogyny, as well as a deep overtone of condescension …

Okay, all jokes aside, this book was bad.

My fiance wanted me to read this and see if it was any good. I didn’t have high hopes for it going in (I’d previously unsubscribed from Ramit’s email list for misogyny and fatphobia), but I was determined to power through.

Of course, there was the requisite fatphobia that comes with personal finance books (bad budgets are fat, good budgets that you’ve put work into are fit and toned). There was also a healthy dose of condescension. Ramit has a tone of “I know more about this than you” and “this is so simple you’re stupid/lazy for not doing this before.” There was also a surprising dose of misogyny – comparing choosing between two investment brokerages to choosing between “two hot blonde twins,” for example.

But still, I was determined to power through. There was actually some good advice on negotiating credit card rates, surprisingly. (That was really the only good information in the book, though – the rest of it was stuff like calling budgets bad and boring and then telling you how to budget while calling it a “conscious spending plan” and claiming it’s completely different. Like, dude, I’ve been budgeting since I was 14. I know a budget when I see one. You’re not special. He even recommends the ENVELOPE BUDGETING SYSTEM, for goodness’ sake.)

I finally gave up – or, more accurately, rage-quit – at page 117. The heading on that page was “What If You Don’t Make Enough Money?” and I was thrilled – finally a financial advice book that takes poverty and minimum wage into account! And then the entire premise was people actually have more wiggle room in their budget than they realize, they just don’t want to change their spending. The two examples I got through before closing the book:

  • Cook at home more. (Ignoring the fact that most minimum-wage workers have to work multiple jobs, leaving them no time to cook, and the fact that it’s actually cheaper to buy pre-packaged stuff and the McDonald’s dollar menu than buy everything fresh and cook it yourself.)
  • Don’t buy the new iPhone every year. (Find me one minimum-wage worker who buys a new phone every year, I dare you. I’m working at nearly twice minimum wage and I still can’t afford a new iPhone every year.)

It was basically the premise that “there’s no such thing as a poor person, there’s only people who are to stupid/bad at handling money to be not poor.” Which is incorrect, classist, and incredibly insulting.

Despite the book’s own view that it’s 100 times better than any other personal finance book, it was an unspectacular, condescending, and classist rephrasing of already-told tips and the same old tropes. It honestly wasn’t worth the 117 pages I gave it.

Current Issues/Society

Review: Outliers

Cover of "Outliers," featuring dark text on a white background with a small purple marble in the middle
Image from Malcolm Gladwell

Title: Outliers: The Story of Success

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger Warnings: Racism

Back Cover:

There is a story that is usually told about extremely successful people, a story that focuses on intelligence and ambition. Gladwell argues that the true story of success is very different, and that if we want to understand how some people thrive, we should spend more time looking around them-at such things as their family, their birthplace, or even their birth date. And in revealing that hidden logic, Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential.

In The Tipping Point Gladwell changed the way we understand the world. In Blink he changed the way we think about thinking. In Outliers he transforms the way we understand success.

Review:

I almost started this review by saying I had low expectations for this book, but that’s not really true – I didn’t have really any expectations for this book. I picked it up mainly because it was an audiobook, I’d had it on my reading list for years, and his other book The Tipping Point was okay. I didn’t expect to be thrilled, but I also didn’t expect to be let down.

Outliers surprised me.

Of course, I have the same complaint with Outliers as I did with The Tipping Point – it’s not very practical. It explores the path to success for lots of people (including Bill Gates, hockey players, a New York lawyer, and a middle schooler from the Bronx), but it doesn’t explain how to become a success (or predict if you or someone else will become one). But also, there’s kind of a reason for that.

You know the American idealism of “if you work hard enough you’ll succeed”? In Outliers, Gladwell surrounds that concept with a ton of TNT and lights the fuse.

His entire premise with this book is that success takes hard work, but it also takes being born into or being given a particular set of circumstances that make all the difference. For example:

  • Bill Gates was born at the right time so he was a teenager when computers started appearing in universities and businesses and had wealthy parents who could send him to an elite private school that got a computer – therefore enabling him to have a ridiculous amount of practice with and understanding of computers by the time he dropped out of college.
  • Canadian hockey players are unlikely to succeed if they’re born April through December, because the league cutoff date is January 1 and players born at the beginning of the year are slightly older (and therefore bigger, more coordinated, and better) when it comes time to pick the best players for better training in elementary school.
  • Lawyer Joseph Flaum was born to immigrant parents who had been in America long enough to afford send him to law school, but was Jewish so unable to get a job at a big law firm – so he started his own firm taking acquisitions cases that no one else would take, and when acquisitions suddenly became a big business he and his firm was already on top.
  • And Chris Langan, one of the smartest people in the world by IQ, who spent most of his life working as a bouncer in a New York bar and never finished college – because he came from a low-income background and never learned how to negotiate with authority to get what he needed.

Though it’s not labeled as such, Outliers is really about how privilege affects success and how the circumstances of your birth influence the rest of your life. Though it doesn’t touch much on race or gender, if you want to start exploring class privilege and its effects, this is a good book to start with. And if you want to know why higher classes seem to get ahead faster with less work, despite America’s “work hard and you’ll succeed” idealism, definitely give it a read.

(A note on the trigger warning: I honestly didn’t see racism in the book, but I am white. It was pointed out to me during an anthropology class a couple years ago that Gladwell’s treatment of Koreans in chapter 7 is racist, so I listed that as a trigger.)

Did Not Finish, Work and Business

Review: Drive

Cover of "Drive," featuring red text on a white background
Image from Daniel Pink

Title: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Author: Daniel Pink

Genre: Work and Business

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Most people believe that the best way to motivate is with rewards like money—the carrot-and-stick approach. That’s a mistake, says Daniel H. Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others). In this provocative and persuasive new book, he asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life. He examines the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose-and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action in a unique book that will change how we think and transform how we live.

Read to: CD 3 of 7

Review:

I thought this book would be similar to The Power of Habit in that it would teach me the psychology behind motivation and how to motivate myself. And I read Daniel Pink’s book on creativity, A Whole New Mind, back in high school and it was the book that made me realize not all nonfiction was boring. So I had really high hopes for Drive.

The bad news is it’s the wrong genre.

If you look up at the genre I put at the beginning of the review, it’s “Work and Business.” I picked it up thinking it was “Personal Development.” I was wrong. The good news is Daniel made it very clear at the beginning of the book that he was going to focus more on motivating employees than motivating yourself.

I was pretty disappointed, but I stuck it out for a bit, hoping that I could find something valuable that I could personally use. And there was some interesting stuff (for example, that people tend to be more motivated when they have more freedom and flexibility) – it just wasn’t really applicable to me. It just got boring for me since I wasn’t getting much out of it.

On the flip side, though, if I was a business leader and had employees, this probably would have been immensely valuable. After all, that’s the audience this book was written for. I just happen to not be in that audience.

Personal Development

Review: Rising Strong

Cover of "Rising Strong," featuring dark blue text on a light blue and white background
Image from Brene Brown

Title: Rising Strong: The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Social scientist Brené Brown has ignited a global conversation on courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. Her pioneering work uncovered a profound truth: Vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. But living a brave life is not always easy: We are, inevitably, going to stumble and fall.

It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.

Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.

Review Trigger Warning: Death mention

Review:

You may (or may not) recall me mentioning this book and how I discovered in in my review of Daring Greatly, another of Brené Brown’s books. After finishing the awesomeness that was Daring Greatly, I was thrilled to find Rising Strong as an audiobook, too.

The actual book part of the book was pretty short, which normally would annoy me but this time it didn’t. Brené starts with outlining the process she’s determined for how to “rise strong” after a fall or emotional setback. The process is actually the subtitle of the book:

  1. The Reckoning (recognizing you’re feeling an emotion and getting curious about why)
  2. The Rumble (letting yourself feel that emotion and deal with it)
  3. The Revolution (distilling the “key learning(s)” from your experience and becoming a better person)

She devotes about half the book to talking about those and how you do them, and the other half to examples. Which was actually a really good idea, because the process can look different for different people in different situations, and sometimes it’s just plain hard to recognize. She uses both her own examples and the examples of other people, which is cool.

She also introduced some other really cool concepts, like the Shitty (or Stormy) First Draft to help you “rumble” with emotions, and brought her research on shame into a lot of it. (I’m just going to have to read the rest of her books to find out more about her research.)

I can actually say one thing about this book that I haven’t been able to say about any of the other self-help books I’ve reviewed here – this process works. While I was reading (well, listening) to this book, a friend of mine died. And working through the process that Brené outlines in this book helped a lot with dealing with the emotions from that.

Overall, this book is amazing and it works. I definitely plan to make my fiance read it. And it’s one of the few books that I actually plan to buy and keep on my shelf and reread periodically.

Personal Development

Review: The Power of Habit

Cover of "The Power of Habit," featuring red text on a yellow background and black human silhouettes running on a red hamster wheel
Image from Charles Duhigg

Title: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do

Author: Charles Duhigg

Genre: Self-Help/Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Descriptions of medical procedures (surgery)

Back Cover:

In The Power of Habit, Pulitzer Prize–winning business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us to the thrilling edge of scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Distilling vast amounts of information into engrossing narratives that take us from the boardrooms of Procter & Gamble to sidelines of the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work. As Duhigg shows, by harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.

Review:

I picked this up for several reasons:

  1. It was an audiobook and I needed a new audiobook to listen to on my morning commute
  2. That library branch’s selection of audiobooks is pretty extensive but mostly religious
  3. I had a vague feeling that I’d seen it somewhere before and that maybe it was on my to-read list (I checked later, it wasn’t)

But either way, I picked it up and listened to it, and I’m glad I did.

The concept is really fascinating. Charles breaks down habits – how they form, why they form, and how you can change them, looking at psychology and research. And it all made a whole lot of sense.

There are three parts to the book. The first one is on individual habits. This is where Charles lays the foundation for the book – the cue-action-reward sequence that forms habits, how habits can be changed by recognizing cues, changing the action, and getting the same reward, and examples of everything from recovering alcoholics to weight loss to stopping smoking. This part was immensely valuable, completely fascinating, and, best of all, backed up by science (including psychology and neurology).

The second part, on corporate habits, wasn’t quite as good. Sure, it had its interesting facts, but it felt more illustrative than prescriptive – by that point we already know the framework, so it seemed more like it was just using examples to explain how habits work inside companies. Which wasn’t necessarily bad – it just felt like a downgrade after how awesome part one was. Although if I were a business leader, I might find this part more valuable than I did.

The third part, societal habits, is where the book really started to fall apart. It never really explained what a “societal habit” looked like, and with a lot of his examples – like the Montgomery Bus Boycotts – it felt like it was really stretching to make habits the root cause. You don’t learn much that’s useful and there’s not really a good way to apply it to anything.

And as a rather irritating aside, Charles has a habit of jumping between examples – spend a few minutes with this guy, then jump to this lady over here, then this other guy, and now we’re back with the first guy’s story … It all made coherent sense and the transitions weren’t bad, it just got on my nerves because I kept thinking an example was done and nope! We’ll come back in two chapters or so.

Overall, this is an incredibly useful book. Even if you get nothing out of parts 2 and 3, part 1 is valuable enough that it’s still completely worth the read (or listen, in my case). And if you decide to read it and completely skip part 3, I won’t blame you.

Personal Development

Review: Daring Greatly

Cover of "Daring Greatly," featuring a gray background with sideways text that transitions from yellow to green to blue
Image from Brene Brown

Title: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: None

Back Cover:

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena—whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.

Review:

I first heard of Brené Brown at the 2016 Global Leadership Summit, where she did a speech on vulnerability and communication. It was far and away my favorite speech in the whole two-day event. Daring Greatly and another of her books, Rising Strong, were both on sale at the Summit bookstore – I didn’t buy either of them, but I put them both on my reading list. Cut to now, a year later, and I found Daring Greatly as an audiobook that I could listen to on the way to work.

You know those books where the author is talking about something you shouldn’t do and you think, oh, I don’t do that, but then the book keeps smacking you in the face until you realize that you actually do? Yeah, this was one of those books. With several different concepts.

But the good part is, this book doesn’t just smack you with how you’re screwing up – it provides ideas, tips, suggestions, and ways you can practice being better and living more authentically. Which is the second thing I love about this book. It’s so practical. Coming from an academic researcher, you might expect otherwise, but this is no theoretical construct – well, it is, but there’s also practical steps and commitments and ways to apply the theory. (I have a huge Thing about information being practical, so that gave it major points.)

It’s also super encouraging. The whole book is full of hope and “you can do this” and all the ways life is going to be so much better and real awesome when you’re vulnerable.

Brené is open about her struggles with these concepts. She shares her failures, screw-ups, and moments she just plain could have done better. Which makes this book feel a lot more real. Brené isn’t preaching at you, she’s leading you, saying, “I figured this out and here’s how it’s changed my life – here’s how it can change yours, too.” And I think that’s great.

A review really can’t do justice to this book and the hope and advice and vulnerability contained in it. It’s great advice for relationships. It’s great advice for parenting. It’s great advice for leading. It’s great advice for life, really. And as I listened, I realized that one of the reasons my fiance and I have such a great relationship is because we’d unconsciously discovered a lot of these principles.

Seriously, read this book. And maybe buy copies for other people. I know I intend to make my fiance read (or listen to) it at some point.