Fiery glory

Yes, We Can! With Self-Help Books

Fiery glory

We live in a goal oriented society. We’re supposed to be great at everything; if we’re not extraordinary at relationships, if we’re nowhere near being part of “the 1%,” and if, God forbid, we’re into a double digit size, we feel as though we’ve failed. Of course, that kind of thinking is just counter-productive, but there’s nothing wrong with reaching for the sky. Sometimes, we just need a little help and advice.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. doesn’t mince words. She calls her how-to book SUCCEED: HOW WE CAN REACH OUR GOALS, and she’s not kidding. Halvorson believes that successful people reach their goals not just because of who they are, but more often than not, it’s because of what they do. For example, she advises us to get specific; don’t just strive to lose weight, figure out what you want to achieve in terms of numbers on the scale. Being realistic is important; not knowing what’s actually possible for you to attain increases the odds of failure. Focus on getting better, rather than on being perfect.

30 LESSONS FOR LIVING: TRIED AND TRUE ADVICE FROM THE WISEST AMERICANS is a compellation of wisdom put together by Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. Pillemer is a leading gerontologist at Cornell University. He’s spent the last 30 years studying senior citizens, and has come to the conclusion that they actually do have a lot of wisdom to impart to their juniors. One thousand citizens responded to the call, and offered a wealth of advice. For one thing, smoking, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise will more likely give you long term chronic disease than kill you. If you have kids, do everything you can to keep in contact with them, even if you have to back down. As one who doesn’t much like to travel, I have to give some thought to their advice to sacrifice other things in order to hit the road. Having married someone from a completely different background, I’m not sure I agree that the secret to a happy marriage is to marry someone like yourself (sounds kind of boring), but that’s what they advise. One thing I think most of us can agree on is that emotional intelligence is more important than just about anything else, both in the workplace and at home.

We all have fears, whether we acknowledge them or not. Dr. Gordon Livingston explores THE THING YOU THINK YOU CANNOT DO, with “Thirty truths about fear and courage.” Livingston is not only a psychiatrist, but also one who has personally faced adversity. He received a Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam; within a thirteen month period, he lost one son to suicide, the other to leukemia. His pronouncements are both logical and heartfelt. Some pretty lively discussions can be built around his contentions that fear springs from ignorance; heroism is sometimes just stubbornness in the face of adversity; and courage, like love, must have hope to nourish it.

Phil Stutz & Barry Michels have taught their clients THE TOOLS for dealing with vexing problems, and now offer the rest of us their guidance. Basically, they teach techniques which turn obstacles into opportunities. For example, most of us prefer to stay in our comfort zone, rather than go through the pain of venturing out. According to the plan, we can move forward through the Force of Forward Motion. It’s also important to get into The Grateful Flow, the better to make a connection with The Source. This approach has worked for others, and this book gives us a chance to try it out for ourselves.

Randy Cohen was the original writer of “The Ethicist” for the New York Times. In BE GOOD: HOW TO NAVIGATE THE ETHICS OF EVERYTHING, Cohen reflects on how things have changed since he spent those twelve years dealing with the moral dilemmas of those who sought his counsel. Often, what we consider personal problems actually reflect the tenor of our time. Sex, religion, race, work, relationship- all have been discussed in Cohen’s column. The book is constructed in a question and answer pattern, and while some topics seem rather esoteric (should a physician tell someone he sees in a class setting that the person has a potentially dangerous condition?), many are all too familiar (When we’re left money, do we have to pay off the debts of the person who left it to us?). While Cohen never hesitates to give his opinion on ethics, he does profess annoyance that he’s never heard from those he thinks could most benefit from his advice- a member of congress or Bernie Madoff, for example.

Most people feel they could write a book. Lee Gutkind is here to help us with our ideas for creative nonfiction. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP is subtitled “The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction- from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between.”Beware: blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction can be hazardous to your health; just ask James Frey. But you’re in good hands with Gutkind, whom Vanity Fair labeled the “Godfather behind Creative Nonfiction.” The first step is to define exactly what this genre is; the second, to use the tools provided. These include writing exercises; studying works by masters of the category, like Gay Talese and Rebecca Skloot; info on MFA programs; and even tips on howto get published. If you’re interested, definitely worth your time and money to check this out.

These helpful books can guide us in the right direction, and maybe even help us make our goals attainable.

Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com

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