This is a post about three books I’ve read recently, that have changed my thinking. They’re somewhat outside my usual bedside reading material. None of the three includes any recipes or organic gardening tips. None mentions Albus Dumbledore or the Beatles. But they’ve all had a profound and lasting influence on the way I go about my life.
They are about learning how to live better. And they are all quite practical.
Better than Before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives, by Gretchen Rubin
This is about how to adopt new habits, and how to stick with them. Gretchen Rubin’s masterpiece is part social research, part pattern theory and a big part practical solutions. She explains why we often have such trouble adopting new habits.
It starts with taking a quiz, to discover which pattern or Tendency you fit into. I was annoyed when I was diagnosed as an Obliger. Yet another negative label, I grumbled. The other Tendencies are Rebel, Upholder and Questioner, and they all sound like they have more fun. (Gretchen says many people are a combination of two.) But it has been a hugely helpful set of insights for me. Obligers need external accountability, even to do things that we love doing and want to do. This explains why I’ve had so much difficulty getting new projects off the ground. Because I’m self-employed and I work alone, I don’t have a career structure or colleagues to give me accountability. The solution for me is to actively set up external accountability: coaches, groups and other things. So far it’s working brilliantly.
There’s a lot of practical stuff in Better than Before. If you’re interested in learning more, and finding other people who are working on this, Gretchen has an app called Better. (You’ll find me there, in a group called Habitual Gardeners.)
The Big Leap: Conquer your hidden fear and take life to the next level, by Gay Hendricks
The “Big Leap” is the fascinating premise that we humans can (and should) learn to live happily and peacefully. Gay Hendricks says humans are great at basic survival and coping in emergencies. But the unconscious responses that help us survive danger and deprivation don’t serve us well in times of peace and plenty. When things are going well, he observes, we have a penchant for making something bad happen, because feeling good for long periods is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. His term for this phenomenon is the “upper limit”. Hendricks suggests that chronic worrying, blame and judgement are addictive behaviours designed to stop us feeling good about ourselves in otherwise very positive situations.
I was shocked when the penny dropped and I realised this applied to me.
Sceptics in my family take issue with Hendricks’s evolutionary explanation. But what have we got to lose? The world’s a chronically stressful and chaotic place, full of seemingly insoluble problems. Anything we can do to unload some of the stress is worth trying.
When I tried out some of Gay Hendricks’s suggestions, it also took stress off members of my immediate family – almost immediately. How cool is that?
Read this book and try for yourself.
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo (aka KonMari) says: “What sparks joy for you personally and what doesn’t? The answer to these questions represent a major clue for getting to know yourself as a recipient of the gift of life.”
She recommends: “Keep what sparks joy and chuck the rest.”
Tidying the space you live in is an act of personal power. Clearing the spaces shifts the energy and having a place for everything to go is a great relief.
Undertaking a full KonMari tidying of your personal spaces and possessions is a fairly big commitment. But she gives very clear instructions about how to go about it. I followed most of them and I was pleased to find that the process worked.
I’ve had good results with space clearing in the past. I understand that energy gets stuck in a messy room where nothing’s been moved for months. And I “get” that specific objects can have positive or negative associations. Sooner or later someone will figure out a way of measuring this kind of energy.
I get the giggles when I think about what my late mother, Sue, would say if I told her I was reading a book called The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Sue was not any kind of homemaker. On her bookshelf was The I Hate to Housekeep Book by Peg Bracken. (I’ve written a couple of blog posts about what Sue did with her life – see Farewell, Sue and The Family Bat.)
I’m not a particularly tidy person, and my husband puts things away in the wrong places on purpose, I’m sure of it. (He does have many virtues, which is why we’re still together.)
KonMari does not advocate tidying up other people’s mess in shared living spaces. She recommends radical acceptance, so we don’t waste time and energy complaining about others: “Only when we accept unconditionally people whose values differ from our own can we really say we have finished tidying.”