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.

Environment and Relationships

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The cover of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," featuring red text on a background of a blue sky with clouds
Image from Marie Kondo

Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Author: Marie Kondo

Genre: Self-Help/Environment and Relationships

Trigger warnings: None

Back Cover:

Japanese organizational consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly declutter your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Whereas most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, the KonMari Method’s category-by-category, all-at-once prescription leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have been repeat customers (and she still has a three-month waiting list of new customers!). With detailed guidance for every type of item in the household, this quirky little manual from Japan’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help readers clear their clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home–and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

Review:

I’ve heard a lot about this book in organizing circles – a lot of people recommend the KonMari Method for organizing, there are a lot of articles on using the KonMari method on closets/kitchens/etc., and in general it’s had a pretty high profile. And since I actually really enjoy cleaning and organizing (odd, I know), when I found this as an audiobook at the library, I snatched it up to listen to on my commute.

If I had to pick one word for this book, it would be: Inspiring.

Admittedly, I love organizing anyway. But something about the way Marie Kondo laid out the method she developed was inspiring. She detailed her experience with organizing, all the mistakes she made and the good ideas she found, and how she developed her method. She also gave a lot of examples from clients she’s worked with and how her method has helped them. So the KonMari method has a very practical foundation.

But it was really the method itself that was the most fascinating. Mainly because it’s so simple. The entire premise is “keep things that bring you joy, discard things that don’t.” There’s some more to it, and Ms. Kondo goes into a lot of detail and explains specifically how it should be done – including what order you should go through your things in – but she promises that even if you’re the laziest person in the world, none of her clients have ever recluttered their house and you won’t either.

There was one weird part about this book, though – the personification of things and places. Ms. Kondo focuses a lot on how sad and dejected unused items feel, how thanking items for their use makes them happier and therefore last longer, methods for helping your items rest and relax … basically treating them like people. She also talks a lot about how your house knows how much stuff should be in it and each item knows how it should be stored. Maybe that’s a Japanese thing, but as a westerner, I found it cool, but a little odd.

The main result of listening to this book for me was that I wanted to go home immediately and organize everything – and if 95% of my stuff wasn’t in boxes right now, I would have. (As it is, my epic organizing binge will have to wait until the plumbing in our new house is fixed and we can move in and get everything out of boxes.) I honestly plan on buying this book just so I can read through it a couple more times – the information in it is so useful, interesting, and inspiring. It’s definitely worth all the hype I’ve been seeing!

Current Issues/Society

Review: The Tipping Point

The cover of "The Tipping Point," featuring dark green text on a light tan background
Image from Malcolm Gladwell

Title: The Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Current Issues/Society

Trigger warnings: Mentions of murder/death

Back Cover:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.

Review:

Confession time: I “read” this as an audiobook. Actually the first audiobook I’ve listened to since Stuart Little in third grade. So my experience with this book (and how much I retained from it) is a little different than if I’d have read it as a traditional book. I picked it up, though, precisely because it was an audiobook, as my morning commute has gone from 10 minutes to 40 minutes and I decided to try to maximize my driving time. I also picked it up because I have several Malcolm Gladwell books on my reading list, and I honestly didn’t even read the back cover.

This book was definitely interesting. Gladwell presents a framework that explains how all trends, from fashion to products to crime rates, happen and why. He also explains the role of different kinds of people (who he calls “Mavens,” “Salesmen,” and “Connectors”) in starting and influencing trends. All in all, it made for a fascinating theory.

The main drawback is that it seems like just theory. The book was more illustrative than prescriptive – it gave a lot of examples of how things from crime to shoes fits into his framework, but it doesn’t actually give any practical advice on how to use that framework. There’s nothing that tells you specifically how to start a trend, influence a trend, plot the course of a current trend, or predict what’s going to be the next trend. It’s more about fitting what’s happened in the past into his framework than anything – which is interesting, but I’m all about practical application.

Overall, this was a good book. It was interesting, and the concept of the tipping point makes a lot of sense. But even though it was interesting, I didn’t find it useful, and that’s a big strike against it in my book.

Finance/Money

Review: The Total Money Makeover

A picture of the The Total Money Makeover book cover, featuring a smiling Dave Ramsey holding a pair of scissors in the middle of cutting a credit card.
Image from Dave Ramsey

Title: The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

Author: Dave Ramsey

Genre: Finance/Money

Trigger warnings: Fatphobia, ableism

Back Cover:

Okay, folks, do you want to turn those fat and flabby expenses into a well-toned budget? Do you want to transform your sad and skinny little bank account into a bulked-up cash machine? Then get with the program, people. There’s one sure way to whip your finances into shape, and that’s with The Total Money Makeover.

By now, you’ve heard all the nutty get-rich-quick schemes, the fiscal diet fads that leave you with a lot of kooky ideas but not a penny in your pocket. Hey, if you’re tired of the lies and sick of the false promises, then take a look at this – it’s the simplest, most straightforward game plan for completely making over your money habits. And it’s based on results, not pie-in-the-sky fantasies.

With The Total Money Makeover, you’ll be able to:

  • Design a surefire plan for paying off all debt – cars, houses, everything
  • Recognize the 10 most dangerous money myths (these will kill you)
  • Secure a big, fat nest egg for emergencies and retirement!

Where Financial Peace gave you the solid saving and investing principles, this book puts those principles into practice. You’ll be exercising your financial strength every day and quickly freeing yourself of worry, stress, and debt – and that’s a beautiful feeling.

Review:

I got this book as a graduation gift … for my high school graduation. It’s technically a reread, but since it’s been over three years since I last read it, I remember very little. (Of the book itself, at least – my parents are huge Dave Ramsey fans so I’ve been through several of his classes and know all the principles.) I’m honestly not sure why I picked it up again, but it’s pretty engaging and didn’t take me too long to get through.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey and his financial principles, this book is a reasonably good introduction (even though I think it’s a sequel-ish thing to his book Financial Peace). This book goes over Dave’s “Baby Steps” to financial security, financial myths that are holding you back, good (and bad) examples of finance management, and even testimonies from people who’ve gone through his program and fixed their financial problems.

Overall, it’s a good book. Not great, just good. It’s inspiring and it teaches good principles and solid money management skills. But it does have some MAJOR problems.

In case you didn’t get the picture from the back cover, the entire book uses the “fat vs. fit” metaphor to talk about budgets. MAJOR fatphobia. Bad budgeting/debt/spending more than you make is bad/wrong/negative/stupid … and fat. Good budgeting/saving/investing, on the other hand, gets words like “important,” “excellent,” “fit,” and “lean.” I honestly didn’t notice this when I read it the first time, but now that I’m more aware of fatphobia, it bothered me a lot.

There’s also a bit of subtle ableism going on (or subtle to me as a mostly able-bodied person – if you’re disabled you may find it a lot more obvious). The book is written for people who are working full-time at a non-minimum wage job. And one piece of advice he gives in the “pay off debt fast” section is get a second job (or a third or fourth) to make more money and pay it off faster.

Dave also has a very matter-of-fact way of speaking. In most cases, this isn’t bad – I honestly like how he puts everything in simple English and doesn’t over-complicate anything. The whole book is a remarkably low reading level. However, sometimes his style gets a little too blunt, I think, especially the way he calls financial decisions he doesn’t agree with “stupid.” That’s just a personal pet peeve, though.

If you take a critical look at the salesy part of the book, it actually sounds kinda like a scam. “This way is the ONLY way to do it and it works every time, if it fails it’s because you weren’t intense enough!” is the basic message. Which sounds really like a scam. The only thing I have to say about this is I’ve seen it work for a lot of people. So sometimes it works. I don’t know how necessarily foolproof it is, though.

This book definitely has some huge problems. (For that matter, this is pretty indicative of Dave Ramsey’s stuff in general – it all has similar problems.) But his principles are solid, and if you can look past his “my way or be in debt forever!” preachiness, the fatphobia, and other issues, it’s a pretty inspiring book. And if you want to get your finances under control or figure out how to pay off a lot of debt, it’s worth a read. (Although if you’re disabled in any way it might not be so useful.)

Women's Issues/Feminism

Review: Kick Ass Red Lipstick

All right, first post on the “new and improved” Jalyn Reads! 🙂 

Book cover: "Kick Ass Red Lipstick" in red on a black background; underneath that "Rebel Women Unite" in white
Image from Amazon

Title: Kick Ass Red Lipstick: Rebel Women Unite

Author: Cat Cantrill

Genre: Women’s Issues/Feminism

Trigger warnings: Domestic abuse

Back Cover:

What you thought you knew about yourself was wrong, so very, very wrong…

Our world is ready to explode with a the help of this one thing. We have chapters forming all over the country and world. The author went from a trailer park with two kids to the owner of her own burlesque studio.

Women are given the opportunity to make a real difference

You do not have to settle. You do not have to accept someone treating you poorly. If your husband or boyfriend/girlfriend is a jerk, leave them.

I give you permission to stand up for yourself and do some housekeeping. We, as Kick Ass Red Lipstick, will stand behind you and support you, lipstick ready when you decide that nobody can tell you not to wear lipstick.

There is some adult language in this book. Are you woman enough to deal with that?

Review:

I found this book laying on my boyfriend’s sister’s coffee table over spring break. Any female empowerment message is attractive to me, so I picked it up – and blitzed through it in about 45 minutes, it’s not long.

Overall, the message is good. It’s pretty simple:

  • You don’t have to settle for bad, or even “meh”
  • Follow your passions
  • Take care of yourself – as a priority, not an afterthought

Which is really a message I can get behind, especially since that last point is something I’ve really been getting lately and it’s done wonders for my physical and emotional health.

But anyway.

The only thing that keeps me from giving this book my wholehearted seal of approval is Cat’s approach to empowerment. The book is 50% empowerment and 50% “here’s how you do it, my way is the only way.”

Her biggest thing was the lipstick. Doesn’t matter if you don’t wear makeup at all ever, doesn’t matter if you loathe lipstick with a white-hot passion, you HAVE TO BUY THE LIPSTICK and you HAVE TO WEAR THE LIPSTICK if you’re going to be an empowered woman. Which annoyed me. First of all, part of your message is being true to yourself and if I hate lipstick, forcing me to wear it is the exact opposite of what you’re telling me to do. Secondly, wearing lipstick will have exactly zero effect on anything you’re telling me to do in this book.

*sigh* Okay, rant over.

But besides that, it was a really great book, and it makes a lot of awesome and important points. And if you’re new to the whole empowered woman thing, it’s a good starting point. Just know that Cat’s way is not the only way, no matter how much she thinks it is.