New year, new you

Who do you want to be in 2017? Someone better organised/less stressed/fitter/richer/more fulfilled?

The only thing stopping you is you… or maybe it’s just that you haven’t found the right programme, philosophy or inspiration yet. That being the case, here are some suggestions to set you on the path of the righteous/smug.

Ditching bad habits

We’ve got resources to help you stop smoking, drinking, and advice on how to cope with other addictions and compulsions.

Cover of The mindfulness workbook for addiction Cover of Quit Cover of Healing the addicted brain Cover of Kick your habit

Diet and fitness

There are plenty of titles available with advice on improving your diet, or find an exercise regime that suits your lifestyle.

Cover of Exhausted to energized Cover of Eat to cheat ageing Cover of Feel good for life Cover of Gut gastronomy

Or are you just keen to keep your brain fit and healthy? There are programmes and exercises for flexing your cognitive muscles.

Maybe it’s just time to cope better with stress?

Cover of Our ageing brain Cover of Keep your brain alive Cover of Relax Cover of Do breathe

Money and finances

Is 2017 the year you show your mortgage who’s boss? Try some titles about personal finance, budgeting, and retirement planning.

Cover of Kill your mortgage Cover of The little book of thrift Cover of New Zealand retirement guide Cover of The great NZ work, money & retirement puzzle

Efficiency and organisation

Whether you want some advice on how to attack household tasks more efficiently, bring some orderliness to your possessions, or advice on time management, there are heaps of titles to choose from.

cover of The life-changing magic of tidying up Cover of If it's clutter Cover of Life hacks Cover of How to be a productivity ninja

Better living, everyone.

Cover of Big magic Cover of The achievement habit Cover of Find the good Cover of The school of greatness

Amy Poehler? Yes Please!

Amy Poehler author photo
Possibly my favourite author dustjacket portrait of all time.

Amy Poehler is one of those actresses I was vaguely aware of but to whom I’d never really paid much attention. She occasionally cropped up in movies like ‘Blades of Glory’ and Mean Girls, usually playing someone blonde and kooky.

Later I associated her with Tina Fey, as her friend, and as one half of the legendary Saturday Night Live Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton “I can see Russia from my house” sketch.

It wasn’t until I started watching sitcom Parks and Recreation, that I truly came to appreciate the comedy genius that is Amy Poehler. And by the time she and Fey formed The Ultimate Funny Lady Tag Team to host the Golden Globes I was a solid fan.

It’s from this perspective that I came to read her book Yes please.

Cover of BossypantsI’d already tried Fey’s autobiography Bossypants, and despite a love of the 30 Rock creator’s humour, I found the book something of a letdown. Yes, there were reminisces about SNL. Yes, I learned some things about her childhood (like how she got that scar on her chin – random knife attack by a stranger), and yes there were jokes, and feminism, and a chapter devoted to Poehler, but it was all a bit, er, cold? I felt, as a reader, that I was being kept at a respectful distance. Stand-up as an arena show, with Fey present but rather far away.

In Yes please Poehler covers similar territory but, hey reader, wanna bring it in for a hug first? Come on, tough guy. Get on over here.

If Fey’s book is a gig at Horncastle Arena, Poehler’s is a small, intimate, comedy club where the tables are so close to the stage performer and audience can see each other sweating.

Cover of Yes pleaseAnd “Yes please” is not at all a straight out autobiography. It’s that but it’s also part self-help manual in which her experiences (which include waitressing, improv, performing a rap number live on TV a few hours before going into labour, motherhood, divorce, visiting an orphanage in Haiti) all feed into reflections and wisdom, all with a sharp, self-deprecating, “I know what my crap is and I own it” attitude.

You feel as if you just made a new best friend and she’s dishing all her dirt to you and you love her because of it. Poehler admits her mistakes, celebrates her triumphs, and tries not to be too hard on herself. And she encourages you to do the same for yourself.

But don’t just take it from me. Listen to Amy. Continue reading

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

Cover of The Good LifeIf you indulge in the odd spot of social networking on Facebook, you may have seen the lashings of “likes” for a post with the cheeky Polish saying: Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

First I smiled. Then I panicked. What if my plumber, dentist, bank manager, underwear sales assistant, even (though this would never happen!) my library assistant, took this stance? Where would that leave me?

At a time (in Christchurch in particular) when we are daily urged to look out for one another, and random acts of kindness make living worthwhile, where does this proverb fit?

Here’s some great library resources for you to delve into on this very topic:Cover of Be Different

  • Give, but give until it hurts said Mother Teresa. Can’t say better than that now, can you.
  • In his 2014 book The Good Life, Graham Music takes us on a research trip to uncover what tips us towards selfish or altruistic behaviour. He strikes a near fatal blow at the Selfish Gene hypothesis. This is a very compelling read.
  • Recognising the importance of connection for those on the Autism spectrum, John Elder Robison has written Be Different, a book that stresses every individual’s ability to create strong loving bonds and that, Cover of The Selfish Geneessentially, we do this by caring for one another’s monkeys.
  • Readings that encourage selfishness for survival maintain that we are genetically hard-wired to look after number one first. Check out the Team Selfish readings here, headed by Richard Dawkins’ controversial The Selfish Gene.

Truth is, I’ve grown to love your circuses and your monkeys. This to the extent that I may (on occasion) have neglected some of my own show ponies. Head-messing thought here: Could it be that I am caring, but for selfish reasons? And where is the book on that?

Year-long pursuits: Not for the faint-hearted

Search catalogueChanging your life for one year may sound like the ultimate boredom-buster, but the proliferation of books in this area has made me wonder if we all have rather low attention spans? What happens after the year, are changes maintained – or once the book deal is signed do these authors go back to all of their bad habits?

The self-help area is ripe for authors wishing to improve  themselves. Robyn Okrant had a year of Living Oprah : my one-year experiment to walk the walk of the queen of talk, where she devoted a year of her life to following all of Oprah’s suggestions from her talk show, webpage and magazine.  I gather the results were varied!

Kjerstin Gruys, who is apparently “a scholar, fashionista, and bride-to-be spends a year without mirrors and other reflective surfaces to get a better view of herself, her life, and what’s really important” in Mirror, mirror off the wall : how I learned to love my body by not looking at it for a year, and Lauren Kessley has been trying every concoction to stop the clock in Counterclockwise : My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging.

A.J Jacobs in his latest book Drop dead healthy : one man’s humble quest for bodily perfection is perhaps the most extreme.  He had to consult a team of medical advisers, and subject himself to a gruelling regimen of exercises, a range of diets, and an array of practices to improve everything from his hearing, to his sleep, to his sex life; all the while testing the patience of his long-suffering wife.

Search catalogueJohn Kralik documented 365 thank yous. Over one year he wrote thank you notes for the small acts of kindness that came his way and Judith O’Reilly, in A year of doing good : one woman, one New Year’s resolution, 365 good deeds attempted to do one good deed each day. According to the publishers both authors experienced profound changes in their lives – but being of a rather cynical disposition I am curious to know if these changes remained permanent?

The area of sustainability is rife with year-long experiences, with the best known being Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, vegetable, miracle : our year of seasonal eating. John Lewis-Stempel detailed in his book The wild life : a year of living on wild food how nothing came from a shop or agriculture, and had to be either foraged or shot. When do these people have time to go to the movies of have a holiday I wonder?

Search catalogueOn the rather extreme area of the spectrum is The perfect punter : a year of losing everything and trying to win it all back by Dave Farrar who does his best to become the worlds best gambler, a dubious honour I suspect.

And then there is The trout diaries : a year of fly-fishing in New Zealand by Derek Grzelewski,  which I will not be showing to my husband in case he gets any ideas!

My personal favourite is a novel by Sue Townsend  The woman who went to bed for a year. I might give that idea a go.

Happier at home

Cover: Happier At HomeThere really is no place like it, and with Gretchen Rubin’s help we are all about to become even Happier at Home.

You might remember Ms Rubin as the author of the hugely successful The Happiness Project. In that book she tackled her overall life happiness. Her book took the self-help world by storm, even though her approach is not like falling off the nearest log, and in no way subscribes to the “To-day is the first day of the rest of your life” school of thought. Ms Rubin’s makes you work for your breakthroughs and we seem to love her for it.

In this, her next offering, Ms Rubin focuses her attention on being happier at home. There are over 600 titles at Christchurch City Libraries that purport to help us become happier, wherever we are. Yet Gretchen Rubin’s books rank amongst the most popular of that genre. I’m only really going to start worrying about her if her next book is entitled Happiest at Work, and even then I’ll probably read it.

So, why have we taken to her in such a  big way?

It’s that “happier” that is the key. Because Rubin is already happy at home. She has a supportive husband, two lovely daughters, a very good job, no money problems, is more than passably good looking and appears to be in robust good health. Some of you nay-sayers out there will already be thinking: “V for Vomit – she is altogether too perfect for my poor tattered little life.” (In which case you may prefer How to be Happy, Dammit  or the palate cleansing The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking).

But think about it: if we are totally honest with ourselves,we really aren’t all that badly off. But, like Rubin, we just yearn for more. And who better to turn to than someone who has already got most of what we want?

Eventually – after you’ve read both books – Rubin boils it all down to eight “Splendid Truths” (I know, sometimes you do just want to give her a bit of a slap!). But I’m not going to spill my gut here by telling you what they are, because, since reading her books, one of my personal happiness projects is to become better friends with silence (this is fancy-pantsy-speak for shutting-up), in the hope that I will no longer have that desperate need to fill all conversational pauses.

I don’t know if it’s going to make me any happier at home, but so far no one else is complaining!

Feel the fear and (try) to do it anyway

I read today that Susan Jeffers died. If you are under the age of 40,  you may have no idea who she is, however perhaps you have heard the term “Feel the fear and do it anyway“? You can be grateful for Susan Jeffers for this. Her book with the same title created quite a stir at the time of publication. For women it was a catchphrase that would haunt us for many years – no longer could we be afraid/uncertain, we were out there conquering our fears and doing it anyway! For some of us it was liberating, for others of us (myself included) it led to endless hours of introspection, wondering why I wasn’t out there doing it, but instead probably inside reading about it!

I read Jeffers alongside Gail Sheehy, Harriett Lerner and Nancy Friday. These authors were all at the forefront of the self-help book explosion, and it is hard to believe that they are now well into, or are hitting their 70s. In  their heyday these books were passed from woman to woman in the same way that 50 shades of grey is now. “Have you read this” we would say, “it has changed my life!”, and they did in a way, we learnt that we didn’t have to be like our mothers, that we were allowed to be angry and that women could do anything.  Reading of Susan Jeffers’ death had made me feel a bit nostalgic for the time when we were more excited about change and growth than reading about a man

 tormented by inner demons, and consumed by the need to control.  Aka 5o Shades of Grey.

Christmas – It’s a mixed bag this year

At the risk of bringing a bit of a damper to the celebrations, I think it’s important to acknowledge that for many people Christmas is a bit of a mixed bag this year.  On the one hand there is the chance to celebrate, and to kick back with friends and family; on the other there is the ongoing nature of daily lives affected by damaged homes, uncertainty and loss. It really is a time to take care of ourselves and each other.  Perhaps you are feeling overly anxious, a bit grouchy, stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or all of the above!  Considering the year we have had all of these feelings are completely understandable.

The self-help section of the library has some fantastic material that could help.  Sometimes ‘self help’ evokes bad press,  but in this collection there is plenty of good solid sensible advice for those of us in need of a bit of care and understanding.

Don’t forget to use our CINCH database if you feel that you need to find someone, or an agency with whom you could talk to. Our Earthquake recovery page on the library website might be worth looking at again, as it has many agencies that are still working actively in Christchurch.

You might also want to check out some of these titles:

All blacks don’t cry by John Kirwan.  Personally I think this man should be nominated for a knighthood!  A very personal story that normalises depression and offers hope.

Dealing with depression by Caroline Shreeve.  Some books on this subject proclaim one approach as providing the magic cure – this one gives a good overview of a number of strategies  including medication and alternative therapies.

Cover of "5 survivors"The mindful way through anxiety by Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer.  The authors describe how to gain awareness of anxious feelings without letting them escalate.  Lots of stories, self-quizzes and step-by-step exercises.

5 survivors: personal stories of healing from PTSD and traumatic events by Tracy Stecker. Theauthor outlines the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the progress of each survivor.  Those living with untreated PTSD may see themselves in these stories and realize they are not alone. It is also useful for friends and family of those who have been  impacted by the trauma, and aims to give more intimate understanding of a loved one’s struggle and pain.

Self-help, A-HA!

British comedian Steve Coogan performed his first ever New Zealand gig in Christchurch last night to a very receptive crowd.  Certainly from where I was sitting there was a lot of laughing, guffawing and giggling to be heard and much rapturous applause at the end.

Coogan portrayed several characters during his performance but by far the most successful was his Alan Partridge persona.  To be sure, nobody rocks a bottle green double-breasted blazer with brass buttons quite the way he does.  Who else would?  During this part of the show Alan presents his own special brand of “self-help” seminar entitled “Alan Partridge will rock you into FORWARD SOLUTIONS” and who wouldn’t want guidance in their life from someone as grounded and wise as Alan Partridge?  Well, most people probably.  If you’re willing to follow his advice then you really do need help.

All of which reminded me that the self-help industry is pretty good subject matter for mickey taking what with its often overblown rhetoric and enormous popularity.  If you are looking for some reading material that turns the self-help genre on its head then try the following –