What I Read Last Month :: May

I guess I have always been a nerd.  I genuinely loved school and was even always a proponent of a traditional liberal education which includes teaching specific knowledge of specific subjects as opposed to the progressive Montessori style which teaches only abstract skills (although I still continue not to convince many of my friends and family members who insist learning about significant historical dates or the factors that led to a scientific discovery are “pointless in the real world”).  However (as you’ll soon find out!) I recently read a much better articulated defense of traditional schooling which argued that “a mental skill is not the same as an algorithm – a process that can be applied to any problem, regardless of subject.  Learning skills grow organically out of specific knowledge of… facts… the wider your knowledge, the more widely your intelligence can range and the more purchase it gets on new information….  The more knowledge children acquire early on, the better they are at learning, and more they will  enjoy learning” (Leslie, Curious).   And although I did, and do, appreciate the fact that I had to learn about the Exploration Age, dissect literary classics, and understand key distinguishing features of each planet in the Milky Way, I must say that one of my favorite things about being an adult is that I can choose to study or learn about whatever I want to!  And this past month, the theme of my book list was roughly around the idea of learning itself.  I read about productivity, creativity, curiosity, and absorbing data which was somewhat of a departure from what’s been on my book list as of late, but very interesting nonetheless.

Here’s what I read throughout the month of May ::

Smarter Faster Better
Charles Duhigg

I had previously read Charles Duhigg’s best selling book The Power of Habit and as a fan of not only the topic, but also his writing style, I was excited to read this book, subtitled The Secrets of Being Productive.  In Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg explores the idea of productivity, which he defines as “our attempts to figure out the best uses our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort.  It’s the process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle.  It’s about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way.”  Historically, I personally would have been much more drawn to the first part of that description – getting more done and better results.  But over the past few years in particular, I’ve really gotten much more serious about the last bit and have gotten much more clarity around what matters and the high price at which success comes.  And I’m not necessarily even talking about the big things like working endless hours to climb a corporate ladder.  I’ve come to see even how pursuing a perfectly spotless house to no end can reduce a lot of my time available for my husband and puppies or things that I enjoy more.  Anyway – I loved the book!  Duhigg examines several key areas which govern productivity and analyzes case studies to distill important principles of each.  He covered everything from focus and motivation to goal setting and decision making and working with teams and managing others.  In my more recent years, I’ve read a lot less business books, but this is one that is worth a read regardless of your profession or context.

Ian Leslie

As I have mentioned before, one of the six universal virtues identified by positive psychology is wisdom and knowledge and within that category are 6 of the 24 total character strengths, including some of my own – love of learning, judgment/critical thinking/open-mindedness, and curiosity.   Therefore, I was naturally curious about the topic (pun definitely intended) and decided to read this book dedicated to the desire to know.  Leslie starts off by distinguishing between diversive curiosity which is the attraction to everything novel or a restless desire for the new and next as opposed to epistemic curiosity which is a “deeper, more disciplined, and effortful type of curiosity” and then makes the case for why we can and should seek to increase our desire to learn things in depth.  I have often experienced flow or even a type of euphoria as I read or learn something new and interestingly, Leslie cites a study which demonstrated that “questions that stoked [the curiosity of subjects stimulated] their caudate nucleus, a part of the brain associated with both learning and romantic love.  The caudate nucleus is  closely packed with neurons that traffic in dopamine, a chemical that surges through our brains when we enjoy sex or food [and it] has also been implicated in our responses to visual beauty… and our hunger for knowledge.”  Throughout the book, he discusses the many positive functions of curiosity and the benefits it bestows and makes it clear that this is a quality that we all can and should seek to develop because as he says, “the more we know, the better we are at thinking… The more broad ranging your general background knowledge, the stickier you are likely to find any new information.  The wider your net, the more that gets caught in it.”

Dealing with Hypermobility in Your Nutritional Therapy Practice
Sara Russel., Ph.D., NTP

I often read the publications of the Nutritional Therapy Association and its practitioners and this one in particular caught my attention since I am one who would be classified as quite high on the hypermobility spectrum disorder (HsD).  In fact over the past year, I have suffered several injuries and ongoing issues with my physical performance as a result of my hypermobility (double jointed-ness) and thus I am actively working to see how I can improve or reduce my symptoms. And although this book offered limited prescriptive advice, it was very interesting to learn about the “significance of hypermobility as a possible sign that apparently disconnected symptoms may actually fit under one umbrella [and thus an] awareness of hypermobility’s impact on health [can potentially help to] simplify and streamline bio-individualized nutritional therapy.”  And as I read through the many signs and symptoms of HsD reasons why doctors struggle to recognize them, I felt like I kept having AHA moments. The body is such an amazingly complex system and the impact of one area or function on the other is something that never ceases to amaze me.  Unless you are someone who is interested in the research on the impact of nutrition on hypermobility (highly unlikely!) this will probably not one of interest, but personally I found it to be fascinating and insightful.

Real Artists Don’t Starve
Jeff Goins

I remember being in high school and one of my mom’s friends asking her what I wanted to do when I graduated and I remember her wincing as she said “probably be a cheerleading coach.”  And truth be told that probably would have been my dream job at that point in time (and hey, not too far off from being a barre instructor now), but of course, I understood that I needed to pursue a “real job” so I entered college as a pre-med student.  I knew right away that wasn’t really the best fit for me and that I’d also known since I was 7 years old that writing was a passion of mine. But I am someone who has definitely believed in the story of the starving artist, with Jeff Goins argues is a widespread myth and “thanks to this myth, many of us take the safe route in life.  We become lawyers instead of actresses, bankers instead of poets, and doctors instead of painters.  We hedge our bets and hide form our true calling, choosing less risky careers, because it seems easier.  Nobody wants to struggle, after all, so we keep our passion to a hobby and follow a predictable path toward mediocrity.”  In the end, I ended up with a bachelor’s degree in psychology which is a major area of ongoing interest for me, so no regrets there, but instead of combining my fervor for that and writing, I went in another “smart” direction by pursuing an MBA.  I can’t say that was a total mistake either, because I did learn a lot, but I also know that I am much happier when I am writing this blog than when I am engaged in my day job as a business consultant.   In Real Artists Don’t Starve, Goins seeks to challenge the myth of the starving artist by outlining several key principles in terms of mindset, market and money which can empower artists to thrive as opposed to survive.  It was an interesting read for someone who has never necessarily identified myself as an artist, but definitely believed a life of sacrifice and hardship was inevitable path for someone who does.  I am now convinced otherwise.

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