I Willed Myself To Write This Post

As with most self-help texts (that’s another term for a book, not a short message you type out on your phone and send to your friends without fixing the mistakes autocorrect caused) out there, the meat of Benjamin Hardy’s book Willpower Doesn’t Work could probably be condensed to about 20 pages without impacting the message one bit. In fact, I think 20 pages is being generous.

The thrust of the book is that rather than trying to will yourself to do what needs to be done, you must customize and control your environment so you’re predisposed to accomplish your goals.

There’s nothing new in the book that anyone who’s researched productivity in the least doesn’t know. Get off your computer, turn off your phone and give yourself a deadline are some of the tired but useful pieces of advice found in the book’s pages.

There are also the obligatory nods to the evolution theory that are found in most how-to, self-help, cooking, travel and car repair books. Usually something along the line of your ancient ancestors needed to process “danger” when a sabertooth attacked so that’s why your brain’s the way it is and this book taps into that. Nonsense, of course, but it seems to sell.

So why am I reading a book that I don’t seem to think much of? Maybe I’m a sucker for book titles. I like the fairy tale idea that a book has some nugget of knowledge that all the other books (and internet sites) don’t. I know willpower doesn’t work because I’ve experienced it’s failure time and again. So maybe this book has a just as simplistic method that does work but with minimal effort on my part.

It doesn’t. But any book that attempts to nullify one paradigm of productivity probably has a recommedation for another one. And in reading about that different paradigm, you might find a point of view you hadn’t thought of (or had at least forgotten about) before.

Sometimes you just need a gentle reminder to turn off your computer because you’ve fallen back into the habit of staring at it for twelve hours a day. And it’s not bad advice to turn off your phone and set deadlines.

Most books (including this one) carry a bit of advice and then fill in the remaining pages with stories and anecdotes. If you want inspiration, read through them. Otherwise, scanning the headlines and speed reading through it gets you just as much out of it.

Five Books for Friday #3

Here we go again with five of the books I’ve been digging into over the last week. The subjects this time around are an interesting mix of projects, publishing, drawing, writing and poetry. Some weeks I find a ton of books all on the same subject I’m currently interested in. Other times it’s a random mix. Either way, I typically learn something useful and get entertained at the same time.

  1. First up is Souped Up, an Instructables.com book edited by Michael Huynh. It’s a mix of projects ranging from food to electronics and woodworking to Décor and furniture. My wife was especially thrilled with Gummy Bear Surgery which details how to create your own frankengummi monsters. This is one of those really simple time wasters that make you wonder how it could take four pages of instructions. But the ideas you get out of those four pages are pretty funny. I get more excited about reuse projects like making clocks out of old computer hard drives. I was only really interested in about a third of the projects in this book. But this kind of book is great for cherry picking.
  2. I love cartooning although I don’t get around to it nearly enough. Like most cartoonists, I dream about putting together a complete comic book someday. The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers brings that dream one step closer. It’s not a book about drawing but more a book about the technical and business side of getting your art work into book form (printed or digital) and into the hands of your readers. The book has a lot of great tips on ideation, character development and dialogue. It also steps you through using Adobe Illustrator for layout, coloring and lots of other stuff. Finally, it talks about how to market your work after publishing to get it recognized among all the other self-published comics out there. I enjoyed the “Pro Tip” sidebars sprinkled throughout the book. This type of info is fun to read and gives you a sneak peek at real life implementations of what you’re learning.
  3. I posted a few weeks ago about doing zendoodles. I was inspired by a book my son brought back from the library and I’ve kept it since then to refer back to. Tangles: Amazing Zendoodles to Color and Draw by Abby Huff has some great patterns to get you started drawing your own doodles. You really don’t need a book like this to draw zendoodles or zentangles. The whole point is to create original designs that flow like a stream of consciousness writing. But it’s still nice to see what kinds of patterns you like and the different pen strokes that can get you there.
  4. I’m always looking for inventive ways to be more productive with my time and produce more of whatever I’m trying to do. That’s why I was intrigued by the title of How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silva. The book’s premise boils down to disciplining yourself to sit down and write regularly. Now, I could have been frustrated that there wasn’t some magic bullet between the covers of this book but it’s refreshing to have somebody just reiterate the plain truth that you already knew. The fact is, if you want to write a lot, you have to write a lot. The book does give you more insight on the subject of course. You learn what barriers to writing a lot you might encounter. And you are introduced to motivational tools, styles and how to write certain types of works. Although this book was written primarily for academic writers, it still holds a lot of great insight no matter what your genre.
  5. I saved my favorite book for last. Alone and Not Alone is a compilation of poems by Ron Padgett. Padgett is a wonderfully accessible poet who uses humor and insight to bring everyday life onto the page. I like writing poetry in all different forms and on all different topics. But I’m very selective in the poets I actually enjoy reading. Padgett is one of those poets I actually enjoy reading. As with most poets there are a few of his selections that are just a bit too obtuse for me. But overall, his imagery, style and cadence just lead me from page to page and poem to poem. Sometimes I’ll read them out loud because I enjoy listening to the words. Highly recommended.

Five Book Friday #2

Once again I’m bringing you the fivebooks I’ve read or have been reading over the last week.

  1. The first one takes the reader on an 1800 mile walking trek throughout Central America. Walking the Americas by Levison Wood  is an enjoyable first person account of the still wild lands that make up Central America. From Mexico to Panama and finally ending up in Columbia, Wood and his friend find adventure and danger from both nature and their fellow man. This one wasn’t the most compelling page turner I’ve ever read but it had plenty to keep me interested.
  2. I like some of Woody Allen’s writing and maybe two of his movies. So when I saw Mere Anarchy on the shelf last week, I grabbed it to see if Allen was as funny as in Without Feathers. Once again there was a mix of laugh out loud funny material and pseudo high brow snarkiness. In all it was a quick fun read.
  3. Patrick O’Donnell brings a barrel full of first and second hand WWII spy stories in his book Operatives Spies and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of WWII’s OSS.  This book is basically a collection of anecdotes collected and combined in a generally chronological order. I enjoy learning about unknown or largely unsung characters from WWII. This book gave me just that. The OSS was a facinating group of facinating men and women who made a huge impact on the outcome of the war. If you’re interested in wartime espionage, this is the book for you.
  4. David Naimon‘s interviews with Ursula K. Le Guin were published in Conversations on Writing. This question and answer book covers writing fiction, poetry and non fiction from LeGuin’s perspective. It’s not at all a how to on writing but rather herr philisophical ideas of different types of writing. It was an interesting read but slow in many parts. I’ll admit, I skipped a few parts that didn’t interest me.
  5. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to exercise better and more efficiently as I grow older. That’s why I was ineterested when I found Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance by Jeff Bercovici on the new release shelf. Jeff travelled around to document breakthroughs in sports performance hacks and trends, talk to olympians about their training regimens and dig into health fads that promise too much.  I’m only about a quarter of the way through this one but will definitely finish it. I was especially interested in the chapter on a better way to think about conditioning. Many professional athletes like NFL players are plagued by injuries as early as the preseason. It could be that they simply don’t train smart and that they push themselves too hard too fast. Sometimes you have to slow down and actually work less to reduce your chances of injury and let your body stay fresh.

Five Books for Friday

Every week I hit the library, yard sales, bookstores, kindle and my own collection in search of something interesting to read. I thought I could start sharing what I’m reading each week and let you know what I liked and didn’t like. So here’s the first installment.

  1. How to Read Nature by Tristan Gooley

Gooley is one of the world’s foremost experts on natural navigation. For those of you not familiar with the term, natural navigation is land navigation using ones knowledge of nature and nature’s patterns. This book will tell you things like what plants and can tell you about the direction you’re facing or how the presence of certain birds can indicate the time of day.

You’ll learn a lot about observation and how to use your surroundings to live a more engaged and fulfilling life.

2. Look Big: and other tips for surviving animal encounters of all kinds by Rachel Levin

Look Big is a fun, quick read. It’s not just about surviving life and death encounters with animals. Levin is also full of advice on what to do when you come across raccoons and turkeys. I’ve come across wild turkeys, skunks and deer right in my front and back yard. It would have been nice to have read this book before then. But better late than never as they say.

3. Sitting Kills, Moving Heals by Joan Vernikos

I’ve written on this blog about the benefits of standing desks and the dangers of sitting too much. There’s really not a whole lot that needs to be added and I can’t believe there are so many books on the subject. Most of them can be boiled down “get up and move around more”. I mean, write a tweet or something but an entire book?

I’m also reading Get Up! : why your chair is killing you and what you can do about it by James A. Levine. I think the message is obvious from the title. Your chair is killing you! For goodness sake, get out of it; that’s what you can do about it! I might make a special trip to the library to return these two books early.

4. Mind Gym: achieve more by thinking differently by Sebastian Bailey

Your mind is like a muscle and you have to keep exercising it, blah, blah blah. I think the author needs to achieve a better book by thinking differently than all the other books saying the same thing. To be fair, I stopped reading this one early on so it might have been spectacular toward the end. However, you can buy it on Kindle for only $1.99 so it’s probably not spectacular toward the end.

5. Wits Guts Grit: all-natural biohacks for raising smart, resilient kids by Jena Pincott

I decided to give Jenna’s book a chance because it had the work hack in it. The premise is that the gut biome and the foods we put in it can affect our mood, memory and fortitude.

Most people understand that when you swallow medicine or a vitamin, it absorbs into your blood stream and affects your body and mind in extremely powerful ways. But then they shove their face full of sugar, colorings and artificial this-and-that without a clue these things act on us in the exact same way. This book looks at the foods we eat with a true understanding about how powerful they are.

This one was interesting, the writing was good and I liked the subject. But I never made it through the whole thing. Maybe someday I’ll come back to it.  It’s $11.99 on Kindle but free as an audio book so the jury’s still out on this books true worth.

There you go. Five books I’ve been reading (or just paging through and then putting down with good intentions) recently. What books are you into? Let me know in the comments.

Neatly Organized Things

There are just too many interesting sites on the internet. Nobody can keep up with it all. The sad fact is that so much great content will go unseen by most people. But at least there’s so much of a surplus of content that we’ll never run out of interesting sites to peruse.

I found one such site the other day through a book at the library. I like books spawned from blogs because they show the best of what the web site has to offer. It’s a quick introduction to see if you want to take the time to dive in further. Anyway, the site (and book) I discovered is called Things Organized Neatly. The site is a photo blog on Tumbler that shows images of – things organized neatly.

There are toys, instruments, ingredients and vehicles, silverware, fruit and a lot more. All of it is meticulously arranged and photographed to make some really amazing art. The book itsef is great with short descriptions of the artist and several pages of their projects. The blog itself if fun to peruse but it’s difficult to search for particular subjects. I would encourage you to go find a copy of the book or take a look at the site. It’s worth a sliver of your internet life.

Don’t Finish That Book

One of my favorite things to tell people is that I’ve started and stopped reading more books than I’ve ever finished. I’m not even sure that makes sense but it reminds me of an important decision I made several years ago regarding reading and learning. The short version of the lesson is that I don’t have to force myself to finish a book (or anything I’ve started) if it turns out to be a waste of time.

Maybe that seems obvious to you but for most of my life I’ve felt that if I don’t finish what I start, no matter how painful or pointless, then I’ve failed. All the while the truth has been that if I push through something pointless, that is the failure.

The Indisputable Existence of Today’s Blog Post

I just finished a book titled The Indisputable Existence of Santa Clause by Dr. Hannah Fry and Dr. Thomas Oleron Evans. In it, the authors conclude (on pages 11 and 152) that two simple logic statements are all that is needed to prove Santa Clause exists. Fortunately for those who buy the book, they then filled the intermediary 139 pages with interesting calculations, projects and mathematical formulas about things related (sometimes marginally) to Christmas.

You might be wondering why I read a book about the existence of Santa Clause in March. Well, for one thing, it was there. I like to read interesting books when I find them. I found it in passing at the library and figured I could probably keep it for a long time without anyone else putting a hold on it. Also, if they’re wrong about the premise of the book, I want to make sure there’s still time to buy presents.

This is one of those books that you could read every word of but you’d probably drive yourself insane. It was funny and witty and possibly even useful (how to wrap presents in a mathematically efficient manner) but a little too deep in parts. Or maybe I’m just not “into it” because it’s March.

Building an icosahedron Christmas Ornament