My Favorite Books in 2018

Happy New Year!

Reading continues to be one of my passions, right up there with cycling, so I am excited to share my annual blog post listing the best books I read during the year.

“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” –John Locke

As usual, these are the books that I rated four or five stars on Goodreads during 2018. They are in alphabetical order by category.

Biography

 The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, by Michael Finkel—I found this account of Christopher Knight’s solitary, 27-year stay deep in the Maine woods fascinating. Knight simply chose to vanish into the woods at age 20. He stayed there for 27 years, until his arrest for burglary. He relied on breaking into unoccupied cabins for his food and supplies. While I wouldn’t choose a path that entirely alienated me from society, required sleeping in dangerously cold conditions or necessitated theft for survival, I could relate to his desire for solitude. That aspect certainly holds an appeal for me and left me craving more solitude in my own life.

Health


The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You
, by Sylvia Tara—Tara presents fascinating biochemical information about fat. I learned a great deal. For instance, I had no idea that body fat is now considered an organ. She presented information about the individual nature of fat from one person to another, depending on a range of factors, including genetics, gender, age, microbiome and exposure to viruses. I did find Tara’s description, toward the end of the book, of her own strategy for keeping her weight manageable to be rather extreme, but she presents it as her own commitment, not as a prescription for anyone else. All in all, this was a very interesting and educational book.

Memoir

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls—I loved this book! I read it as part of the WSU Reads book selection committee, and I am always a little apprehensive when someone else “chooses” a book for me because reading is such an important part of my life and such a treasured escape. This one fully met my needs. Walls’ captivating narrative of her unbelievable childhood in a family with an alcoholic father and unmotivated mother contains so many lessons and could be an excellent selection for college students. It is a reminder that we have no idea what challenges and hardships other people are facing. Much like Ruth Wariner in The Sound of Gravel, Walls included her siblings in her escape plan. Despite the incredible disadvantages she faced as a child, she became a successful journalist and author. Great book!

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance—I read this book for the WSU Reads Book Selection committee and wasn’t too excited about it, but it turned out to be great. Using a combination of sociological analysis, storytelling and personal reflection, Vance illuminates the struggles of the Appalachian and Rust Belt poor. His deep love for his family—especially his grandparents—is obvious, and so is his honest acknowledgement of the personal responsibility the people in these regions must accept for their circumstances. He recognizes the complexity of the relationship between circumstances and personal choice. Although telling his story from “the other side,” as a lawyer, he clearly still identifies as a hillbilly. He tells his story with courage.


Rusch to Glory: Making the Journey from Ordinary to Extraordinary
, by Rebecca Rusch–Rebecca Rusch is a woman of remarkable athletic achievement. In her memoir of her long professional athletic career, which encompasses rock climbing, paddling, adventure racing and mountain biking, Rusch shares the lessons and wisdom endurance sports have taught her. Despite her incredible record of success, she comes across as relatable and humble. She is a multi-year winner of the Dirty Kanza. Although I am a road cyclist and haven’t ridden that, it was cool to see a home-state event described in her book.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, by Tyler Hamilton—This book grew on me as I read it. At first, I thought it was going to be interesting, but not great. By the time I got several chapters into it, however, I really liked it. Tyler Hamilton and his co-author, David Coyle, provide the most detailed account of doping in professional cycling that I have ever read. Tyler fully admits to his own role in the problem, while he shares his personal experience on Lance Armstrong’s team and, later, as Lance Armstrong’s enemy, when Tyler told the truth.

She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Boylan—This is the courageous story of how James Boylan became Jennifer Boylan. From the time he was a small child, Jim identified as female. Jenny Boylan shares the story of her personal struggle, her transgender journey and her family’s love.


Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward
, by Elizabeth Ford—Touching memoir of Ford’s devotion to the most unwanted psychiatric patients in NYC—those incarcerated in the NYC jail system, before sentencing. Ford sees them as humans, when many do not.

The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner—Ruth Wariner tells her amazing story of growing up in a polygamist cult. It is both tragic and hopeful and demonstrates the tremendous courage that was necessary for Wariner to escape the clutches of the cult and her abusive stepfather and to save her younger siblings. Hers is a powerful story that needs to be told.

Straight Pepper Diet: A Memoir, by Joseph W. Naus—Excellent memoir of Naus’ childhood, alcohol and sex addictions and incarceration. He is honest and shares what he learned. It was both informative and intimidating.

Surfacing: From the Depths of Self-Doubt to Winning Big and Living Fearlessly, by Siri Lindley—I found a lot of great quotes—inspirational nuggets of wisdom—in this book. Beyond simply sharing her fascinating story of her neglectful childhood and her discovery of triathlon, Lindley bravely tells her story of self-discovery and acceptance of all parts of herself, including her sexual orientation. Her book is a pretty quick read and left me with some nice motivation.

Performance


The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
, by David Epstein—This fascinating book taught me quite a bit I didn’t know about genetics, in general, but especially about the influence of genetics on athletic performance. Epstein does an excellent job of sorting out and explaining the relative contributions of nature and nurture in athletic performance. It was captivating from beginning to end, and I have shared it with my son to read because of his growing interest in running and his endurance background and exposure through our family. There is much to learn within these pages about individual athletes, cultures and ourselves.

Personal Development

Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?: The #100HappyDays Challenge, by Dimitry Golubnichy—I read this book because I enjoyed the online challenge so much and was preparing to implement the challenge again in my Facebook group. The book is a very quick, easy read, if you read it straight through. It contains lots of simple, useful happiness-building strategies. Light and pleasant.

Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, by Patty Chang Anker—I needed this book because I was struggling with my concern that I was being held back and limited by fear. I was feeling fear in areas of my life where I have not previously and/or to a degree much greater than in the past. Patty shares her own fears and her journey to overcome them. One of the things I liked the best about this book was that Patty did a lot of research and used other people’s ideas to help convey her message. I learned from them, as well as from Patty.


Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
, by Carmine Gallo—This is an excellent guide to delivering powerful presentations, whether on major stages, like TED, or in smaller, more intimate settings. Gallo has researched extensively the methods used by the best, most popular, most effective TED presenters. He shares their strategies here, in a way that is engaging, memorable and useful.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, by Chris J. Anderson—This is another really good book about giving talks that make an impact. Many of the same examples of excellent speeches were given in this book as were given in Talk Like TED. I guess that is because they are truly exemplary presentations. This book gives different details, however, about crafting your presentation. It is not conflicting information, just focusing on different aspects of great talks. Both books were useful, and this one is written by the current owner of TED, which adds an interesting twist.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, by Kelly McGonigal—This is a potentially life-changing book for me. McGonigal presents a “mindset intervention” aimed at helping the reader rethink stress—which it did for me. I admit that I was a hard sell, and I still need to process some of the ideas she explains. However, she was convincing, and I have come to view stress differently. I think the most powerful idea for me was this: “A meaningful life is a stressful life.” I realized that she is correct. Almost everything that has meaning in life is also a source of stress, on some level. I have begun talking myself through stressful situations by noticing the benefits of my body’s physiological stress response. The book was full of a lot of great research, including studies showing that it is how stress is viewed, rather than stress itself, that creates health risks. I think this is a book that will affect me for a long time, in a lot of different ways.

Wait, What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions, by James E. Ryan—This short book carries some good advice and interesting ideas for introspection. It is not so much the specific questions Ryan suggests, but the ideas he shares around those questions, that inspired reflection.

You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, by Jen Sincero—I can’t even remember how or why, but I got this book as a free audiobook. Typically, I do not listen to books, but it felt like a particular gift to listen to this one, read by the author. I started the book and then stopped listening for several months. I started again after I made a firm and clear decision that I was on the right path with my coaching practice. This time, it was exactly what I needed to hear. The book is amazing! The author delivers her message with humor and passion and convincing, no-nonsense firmness. I was disappointed when it was finished. I felt lonely for her voice and the inspiration in her words. Read this book when you are ready to take big steps forward in your life.

You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth, by Jen Sincero—I just LOVE Jen Sincero. This was another terrific book. I liked the first one so much as an audio book, that I got this one as an audio book, too. Her description of her time house-, horse- and goat-sitting while writing the book made me laugh so hard, and her message is consistently inspirational, encouraging and motivating, while hilariously delivered. I will listen to this and her other book again and again.

Productivity


Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine
, by Michael Michalowicz—I learned about this book in the Wellness Business Podcast, and I felt like the presenter was speaking to me. I’ll be honest. I don’t fully understand why, but money scares me. The financial aspect of my coaching business was causing me great anxiety and befuddlement. I ordered this book on Kindle as soon as I learned about it. Again, being honest, I have made some modifications in the system (which Michalowicz recommends against), but just the part that I have implemented so far has greatly alleviated my stress and increased my confidence around managing my business finances.


The Prosperous Coach: Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients
, by Steve Chandler & Rich Litvin—There is so much to consider in this book, so many areas to examine how I can implement their ideas. In one of my business mentorship groups, there has been a lot of discussion and excitement about Rich Litvin’s work. After watching some of his videos, this book quickly rose to the top of my to-read list. I was surprised at how difficult it was to obtain a copy. It doesn’t seem to be available for Kindle, and the paperback and hardback versions are quite pricey. I listened to the audio book, which was a great way to get exposed to their concepts quickly. I really enjoyed that, but I want a reference copy, so I ordered one through interlibrary loan and ultimately purchased a paperback copy. Chandler and Litvn teach building a coaching practice through referral and invitation only. It is an interesting concept that appeals to me.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg—In this excellent book, Charles Duhigg put to good use his experience as a journalist for the New York Times to uncover fascinating stories and situations that illustrate his research findings on the science of productivity. The thing that most impressed me was the level of originality in the ideas and recommendations in this book. He drew on research from gerontology, aviation and education, among other areas. It made for interesting reading and thought-provoking inspiration.

Social Justice

The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler—For many years I have heard about the performance of the Monologues, but I had never seen it. I decided that the 20th Anniversary book a good opportunity to read them. I felt like I was carried back to my days as a Women’s Studies minor as an undergrad. The Monologues themselves are powerful, but what impressed me most is how they have become a social movement, embodied in several forms. A great deal of money has been raised through the movement, funding a wide variety of efforts to protect women  from victims of sexual and physical violence and to help women worldwide who have been victimized.

 Work-Life Fit

Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, by Anne-Marie Slaughter—This is a very well-written book that addresses the important issue of work-life fit, specifically the need for the US to give equal value to caregiving and making money, for both women and men. Slaughter draws on her personal experience making the decision to step down as Director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State to return home to Princeton to spend more time with her teenage sons, as well as her expertise in public policy, to draw a complete picture—from personal to policy—of how this value might be more equally distributed.

Decisions, Decisions

I recently had a decision to make—one that would influence an even bigger decision in my life.

The state of limbo that an unmade decision creates can be utterly grueling, at least for me. I like clarity and resolution. Those things feel neat and tidy. They feel like freedom to me. Unmade decisions feel heavy.

I had already been stewing in a murky soup of fear and doubt. Then, this new sub-decision presented itself. It was painful. For days, I felt burdened, even depressed, thinking that one direction represented sensible prudence, while the other represented impossibility and irresponsibility. It seemed like the smart thing to do was err on the side of prudence. But, the thought of going that direction made me sad.

I have referred in other posts to the value I place on the quotes I have collected since 2001. I flip randomly several times each day to various quotes and find those that speak to me in the moment. I reflect on them, especially when I am in situations when I can think, like riding my bike, taking a shower, driving, etc.

In the midst of the heaviness of this new decision, as well as what it might mean for the bigger picture of my life, I flipped to one of my more recently recorded quotes. It is more practical and straightforward, and less inspirational, than many of my quotes. It was just what I needed, though.

Eric Johnson was quoted in Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity as saying, “One of the best ways to help people cast experience in a new light is to provide a formal decision-making system—such as a flowchart, a prescribed series of questions, or the engineering design process—that denies our brains the easy options we crave.”

Flipping to this quote reminded me of what I had learned in that book, so I Googled “Engineering Design Process Charles Duhigg” (author of Smarter Faster Better) and found this article.

I took the few minutes I had that morning before I needed to leave for work to start journaling through the steps. Then, still feeling laden with the unfinished business of making the decision, I got on my bike after work with the intention of completing the steps in my head.

I found the “Debate Approaches” step to be most useful on my bike. I framed my sub-decision within the context of my bigger decision and imagined three viable scenarios for my future. Then, I put each to the test against my values, purpose, personal and professional missions and the vision I want for my future. By the time I finished my bike ride, I felt lighter—as though the murkiness and heaviness around me was starting to clear.

Feeling encouraged by the insight I had gleaned from my inner work the previous evening, I approached my mindfulness practice after my workout the next morning with hope and set the intention that the right decision would be clear to me. As I was gathering my things from my small home gym and preparing to head back upstairs after completing my mindfulness practice, I literally had a moment of illumination. The weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I felt what I had so long been seeking—CLARITY!

The shift in my mood and my outlook was immediate. I knew the right decision, and I immediately released the “prudent,” but soul-sucking choice. Not only that, but I knew my next step!

What was amazing is that almost right away an opportunity presented itself that supported the decision I had made.

Then, I remembered an audio book (more on this in a future post) that I had somehow gotten for free. (I don’t remember why now.) I had listened to a little bit of it a few months ago, but then I didn’t feel motivated to continue—until this burden of indecision had been lifted. So, I started listening again, and fireworks (the kind that are just in my head and don’t make noise that scares animals) went off.

This is exactly what I need to hear!

Finding clarity around this big decision has been liberating and empowering. I am making real progress toward manifesting my vision, and I am finding that the Universe is supporting me. I know this is right, and I am so grateful for feeling that clarity.

I know that it will be important to keep nourishing this momentum of clarity and enthusiasm. Life can easily get in the way and threaten my determination, but this feels so good, and the support I am receiving from the Universe feels so real, that I am committed to following through with this vision.

If you find yourself stuck in murky indecision, I recommend trying the engineering design process. (The diagram I used is only one of MANY available with a quick Google search, so if it doesn’t speak to you, find one that does.) Although I write in my journal daily and am a huge proponent of doing so, it was freeing my mind, on my bike and in my mindfulness practice, that ultimately felt most productive for me. When you “debate approaches,” I encourage you to consider your values and what is most important to you. I did this through systematically running each option through the test in my head, against what I have defined as my values, purpose, missions and vision. Doing so brought the right decision into clear view. This clarity is further supported by the signs I have since received (and continue to receive!) from the Universe.

I hope this process will be as beneficial for you as it has been for me.

The Best Books I Read in 2017

It has been a long time since my last post. During 2017, most of my focus was on achieving my health coaching certification. I accomplished that goal last week and will be sharing more about my coaching journey in future posts. One of my key priorities for 2018 is to blog much more consistently. I am kicking off my 2018 blogging with my annual list of the best books I read—those I rated four or five stars in Goodreads—during the previous year.

Alphabetically, within category, here are my favorites from 2017:

Business

  • Main Street Entrepreneur: Build Your Dream Company Doing What You Love Where You Live, Michael Glauser—I really enjoyed this combination of memoir and business manual. In 2014, cyclist and business professor Michael Glauser biked across the United States, interviewing 100 small-town entrepreneurs along the way. In this engaging and informative book, he distills their wisdom and lessons into nine key principles for building an entrepreneurial business.

Health

  • Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders—Enders does an amazing job of explaining in an interesting, entertaining and accessible way how our gastrointestinal health influences our overall health. She takes a broad and complicated topic and, with a sense of humor and a knack for appropriate simplification, makes it easy to understand. I consider this a real talent, for both a writer and a scientist.
  • Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, by Adam Alter— As the mother of a 13 year old, I found this book both enlightening and alarming. Alter makes a compelling argument about the addictive risks of technology in our modern world.
  • Miracle Mindset: A Mother, Her Son, and Life’s Hardest Lessons, by JJ Virgin—This is an incredible story of an amazing recovery pushed by a mom who was committed to never giving up on her son after a horrific accident. JJ Virgin is well connected in the alternative health community and drew upon those resources to give her son every possible chance. She shares her lessons about the importance of mindset in overcoming intimidating odds and surviving terrifying traumas and stressors.
  • N of 1: One Man’s Harvard-Documented Remission of Incurable Cancer Using Only Natural Methods, Glenn Sabin—Sabin emphasizes the role of nutrition and explains the personalized supplementation regimen that helped him achieve long-term remission from incurable leukemia. Although he was clear that his story was not prescriptive, it was inspirational and thought provoking.
  • Proteinaholic: How Our Obsession with Meat Is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It, by Garth Davis—Bariatric surgeon Garth Davis delivers a meticulously researched explanation of the array of health problems associated with the of the overconsumption of animal protein in the US. He also shares his personal journey from sickly meat eater to vibrant, plant-based athlete. What he learned in his research has completely transformed his life and practice.

History

  • Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness, by JC Hatch—Although I am not a CrossFitter and, after reading this, don’t really think it is the fitness discipline for me, I was intrigued by this part-history/part-memoir, and I learned a lot about the CrossFit culture.
  • The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore—This is a well-researched historical account of women whose story deserves to be told. Young girls and women were recruited by corporations to highlight watches and military dials with radium-laced paint during the 1910’s and 1920’s. The dangers of their work were hidden (even from the women themselves) by their companies, and the painters endured horrendous suffering, disfigurement and death. Moore honors the women who rose from their suffering to fight for justice and legal protection for workers.

Memoir/Biography

  • Chancers: Addiction, Prison, Recovery, Love: One Couple’s Memoir, by Susan Stellin & Graham McIndoe—Jointly written by a couple, this book has a unique and conversational tone. Their story is powerful and must have taken a lot of courage to share. It provides insights into prison life, immigration issues, addiction and love.
  • Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, by Dan Lyons—This memoir of a man in his 50’s attempting to move from a career as a well-respected journalist to a marketer in tech start-up HubSpot was absolutely fascinating, highly entertaining and also really scary.
  • Forward: A Memoir, by Abby Wambach—Wambach tells the story of her soccer career and the rest of her life with engaging detail. She shares honestly and openly about her struggles to love herself, accept her sexual orientation and feel worthy in the world.
  • Girl in the Woods: A Memoir, by Aspen Matis—This was a powerful book that I thought about during the day when I couldn’t read it and was sad to finish. Matis’ vivid storytelling of her epic journey on the Pacific Crest Trail after being raped her second day of college affected me deeply. Her brave effort to become the author of her own life revealed additional layers of complication that were both fascinating and remarkable.
  • Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan—I liked this book from the beginning, but it grew on me more and more as I read. Corrigan recalls the five months she spent working as a nanny for a family in Australia, after the children’s mother had died of cancer. The experience causes her to reconsider her relationship with her own mother, and she tells the captivating story of her nanny experience, while sharing personal reflections of her own maternal connection.
  • Hard Time: Life with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in America’s Toughest Jail, by Shaun Attwood—This book was more memoir than I expected, but that is what made it so interesting to read. I anticipated an exposé of Joe Arpaio, rather than a fascinating story about Attwood’s own experience with imprisonment under his reign. I thoroughly enjoyed the book as it was, and I did learn about the conditions in the jail.
  • If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission, by Jo Piazza—I loved this book. Piazza tells the fascinating stories of 10 nuns who are doing great things in the world—from combating human trafficking to working for nuclear disarmament. Piazza’s vivid descriptions of the women recalled for me fond memories of the Catholic sisters who have played important roles in my life, both in school and in my nonprofit work.
  • In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White—A unique twist on a prison memoir, this book tells the fascinating story of White’s stay at a prison that was also the last leprosy colony in the US—in the 1990’s! His story was gripping, moving and utterly surprising.
  • Inferno: A Doctor’s Ebola Story, by Steven Hatch—This is a great account of Hatch’s tenure as a volunteer physician during the 2014 Ebola crisis in Liberia. He does a great job of providing both factual and personal narratives of the epidemic.
  • Lucky, by Alice Sebold—This is Sebold’s courageous account of the terrifying rape and beating she endured as a college freshman in 1981. She details the brutal attack and the ensuing legal and medical experiences, but she also reveals the deeper internal and interpersonal repercussions of rape among women and between racial groups, when the victim and perpetrator are from dissimilar backgrounds. She acknowledges that some women may make different, yet valid, choices than she about how to handle and cope with a rape.

Personal Development/Coaching

  • Designing Your Life: Build a Life That Works for You, by William Burnett & Dave Evans—This is an outstanding guide for people of any age who want to live an authentic life doing work that is exciting and meaningful to them. Based on a very popular course at Stanford, the authors, who are both engineers, apply design theory to life design. There are excellent and unique suggestions for finding and creating one’s own path. It is one of the best career books I have ever read. I have recommended it to many of the students I advise.
  • Healthy Brain, Happy Life, by Wendy Suzuki—This excellent book combines Suzuki’s personal growth journey with solid neuroscience to explain why exercise, intention and meditation make clear and important changes to our lives and our brains. There are a lot of useful suggestions that anyone can implement to improve their own lives.
  • Living with Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace, and Joy, by Mallika Chopra—Written by Deepak Chopra’s daughter Mallika, this book provides an accessible and practical guide to incorporate more conscious living into busy, modern lives. She does it in a way that combines memoir with advice, making the book an engaging read.
  • Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg & Steve MagnessThis book details several key practices for improving performance and satisfaction across the whole spectrum of our lives. Stulberg & Magness offer useful information and clear instruction for implementing their suggestions. I particularly like their discussion of purpose, and I appreciate the science they include in support of their suggestions.
  • The Power of Moments: Why Certain Moments Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip & Dan Heath—So many good ideas in this book! The Heath brothers give practical steps for creating impact in daily life. They present a great deal of data in support of their recommendations for making mundane moments meaningful, enhancing any relationship and doing purposeful work.

True Crime

  • Closing Time: The True Story of the “Goodbar” Murder, by Lacey Fosburgh— This book, written in 1977 about a 1973 murder, compassionately explores the lives of both the victim and the murderer.
  • Doc: The Rape of the Town of Lovell, by Jack Olsen –This is the unsettling true story of a small-town doctor who used his position of power to rape generations of women in a conservative, religious community. It is a well-written, emotional account of terrible crimes and vicious supporters.

My Favorite Books in 2016

Once again, reading was a rewarding and enriching aspect of my year. I am excited to share my second annual list, roughly, by the order in which I read the books listed in each genre, of my favorite books from a year of reading.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and it was interesting to note how many of the books I most enjoyed in 2016 came from that category. A number of them were about epic journeys of one type of another. I love the idea of a quest for personal growth and soul searching. Many of my bike rides become those in miniature for me. Vicariously, I learn and grow from the memoirists’ quests, and they inspire me to explore the idea of setting out on adventures of my own, whether geographic or metaphorical in nature.

These are the books that I gave four or five stars in Goodreads during 2016.

Business

Health

History

Memoir/Biography

Nutrition/Cooking

 

Personal/Professional Development

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number, by Chris Hogan—I felt motivated to take action toward improving my financial future after reading this book. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on everything that I planned at that time, but I do intend to refer back to this competent guide.
  • What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey—I just love Oprah, and this collection of her popular column, “What I Know for Sure,” in O Magazine is light, easy reading that imparts a lot of quotable wisdom.

Social Justice

True Crime & Justice

Writing

Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness, a Book Review

Walking on Sunshine, by British author Rachel Kelly, is a quick, easy read that is not really intended to be read through all at once. In a similar vein to Jon Cousins’ Nudge Your Way to Happiness, Walking on Sunshine provides bite-sized ideas for increasing happiness. In this case the happiness prescriptions are delivered one week at a time for one year, instead of one day at a time for one month, as was the case in Cousins’ book.

Kelly organized this book by seasons, beginning with spring, loosely defined as March, April and May. Personally, this organizational calendar did not appeal, for two primary reasons. The main one stems from one of my own happiness struggles—self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder. Just seeing the word “Autumn,” although less depressing than its alternative, “Fall,” causes me to feel heaviness in my body. In a book intended to promote happiness, that feels counterproductive. I recognize that is my own issue, and others may not have the same visceral reaction to the season that I do. The second reason that I would prefer a different structure is that it seems somewhat potentially difficult for someone to pick up the book and start at the “right” week, since the weeks are numbered, but begin with March, not January. Maybe there is no real “right” way to use the book, but for those of us who like order and logic, this feels a bit unnerving.

Those minor criticisms aside, I really like Kelly’s message, which, like Cousins’, is essentially that we have some power to help ourselves when we are feeling down. It does not always have to involve prescription medication or weekly therapy (although those things may have their places). Proactively brightening our own spirits can be as simple as a self-administered relaxation exercise, connecting with a beloved animal companion or volunteering for a worthwhile cause.

As someone who reads a lot of positive psychology and has made significant conscious effort to boost my own mood in a variety of ways, Kelly’s simple, accessible suggestions resonate with me. She makes references to poetry in several places. While it is not poetry, specifically, that centers me, words are extremely important to my mood management. My collections of quotes are some of my most powerful happiness boosts. Kelly seems to find some of her strongest boosts in poetry.

I recommend this book for its simplicity and accessibility. There is nothing Kelly suggests that can be harmful, and her easy-to-implement strategies may be just the spirit boosts someone needs.

Book Review: Nudge Your Way to Happiness, Jon Cousins

I initially read Nudge Your Way to Happiness, by Jon Cousins, all the way through because I wanted a feel for the entire book, but it is not really meant to be read that way. The book is designed to provide a customized, 30-day program for edging up one’s happiness. Reading it through initially, I found myself annoyed because Cousins frequently made statements such as, “Right now, when things are better . . .” and “Although you may be feeling well at the moment . . . .” I kept thinking, “How does he know how I am feeling right now?” Then, it dawned on me that the issue was with how I was reading the book vs. how it was meant to be read. Actually, a unique and interesting feature of the book is that Cousins provides three possible “nudges” each day. The reason he might make a statement about how the reader was feeling is that the particular nudge was designed for either a low-mood day, an average day or a high-mood day. Once that occurred to me, I was better able to appreciate the features of each exercise.

I read a lot of positive psychology and happiness literature, and Cousins utilizes strategies from many well-respected researchers and authors. The exercises he recommends are solid, practical and simple. They are brief enough and accessible enough that even someone experiencing depression could perform them.

After reading the book through once, I began my journey to work through the book day by day. Today is Day 21. Reading and utilizing the book as it was designed to be used is more rewarding than simply reading it as a typical book. Cousins suggests doing the exercises first thing in the morning, and that is what I am doing. I think the most important thing is to choose a consistent time.

I like the checklist that Cousins provides each day, creating an opportunity to check in with myself and see how I am feeling across 10 variables. As someone who is very introspective, I find myself looking forward to my morning assessment. Perhaps even more interesting or useful is the graph at the back of the book that provides an opportunity to plot the trends in my happiness score throughout the project. Each day, Cousins asks the question, “What happened?” This allows me to reflect on the reason for my current happiness score and to better understand the peaks and valleys in the graph.

Nudge Your Way to Happiness is a simple, but well-written and useful, book that draws from the existing happiness and positive psychology literature and translates it into a practical formula for thinking about our own level of positive vs. negative emotions and reflecting on the reasons for those levels. In addition to providing daily exercises that can serve as tools, not just during the 30 days of working through the book, but on an ongoing basis. The book’s value derives from both those tools and from the introspection the daily tracking inspires. Understanding more about the things that boost our mood and the things that drain us of energy and joy allows us to take action to incorporate into our lives more of the former and less of the latter.

I recommend this book for people who are seeking to enhance their happiness, ward off seasonal blues, push back a natural inclination toward the melancholy or to combat depression. It is a strategy that can do no harm and certainly can teach us something that may help us in both the short term and the long term.

A Strong Foundation for Cycling . . . and Life

Over several years, despite cycling consistently, my average speed had become lower than I wanted it to be—not particularly slow, but slower than it seemed like it should be. While a number of different factors probably contributed, one variable seemed to be a decreased ability to easily engage my hamstrings in the pedaling effort. This is not uncommon in cyclists, whose quadriceps often carry the load. The hamstrings are important, however, in knee flexion, the “pull-up” phase of the pedal stroke, and in hip extension, an aspect of the “push-down” phase of the pedal stroke. Those phases obviously take place every revolution, so I knew that I would benefit by regaining more hamstrings engagement in my cycling. What I had noticed over the years, though, was that consciously engaging and emphasizing my hamstrings on the upstroke was exhausting and not sustainable for long.

During the same time frame that my cycling speed diminished, I also experienced a troubling onset of hip and lower back symptoms. I have scoliosis, and an x-ray a few years ago showed spondylolisthesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spondylolisthesis), a condition where vertebrae are displaced and pushed forward. I also had quite a bit of pain consistent with piriformis syndrome (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piriformis_syndrome) and some sciatica (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sciatica). In short, my whole lower back and hip region, especially on my right side, had become a mess.

While I haven’t entirely eliminated these issues, I have found a resource that has given me significant relief and has also improved my cycling.

Over a year and a half ago, I incorporated Foundation Training (http://www.foundationtraining.com/) into my training program in the last few weeks of my cycling off-season. I had been having quite a bit of discomfort and was searching for exercises that would give me relief. I had tried yoga, self-myofascial release (http://www.mythrivemag.com/dont-be-a-tight-ass-self-myofascial-release/), with both a foam roller and massage balls, and stretching that targeted the piriformis and lower back. Short of cycling—the more I ride the better I feel—nothing really made a noticeable, sustainable difference. I ordered the Foundation Training book and did exercises from it for the first seven weeks. Within just about three weeks, I noticed a difference in both the way I felt and the way I rode. I ordered the DVD set and added to my Foundation repertoire. Since that time, Foundation Training has been a primary component of my fitness and training program. The latest book by Dr. Eric Goodman, True to Form, updated my understanding of Foundation Training and assisted me in further integrating it into my everyday life.

Foundation Training focuses on strengthening the posterior kinetic chain, the muscles on the back of our bodies that support our movements through daily life, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. As the creator of Foundation Training explains in this video (http://www.foundationtraining.com/videos_and_blog/tedx-talk-remedy-for-back-pain/), back pain is frequently associated with improper movement patterns that increasingly weaken the posterior chain and prevent it from supporting our bodies the way it was intended to do. It is designed for everyone, from individuals with chronic back pain and conditions to elite athletes. All can benefit, and virtually anyone can do at least some of the exercises. People with chronic conditions may not be ready for all of them initially, but they can at least do the beginning exercises and build on those as their foundations grow stronger and more functional.

Foundation Training has noticeably improved my ability to engage my hamstrings, as well as to utilize my glutes more effectively, while cycling. I gained speed and had the perception of increased power (I do not have a power meter, so I don’t have objective evidence.) on my bike. I was able to ride faster and to sustain my speed for longer distances. These gains have persisted over time and across seasons. My sciatica is virtually gone, and my piriformis pain is dramatically reduced. I still have some hip pain, particularly some mornings or when I am sitting for long periods of time, but the pain is less, both in frequency and intensity.

I have given Foundation Training as gifts, and I have recommended it to others. I will continue to do so, and I will continue to practice it. I believe in its efficacy because I feel and experience the results daily. I have aspirations to get certified as a Foundation Trainer someday, so that I can share with more people the benefits of this unique form of fitness training.