The Wednesday Recommendation: Dream Save Do

Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers Like You by Betsy and Warren Talbot is exactly what it says. Whatever you want to achieve, you can use this book as a guide to get you there. It’s full of practical advice and examples, with a particular emphasis on funding your dream. Of course, it’s up to you to use the information in the book to work out the details of your action plan — at the very least, you will need to do some research to find out how much your dream will cost — but the Talbots demonstrate how to tackle every aspect of your plan.

Betsy and Warren Talbot decided to take a year off to travel the world. They were persuaded to do this sooner rather than later when two people close to them experienced serious health problems in their mid 30s. They realised that putting off travel until retirement was not a wise choice when they might never reach retirement. So they saved like mad and decided to travel in the year they hit 40. The Talbots did not achieve their goal — they surpassed it, travelling much longer than they had originally planned.

The relentless practical focus of this book is inspiring. You can’t make excuses for not pursuing your dream when you are provided with a plethora of practical advice which tells you what steps you need to take. Sure, you will need to figure out the details of those steps, but the book gives you a template.

The book is realistic and honest too, telling you that it will be hard to turn down things which stand in the way of your dream. You will have to sacrifice a lot in order to achieve your goals, whether that means studying while your friends are socialising or not being able to afford meals out. There will be difficult times as you prepare to achieve your dream — but it is, ultimately, worth the sacrifice.

I love the proactive approach advocated by Dream Save Do. My own situation is very different to the Talbots (they were yuppie types with a big suburban house and no debt), but their advice is universal. Their dream is different to my own, but the route I need to take to get there runs parallel to theirs. The very title of the book reminds you of what needs to happen if you want to be happy and fulfilled: dreaming is not enough on its own. You need to work out how to fund your dream and then go out and live it.

The Wednesday Recommendation: Getting There

Getting There by Gillian Zoe Segal is a book of mentors. I’m lucky enough to have my own mentor, Emylia Hall, thanks to The WoMentoring Project, but I’m not someone who finds it easy to network or to talk to people I admire. I also have anxiety and live in rural East Devon, so I tend not to meet many people within the writing industry. Getting There provides people like me with 30 mentors from a range of fields. You get great advice without exposing yourself to embarrassment!

It’s an inspiring book and I was surprised by how people successful in fields very different to my own often provided the most pertinent advice for me. It highlighted the fact that mentors don’t have to be on the same career path as you — a lot of skills are transferable, so they can be applied to a variety of jobs. The most common thread of advice is that you have to be proactive: you need to be ready to seize opportunities as they arise.

This usually means doing a lot of work with little or no recognition. I find that reassuring, rather than depressing. It means that you can still become an expert in your chosen field if you have spent years working on it without success. It means that hard work pays off in the long-term.

In a world where the media portrays people as either overnight successes or utter failures, Getting There is refreshing. It shows you how you can take control of your future and bounce back from the inevitable setbacks. It offers reassurance and guidance, just like any good mentor.

Wednesday Recommendation: Brené Brown

I was a little sceptical when I bought Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. After years of being a perfectionist, having permission to be myself was something I regarded with suspicion. However, I liked the idea of embracing my imperfections — even if I didn’t think it would work.

I’m glad I put my scepticism aside. Brown not only reminded me that I am human and cannot be perfect, but taught me about the advantages of being imperfect. The book is split into “guideposts” which explain how to cultivate qualities like self-compassion, resilience and creativity. There is a lot to inspire even the most trenchant perfectionist!

Brown is my kind of self-help author: she writes with empathy and openness, but doesn’t slip into sentimentality. She is motivating but realistic. She addresses both the meaty issues and aspects of wellbeing that some people tend to dismiss, like paying attention netion to your intuition.

I plan to read more of Brown’s books, but in the meantime I will keep re-reading The Gifts of Imperfection and try to implement her advice. However, simply reading the book has altered my mindset and made me more forgiving of my failings and imperfections.

See Brené Brown’s website brenebrown.com for more information.

Wednesday Recommendation: Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is best known for her book The Happiness Project, which chronicles the year she spent trying to become happier. She followed it with a similar sequel, Happier At Home, which focuses on how changing your home life could make you happier. I love Rubin’s honest, experimental approach: she reads a lot around the subject of happiness and observes what happens when she tries to apply her findings.

Better Than Before is written in a similar vein, but focuses on how we might change our habits. Rubin identifies 4 types of people in regard to how we approach forming habits, although there is overlap between the types: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners and Rebels. She draws on examples from her own life to suggest how different types should adapt their behaviour to make it more conducive to forming habits.

Rubin blogs about these topics — and many more — at gretchenrubin.com.

As someone with mental health problems, I often get too caught up in blaming everything on mental illness. Rubin’s books have been helpful for helping me to improve certain aspects of my life, i.e. what I can control, instead of ignoring the “little” things out of a misguided belief that they won’t make much difference. The little things count: they might not transform your life overnight, but they are an excellent starting point.

Don’t put off tackling your problems until you have solved your biggest problem. In my own case, I don’t know if I will ever be “cured” or even in remission from my mental illnesses; I could waste my whole life waiting for recovery. Working with my mental health issues can be tricky, but it’s better than doing nothing and staying miserable. I want to earn a living from writing and services/areas related to writing, so I’m going for it. My progress is slow and difficult (I need to overcome my anxiety and do more marketing, for a start), but it’s still progress. I’m further ahead than I would be if I waited to be depression-free, anxiety-free and BPD-free.

 

 

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 7: Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You by Richard O’Connor tackles depression with a skills-based approach. It explains how depression teaches people to develop certain skills, such as procrastination and negative thinking, which perpetuate depression. These skills enhance and reinforce each other, so that the coping mechanisms of a person with depression appear to form a tangled mass. It can be difficult to know where to begin to improve the situation, so the sufferer feels overwhelmed and is often left feeling unable to do anything.

However, O’Connor points out that if these depression-perpetuating skills form a tangled ball of string, it can be picked apart by starting anywhere. The key is to develop skills which improve depression, either challenging the skills which perpetuate depression and/or bypassing them. It doesn’t matter which skills you decide to develop first, as long as you work on at least one of the skills which will help you emerge from the tangled mass.

The skills needed to overcome depression can seem simple and easy, but O’Connor takes into account the difficulty of taking positive action when you are suffering from depression and guides the reader through each of the skills. He is never patronising nor does he obfuscate the information with jargon and theory. Instead, neuroscientific and psychological explanations are used to illuminate the points O’Connor makes and provide practical advice.

A variety of skills are presented in Undoing Depression, including developing willpower, getting in touch with your emotions and making plans. There are skills relating to every aspect of life: thinking, relationships, work, physical health, recreation, etc. and plenty of guidance on how to implement changes in your life. Like depression-perpetuating skills, these depression-combatting skills can reinforce each other. As soon as you start developing a couple of skills, you are creating a network which will help you recover from depression.

However, don’t be fooled – O’Connor acknowledges the difficulties involved in overcoming depression. The book contains a lot of information on medication and different types of therapy, which may be used in conjunction with a skills-based approach. Improvement is emphasised throughout: there are no false promises of overnight recovery. Developing new skills is difficult, there’s no sugar-coating that fact, but it is possible and a necessary proponent of recovering from depression.

As much as I value the practical advice in Undoing Depression, the biggest difference it has made to me, personally, is to my perspective. I can see how many of the thoughts and behaviours associated with depression are both symptoms and causes. I understand the importance of unpicking the habits which contribute to depression. I realise it is vital to be proactive, even if I am only able to take tiny steps.

I have read many books about depression and this has been the most useful by far. It has helped me gain a greater understanding of my mental health in general and depression in particular, as well as offering realistic, practical advice. It has empowered me.

 

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 6: Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is an exploration of the state of flow, which occurs when you are challenged by an activity but feel skilled enough to negotiate the tasks involved without arousing anxiety. Flow is most easily recognised by its characteristic effect: a feeling of timelessness. It’s difficult to describe, but everybody has experienced flow. Think about all the times you have been lost in an activity, unaware of anything else around you except what the activity requires.

A flow state can be achieved while performing a wide variety of activities. Reading and writing are common flow activities for me, but I can also achieve the state while running, doing Sudoku puzzles and drawing. Other people have experienced flow through activities such as gardening, horse riding, wood carving, debating, dancing, knitting, cooking, rock climbing… The list is extensive! The main distinction between flow activities and leisure activities which don’t induce a state of flow is that the former involves a high level of engagement, whereas the latter may be a largely passive experience. For example: when you are watching a film which challenges you intellectually so that you are constantly interpreting the images and sound, you may enter a state of flow. In contrast, if you are watching a film which is enjoyable but not stimulating, you may experience pleasure but you won’t experience flow.

Flow explains the intricacies of the flow state, backed up by Csikszentmihalyi’s research, and provides instruction for cultivating flow. People who experience more flow in their lives are happier. In addition to flow being an enjoyable and satisfying state in itself, flow activities tend to result in achievements and improved skills. The activities which are most conducive to flow tend to be personal passions, which help to create meaning in life. By cultivating flow, you will improve multiple aspects of your life.

Part of the beauty of flow is that it’s nothing new and anyone can achieve a flow state, but Csikszentmihalyi’s book acts as a catalyst. It’s useful for people with mental health problems, especially depression, who have lost their sense of purpose and gain less joy from life than they would like. I first read it during a challenging point in my life and I realised that flow could offer a way out; cultivating flow became part of my treatment plan. Flow activities removed me from the misery I was experiencing and helped me, over a long period of time, find meaning in my life.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 5: Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn is a comprehensive guide to living more mindfully and making space in your life for meditation. It’s great for beginners, but is also valuable for those who are more experienced in mindfulness meditation. It’s simply written, without being condescending or over-explaining. I don’t use the book every time I meditate, but I return to it time after time for inspiration, clarification or guidance.

Mindfulness meditation is about being in the moment, as opposed to thinking about what you need to do or what has already happened. You might be so caught up in your thoughts that you don’t realise you’re doing it, which is why certain thought patterns are hard to stop and breaking them is an essential strategy for achieving good mental health. Mindfulness teaches you to be aware of your thoughts without getting trapped inside of them.

There are a huge variety of meditations and I am yet to try every single one, but those I have tried are all useful and I have several favourites. Wherever You Go is more of a reference book than your typical self-help guide, despite being easy and enjoyable to read. Because it is centred on practising mindfulness meditation, you will often find yourself impelled to stop reading and start meditating – which is no bad thing!

Since I began making an effort to be more mindful, I find it easier to stop letting negative thoughts run amok and control me. I am, in general, calmer and happier. I have also found that mindfulness helps me to employ other strategies to improve my mental health; I benefit more from using the CBT techniques I learnt in counselling and can use self-care skills more effectively. It’s a pretty powerful weapon to have in your arsenal because mindfulness influences every part of your life.

If you are interested in dabbling in mindfulness meditation, this book is an excellent starting point. It will guide you through your first attempts, when it feels impossible to get past the chatter of your mind, and help you to live more mindfully. Mindfulness is a practice: there is no stopping point where you have reached the pinnacle of mindfulness. Wherever You Go is not the kind of book you grow out of or move past – think of it as a lifelong companion in your endeavours.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 4: The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau is a call for revolution. It’s about challenging convention and figuring out what you want from life, not what others expect you to want. It’s about discovering a lifestyle which works for you – whether that means travelling the world or living on an isolated mountaintop, working a few hours a day or making your work your life, spending your time partying or wandering alone. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to look past the limitations put on you by society and live your dream.

Guillebeau is living his dream and uses his experiences to explain and illustrate his points throughout the book, but he also features many other people as case studies or examples. You might not want to follow Guillebeau’s lifestyle of frequent travelling (I don’t) but there is plenty of inspiration for different types of people. The Art of Non Conformity will appeal to anyone who has wondered “why should life be like this?”

It’s refreshing to read a book that encourages you to follow all of your crazy goals. So many lifestyle guides and self-help books take the opposite approach, asking you to reduce your goals – or abandon them – and focus on what’s “realistic” or “achievable”. The problem is, we don’t know what is achievable until we try. Throughout history, people have achieved what was previously believed to be impossible. Many of those things have become banal – I’m typing this post on a laptop that is more powerful than any computer that existed a few decades ago, yet it’s not the best model available (by a long shot) and although it’s purple and I like it, it is not particularly impressive. Some ordinary tasks, like online banking and internet shopping, have only taken off in the past decade. What if the people who originally had these ideas gave up their goals because they seemed unlikely to succeed?

The Art of Non Conformity teaches you to become a trailblazer. It doesn’t matter if your goals are small or weird or unique to you: you can experiment and discover new ways to lead your life. You might have an innovative idea that could change the world, or you might want to work out how you can do as many of your favourite activities for as long as possible. It doesn’t matter – be the trailblazer for your own, personal lifestyle.

It’s early days, but I have been inspired by The Art of Non Conformity and I’m trying to create the life I want. Guillebeau presents a range of advice and I can’t do it justice by summarising everything, but my favourite piece of advice is to write a to-stop-doing list. This is what it sounds like: a lists of tasks which waste your time and sap your energy, getting in the way of you achieving your goals. My list includes “watching TV programmes I wouldn’t bother recording” and “stressing about ‘what-ifs’”. If you would like to change your life and are looking for inspiration and ideas, read The Art of Non Conformity and check out the blog at www.chrisguillebeau.com

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 3: The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky is a practical guide full of scientific evidence – the strategies outlined in the book have all been proven to make people happier. Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor working in the field of positive psychology. The How of Happiness draws on her own research, as well as that of others, to explain the current science behind happiness and how you can use this knowledge to improve your own happiness.

The book focuses on how you can find ways to be happier which fit your own personality, needs, situation, values, etc. It helps you choose the strategies which will work best for you. There is also The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, which you can use to track your progress. In short, The How of Happiness provides you with the tools to help yourself and become happier.

And it works. I have seen the proof in my own questionnaire records and everything is backed up with rigorous psychological research. Everyone can find at least a few strategies which will work for them – you can do this by filling out the Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic included in the book. There is also an appendix which suggests further activities to try if you benefitted from a particular strategy. Everything is geared towards you taking action to improve your happiness.

The strategies include expressing gratitude for the good things in your life (which we all have, even during the darkest times), cultivate optimism and committing to your goals, all of which I personally find helpful. Other strategies are nurturing social relationships, practising acts of kindness, avoiding overthinking and social comparison, taking care of your body, practising religion and spirituality, learning to forgive… You can experiment to find which tactics work best for increasing your happiness. You might choose to adopt two or three and leave it there, or you could keep adding new strategies as the old ones become habits.

The book’s style is informative without being dry or obscure. I enjoyed reading it, because Lyubomirsky presents a wealth of information without being condescending. She illustrates her points with real life examples and her tone is encouraging. Every strategy is explained and includes practical advice on fitting it into your lifestyle. Whether you want to overhaul your life or would just like to make a few tweaks in order to be happier, The How of Happiness is an excellent starting point.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Reads to Rewrite Your Life 2: Quiet – Susan Cain

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain is a book which celebrates people who are often ignored by society. Those of us who will happily chatter away to friends but clam up when trying to make small talk with a stranger. Those of us who will never be described as the life and soul of a party. Those of us who get shoved aside by people with louder voices. Cain points out that whereas extroverts are lauded, the advantages wielded by introverts are disregarded – and it’s time that changed.

Cain uses scientific experiments, case studies and her own experiences to illustrate the strengths and opportunities of introversion. She discusses how Steve Wozniak and Warren Buffett found success because of their introvert nature, not in spite of it. She compares extroverted cultures, like Harvard Business School, with introverted cultures, such as the majority of Asian communities. She includes a lot of information on how extroverts and introverts can relate to each other without conflict. In short, Quiet is a fascinating and incredibly helpful study of introverts.

Quiet separates introversion from traits which get mixed up with it: many introverts are shy, for example, but shyness is not an indicator of introversion. Introverts gain energy from being alone and feel drained by highly social situations. They tend to feel over-stimulated in noisy, crowded environments. They are accused of being “in their head” too much – though Cain points out that this is simply called being a thinker. Because introverts find it difficult to express themselves in groups, they are often accused of being slow, stupid and lazy, or are overlooked.

Knowing your tendencies as an introvert is valuable. Cain provides advice on how you can play to your strengths and work (or socialise) more effectively. She considers how different environments impact introverts and how these environments might be adapted. She teaches us how to compromise and when to change our behaviour to advocate for something we believe in. She describes how the internet presents new opportunities for introverts, allowing us to communicate to a lot of people without having to shout over the crowd.

After a lifetime of being told to be more extroverted, Quiet is refreshing and empowering. It reminds us that introverts are valuable members of society and can contribute a great deal to the world. Cain also gives plenty of guidance on how to be an introvert in a world which often seems to have been designed for extroverts. If you are an introvert yourself or have close friends or family members (especially children) who are introverts, I would consider this book essential reading.

 

About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor