Well hello there 2018. Where did you come from?
After a lovely break over Christmas, this past week I have been thinking a lot about goals and resolutions for 2018. I’m not really one for over-planning or resolutions for the sake of it but I personally find that taking some time for self-examination at any time of year is a helpful, a way to keep yourself on the straight and narrow so to speak.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Doralosophy and what I want to achieve with this blog. It goes without saying that this year I will continue to share my crochet patterns and creative experiments with you, but I’ve realised how much I loved writing thought pieces I posted in 2017.
In particular, my Please be my Friend post had an amazing response. I got so many comments to the tune of “I’m so glad it’s not just me”. For me, that’s where the good stuff lies. In opening up the things we don’t talk about much, in sharing experiences and reducing that sense of thinking we are alone in our thoughts, anxieties and insecurities.
Ever the fan of personal development and growth, this year I want to focus on sharing what I have found useful in navigating life, where I have succeeded and learned (one can never fail!), whether that is my creative journey, my business experiences or physical or mental health. I am no wise sage, and am not putting myself in that position, I just like to share my discoveries and ask questions when I am lost.
I read a lot of what the 90’s would term ‘self-help’ books, although I like to think of them as personal development. Some are mind-blowing, some are a bit fluffy and say it all in the intro. I love to read thought provoking books of any kind, fiction, non-fiction and biography – anything that exposes me to a way of thinking I haven’t considered before.
There is a psychological phenomenon called ‘Confirmation Bias’, which is our brain’s ability to completely ignore evidence that contradicts our existing beliefs. Confirmation bias means we only accept evidence which agrees with our standpoint and dismiss or justify anything which might suggest we are (dramatic inhale of breath) WRONG!! (Fake news anyone?)
I’m going to skip the obvious Trump example (he’s just low hanging fruit) and use a more simple example about cats to explain what I mean,
Take Jeff. Jeff does not like cats. He thinks they are selfish devious devil spies who are out to get him by leaving fur on his clothes and clawing out his eyes whilst he sleeps. Jeff comes to my house for a cup of tea and a biscuit. My cat Mills sits in her bed and stares at Jeff the entire duration of his stay. Jeff takes this as further proof that Mills hates him and has been silently plotting ways to undermine and humiliate him. Jeff leaves with a belly full of biscuits and a stronger belief than ever that cats are indeed evil incarnate. What Jeff is not taking into consideration is that Mills is a rescue cat and is very timid with people she doesn’t know. Mills is scared of Jeff. Jeff has been a victim of his confirmation bias.
This is Mills. She is only evil when she’s hungry. (Any excuse for a cute cat pic right?)
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I could easily say, “Well Jeff is an evil person because he doesn’t like cats”, but that would be me falling prey to my own confirmation bias (that people who don’t like cats are mean). What I might not know that when he was 7 a feral cat scratched Jeff and he hasn’t gotten over it… so nothing is clear cut here. It’s a minefield of misattribution. Mainly I’m just glad Jeff never met my wonderfully eccentric Great Aunt because she had a cat she actually called Beelzebub…
I’ve gone a little off piste there but the point I’m making is that the confirmation bias trap is everywhere. I bet you’ve used it in the last week, or in the last 24 hours. Have a think! But don’t beat yourself up about it, this mental tool also helps us navigate our way through a very complex world by allowing us to categorise things. Life would be even more confusing without it. However, sometimes it can lead to polarised views and black and white thinking, when really most things in life a grey.
This is where reading comes in. Avoidance of confirmation bias is why I love exposing my mind to other ways of thinking. There is a great quote I heard once which I have never been able to source, but it says “Wisdom is found in the mind of your enemy”. This explains perfectly the point I’m trying to make – that you already know what you think, so by understanding why you think it and why others come to a different conclusion, you can expand your knowledge – you may disagree with other viewpoints but just maybe you’ll learn something.
So with that rather meandering intro (you can tell it’s been a while since I blogged!), I would like to give you a quick run down of 7 books, in no particular order, which have changed my mind in some way. The product links are affiliate links (my full affiliate disclosure is here)
This was probably the first ever ‘self-help’ book I read. I discovered it in the late 90s when I first really began to grasp that it was anxiety that I was struggling with. For me, this is the original book on dealing with fears. In terms of content, the clue is in the title, but the book has lots of exercises to help give you the courage to practice what it preaches. It uses some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques in there too.
It’s a long time since I read this one, but I remember great anecdote in it about someone who is leading a group of people who had problems with anxiety and panic attacks (I’m paraphrasing here). In the class she asks a highly anxious person to get up, stand at the front and have a panic attack, right there, right then. This of course immediately took the wind out of the anxiety’s sails. Naming your demons, calling them out tends to be the first step in removing the hold they have over you.
2. Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – Mark Williams & Danny Penman
Mindfulness has had an upsurge in popularity the past few years but there is so much confusion about what it actually is. So many people I talk to say things like “I can’t meditate, I get too distracted” or “that’s hippy stuff” or, and this is the worst, “I don’t have time for all that”. I used to say the same thing before I read this book.
Mindfulness is really just about taking time (even just 3 minutes) to become aware. Aware of your surroundings, of your body and your mind, thoughts. and emotions That’s it! Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on your breathing and noticing, but not engaging with the busy thoughts rushing round your brain and returning to focus on your breathing. THAT IS IT!!
What is harder to quantify is how this practice effects and benefits you. I found it had a huge impact. It’s really hard to explain, but for me, the skills I learn with this practice (and it is a practice, there is no end date) just slows down my stress response. It’s like I can see all the catastrophising and stress thoughts going off like fireworks in my brain but I have the ability to choose not to engage with them as often as I used to.
There is definitely minimal fluff with this one for anyone who still thinks this is Hippy Shit (there is nothing wrong with Hippy Shit but I know it puts some people off). The Authors are highly respected scientific experts in the field who have been working with Mindfulness therapy for many years. The book is structured as an 8 week course (1 chapter per week) and comes with 8 guided meditations, which vary from 3-10 mins each. Everyone can find time for that. Get off your phone and do this instead! Back when I bought it, the book came with a CD (hi-tech!) but I imagine the new version comes with downloads. In fact, the audio book would be perfect for this one.
Have you ever asked yourself why you behaved a certain way? This book is bloody great for examining your behaviour and understanding how you can improve performance, whether that is in a competitive way (this book is endorsed by a lot of sports people) or just as a human being.
Without belittling the content, this is an easy read which breaks this mind model down into simple terms. The book talks about our inner chimp, which is the driving force for survival. The chimp, through thousands of years of evolution, was designed to help us prosper in the jungle (eat, protect our territory, maintain our status and procreate), and is not so well adapted for the modern world, which often causes us problems. This paradox between the essential animalistic nature of our chimp brain and it’s infuriating ability to cause us to behave in a way modern society doesn’t condone, is explored in a fun and fascinating way.
This covers such a range of reactions, emotions and behaviours, from anxiety, performance and anger management to dealing with prejudice and self criticism, that I challenge anyone not to find something useful in this book. I know it has had a huge impact on me. Whenever my brain is being irrational or telling me to overreact, I remind myself it’s my chimp talking. Pipe down Chimp, you’re drunk.
Such a simple but incredibly powerful concept!
This is probably the lightest reading on this list, and probably the most ‘fluffy’. I love it none the less. I have written about James Altucher before, and no doubt will again, mostly because he introduces me to a lot of other fascinating individuals via his podcast the James Altucher show.
This book focuses a lot on entrepreneurship but really it uses that as a metaphor for succeeding in life, whatever that means to you. It’s easy to translate the lessons to yourself, whatever your circumstances. The title may put you off because choosing yourself is seen as selfish – the cardinal sin of society! – but it really gets the message across that the opposite is true. To achieve your version of happiness, you have to choose a path you want to pursue – not one you think you should. How strange it is that this is quite a radical concept!
The book is written in a very conversational style, so reading it is like having a chat with a friend in the pub. There is some great stuff in there about choosing health, spirituality and mental wellbeing too.
Oh and he even makes a promise to refund you the cost if you don’t like it!
What is a psychopath?
It’s a word that’s banded around a lot, but who knows what it actually means, and how do you identify them? This book is Jon Ronson’s journey to find an answer to those questions.
Psychopaths are not always axe murdering crazed villains. They walk among us, they run very successful companies and sit in seats of great power.
Despite the dark topic, this is actually a very informative and thought provoking read which takes us through the process of how you diagnose a psychopath, and other associated mental illnesses. This is the reason the book made the list. Because it re-opened my mind to the questions – “What is mental illness?”, “Who decides if someone has one?” and “How do we treat those who are severely mentally ill?”
If anyone has watched and liked Mindhunter on Netflix they will enjoy this book too.
Jon Ronson writes in a very humorous and engaging way without being dismissive of a serious topic and this book has stuck with me years after I read it!
So as you’ve likely gathered by now, I have a passion for understanding how the human brain works! It’s a bit bonkers that in the west, Positive Psychology is a relatively new field, though a rapidly growing one. What this book does is to take a look at some of the philosophical and faith based thoughts on happiness and put those theories to the scientific test. It’s a wonderful combination of science and spirituality.
This book actually uses a similar model of the mind as the Chimp Paradox (Only here it’s an elephant) but is a lot more detailed and backed up by science. If you loved the Chimp Paradox, this is a great next read.
This is less light weight and it’s full of psychological studies and discussion so it takes a bit more concentration and thought. But the rewards are abundant – I adored this book, and it was full of those ‘yes!!’ moments. You know, where someone puts into words what you sort of knew but had never been able to explain!
Find how to find happiness!
So my final entry is a bit of a departure from the rest of the list.
When I was a teen, I would see the name George Orwell and immediately do the pubescent eye roll. Sadly I had an English teacher who butchered Animal Farm (no pun intended) and set back my love of books about 10 years.
I read this book for the first time at some point in my 20s and with every year that goes by, my awe of George Orwell grows. This was written in 1944 – the man was a prophet, Nostradamus is small fry to this guy.
Big Brother, The Thought Police, Telesecreens, The Ministry for Information… it’s all coming true… and it’s kind of terrifying!!
If you haven’t read this please do – it’s not a long read but the growing resemblance of Orwell’s ‘fictional’ universe to today’s world will blow your mind!!
Will we do anything about it or will we end up loving Big Brother too?
So that’s my list… there are a few which just missed the cut but deserve a mention if you’re looking for more!
The Power of Now – Ekhart Tolle – Full on but WOW!
Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman – which you could also call how to get along with people and not be a dick.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – A Trilogy in 5 parts – because its very funny and looks at the world in a whole new way
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance – Robert Pirsig – Far out but made me realise the importance of the words ‘Quality’ and ‘Gumption’.
An Inspector Calls – J.B. Priestly – A short play about how your small insignificant acts effect others. I’m pretty sure this is what ’13 Reasons Why’ the outstanding, dark Netflix series, was based on.
I intend on continuing to expand my mind in 2018 so here’s what’s on my brain reading list so far… I’ll check back in at the end of the year to let you know what I thought of this lot… I’m going to be busy!
Have you read any of these? What did you think? What should I add to this list?
I would so love to hear your feedback on any of these!!