1 06 2015

Another book I picked up from the shelf captivated by the title and the book cover. Speed by Dr. Stephenie Brown is about rampant addiction to “speed” – trying to be fast and faster – and how to overcome it. The subject interests me a lot. I don’t consider or even recognize myself as a speed addict, but I must admit that being part of the culture which highly regards speed, to its own doom in the long term, I’m aware that I’m influenced by the popular notion and just on the verge of the deep pit that is the addiction to speed, which of course is not a good position to be in to start with.

SpeedI’m more intrigued by this topic because, I have recently started thinking about the toxic mental habits “perfectionism”, and “maximizing”, which are cutting big time into my happiness potential. I realized that speed and its addiction is closely related to it and will provide greater insight into everything that is under play about which it serves me well to be aware of.

The author starts with providing a checklist of twenty questions, the answers to which will determine whether one is addicted to speed or not. She moves on to describe what this addiction actually means, how it evolved, and more importantly what are the reasons underlying this increasingly common phenomenon.

I’m impressed by the honesty and the forthrightness with which she pointed out, right in the beginning of the book and touched upon frequently throughout the rest of the book, that the American culture rooted in the core beliefs of sense of entitlement and unlimited power is what led to the national addiction to speed. She emphasizes that the notions that there is nothing impossible, that the individual is in charge and control, that there is no limit to progress etc., result in a culture which makes slowing down and recognizing limits extremely difficult. With the prevalent cultural and societal norms, it’s even difficult to realize and recognize that one is addicted to speed, that it’s not a good thing.

She explains in detail, what characterizes a speed addict. How their thinking and behavior are. She mentions, more than once, that the impulsiveness inherent to the speed addiction (or any addiction for that matter), is a basic quality of a typical child and the overcoming it is an essential part of growing up. But addicts are stuck in that psyche as they involve in their compulsive actions.

Overcoming speed addiction involves a process akin to conquering any other addiction. She says that the principles of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) prove to be a strong foundation. AA’s basic tenets like accepting the loss of control, turning to others for support, taking one step at a time etc. go a long way in truly enabling one to overpower their speed addiction. She believes that for true and sustainable change to occur, it needs to be focused on behavior, emotions, and thinking making it a comprehensible approach. Unless, we break our previous detrimental behaviors and replace them with new constructive ones, unless we acknowledge and address our feelings before, during, and after speed, unless we replace of  old ways of thinking with new ones, we can’t envision a brighter, slower, and more rewarding life.

This book provides great detail not only about the nature and root causes of speed addiction, but also elaborate background on and instructions about how to embark on and succeed in the recovery process. As such, there is a wealth of information in this book for both who is interested in the topic and who seeks help in regards to their own speed addiction.

Despite the prolific interspersion of personal cases of several people (I’m guessing hypothetical, nevertheless must be based on real subjects), the narration seemed a drag. When you look at it critically, it has all the elements to be a good read. But somehow it didn’t live up to other more engaging non-fiction I’ve read before. There is a lot of repetition throughout the book. But I think it’s a strategy to drive home the main points.  Nonetheless, I believe that this book can be written in a more interesting way.

When I’ve read all those Malcolm Gladwell books and quite recently a book on Habits by  Charles Duhigg, both journalists of New York Times, I distinctly remember getting bored (towards the end of 4th or 5th book) with the unchanged style of presentation – with chapters divided into multiple parts, and several stories running in parallel throughout the book etc., and wondered whether there can’t be any other way of presenting/narrating the content. Even so, all those books were really engaging. I feel that this book failed in this aspect, despite the running parallel stories that enable the readers to identify with the characters.

I really had to exercise my perseverance in order to finally finish the book. But of course, one’s experience can seldom be objective. There are almost always several things going on in life at any point, which influence richness or otherwise of every other experience. 🙂  So, the bottom line is that don’t get disheartened by my negative remarks, but focus on the positive stuff and if you think this is something that interests you or will help you, go for it! This book truly provides a compelling case of the reality of speed addiction, and the need to surmount it.

The Nine Rooms of Happiness

29 04 2010

I’m glad I read Nine Rooms of Happiness by Lucy Danziger, the editor of Self magazine and Catherine Birndorf, a psychologist. It;s not about coping with the big problems in our life – loss of a close one or divorce or failure or depression etc. It’s about those little thought and action patterns which curb our happiness, even if everything seems right on the outset.

The authors used the metaphor of house to describe different emotional states of a woman. According to them, the emotional house consists of 9 rooms:

  • Basement: Childhood memories, memories from school days etc. In short, your past.
  • Family Room: Where you deal with your family – parents, siblings, close relatives etc
  • Living Room: Where you deal with friends aka your social life
  • Bathroom: Where you face the issues of weight, beauty, aging, health etc
  • Bedroom: Where you explore intimacy and love
  • Kid’s Room: Where you deal with your children
  • Office: your job, career, finances etc.
  • Attic: The family heirloom, expectations of your ancestors (also your parents)

And there is a surprise Tenth Room, which is your inner sanctuary: A place to think about you, your purpose in life, relax and rejuvenate.

It’s a very easy read, with lots of stories from real-life. You are bound to relate to at least a few of them. The authors offer the reader lot of pearls of wisdom, which we can apply to, and thereby enrich, our lives. It’s amazing to realize how simple they are, yet powerful enough to change the course of our lives.

Some of the pearls include:

  • It’s not all about you
  • Stop controlling, start connecting
  • Go or grow
  • No one can complete you, but you. (I love this!)

I felt the relationship equation to be most useful to me, which is A+B=C, where A is you, B is the other person whom you love or deal with and C is the relationship between you. You cannot change B. So if you want to change C, the relationship, you have to change yourself. And this, you can do.

Things like unhealthy narcissism, striving towards perfectionism and many other day-to-day psychological patterns refrain us from really achieving and experiencing the holy grail – Happiness. The authors put it right in the first few pages that – Being happier is like being fit; You have to work at it. Happiness is a choice, choose to be happy.

And this book can be your companion.

Advice from books

27 07 2009

Books offer much to readers – entertainment, knowledge, information and advice among other things.  The genre “Self-help” specifically deals with advice: advice on varied topics such as relationships, behavioral issues, success etc. The question is, how effective such books are. Can people really benefit from them?

I’ve heard many opinions in the line of “they are impractical”, “it’s all bookish knowledge” etc. I know people who believe that one can’t really follow all that advice, in fact it’s not possible to do so. Some think that all those tips will not lead to the projected results. While some decide that the contexts offered by the book do not reflect their unique situation. I even know people who dismiss the wise knowledge right away.

Sure there are some bad books out there, but I’m here concerned with the good, authentic ones.  I usually depend on two criteria to identify the later ones:

  • Bestseller (there must be some reason for it, and it’s usually that it is good)
  • The profile of the author (his/her field of expertise and accomplishments)

I truly believe that we can benefit from a well-written, relevant self-help book. In my opinion, the effectiveness of the book depends on the reader’s:

  • Awareness of his or her own need
  • Openness to ideas and advice
  • Willingness to change
  • Commitment and effort

A person may pick up a self-help book for a number of reasons:

  • Just curious
  • Because a friend has recommended it
  • Because everyone else is reading it
  • To judge the book and/or author
  • Hoping to find answers to his problems

In order to get and benefit most from the book, one should approach it with a genuine need. Only when a person is aware of his/her need will he/she be open to advice.  And what would mere knowledge count for, if the person doesn’t act on it? Often, one may not like what one learns from such books. One may be required to accept one’s own faults or deficiencies. Realizing and accepting them is the next step. It requires lots of will-power and determination to bring a change in one’s behavior or thinking – most solutions to problems demand it. And being ready and determined to put the effort needed in order to bring out that change is the crucial step. Incorporating those tips into day-to-day life and/or problem situations is the final step.

If one happens to gain nothing even after all this, I accept and agree with one’s remarks that self-help books are impractical and/or useless. I like to think that all those who doubt the helpfulness of self-help books are those who haven’t tried enough to use them.

Most of the times, one may not be able to relate to everything mentioned or discussed in a book, because it is meant for wider public. In those cases, I just absorb what is relevant to me, leaving out the rest instead of rejecting the book as a whole. I feel that there is always something good and useful in every book. In fact it’s true for everything, not just for books. 🙂

As I think about it, I realize that the way we react to self-help books isn’t much different from our response to advice from people: friends and well-wishers. It’s a well-known fact that one seldom follows the advice one receives. Here, the advice we receive may be customized and personalized, but still we often end up dismissing it. I think this reflects our general attitude towards any advice. But if we compare advice from books and people, there is no doubt as to which we’ll prefer.  May be this lack of direct human contact is what makes us skeptical about and less receptive of the advice from the books.

I admit that most of the times, I too lack the determination to follow all that good advice to the word. Nonetheless, I try to as much as I can. In my case, even if my conscious effort sometimes doesn’t measure up, the insights gained act subconsciously and make a difference.